Crush With Eyeliner
May 15, 2007
We are conditioned to value authenticity in art, but the thing is, all creativity is essentially at odds with objective truth and reality, even when we strive for aesthetic realism. Nevertheless, the will to express ourselves through the act of creation is a central part of the human experience in that whether we are aware of it or not, we are constantly revising our own personalities and nudging our realities into new shapes with every decision that we make.
“Crush With Eyeliner” is a song about being attracted to a person for their imagination and the way they use it to actively reconstruct their image and identity. Michael Stipe’s character is smitten by a woman’s calculated affectations, and is inspired to reinvent himself in order to win her favor. Though the lyrics are a bit wry, “Crush With Eyeliner” is by no means an indictment of superficial poseurs — if anything, it’s a celebration of those among us who recognize the fluidity of identity and are willing to unlock repressed aspects of themselves by playing dress-up.
It’s been said that this is a song about Courtney Love, and though that makes a lot of sense, I actually prefer to think that the object of the singer’s affection is actually a drag queen so that the “she’s a real woman-child” line has the same ring of irony as when Michael insists that he is “the real thing.” Same difference, I guess — even before she started looking like a Barbie doll, Courtney always had the instinct for nuanced irony and appreciation of artifice common among drag queens. As she sings in her hit “Doll Parts,” she fakes it so real she is beyond fake.
“Crush With Eyeliner” is unapologetically flirtatious and campy, and though it’s the second track on Monster, it’s the song that establishes the musical and lyrical themes for the rest of the album. Peter Buck’s exaggerated tremolo effect on the song is perhaps the most iconic sonic element on the record, and its colorful, cartoonish sound ranks among the most distinct guitar tones in a decade overflowing with inspired noise–makers. The oscillations come in a woozy intervals that recall the image of waves of heat rising off of concrete on an oppressively humid summer day, and it lends the song a stoned, slightly aloof feeling that fits nicely with Stipe’s intensely self-aware lyrics.