In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: Mary Timony has been part of some of the most consistently inventive, just plain consistent bands in the vaguely defined realm of “indie rock” since her early days in seminal groups like Autoclave and Helium. The latter band’s beautiful noise evolved into a mystical, medieval fantasy that Timony would explore across several solo albums, before she teamed with Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein for the spiky post-punk of Wild Flag. Timony’s newest group, Ex Hex, continues that trajectory, with the band’s aptly named debut Rips buzz-sawing through 35 minutes of uptempo garage rock, led by Timony’s complex, but never fussy guitar work. Rips is available now through Merge Records.
The hated: John Mayer, “Your Body Is A Wonderland”
The A.V. Club: Thanks for making me listen to “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” I’d never actually heard it the whole way through.
Mary Timony: Really? That’s pretty amazing. I don’t think I had either, to be honest. It’s one of those things that if you hear it, you try to do anything to can to not hear it.
AVC: So why did you pick it?
MT: I just had always had a gut reaction whenever I heard it, of just like, ugh. It fascinatingly grosses me out. There are a few songs I could have chosen, but this one, there’s the most stuff to think about. Something interesting happened actually as I was listening because—like you said—I had never really spent a lot of time listening, but I [went through] a few phases of my relationship to this song as I was listening. My initial phase was just kind of like, “Oh God, I hate this song.” That lasted for a little while. And then as I was listening to it a few more times, I started to have this Stockholm syndrome, where I was like, “Oh, actually the song’s pretty good.” I can’t say I’m full of hatred for it anymore. I can’t tell you why that happened.
AVC: This may be the first time a HateSong has made someone come around. So if you don’t hate it anymore, what now?
MT: I don’t hate it anymore. I think the lyrics are really, really horrible, but I guess what happened after listening to it… There’s this jazzy breakdown in the middle, and I was like, what the fuck is going on? It’s this part of the song that’s so different from the other song. The person who wrote it is like, “Help, get me out of here! Let me just do something original instead of something really prosaic and boring!” I’ve heard people say about it before, but John Mayer’s a good guitar player, actually. So that made me come around a little bit.
But then I was like, well, you’re such a good guitar player. Why are you just doing so little with so much? There’s bands like the Ramones that do so much with so little, but a person like John Mayer just does so little with so much. He’s actually pretty skilled. He went to Berklee and can sing really well. But you put all that together and this crappy song comes out.
I guess I don’t love it, but I think I got a little bit lulled into the stupidity of the song or something. It kind of hypnotized me.
AVC: That’s interesting that you say “lulled.” I don’t know if you know that John Mayer grew up with really bad anxiety—
MT: That made me soften up to him, too. I agree.
AVC: So he started taking a lot of anti-anxiety medication. And if you look at John Mayer fans talking about this song on the Internet, you’ll see them saying things like, “It’s so relaxing!”
MT: Well, there you go. If you’re just on a shit-ton of Xanax, you’re going to write a shitty song.
AVC: Well, almost everybody is on some kind of medication nowadays. “Your Body Is A Wonderland” is like a love song for Xanax nation.
MT: [Laughs.] That’s a really good point. It totally makes sense. The opening part of the song—you’re right, because there’s this relaxed groove that’s just so relaxed. There’s no edge in the song at all. I totally see what you’re talking about.
AVC: As a musician, I don’t know that I’d want someone praising my song as “relaxing.” I don’t know if that’s a great adjective.
MT: [Laughs.] Well, yeah. That’s Kenny G. It’s in the world of “smooth.”
AVC: If somebody told you, “I really liked your new album, it was very relaxing,” would you take that as a compliment?
MT: No! I would be like, “Oh no. That’s bad.” But he’s going for this relaxing, sexy guy thing. If you watch the video, that’s kind of what they’re doing: relaxing and making out. That sound of the acoustic guitar with its open chords, the person that’s playing it just sounds so boring. The intro to the song has this slight reggae vibe, like the guitars are actually on the upbeats, which just immediately makes me cringe. But then, when you throw the lyrics over that guitar part, I feel like someone’s throwing up on me a little bit.
