Stay Here, and Always Be The Same - Limp Bizkit's Significant Other turns 20
First, an aside:
At the end of June, in 1999, I was on the cusp of turning 16—though that wouldn’t happen until the first week of July. On June 22nd, Limp Bizkit’s sophomore album, Significant Other, had been released—and I just had to get my teenage hands on it.
A little disappointed that I was unable to purchase it the very day that it was released, simply because I had no way to get myself to one of the three department stores in my hometown—ShopKo was the only one out of the trio that sold music that had not been edited for content (at the time K-Mart most certainly did, and the other option was Wal-Mart), I had to wait until the weekend, on a shopping trip to some kind of suburb outside of Chicago—a long stretch of urban sprawl and big box stores which, at 15, was totally fine with me.
I wanted to buy Significant Other from a Best Buy—for one, this was during a time when big box stores like Best Buy or even department stores, would put new releases on sale during their first week—many of them were $9.99, or maybe slightly more than that. The other reason was, as advertised in the weekly Best Buy flier from the Sunday paper, there was, if I recall correctly, a special Limp Bizkit keychain available, for free, with purchase of the album, while supplies lasted.
Four days had passed between the album’s release, and the day I was finally able to go and purchase a copy of it—needless to say, if there had been keychains available at this very Best Buy, they were long gone by the time got there on a Saturday afternoon. I can remember the clerk who rang up my purchase was very confused by me asking about the keychains, as I pulled what was more than likely a crisp $20 out of my chain wallet, and departed.
Later that afternoon, prior to eating lunch at a White Castle—to this day, the first and only time I have been to one—getting an upset stomach from the food, and then sitting through a late afternoon screening of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, my mother and I were walking through the parking lot toward yet another big box store. As we were making our way through the rows of cars, baking in the hot June sun, there was a car parked in the lot, full of teenagers, who were listening to Significant Other as loud as their stereo would allow them.
The track coming from the car was “Break Stuff.”
Seeing as how 20 years have passed, I’m not entirely sure how I knew what was going to happen next—perhaps there had been some kind of Significant Other-related special on MTV in advance of the record’s release so that I was, in fact, 100% aware of the lyrical content of the song “Break Stuff.” As we approached the car, the song reached its climactic moment—where, after a simmering build up that continues to grow, the band’s already iconic frontman, Fred Durst, belts out, “And if my day keeps going this way I just might BREAK YOUR FUCKING FACE TONIGHT.”
With the music still blaring from the car in the parking lot, my mother turned to me as we continued to walk through the parking lot, and said, “Well, I hope you aren’t listening to music like that.”
I think about Fred Durst more than I should.
I’m not sure why, at age 36, he, as well as the idea of Limp Bizkit, are things that regularly cross my mind, but they are. I think about his fashion sense, and how for a while, he made the red, fitted, New York Yankees cap the must have accessory for every young white man.
I think about this photo of him with Ben Stiller from either 1999 or 2000, and how, on Limp Bizkit’s third album, the horrifically titled Chocolate Starfish and The Hotdog Flavored Water, he personally thanks Stiller in the liner notes, and goes so far as to dedicate a song to him, shouting him out in the song’s intro, calling him ‘my favorite motherfucker.’
I wonder if they are still friends.
Limp Bizkit, by all accounts, were terrible. That was the point, allegedly.
They still are terrible. They are still a band, in the year 2019—nearly 25 years after they rose to stardom, practically overnight, thanks to the unexpected success of an aggressive take on the George Michael song, “Faith.” They haven’t released any new music in nearly a decade, but the band still tours regularly—occasionally in the United States, but mostly throughout Europe, and mostly at large festivals where they, still, sit high atop the sprawling list of performers.
The band itself, as well as their first three records—their visceral debut, Three Dollar Bill, Y’all, Significant Other, and its quick follow up Chocolate Starfish—can only be thought of now as being representative of the time. Limp Bizkit is part of the zeitgeist of the late 1990s, and into the new millennium. Something that strange, and something that obnoxious, could only have happened, and only have been so widely embraced and championed, during this time in the history of pop music.
