From Spin Magazine:
What began as a breakup lament turned into one of the grunge era’s most indelible hits
As ’90s alt-rock anthems go, L7’s “Pretend We’re Dead” was a perfectly immediate slice of “bubblegrunge,” simultaneously channeling the noisiness of an active trash compactor with the effortless pop of opening a soda can. When deadpan vocalist Donita Sparks delivered the lyric “Just say no to individuality,” she echoed the ironic detachment of the previous year’s most popular chorus (something something “entertain us”), and the song enjoyed a brief ubiquity in 1992, spending 20 weeks on the Billboard Alternative Song charts. Yet it didn’t stick around for as long as it should have. Hell, when CSS covered it at Coachella a few years ago, they credited it to Daft Punk.
In part, this was because L7 — aside from one notorious tampon tossed into a Reading Festival audience — were relatively gimmick-less: They didn’t contrive an iconic wardrobe, their live shows didn’t include manic meltdowns, and they weren’t urging young women to go out and form bands. Rather, they were repeatedly asked to represent something that they didn’t, which invariably pissed them off. “There was the girl band thing, there was the foxcore farce, there was the Seattle band farce, there was the grunge-rock thing,” Sparks told SPIN in a 1993 cover story. “We’ve been around longer than all that stuff. Basically, we’re a rock band from Los Angeles.” Formed in 1985, but crystallized in 1988, the quartet was composed of Sparks, guitarist-vocalist Suzi Gardner, bassist Jennifer Finch, and drummer Dee Plakas; they chose L7, a ’50s slang term, meaning “square,” because, Sparks says, “We did not want a gender-specific name.” Earlier tracks like “Shove” had a grittier energy, and the other singles from 1992’s Bricks Are Heavy — “Wargasm” and “Shitlist” — sounded more deliberately ferocious. But “Pretend We’re Dead” felt spontaneous, reactionary, and, yeah, contagious. SPIN caught up with Sparks, who wrote the hit, in the midst of working on a DVD to celebrate the album’s 20th anniversary, and we learned exactly how close she came to making this a love song (spoiler: not very).
When was the last time you listened to “Pretend We’re Dead”?
Oh God, are you kidding me? I never put it on. I almost watched the video for you, but I didn’t have time. I was rushing out of the bathtub.
Okay, then, let’s start at the beginning: How did you come up with this song?
I was in my apartment in Echo Park listening to the cassette I’d made, trying to write some lyrics. I was heartbroken at the time. I was actually devastated. And the first thing that came to my mind was, “I just pretend that you’re dead.” And I didn’t mean it in a malicious way, not like I wanted him dead or anything, but I truly felt that the only way I could get through this was to pretend this guy was dead. I had to mourn him. And then immediately, in my mind, I’m like, I’m not writing that. It’s just not gonna happen. What about, “pretend we’re dead”? I liked that because that was a children’s game. And then it became kind of a commentary on Reagan/Bush–era apathy. I don’t think I’ve ever told that story, actually.
I had no idea it was personal!
Yeah. I hope I’m not blowing it for anybody, but that was the process. At that time, there was no room for showing vulnerability in our band, so love songs were out of the question. No one knew about it. It was a personal suffering. So there you have it.
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