AVC: Do you know who he wrote this song about?
MT: No. Do you?
AVC: A lot of people thought it was about Jennifer Love Hewitt, but they both denied it. It’s actually about this girl he was with when he was 14. So the whole song is kind of creepy, in a sort of a hebephile sort of way. It’s about two 14-year-olds having sex.
MT: Well, there you go. That’s creepy. He’s reflecting on his first sexual experience in the song. I don’t want to hear about that.
AVC: I also don’t buy a 14-year-old boy saying, “Let’s take our time while I explore every inch of you.”
MT: [Laughs.] Yeah, I don’t know. I guess he’s fantasizing about it. I don’t know. That’s just creepy. I don’t want to hear about it. But also just the phrase, “Your body is a wonderland”—I just feel slightly violated. It just doesn’t sound appealing to me, I guess.
AVC: Well, he never says anything about her personally. She’s just a body. He even says, “I’ll never speak again / I’ll use my hands.”
MT: That’s the line in the song where I’m just like, what? “I’ll use my hands.” That’s such a weird thing to say. What are you, like 3 months old and you just learned how to use your hand? It leaves so many questions. Obviously, he’s just talking about rubbing some girl down with his hands. But it’s such a weird line. But that is a good point: You don’t really get to know whoever this person is that he’s talking about. I guess maybe that’s why it’s so creepy. I hadn’t really thought of it that way.
AVC: Have you ever read any of his interviews? There was one he did for Rolling Stone where he was talking about what he looks for in a woman, and he was just like, “First, I need somebody that I admire more than myself”—which is already a bad start.
MT: Well, that’s going to be really hard for him probably, I would imagine. That would be not many people.
AVC: But then he adds, “Well, isn’t it also about having a beautiful vagina? You need them to have a beautiful vagina that you can just camp out on for, like, a weekend.”
MT: Wow. Well, there you go! Said by a guy who wrote this song. Perfect. Oh my God, that is insane. I can’t believe that. All right. You have officially put me back in the camp of “I hate this song.” I don’t know what was happening.
AVC: Obviously, girls who hate the idea of someone appreciating them just for their bodies would hate this song.
MT: Yeah, it’s creepy. That’s pretty much anyone.
AVC: And yet, if you look at his Twitter followers, it’s easily 90 percent girls. They love this guy.
MT: That’s true. Well, a lot of people think he’s cute, and they like being treated shitty by guys. He’s a big stud, apparently. That ultimately is what is shocking about the song. If John Mayer can convince people that they want to have sex with him through singing this song, I am just horrified. I just have no faith in humanity anymore. It’s the most vapid song about vapid people having sex with each other. I don’t get it.
AVC: You know, he’s also said that he “scientifically engineers” his songs to be “as accessible as possible.” He tries to make them vapid. He’s actually a fairly smart guy.
MT: Well, that’s what I mean. He’s a real player, and he can sing really well. But that totally makes sense to me. Well, there you go. He just wants to be famous and rich, and he’s making it happen for himself. He’s figured out the key of success. He’s obviously laughing all the way to the bank. Or maybe he’s miserable at the top, I don’t know.
AVC: I don’t know either. I haven’t really listened to any of his albums. His newer ones could be really dark and tormented for all I know.
MT: I haven’t listened to anything. Literally the only song I know is this song, and like you were saying, I never really made it all the way through before judging it as horrible.
AVC: But then it kind of won you over.
MT: Well, it did, but then we started talking about it, and I’m completely back on the other side.
AVC: Do you still teach guitar?
MT: Yeah, I do. Not really too much at the moment, because I’m really busy with getting ready for the record to come out and the tour. But yeah, I do in general.
AVC: Because it seems to me that people who get really technically good at guitar—particularly something as rigidly structured as blues guitar—are just more likely to produce blander music.