Limp Bizkit is, perhaps, the kind of thing that could only come out of Florida—Jacksonville, to be specific. The group formed in 1995, after Durst, his friend Sam Rivers, and Rivers’ cousin John Otto, began jamming together, later adding the theatrical guitarist Wes Borland to the mix, who would go on to quit (the first time) within a year after joining, and then some how, when it was determined a second guitarist wasn’t going to work in the fold, connecting with DJ Lethal—born Leor Dimant—who had split from House of Pain, and wound up as the band’s turntablist.
Naming themselves something they thought everyone would hate, or turn their nose up at, the group slowly gained a following regionally, mostly through Durst’s incessant networking and promotion of the group. To break themselves out of Florida, it was through a fleeting encounter with Korn’s bassist Field, whom Durst more or less forced the Limp Bizkit demo tape onto, that allowed them exposure to a larger audience—the group would open for both Korn and Faith No More, throughout 1996, and into 1997, following the release of their debut album.
Arguably a more iconic figure than Durst himself, guitarist Wes Borland always seemed like the odd man out in Limp Bizkit—painting his face with elaborate makeup, and donning intricate costumes, it never seemed like he truly belonged within the rest of the group’s aesthetic; something that he may have actually recognized on more than one occasion. Borland left in 1996, and after being replaced by two additional guitarists, the band, at that time, had inked a deal with MCA Records.
On their way to the West Coast to record, the band was involved in a van wreck—and suffering injuries, if I can recall, Durst looked at the situation as a ‘near death experience,’ and made amends with Borland, who was added back into the fold. The deal with MCA was also called off, and Limp Bizkit signed with Flip and Interscope Records.
Three Dollar Bill, Y’all, issued in July of 1997, was recorded with Ross Robinson, a notoriously volatile producer who would push artists both emotionally and physically to get what he wanted out of them. You can hear that tension and anger in the album—a blistering set of songs that teeter between rap, funk, and hard rock, Three Dollar Bill was released to little, if any, fanfare, and it took well over a year of antics and theatrics from Durst to get the band more and more attention, including a payola scandal involving a hard rock station on Portland being paid $5,000 of Interscope’s money to play the album’s first single, “Counterfeit,” a certain amount of times, and using a enormous toilet as a stage prop during their run of shows on the package tour Ozzfest in the summer of 1998.
As infamous as the band was becoming, it paid off, as did releasing their oddball cover of George Michael’s “Faith” as the third single from Three Dollar Bill, Y’all—exponentially more accessible than anything else on the record, even with Durst screaming “GET THE FUCK UP” at one point near the song’s conclusion, it’s still a pop song, at its core, and it became a mainstay of the MTV video countdown program “Total Request Live”—“TRL,” itself, being another bizarre zeitgeist of the era, as the top 10 videos were often spilt between pop acts like Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, and N’SYNC, and then hard rock that had broken into the mainstream, like Korn and Limp Bizkit.
Following the 1998 Family Values tour, rather than take a break, Limp Bizkit began work on their sophomore album, working with rock producer Terry Date, who had previously manned the boards for albums by Pantera, White Zombie, Soundgarden, and the Deftones Around The Fur.
Perhaps a more ‘seasoned’ producer than Robinson was, or perhaps with more Interscope money at their disposal thanks to the slow burning success the band achieved over roughly 18 months, there is a night and day difference between Three Dollar Bill, Y’all and Significant Other—in terms of production value, yes, but also in the band’s lyrical content, as well as their arranging and ‘songwriting,’ as it were.
Significant Other has not aged well—this is not something that should surprise you.
In fact, the true shelf life of an album of this nature was not very long at all—and two decades later, time has not been kind to it. Time has, if anything, been very, very cruel to Limp Bizkit.
However, what may surprise you is that its predecessor, Three Dollar Bill, Y’all, hasn’t aged ‘well,’ either; I stop short of saying time has been kinder to it, but for some reason that is all too difficult to explain, it’s a tad bit easier on the ears in 2019 than its follow up.
I think about Fred Durst more often than I should.
For a while, I would work Sunday mornings with somebody who I would occasionally chat about music with—mostly one-hit wonders, or artists forgotten by the passage of time. He was at a work station with a laptop, and as we discussed various names from the past, he would search to see what they were up to in the current day.
