Songs about doing things “my way” or it being “my life” have been around forever. Most famously, Frank Sinatra sung about having no regrets, taking the blows and standing tall in 1969, although it was Paul Anka who wrote the words. It’s the most famous example of a popular song that looks back, hence its regular use at funerals; a monument to self-belief verging on arrogance.
To a person my age, it sounds foreign. It comes from an era in which Western popular culture had regained its self-confidence after the Second World War; a time of peace and love when the Beatles were still topping the charts, people were experimenting with new substances and nonconformist lifestyles, and counter-cultural self-expression was often faced with little more than sanguine paternalism.
No, when I think of songs entitled “My Way”, my thoughts turn instead to the peculiar genius of Fred Durst and his Limp Bizkit, the incorrigible scamps who took the impassioned, outward-looking, politically intellectual rap-rock of Rage Against the Machine and made it a vehicle for teenage angst.
“My Way” was released in the early days of 2001, the fourth single from the band’s third album, Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water. The album sold over a million copies in its first week in the US alone, and has since sold 20 million worldwide. In a conversation with friends earlier today, which prompted me to write this, it was remarked upon how, just prior to the invention of file-sharing on the internet, there was a weird lacuna when bands like this could somehow hit the heights. Somewhere between the grunge revolution of the early ’90s, the Britpop movement a few years later and the New Wave revival of the following decade, a Bermuda Triangle for musical and lyrical expression opened up – and Fred Durst charted a course straight into it.
The song itself is a perfect encapsulation of adolescent self-pity. Musically it’s vaguely competent and catchy in the kind of way that enables angry teenagers to connect immediately: simple soft/loud dynamics, crunching guitars and the kind of compressed, maxed-out production that made the new mp3 file format appear to have no effect on audio quality whatsoever.
But it’s the lyrics that really cook. If Sinatra was the old gent looking back on his life with contentment tinged with pride, Durst is providing the ammunition for the 13 year old kid whose parents won’t let him play video games. It’s the emotion today’s young professionals were raised on, and while I don’t subscribe to the well-trodden idea that the so-called “millennials” are all entitled, selfish narcissists, it helps to explain why their response to adversity can be somewhat impetuous.
Just one more fight
About your leadership
And I will straight up
Leave your shit
Cause I’ve had enough of this
And now I’m pissed