Lady Bird made me reconsider Dave Matthews Band.
In Greta Gerwig’s debut feature, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a bull-headed high school senior, listens to the 1996 single “Crash Into Me” with her best friend after they get their hearts broken. I wasn’t expecting the scene to hit so hard—the song has been used in movies to schmaltzy effect, and DMB rendered a punchline—but it was the first of several times my eyes involuntarily welled up.
I remember having 1996’s Crash and 1994’s Under the Table and Dreaming, which sat alongside Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill in my CD holder. (Alanis gets a shoutout in Lady Bird, as does Bikini Kill—Greta Gerwig get outta my head.) I remember playing Under the Table and Dreaming‘s “Satellite” on repeat and staring up at my bedroom ceiling (which was plastered with those glow-in-the-dark stars) and yearning to be somewhere other than South Florida, much like Lady Bird yearns to escape her zip code and difficult relationship with her mom (played by the sublime Laurie Metcalf). Gerwig echoed this sentiment when she sent Matthews a letter asking to use the song.
Letters that Greta Gerwig sent to Alanis Morissette, Dave Matthews and Justin Timberlake, respectively, requesting their songs for Lady Bird. pic.twitter.com/T9t8MrE7OX— Robertsom (@justrobertsom) November 21, 2017
The film begins in 2002, in Sacramento, so that song was already somewhat vintage. If you’d asked 2002 me about Dave Matthews Band, I probably would have scoffed; I was in college and into experimental noise rock like Lightning Bolt then. DMB was a jam band, and I’d removed Grateful Dead stickers from my car years before. These are the identities we find and shed. In the film, when the song is played a second time and her cool new beau disses it, Lady Bird finds the courage to defend it, and herself: “I fucking love this song.”
During a 1999 episode of VH1’s Storytellers, Matthews explained that the song is actually about a stalker, and prefaced that by saying it’s about the “worship of women.” I’m sure I didn’t understand that nuance as a 16-year-old blasting Crash in my room. “Crash Into Me” was just about romance and longing—even the lyric “Hike up your skirt a little more/and show the world to me,” which is very cringe-worthy now. Gerwig told Huffington Post: “I just always thought it was the most romantic song in the world.” That divide between fantasy and reality is writ large in Lady Bird.
To be sure, the movie is more than that song: Lady Bird deserves its gold-star rating for creating a world that feels so authentic; Gerwig holds a masterful balance between wild teenage emotion and adult responsibility and gives Sacramento its own character. After revisiting Crash 20 years later, there weren’t any new revelations about its place in pop culture. But that song resonates because it reminds many of us of a time when we were unsure and uncool, and that was OK.