163. Song No. 2,463: “Designs on You,” Old 97’s
Satellite Rides, 2001
There is absolutely no reason for me to love Old 97’s as much and as sincerely as I do. I cannot stand modern country music on a fundamental level. But Rhett Miller makes some awfully irresistible music that defies genre biases and I feel no shame or embarrassment in unabashedly loving it. (Also, the Venn diagram of fair-game heartache running rampant through both country and emo songs is undeniably circular, so the familiar topical terrain is just as undeniably homey and inviting. The alt- nature of both genres only further blurs the lines between the two, as much as it hurts me to concede.)
This song is such a simple one and such a country trope that it should feel trite and unremarkable, but it’s personalized so well and stripped down to it’s core so honestly that it’s so easy to love. Just about everyone can relate to the pangs of unrequited love and falling for the wrong person, and the warring camps of infatuation and guilt in the face of this particular wrong person standing on the nuptial precipice with someone else are so vulnerably exposed that you can’t help but feel for the hopelessly, helplessly lovesick narrator.
And while we’re on the topic of my entirely-too-much approach to AIM in my full-hearted-all-the-time college days, this song gutted me for all those reasons and more. As much as I loved college, that first year and I were an absolute mess of emotions I had no idea how to navigate. Finally free of the school district and classmates I’d known for entirely too long and had no room to grow among, college was the fresh start I’d wanted for years. But with re-establishing myself in a whole new environment free of an accompanying 13 years of history came a whole new crop of people to get to know, and I felt interesting and personable and desirable and (dare I say) even cool for the first time in my life. I had no idea what to do other than roll with it, saying yes to things I maybe shouldn’t’ve and not realizing that being careless with my own heart had repercussions that were unfairly passed along to some awfully undeserving bystanders whose only crimes were thinking more of me than I deserved at the time.
This song was a distant assurance that I wasn’t the only one who felt these things, that a secret fling to be both laid bare for and confessed to an anonymous audience was just a thing that happens when you know enough people to realize that compatibility is a strange and mutable thing that morphs and shifts to fit all kind of relationships, whether they’re one-night trysts that seemed like a good idea until they lingered well past their expiration dates or seemingly rock-solid romances that merited a happier ending until reality imploded illusions. And lines like “This would only be an experiment / In things that could have been / You can go ahead and get married / And it’ll probably never happen again” resonated with my curious, voracious heart in a way exclusive to the lyrics that make for the best, most deliberately overwrought and deployed away messages that just cryptically enough spoke of an inner conflict I didn’t know I could have until I invited it in against my better judgement and general decency.
(As a magnificent coda, genius.com shares an anecdote about this song, which takes a hard turn and must be presented in its entirety: Rhett named this song after his hairdresser, Annette, although he did not actually have designs on her. He later ran into Annette and her new husband, apparently a rather large fellow, who was not happy about the song, at Six Flags. Rhett and friends happened to be doing ‘shrooms at the time, and apparently he turned tail and ran rather than face the unhappy new husband.)