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There’s a harmonica but no apology in The Gin Blossoms’ “Follow You Down”

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Songs with prominent harmonica usage.

Gin Blossoms, “Follow You Down” (1996)

The ’90s didn’t lack for music-related urban legends, like the one about Paul from The Wonder Years growing up to become Marilyn Manson, or David Gahan of Depeche Mode being a vampire (hey, he admitted to sleeping in a coffin). But I guess those mysteries weren’t enough for my teenage brain to ponder—I also had to create one about how “Follow You Down” was a harmonica-tinged apology to a founding member of the Gin Blossoms.

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My theory never gained traction outside of my backyard, but it’s one I hung on to for a long time. Like a lot of folks with middling tastes, I was a fan of the Gin Blossoms’ New Miserable Experience, an album that’s had a surprising amount of staying power. It had “Hey Jealousy,” the band’s most popular song, which was written by guitarist Doug Hopkins, along with the stealth hit “Found Out About You.”

Hopkins was kicked out of the Gin Blossoms just before the band broke out, because his alcoholism had made him nearly impossible to work with. He committed suicide in December 1993, but lived long enough to see “New Miserable Experience” go gold. The band’s next album, “Congratulations…I’m Sorry,” was released in 1996 and titled such to reflect the mix of emotions they encountered following their success and Hopkins’ death.

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I knew the story behind the album title, which is presumably why I assumed that “Follow You Down” had been written as a kind of lament. What else could lead singer Robin Wilson have meant when he sang, “I’ll follow you down but not that far” and “Jumping off a bridge / It’s just the farthest that I’ve ever been”? And the harmonica sounds downright mournful when it first comes in and as it plays out the last strains of the song.

Of course, it turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong. Jesse Valenzuela, who co-wrote the song, has said it came together quickly and with lyrics from Wilson that he never really understood. It seems perfectly ridiculous now to assume that Wilson or anyone else in the band had a guilty conscience weighing heavily enough to release a song-apology years later, but what can I tell you? It was the ’90s, a time when people were accusing the band 311 of being in the KKK.

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