December 1, 2021

Ambushed by a spring-themed plant-based rock meme, thirty years in the making

Veruca Salt – Forsythia – Live in San Francisco, 2015

In the early to mid 90s there was a small wave of American girl alt-rock girl bands. It was all about the guitars, all about the rock, and always on the grungey side of things.

This small wave included Breeders, Belly and Veruka Salt. There were others too. In some ways you could include Hole and L7.

In the UK, we had PJ Harvey, who for a short while was almost bracketed with them, though frankly, she has always and since ploughed her own furrow.

But anyhows, Veruca Salt were probably the least popular and well known of all of them, at leat in the UK.

I loved them though, well at least their more poppy singles. They had a pretty clean crisp guitar sound. They were quite good looking, almost model like. But they had a sexy alternativeness, and just like the other bands, had a certain witchiness to them. As a male, and a pretty green one at that, I was intrigued by the fact that they were singing about women’s stuff: sex, lust and motherhood and womanhood, but ultimately in a poetic way, which I never really understood.

For example, one of their lyrics was ‘A Yellow Baby is a Bad Sign’. That’s kind of freaky right? It makes you start wondering what its like to be a mother with an ailing child. Makes you think about death and bereavement and failing at being a mother. Though, I might add, and now I take on the persona of John Shuttleworth, that whilst a yellow baby is a bad sign, its most likely jaundice, which in this day and age, can be managed medically. A quick trip to the doctor and you should be fine, no need to be melodramatic about it. I digress.

The opening to the yellow baby song, which happens to be called Forsythia, is great. Its very cool and sexy, and very guitarry. That’s why I like it. I don’t listen to the track it much, if ever, but I regularly replay it in my head.

Now, I had a great moment yesterday, because I was visiting a garden centre, and was looking for this plant that I’ve seen in blossom at the moment. Its yellow, and I found a small one. I looked at its name and, heh presto, its called ‘Forsythia’. Yellow. Yellow babies. Forsythia.

So as soon as I realised the plant name I immediately started thinking about Veruca Salt and the song. I started singing it as I walked around the centre, under my breath and mask mind.

But as I was singing it, the first lyric that came to mind was not the yellow babies one. Instead it was “One thing about Forysthia, she gets lost and I go blind, underneath her yellow something lingerie”, which, uhm, makes me think about vaginal seepage, encrusted on underwear, caused by a sexually transmitted disease – I don’t know which one it would be – but I know it wouldn’t be jaundice.

Fact check: Fake News Alert.

The actual lyric is, now I just see,…

She comes around and I get lost
Against her yellow, I’m no longer me

I don’t know what that means? Is the song about love of plants or a woman’s love for another woman? Years later I still have no idea. I just have ideas.

But anyway, I do think that there’s another, perhaps more important point.

It had never occurred to me, until now, that Forysthia was the name of a plant, and that the colour yellow was a thread throughout the song’s title and lyrical content. Its taken me almost thirty years to realise – but I’ve finally gotten there.

I will never, ever, be able to look at the Forysthia plant again, whether in my garden or scattered around the gardens of the town I live in, without recalling the song.

In effect, Veruca Salt turned a common garden plant into a meme promoting their single – its very clever. Though its only really started working on me now I’m I’m in middle age and have gotten into gardening.

I wonder how many other keen gardeners, with a penchant for female alt-rock of the early 90s, find themselves ensnared in what appears now to be a cunning marketing trick.