Do you now or did you ever have yourself an alcoholic stepdad? I had one when I was in junior high and high school, back when I was growing up in good ol’ Columbia County, Oregon and if there was one thing that drunken redneck fuck loved, it was Hamm’s “beer” (I can’t, in good conscience, call Hamm’s real beer. It’s made from bear semen and ball sweat). If there was two things he loved, they were Hamm’s and George Thorogood. In fact, I knew a lot of Hamm’s-swilling dipshits growing up who had a bizarre infatuation with George Thorogood and his brand of “blues” (I’m gonna overuse the quotation marks today, I can feel it. It can’t be helped so I guess I’m not sorry).
In case you don’t know (and dog bless you if you’ve managed to spend any time on Earth and avoid knowing who George Thorogood is), George Thorogood is a white dude who plays shitty blues that everyone’s alcoholic stepdad adores. My alcoholic stepdad – I’ll call him Fucko to protect his privacy – used to like to shimmy and shake his beergut around our house (when you have an alcoholic stepdad, “house” often means “single-wide trailer.” I experienced Fucko’s love of bad music and worse beer in both a trailer and a real, honest-to-goodness house) to Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone.” It’s what he called an “attitude song”, which really meant “a song that made Fucko feel like a badass for drinking beer while he listened to it.” I could write a book about how shitty this song is, but I’ll try to whittle my vitriol down to a manageable size for those of you who entertain delusions of actually being productive at work today.
First off, my experience of George Thorogood songs in general and “Bad to the Bone” in particular tells me that Thorogood, unintentionally I’m sure, makes blues music for white people who hate black people. I have known several racists in my life who adore Thorogood’s overlong, blasphemous butchery of John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer” but if they saw the man who actually wrote it on the street, they’d let loose with a tirade of racial slurs that would make you think you were kicking it with the cops in Selma circa 1965. Again, I don’t blame Thorogood for the fact that racists love him, but I do blame him for making shitty music, often out of music that other people originally did better.
“Bad to the Bone” is built around a familiar blues rock riff, similar to the one found in a Bo Diddley tune and a couple of much better Muddy Waters songs (some of which were actually written by Mr. Willie Dixon) and that’s really the best thing you can say about this song. The rest of the song is George Thorogood telling you that he’s “buh-buh-buh-buh-bad” which, when you see it written like that, is about the least bad thing ever. Its baby-talk wussiness notwithstanding, this song has pretty much become George Thorogood’s trademark, which is a nice way of saying his trademark is “cock-bludgeoning the real blues to death” (although my good friend Jesus assures me that, when Mr. Thorogood dies, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon will be waiting for him and this time, the black dudes will have the truncheons).
The song’s repeated assertions of Thorogood’s “buh-buh-buh-buh” badness are belied by the fact that the song is weak tea, musically speaking. The drums don’t pound, they sort of amble along. The guitar part is recognizable, sure, but also repetitive and dull, there’s barely any point to having the bass and piano in there at all and what’s this? A saxophone solo? You’re gonna put a tenor sax solo in your song about how bad you are? And you’re a guitar player? Well, shit, I guess George Thorogood is bad to the bone. At making good music. This song is badass in a 1982, middle class white guy kinda way, meaning that it’s in fact not at all even remotely badass.
The difference between assholes and badasses, by the way, is assholes talk about how badass they are and real badasses are just, well, badass. I suspect the reason so many macho asshole racists like “Bad to the Bone” (and a lot of Thorogood’s other completely horrible music) so much is because they can easily identify with a song that talks a mean game but actually does jack shit. Fucko certainly liked to talk about how bad he was, but he mostly liked to prove his manliness by breaking shit in our house and frightening his wife and stepchildren with outbursts of drunken violence. “Bad to the Bone” was the soundtrack to the life Fucko dreamed of living and the sad thing about both the man and the song is that neither one ever got to be even a fraction as “bad” as they thought they were.
Another stupid thing about this song is that Thorogood never really explains what makes him so bad. He mentions breaking hearts, but he also says he wants to be “yours and yours alone.” Since when is a forceful plea for a monogamous relationship bad? I think Thorogood wanted to suggest with this song that he is somehow awesome at fucking, but no one who has seen the man would ever in a million years believe that. My favorite line in the whole song, though, is “what I see, I make my own.” Not, “I make what I want my own,” mind you. Just whatever he sees. So every time George Thorogood sees a dog turd in the grass, he makes it his own. And what does it mean when he sees a little boy?! I think it means NAMBLA has themselves a new theme song.
Sometimes, the context in which you experience a song can trick you into thinking the song sucks. I’ve often written about how white kids with dreadlocks in Eugene, Oregon, nearly ruined Bob Marley’s music for me. So it might be tempting to interpret my hatred of “Bad to the Bone” as some kind of reflection of my negative experience with alcoholic racists (has anyone who is not themselves an alcoholic racist ever had a positive experience with alcoholic racists?). I assure you, however, that even if my wife, who I love more than I love food, had introduced me to this song in between marathon sessions of lovemaking and watching Venture Brothers, I would still say without a moment’s hesitation that it sucks. The context is irrelevant – “Bad to the Bone” is one of the worst songs ever recorded and I would fight every alcoholic racist I’ve ever met if my bloody, violent (and assured – I just want it that badly) victory would strike this auditory abomination from our cultural lexicon.