Given the singer's chiseled good looks and teenybopper fan base, Springfield's songwriting talents tended to go unnoticed; even today, the song is often regarded as a kind of 80s "guilty pleasure," devoid of substance and only fit to be appreciated with a dollop of ironical post-modern smarm. Yet Jessie's Girl has endured through the decades for much the same reason that it first became a hit; in addition to being a catchy-as- hell power pop anthem, it also effectively catches the angst of the alpha male hellaciously hoisted by his own petard, in a manner that elicits both amusement and pity from the listener.
The speaker in the song is a cocky, macho guy who, one can infer, has never had much of a problem when it comes to the ladies. Yet for all of his "skills," the guy (let's call him "Rick") is strikingly clueless about how to deal with his new romantic plight. Simply put, he's got the hots for his best friend's girl, and he can't understand why nothing in his lover's bag of tricks succeeds at impressing her. Despite Rick’s undeniable charm and abundance of savoir-faire, the object of his arousal seems unmoved by his efforts, and continues to be devoted to the "Jessie" of the title.
Jessie is "a friend," Rick insists; moreover, "a good friend." But now "something's changed": namely, "Jessie's got himself a girl, and I want to make her mine."
Well, so much for "bros before hoes"! In fact, while some men would find it a moral dilemma to be desperately attracted to a friend's significant other, Rick appears relatively unshaken by the possible damage he could do to this friendship by attempting to steal Jessie’s girlfriend—rather, he is exclusively occupied by what he "wants."( Rick's favorite philosopher might well be Aleister—"Do what thou wilt"—Crowley; his filmmaker of choice is probably Woody—"The heart wants what it wants"—Allen.)
Yet Rick's caddish amorality is mitigated by the poignancy of his frustration at being the odd-man out whenever he gets together with Jessie and his gorgeous, maddeningly desirable main squeeze, who remains completely, inexplicably uninterested in him and totally into Jessie. In spite of ourselves, and in spite of Rick's unbecoming self-centered petulance, we feel sorry for this third-wheel-with-an-attitude. "I feel so dirty when they start talking cute!" he fumes, and we wince in sympathy for him. "I want to tell her that I love her, but the point is probably moot," he sulks, and we marvel at his appropriate if unconventional use of this bit of legal terminology. Why are his affections rendered "moot"? Because, as Rick moans in agony during the song's memorable pre-chorus:
"She's watchin' him with those eyes!
And she's lovin' him with that body, I just know it!
And he's holdin' her in his arms late, late at night…"
That girl's eyes! Her body! And all this while she's loving Jessie, not him! Rick is clearly obsessed, and the fervor of his lust is unsettling, yet at the same time strangely moving. The jealousy he feels towards his friend for scoring such a babe-licious girlfriend lends him a humanizing touch. But even more oddly endearing is Rick's incredulity at the idea that this girl could possibly not be interested in him. After all, he's Rick!
"And I'm lookin' in the mirror all the time
Wonderin' what she don’t see in me
I’ve been funny; I’ve been cool with the lines
Ain’t that the way love’s supposed to be?”
As Rick studies his own dashing countenance and killer abs in the glass, his inner turmoil mounts. How could Jessie’s girl NOT recognize all the wonderful things about him that he sees with such full, technicolor clarity in himself? And it isn't as though he's been some sort of nerdy "beta orbiter" around her, either. No: he's been "funny" and "cool with the lines," like any good disciple of "game." That the entire enterprise of winning her over should have failed—that Jessie's girl is still Jessie’s girl, and hasn't become Rick's girl by now—astounds and befuddles our hapless hero. And equally unfathomable is the notion that “love” might entail something other than wowing a girl with your cool "lines" and witty repartee, as a means towards getting said girl to fuck you in the backseat of your Camero.
It's no good: the poor, dear ass just continues to keep wanting what he wants: namely, Jessie's girl. Yet, try as he might, he still can’t manage to wrest her away from his friend. "Why can't I find a woman like that?" he angrily asks the universe. And indeed, have we not all posed a similar question to the cosmic powers-that-be, if not about a woman, then about something equally as desirable?
Rick may be a douche, but his sad situation nevertheless strikes a chord, underlining an all-too-common aspect of the human condition. We are Ricks in a Jessie world. No matter how much we delude ourselves, the truth is that we aren't all that, and she’s just not that into us. Yet the notion of manful stoicism repels us—we want what we want, damnit! We must keep trying. Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning, Jessie's girl might be ours!
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
11th September, 2013