MT: This song actually really made me think about that. You know Mr. Big? They’re this band in the late ’80s, Billy Sheehan. Those guys are known as serious musicians—or at least that’s what I thought as a teenager. I had heard that from my guitar teacher or whatever. And I just think the worst songs in the world are written by people who are really technically skilled who are trying to dumb it down. Remember that Mr. Big song? [Sings.] “I’m the one who wants to be with you”? Yeah, that’s a horrible song. It’s so boring. There is something about people that are really technically skilled trying to write simple songs that they write the most boring-ass songs.
AVC: But you’re a really skilled guitarist, and your music’s not boring.
MT: Well, you’re very nice. I’m not from that world of super technical people. And I think there’s a point for me where I just made the choice of not getting into that stuff anymore. I’ve always gone back and forth. I got really into practicing from when I was 18 to 20. Then I was like, I can’t do this anymore. I just want to be creative. And then I stayed in the “I just want to be creative” camp for like 10 years, and then when I started teaching, that’s how I went back into practicing all the time. So I kind of see the benefits of both. You just can’t argue with the Ramones. They do so much with so little, with three chords. And then there’s John Mayer, who’s trying to do something simple, but it just sucks. But he’s just so technically skilled.
AVC: If one of your students wanted you to teach them how to play “Your Body Is A Wonderland,” would you?
MT: This is why I feel like I started coming around to this song—or I did because I have to do this stuff with kids a lot. Actually, I’m really lucky and a lot of my kids have pretty good taste, but I do just turn off my brain. I had to teach someone that song “The A Team” by Ed Sheeran. That song I almost chose, because I hate it. It actually really makes me a mean person. I really hate that song. But I was able to just turn it off, and be like, “Okay, you just need to teach them the chords, and just have no opinion about it at all.” And I can even bullshit and be like, “This is a really good song for you to learn, because of these chords that you don’t know!”
In one way, that’s why teaching has been really good for me, because I’ve become so much less judgmental and jaded. If a kid is into something, I’m totally into it, because it’s going to make them excited about music. It’s been good for me, because I don’t have as much hate about music. It’s not good to be filled with hate. It’s not good for anybody… [Laughs.] Poor Ed Sheeran. Actually, I don’t feel bad for him, because he’s probably made so much money off that, he’s doing great. But that song, oh my God. That’s just terrible.
AVC: I don’t know what song that is, but I’m not going to listen to it.
MT: Don’t do it.
AVC: But your very good point aside, John Mayer deserves a little hate. He once said to Playboy of the “Your Body” backlash, “If you think those songs are pandering, then you’ll think I’m a douchebag. It’s like I come on very strong. I am a very… I’m just very. V-E-R-Y. And if you can’t handle very, then I’m a douchebag. But I think the world needs a little very. That’s why black people love me.”
MT: What the fuck?! What does that even mean? Oh, that’s gross. Oh man, did you see any live clips? I watched the video a bunch of times, and then I just watched this one—I don’t know if it’s a video or a radio show or something—of him playing it live. It’s really close up on his face, and he just makes the most amazing faces when he’s singing, I have to say.
AVC: The “John Mayer face” is kind of an epidemic now.
MT: Really? Is this some phenomenon I don’t know about?
AVC: Go see any local blues-rock band and you’ll see guys making John Mayer faces.
MT: Oh my God. See, I didn’t even know about this.
AVC: He’s ruined a whole generation.
MT: Oh my God. I was not even aware. Well thanks to The A.V. Club, now I know all about it.
AVC: You’re welcome. And thanks again for making me listen to this song. I was watching the video when my wife came home yesterday. She walked in on me. It was awkward.
MT: You’re like, “Have you ever heard this song? It’s really good! It’s really relaxing!” [Laughs.] That is so fucked up. Yeah, I totally can see the whole Xanax connection now. I really think you nailed it. That’s the problem. It’s just too chilled out.
AVC: Once we both get on Zoloft, we’ll love it.
MT: Probably. We’ll probably be like, “Ohhh yes, this feels great. It’s just so chill.”
AVC: Well, I think we’ve talked enough about John Mayer for a lifetime. I appreciate you doing it for this.
MT: I’m going to go listen to this song a few more times now.
AVC: Yeah, you just need a song to chill out and come down from this interview.
MT: Yeah, exactly.