“Is Eagle Eye Cherry okay?” was one of the searches he did, which provided a relatively recent G.Q. piece that led us to believe that Cherry was, in fact, not okay—there was some very memorable line in the profile about how Cherry wanted people to stop yelling ‘SAVE TONIGHT!’ at him from across the street.
There was more than one morning when the topic of Limp Bikzit came up—and the question “Is Fred Durst okay?” was asked.
The answer is both yes, and no.
Outside of his work fronting Limp Bizkit, Durst, believe it or not, hosts a weekly jazz night at Black Rabbit Rose in Hollywood where, believe it or not, Lady Gaga was a recent guest performer, singing Frank Sinatra songs the entire night.
Is Fred Durst okay?
He always dabbled in filmmaking—he directed almost every Limp Bizkit music video in the band’s history, and began working on feature films in the mid-2000s. His latest feature, currently titled The Fanatic, filmed in Alabama in 2018, and stars, believe it or not, John Travolta. It was slated to screen at the 2019 Cannes festival, but Travolta, unhappy with the current edit of the film, called off the screening. The movie may or may not be released theatrically later this summer.
Is Fred Durst okay?
Last fall, while performing with Limp Bizkit, Durst was almost drop kicked by Shaggy 2 Dope of the clown-themed rap group Insane Clown Posse. The fan shot video from the audience makes it look like Shaggy 2 Dope barely make contact with Durst’s backside as he finishes a song. He turns around and looks at Shaggy, laying on the stage floor, being hauled away by security, and calls him a ‘pussy.’
Is Fred Durst okay?
Durst’s house—and allegedly a bunch of Wes Borland’s guitar gear—burned to the ground in the late 2018 fires in California.
Is Fred Durst okay?
The answer is both yes, and no.
I think about Fred Durst, and Limp Bizkit, more often than I should.
Significant Other is almost unlistenable in 2019.
It was, more than likely, unlistenable in 1999, but I was an overweight teenager who didn’t really know any better, even though by 1999, I was listening to records like Fantastic Planet by Failure and lots, and lots of Radiohead, so maybe, just maybe, I should have known better.
Even for the sake of writing a 20th anniversary thinkpiece on Significant Other, I found it practically impossible to sit down with the record, because it is overflowing with so many problematic, cringe worthy, and head scratching moments.
I think maybe, at 16, deep down I knew this wasn’t a good album—but it was something I was naïve enough to look beyond. It’s a difficult album to play through from start to finish. Of the album’s 15 tracks, two of them are the obligatory album ‘intro’ and ‘outro,’ and of the 13 remaining songs, two are, more or less, things that you would perform live to get your audience hyped up, but would maybe not want to commit to tape and place on a record. And maybe that’s the problem with the album as a whole, if you can even fathom looking at a group like Limp Bizkit and an album like Significant Other from a critical standpoint—the content of the songs really fail to make a connection. There are other times when Limp Bikzit has, believe it or not, made a connection lyrically, and there are times when a song does surprisingly work on Significant Other, but a bulk of it is just faux-aggressive shouting and yelling, over the top of ‘metal’ chugging guitars, and it’s just dead on arrival.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous song that was unleashed from Significant Other was its first single, “Nookie.” Released in advance of the album1, “Nookie” is Significant Other’s most straightforward attempt at a pop song, or at least, something that follows a ‘pop song’ structure. The verses are more or less forgettable—just Durst rapping about a woman who has done him wrong (this makes up a majority of Durst’s lyrics.) It’s the song’s refrain that everybody remembers. Structurally, the two verses to “Nookie” are built around DJ Lethal’s programming and keyboards, with minimal instrumentation provided by the other band members. It’s in the refrain where John Otto’s thundering, crisp sounding drums come pummeling in, Sam Rivers’ five string bass begins rumbling, and Wes Borland’s heavy metal riffs snarl, all while Durst barks that he “DID IT ALL FOR THE NOOKIE,” and then commands that someone (not entirely sure who) should take that cookie and stick it up their ‘yeah.’
