137. Song No. 2,032: “Commercial for Levi,” Placebo
Black Market Music, 2000
God, I was such a naive little shit when I first found this band. It took me an embarrassingly long time to correct my initial and stubbornly persistent misconception that, no, this song’s album-mate “Special K” didn’t take its title from a clever term of endearment but rather slang for ketamine, and then the floodgates really opened.
My clueless, blissfully sheltered teenager-in-suburbia self didn’t immediately pick up on all the drug references, oozing sexuality, and unabashedly on-display deviancy and damage not only creating the backbone of Placebo’s songs but also fleshily filling out all the bad life choices that feel so right when this band wrests some raw wounds of music from all the hot-blooded smut, paraphernalia and panoply of addictions both substance-based and human they pay tribute to and dissect in equal measures.
What got me into Placebo was “Without You, I’m Nothing” from another album entirely. While I didn’t understand chemical dependencies until well after this band faded from my regular rotation, I sure as hell related to the insecurity and cognitive dissonance born of not admitting to myself that I had no idea if I loved someone for their intrinsic worth as a human being or for far more needful and selfish reasons. And Cthulhu knows there’s plenty of that flagrantly on display in Placebo’s lyrics.
“Commercial for Levi” marries drugs, depravity and codependency into one desperate, empathetic plea of a song and, while I might not know what it’s like to be the one begging someone on the precipice of ruin to reconsider their life choices, I sure as shit can relate to the vulnerability of a “Please don’t die” refrain. There were a solid few years at the end of being a teenager and the beginning of my 20s when I was an absolute though unintentionally destructive emotional force who didn’t know the difference between love and possessive infatuation, reducing every missed phone call, daylong silence, not-swiftly-returned text and emotional ambiguity to the fatalism of loss because I was ruled by the certainty of fear that it was my lot to have those closest to me ripped away by death. Because the inherent danger of existing while caring about someone but not knowing how to express that emotion healthily is that you default to an urgency similar to trying to save a life lived between the rails and the next fix and sex with anything boasting a warm orifice, human or not.
I really haven’t listened to Placebo much since early college and, holy shit, are they one hell of a band to rediscover at closer to 40 than 30. I’m exhausted just considering the absolutely athletic amount of sex explored in these songs, but it’s the nonstop drug use that just makes me want to curl up and nod off for three days from the secondhand chemical depletion and energy expenditure. Like, I was out for the count in a Xanax haze the whole next day after just tripping my face off for eight hours, and that was at my youthful peak of giddy self-destruction: I can’t imagine also giving huge tracts of emotional real estate to fuck buddies and people I don’t know how to love and all those corollary feelings that need to be either managed or medicated away on top of everything else.
While I am absolutely thrilled that digging back into this music is such a treat so many years later, it also made me realize that I am so at peace with my apparent fate of being a low-key agoraphobic homebody who’s been perfectly content to hang out with just my husband and dog and some top-shelf gin at the exclusion of everyone and everything else for literal months on end.