I get asked about “Jerk” a lot, which makes sense — it raises a lot of questions about my self-esteem, and it rings alarms for some. When my cousin Eugenie heard it for the first time, she had kind of a tear in her eye as she raised the point that maybe I was pushing the self-deprecation a bit far, and maybe hating on myself wasn’t a healthy thing to do. I feel like I should blog about it. So, here goes!
When I moved to New York, I lost touch with a lot of people, and some of them took it extremely personally. I’ve always been a fairly solitary person — while I love my friends dearly, they’ll all tell you that I’m not around all that much — so it’s always strange to me when they’re surprised that I’ve been to Pittsburgh and they haven’t seen me. Usually, when I visit, I try to arrange a few playdates and plan at least two public outings — one for a gig, one for hanging with a large cluster of friends (bar, movie, whatever). It doesn’t always happen that way, and when it does, it isn’t always all-inclusive, but that was how I always was.
One particular person got steamed about things, and told me over Facebook chat that I had become a jerk after moving to NYC, that I wasn’t making time for my ‘real friends’ anymore. My contention was that I had always been this way, but something about this proclomation was sticking in my craw, and every day for weeks I was apologizing for any screw-up with, “I am a jerk:”
(to person on the subway)
“Sorry! Didn’t mean to bump into you. I am a jerk! I’ll back up.”
(to boss, at office)
“Nope! Forgot to do that. I am a jerk! On it now.”
(to Autumn Ayers, after she was taken aback by a tiny rip I made on her:)
“What? OK, sorry. I am a jerk! I say things that jerks say!”
AUTUMN: There’s a song there, I think.
AUTUMN: “I do things that jerks do, I play games that jerks play?”
ME: “It’s just the jerk’s way….”
We laughed about it, then went to a ballgame. Later that night, we were at Mark Willson’s house, on his back porch, and I had a guitar and started messing around with the lyric. It became Family Feud: Paul’s Flaws Week:
MARK: You’re stubborn.
ME (singing): Yeah, I want things my own way — it’s been like that since my first birthday, my first cake was a twinkie, my first word was ‘lame,’ I’m a jerk….
KRISTY STRICKLER: You neglect your true friends!
ME (singing): I’m ungrateful and selfiiiiish,
ME: Loving me must
KRISTY AND I: …be HELLISH!
KRISTY: That’s awesome.
At that point, the chorus said “You can’t touch me now” — that didn’t change until the first performance, where I changed it on the second go-by to “You can’t change me now” (You can actually see that performance on YouTube, and watch my mind change in mid-song) — and it felt dark but funny. Mark and Kristy went to bed, with Mark’s final advice being that I keep it funny and end with the joke I was developing about how, despite being a jerk, I could make a lot of money with my first hit single (this later evolved into, “All this, and ladies, the boy’s still single,” which he agreed was a better joke.)
Autumn and I stayed up until about 4, and at some point, she said, “Listen, you know you’re not a jerk. You come off that way, but you’re not. You don’t need to spend a whole song beating yourself up over this — maybe turn it around in the bridge and talk about how people see you one way but you’re actually a decent guy.”
I don’t think we finished the song that night, but as I was writing the bridge, I had Autumn in my ear the whole time, and I’m very grateful to her for willing this number into my life.
It is my niece Cassie’s favorite song.