The thing that always made Borland seem like the odd man out in Limp Bizkit, aside from his stage presence, was his diversity and skill with the guitar. Chugging out heavy metal, dropped D tuned riffs is one thing—but there’s some admirable, intricate, borderline dreamy and hazy work on a number of Limp Bizkit songs—Chocolate Starfish is host to many of them. He doesn’t get a chance to showcase much of that on Significant Other, but the album’s second single, “Re-Arranged,” features both some thick, rollicking bass lines from Rivers, as well as some hypnotic guitar noodling from Borland—at least until the song’s visceral, explosive conclusion. It’s not nearly as catchy or accessible to a pop audience as “Nookie” is, but as far as songs from this record go, it’s at least one of the few palatable tracks, even with Durst’s atonal singing during the verses and even in the song’s very simple refrain.
Durst isn’t much of a ‘singer’ in the traditional sense, is he?
I guess that is admirable too, to an extent. He tries. He tries more on Significant Other than he did on Three Dollar Bill, Y’all, partially because he was receiving some vocal coaching, or at least some minor direction, from the likes of Jonathan Davis from Korn, Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots (both of whom appear on the album’s halfway point, “Nobody Like You”) as well as Aaron Lewis of the recently discovered Staind, who Durst had brokered a deal with for Flip Records. Lewis appears on what is, perhaps, the album’s most cringe worthy moment: the late arriving “No Sex,” which finds Durst discussing the troubles of a relationship based on sex alone—“Should have left my pants on this time,” he belts out without reservation. “But instead you had to let me dive right in.” 2
“No Sex” is just cringe worthy—it’s not really ‘problematic’ per se. There are, as it may not surprise you at all, a number of very, very problematic lyrics throughout both the entire Limp Bizkit canon (but of course) as well as on Significant Other.
Right out of the gate, on the energetic first ‘proper’ song, “Just Like This,” Durst waxes about “Psycho females blowin’ up the phone lines” (a callback to a lyric from “Stuck,” from Three Dollar Bill) as well as the sound of the band proving that it “ain’t fake when the girls get naked.” Then later, on the album’s other single, “N 2gether Now,” which gets a surprising feature from the Wu-Tang Clan’s breakout star Method Man, Durst lets some homophobia fly by referring to the ‘media’ as ‘dykes.’
The overall, overtly misogynistic, faux-macho, agro attitude that the band postures throughout Significant Other was, in 1999, enough to make someone listening feel, perhaps, a little uncomfortable; 20 years later, you have to wonder how, exactly, an album like this, and a band like this, garnered so much mainstream success.
She called it the ‘dick in my hand’ song.
Last year, at some point, I heard about that quote from Earl Sweatshirt—it’s the one that got him in trouble with Eminem. “If you still follow Eminem,” he said a number of years prior, “you drink way too much Mountain Dew, and probably need to, like, come home from the army.”
By the time I got to college, I could tell it was time to start growing out of and beyond bands like Korn (which I had kind of already done thanks to how boring their fourth album, Issues, wound up being) and Limp Bizkit. When you’re 18, at a liberal arts college in the Midwest, touting albums by Radiohead and Sigur Ros, I realized that a Limp Bizkit CD in my collection (or the patch on the back of my winter jacket) was more or less a skeleton stuffed into the closet with a red, backwards, fitted Yankees ballcap atop its head.
During my first year of college, I was kind of friends with a girl named Meghan—she listened to a lot of emo music, and I have this memory of us walking down the stairs, and noticing the Limp Bizkit patch that had been sown onto what, at the time, I was using as my winter jacket. She said something about the song from Significant Other called “Don’t Go Off Wandering”—the song, arriving at the start of the album’s second half, that, surprisingly enough, features a string arrangement.
She called it the ‘dick in my hand’ song, because of yet another gem from Fred Durst—“You only want what you can’t have—as for me, I’m stuck with my dick in my hand.”
“Don’t Go Off Wandering” is one of two very perplexing, surprisingly listenable, and actually interesting moments on Significant Other.
It’s unexpected—the inclusion of a dramatic, sweeping string arrangement, present to add an extra layer of drama and theatricality to Durst’s woeful tale of more love turned sour. “Everyday is nothing but stress to me,” he begins. “I’m constantly dwelling on how you get the best of me. Wanna know something—I can’t believe the way you keep testing me, and mentally molesting me.” Yes, that’s right. He, with an earnest, straight face, says ‘mentally molesting’ in a song. It, like so many other head scratching lyrics on Significant Other, gave me reason for pause in 1999, and have, as you can expect, not aged well at all 20 years later. I get the sentiment, sure, but it’s laughable at best.
