Song of the Day #447: ‘Dutch Wonderland’ – Josh Joplin Group

joshjoplinHere’s another one of those weird albums that found their way into my CD collection through mysterious circumstances I no longer recall.

I can’t remember ever reading any reviews of the Josh Joplin Group or hearing them recommended by friends. I assume I picked the album up on the cheap either used or at my office’s semi-annual auction, because I never pay full price for a blind item.

However it came into my possession, 2000’s Useful Music is a strong collection of arty power pop. The group had a minor hit with ‘Camera One,’ a Hollywood-themed song that was played on an episode of Scrubs. I’ve read lots of comparisons between Joplin’s voice and Michael Stipe’s but I have to say I don’t hear it. I mean, I can appreciate the similarities, but Stipe’s vocals are so distinctive I can’t imagine anybody else being mistaken for him.

Today’s song is a bittersweet bit of nostalgia and an appropriate follow-up to yesterday’s freak-out about the passage of time. I like the reference to Johnny Cougar and the clever gym teacher couplet and I find the final verse compelling. What exactly does the car metaphor symbolize? A general loss of innocence or something more specific? It kind of brings 9/11 to mind, but this was written before it happened. How do you interpret it?

Beneath the snow lies a dream that I once had
And I know that I’ll never go back
To the Christmas colored neighborhood as thoughtful as a card
With a plastic baby Jesus in the yard

It was all and it was nothing at all
It was all and it was nothing at all

What we didn’t know we didn’t think to ask
The world was just a globe we used in class
Where the gym teacher was always mad and as far as we could tell
He only exercised his right to yell

It was all and it was nothing at all
It was all and it was nothing at all

As the kings of boredom we ruled as we knew how
Or at least as long as our curfews would allow
Couple skates, love-sick songs, in moments without pause
As Johnny Cougar amplified our cause

It was all and it was nothing at all
It was all and it was nothing at all

We were the great believers that dreams came with stars
And freedom just depended on the car
Until one day the sky fell in and freedom lost control
And ran off the road and hit a pole

It was all and it was nothing at all
It was all and it was nothing at all

Beneath the snow lies a dream that I once had

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4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #447: ‘Dutch Wonderland’ – Josh Joplin Group

  1. pegclifton says:

    Maybe it’s not a metaphor but a reality, and he died in a car accident and is buried under the snow???? Just saying.

  2. Amy says:

    I do think it’s about all those young kids who drive too fast, too recklessly, in their pursuit of freedom, only to lose control and wind up dead on the side of a highway. How many times have you driven by those makeshift memorials by the side of the road? Each time, I shake my head, sigh deeply, and remember to be extra careful when I’m behind the wheel (which, I imagine, is at least one of the reasons they’ve been placed there).

    This songs seems an ode to that time when young adults can’t fathom their own mortality, the world is nothing but a globe in a classroom, and all they need is what’s available behind the wheel of whichever car they’re lucky enough to be driving.

  3. Dana says:

    I don’t think the song is literally about a car crash. I just think the car is a symbol of the careless freedom and dreams that we enjoy in our youth. That freedom and those dreams fade away and are replaced with the responsibilities and realities of becoming an adult.

    And, on that depressing note, I shall go to bed so I can wake up and safely drive my car to work:)

  4. Clay says:

    I agree with Dana’s interpretation.

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