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Everybody Thinks ‘Blister in the Sun’ Is About Masturbation — Except the Guy Who Wrote It

Featured in Hulu’s ‘High Fidelity,’ the Violent Femmes hit has inspired a longstanding, completely erroneous belief among fans. So why do we all assume it’s a song about self-gratification?

In Hulu’s High Fidelity, as you might imagine, the soundtrack is filled with all types of classic songs, including Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun,” an alternative-rock staple that I’ve hated for about 30 years.

The reasons why I detest “Blister in the Sun” aren’t important at the moment. (But to get them out of the way: I can’t stand the cutesy opening acoustic riff; I can’t stand Gordon Gano’s whiny, nasally delivery; and I can’t stand its kiddie-simple melody. I know, I know, I’m a bad person.) But when “Blister in the Sun” popped up in High Fidelity, I thought the same two things that I always do when I’m forced to hear that song: God, I hate this track, and This is the song about masturbation.

It’s the second thought that got me wondering: Why do I know that? I don’t recall reading that anywhere. It’s just something that’s floated through the culture: “Oh yeah, ‘Blister in the Sun’ is about masturbation. Everybody knows that.’” I even asked a few friends, “What do you know about ‘Blister in the Sun’?”

“You mean that it’s about masturbation?” they responded. 

We all know this. None of us knows why.

So, I decided to do some digging. Turns out, maybe it’s not about masturbation after all. Also, the band itself has no idea where we got this idea.

If you do a search on Twitter for “blister in the sun masturbation,” you get so, so, so many tweets from people discussing this secret theory about the song’s meaning:

In fact, that’s only skimming the surface of the internet’s shock and/or anger over the fact that “Blister in the Sun” is about jerking off. But again, why do we think that? Well, the lyrics certainly offer some possible hints…

Body and beats
I stain my sheets
I don’t even know why
My girlfriend
She’s at the end
She is starting to cry 

And then there’s the chorus…

Let me go on
Like I blister in the sun
Let me go on
Big hands, I know you’re the one 

(Quick side note: How many of us have always thought it was “Like a blister in the sun”?) 

Anyway, those sets of lyrics have led to the ongoing belief that the song is about jacking off — as well as maybe heroin addiction. (After all, what else could “When I’m out walking / I strut my stuff / Yeah, and I’m so strung out / I’m high as a kite / I just might / Stop to check you out” possibly mean?)

This belief is so ubiquitous that, in 2013, when The Village Voice’s Kory Grow did a Q&A with the band during their reunion tour, he had to ask them about “Blister in the Sun.” To everyone’s surprise, Gano revealed that the whole masturbation angle was completely unintended:

In recent years, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban have been covering “Blister in the Sun” in concert. Do you think they understand the lyrics?
I don’t think there’s a whole lot to understand with the lyrics. In fact, it was maybe 10 or 15 years later, when somebody was asking me about that song and said something like, “Well, you know… You know what that song’s about.” I’m like, “No. What are you talking about?” “Well everybody knows. You wrote it.” I’m like, “What?” And they told me the song was about masturbation. I had never thought of that.

So it’s not about masturbation?
Not to me! [Laughs] But I can see where people could get that idea. I just hadn’t thought of that. [Laughs] I don’t think anybody likes that song because they think the lyrics are deep.

So, it’s probably time to put that idea to rest: “Blister in the Sun” is not about rubbing one out. As to my other theory, that it’s actually a terrible song, I assert that that’s still 100 percent accurate.