You could say the same thing for Limp Bizkit as a band.
“Don’t Go Off Wandering” is at least musically interesting in the way it is arranged. Outside of the dramatic strings, it allows Borland to switch back and forth between dynamics, using the heavy hard rock riffs during the song’s refrain, and lets him ‘wander,’ if you will, into more atmospheric work throughout the song’s verses.
The other moment of interest, or at least of surprise, is the album’s proper closing track—a lullaby of sorts entitled “A Lesson Learned,” which arrives shortly before the album’s ‘outro’ track—an extended version of the introduction to the album that segues into a sprawling hidden track (it was the CD era, after all.) “A Lesson Learned” is a track that is produced entirely by DJ Lethal, who aside from the occasional turntable scratches and layer of keyboards, is credited as ‘sound designer’ in places for the band. It’s an eerie, mournful, stuttering beat, with swirling keyboards around it, allowing Lethal’s beatmaking and programming abilities to shine after having spent a bulk of the album in the backseat.
Durst’s lyrics, delivered through cavernous echo, are melodramatic, yes, but it’s a stark turn from the various poses he takes throughout the record—here, he is pensive and reflects on the band’s sudden rise to fame. “I know more people than ever before, and one lesson I’ve learned from it all—fortune and fame are disguised as your friend because I’m lonelier now than I’ve ever been.”
It’s partially missing from the version of Significant Other found in the iTunes store, but the album, following the ‘outro,’ wraps up with two spoken word hidden tracks. The omitted piece to this, in the digital version anyway, is from Primus frontman Les Claypool, who chides the listener for wasting $15 on a Limp Bizkit album. The portion of the hidden track that comes with the digital album is from former MTV personality and radio DJ Matt Pinfield, who at the time, was still the host of the late night ‘alternative rock’ program, “120 Minutes.” Once a breeding ground for college and alternative rock of the early to mid 1990s, by 1999, “120 Minutes” relegated all of that to its second hour, and spent the first hour playing videos by artists like Limp Bizkit.
Pinfield—a tastemaker of sorts, at the time—waxes about the garbage that you hear on the radio, and suggests bands like Limp Bizkit are the answer.
20 years later, I wonder if he still feels that way.
I think about Fred Durst more often than I should.
I never bought a red, fitted Yankees ballcap. I wanted to though—instead, in the late summer of 1999, I bought a blue, fitted Yankees hat from a hat store, like Lids, or whatever, at the Cherryvale Mall in Rockford, Illinois. It may have been a little on the big side, I don’t know—it was the first and only time I bought a fitted ballcap. I bought a blue one because I wanted to be different, but I wanted to hop on this fashion bandwagon led by Durst, and I saw a photograph of him someplace wearing this shade of blue Yankees hat.
I made the mistake of wearing it to school once—I had it on after school, waiting for my friend Peter so I could give him a ride home. As we wandered he halls, getting ready to leave, I heard this awful, incredibly angry teacher yelling at me about my hat. His name was Bill Pospichill—everyone hated him, and I guess in a way he made himself hated by being so abrasive and verbally abusive to a number of the students. “Kevin, who is your favorite player for the Yankees?” I heard him hollering at me. I thought it wise to ignore him—I don’t think I wore the hat much after that, maybe out of embarrassment.
I have no idea where it went, or what happened to it after my senior year in high school.
Less than two months after the release of Significant Other, Limp Bizkit found themselves on the bill for the ill fated Woodstock ’99 festival—inciting a riot during their set, specifically with the song “Break Stuff.” Audience members proceeded to do that very thing: ripping plywood off the scaffolding, prompting Durst himself to crowd surf on a piece of wood.
“Fred Durst can crowd surf a piece of plywood up my ass,” retorted Trent Reznor in a Rolling Stone profile in the fall of 1999, upon the release of the Nine Inch Nails album The Fragile. I loved both bands, and was uncertain how to feel about the comment.
Durst, in an infamous self-own, tried to write a Trent Reznor diss track the following year for Chocolate Starfish, but in interpolating the melody from “Closer,” as well as cribbing lyrics from a handful of other Nine Inch Nail songs, he had to credit Reznor as a songwriter.
