It has become a karaoke classic. It has appeared in myriad films and TV soundtracks (“Disturbing Behavior,” anyone?). It likely prompted more than a few kids to pierce their tongues (it doesn’t hurt it, it feels fine). It scored many of us ’90s kids’ childhoods and, for Harvey Danger’s Sean Nelson, “Flagpole Sitta” was both the proverbial blessing and curse.
This week — 17 years after its initial release — Harvey Danger’s Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? got its first official vinyl pressing via a special reissue by No Sleep Records. For those who haven’t listened to the rest of the excellent record, that’s the one that “Flagpole Sitta” appears on — before it found its way to Now That’s What I Call Punk! or whatever.
Nelson and Co. had little to do with the decision to re-release the ’90s phenomenon (the label asked, the band said, “Why not?”), but now that it’s out there the singer is being asked to re-live his hit single’s rise to fame by every journalist who was conscious in the ’90s (including this one). And the memories — they are bittersweet.
This Throwback Thursday, check out what we learned in speaking with the author of our collective childhood angst:
Nelson Had No Idea What ’Flagpole Sitta’ Would Become
“We didn’t know it was [a hit] until it became one. We knew it was good, we thought it was something special, but the idea of it being a hit was just sort of completely outlandish and it wasn’t even an idea until it happened. Then once it happened it was like, ’Oh it’s a forgone conclusion, that song was always such a hit.’ I think that would be true today, too, but then the question of whether it would have a life for 17 years if it started today, I don’t know. Are the songs that are super popular today going to be classics?”
The Song Makes Him Uncomfortable
“I do think that ’Flagpole Sitta’ is one of those evergreen songs — like it’s always being played somewhere. That is something that I have to come to terms with because it continues to make me uncomfortable in a lot of ways. It’s weird, as time has gone by every play of that song somehow erodes the world’s objection to it in my mind. I was so self-consious about it back then that I would run from a room if it came on, and now I guess, I walk.”
“Mo matter how many times you hear that song in your life, you will never hear it as many times as I have. So that’s part of it. You know, you can only hear something so many times. I obviously can’t … compare the experience of having a lucky hit song to going to war, but there is a certain PTSD element to it as well because even though it changed my life for the better in a lot of ways, the change was very violent and sudden and it cost me something as well. … And also, you know, the sound of my own voice. A little hard to stomach. Good thing I became a much better singer.”
The Band Wasn’t Looking To Make Money
“It’s true that that one song was the only one that most people really responded to, but they responded to it. We didn’t do anything other than release it to make that happen, and then we sort of followed the demand for a while, but we were not relentless self-promoters. We were only barely going for it, you know, our ambitions were aesthetic more than commercial. I don’t know if we can say we met our ambitions; we certainly surpassed our commercial ambitions by quite a lot.”
But He Wishes They Had
“Learn a trade, don’t drop out of college, work a little harder on the lyrics and when the offers of lots of money start coming to you from record labels, take the most money. Don’t think that you’re being noble by turning down money, because money turns out to be the currency that is the most useful in that situation. Integrity is not measured by other people. I think that’s the advice I would give myself. But also, don’t drop out of college. That’s increasingly becoming a regret of mine.”
Still, He Thinks The Band — And Song — Made A Positive Impact
“The best thing that people have said is that our record was a bridge for them; that they were like in some commercial wasteland and then they heard our song and then they got our record and then it led them into [forming] some very important relationships with independent rock bands. And we did, for all or whatever our sins were, we definitely — I definitely waved the flag of a lot of other music at that time and mentioned bands in interviews all the time just because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do.”