It wasn’t just plywood ripped off of scaffolding that caused the hard rock slant of Woodstock ’99 to be problematic—the countless sexual assaults that happened during the festival, specifically during Limp Bizkit’s and Korn’s sets, as well as the entire festival imploding, ending in fires being set everywhere by irate festival goers late in the third evening, did not present a weekend of ‘peace, love, and music’ in the kindest light.
Limp Bizkit fell apart in 2001—the contentious relationship between Borland and Durst may have proved to be creative at times, though by the time the group finished touring in support of Chocolate Starfish, Borland’s music writing became more and more experimental, alienating Durst’s vision for the band. Bizkit continued without Borland through laborious sessions for their fourth album, Results May Vary, released in the fall of 2003; Borland re-joined, though John Otto was not involved, in the 2005 EP The Unquestionable Truth (part one)—there has never been a part two.
The band’s last full length, and final record for Interscope, was Gold Cobra, issued in 2011; they signed with, of all labels, Cash Money, shortly there after, and while a few singles have popped up online over the last seven or eight years, the promised new album, Stampede of The Disco Elephants, has not materialized.
20 years ago, Significant Other was not the kind of album that I could really make it through from beginning to end. It’s the kind of album that warrants a lot of skipping around—and 20 years later, it still warrants that. Making it through, start to finish, is a real chore.
Limp Bizkit, at the height of their popularity, for, like a year or so, were never looked at as making ‘good’ music, or that they were a good band. Musically, the band (minus Durst) sounds incredibly tight on Significant Other—this may be due to the production budget and Terry Date’s oversight of the band in the studio. Or maybe there were just some members who were excellent at their instrument, and this was the kind of music they wound up playing.
For something that was critically reviled, it’s bizarre to look at how popular this was, and how successful the band got. I mean, shortly before the album’s release, Durst himself was named a fucking Vice President of A&R for Interscope, charged with finding new talent to sign.
Limp Bizkit were like a big, dumb summer action movie—something that inexplicably makes a ton of money, and finds a huge audience, but fails to make any ‘real’ meaningful connection. Something that’s ‘fun,’ but is a complete guilty pleasure.
Significant Other is best left, like the band itself, to the memories you have from when you were a teenager, listening to this band in earnest. I can think about Fred Durst all I want to—more often than I should, really—and how he packs a chainsaw, and how he’ll skin my ass raw, and how visceral a song like “Break Stuff” still is, to this day, but it’s not a good song or a song you want to admit to anyone that you may still want to listen to in only a semi-ironic way.
Sometimes you drink way too much Mountain Dew and need to come home from the army. I have no clue what happened to my Limp Bizkit CDs—my well worn copy of Significant Other that I maybe got a few bucks for when I traded it in sometime in 2001 or 2002, probably. This is not the kind of music that grows with you, or that you can take with you through time. You grow out of it almost immediately—a ‘sell by’ date that is, really, only a year or two in duration.
Limp Bizkit is currently on tour across Europe—their original line up, which is surprising how much animosity members of the band have for one another. Presumably, they aren’t playing new material. Do festival goers who come out to see Limp Bizkit want to hear new songs? Or do they want to hear the ‘hits’ that they know the words to?
Do they want to watch Borland, covered in body paint, strange contact lenses in his eyes, flail around to the left of Durst on stage? Do they want to see Durst, more or less wearing the same thing he was wearing over 20 years ago?
“Nothing’s gonna change—you can go away,” Durst sang on “Nookie.” “I’m just gonna stay here and always be the same.”
1- So, like, first I want to say I really don’t like to shit talk other internet music writers, or ‘review a review’ of something, but I find myself in these situations where I do both. Stereogum (the poorman’s Pitchfork) recently did an anniversary piece on Significant Other—it’s not very good, but that’s not the point I am making here. In the piece, the author struggles to find online when the video for “Nookie” debuted on MTV. The Wikipedia entry for the song says it was simply released as a single a week before the album came out, but I, too, much like the writer of the Stereogum piece, have memories of talking about the song in high school, in the spring, before we were let out for the summer. There is no way I was still in school on June 15th, 1999.
2- Another quick aside about this Stereogum piece. Chris DeVille misquotes “No Sex” in his essay and man, this is a super quick thing he could have gone onto any lyric website to double check. Just saying.