A blog by Josh Humbert
What can we learn from the 90s? Are there real lessons to be learned from a time that gave us “The Macarena“, Steve Urkel, and Jerry Springer? I contend there is wisdom to be gained, if only we look in the right places. This series will dive into the culture of a decade that changed so much.
“My favorite song is ‘Name’ by the Goo Goo Dolls, ok? Ok?…..So this way, if we’re ever on some game-show together and you have to know my favorite song, you know the answer. Ok?”
This was one of my close friends talking to me in 2005. We just happened to be listening to music and showing each other random songs. Nothing out of the ordinary. I guess he wanted to ensure this answer was on record with me. Just…you know…in case we ever DID end up on a game-show about people’s favorite music.
From their beginning in 1986 till 1995, the Goo Goo Dolls existed as a smaller punk band in the north east. Nothing too special.
Then “Name” hit. As a single off their fifth album it hit big time (topping the Modern Rock and Album Rock chart as well as reaching top-5 in the Billboard Hot 100). Their whole career trajectory and even their sound began to change. This little punk band had a hit, and everything was changing.
The song itself goes like this:
And even though the moment passed me by
I still can’t turn away
Cuz all the dreams you never thought you’d lose
Got tossed along the way
And letters that you never meant to send
Got lost or thrown away
And now we’re grown up orphans
That never knew their names
We don’t belong to no one
That’s a shame
You could hide beside me, maybe for a while
And I won’t tell ‘em your name
And scars are souvenirs you never lose
The past is never far
Did you lose yourself somewhere out there?
Did you get to be a star?
And don’t it make you sad to know that life
Is more than who we are?
We grew up way too fast,
Now there’s nothing to believe
And reruns all become our history
A tired song keeps playing on a tired radio
And I won’t tell no one your name
And I won’t tell ‘em your name
I think about you all the time
But I don’t need the same
It’s lonely where you are
Come back down
And I won’t tell ‘em your name
Lead singer Johnny Rzeznik wrote the song about/for his older sisters and the family life they had. Both their parents died when they were young and they all had to grow up quickly in the midst of that grief and pain. This was their song.
“And now we’re grown up orphans that never knew their names…”
Musically, the song absolutely captured the sound of mid-90’s: acoustic, earnest, thoughtful, and layered. The Goo Goo Dolls would take the structure and sound of “Name” as a pivot point to a successful run of more adult-friendly pop rock. In a way, this was them stumbling on/figuring out the “lane” they would run in.
Lyrically, the song connects to several universal themes: security, identity, and covering. The song employs these themes to create a wonderful paradox that every listener can relate to.
What Johnny does in “Name” is give voice to the hope and desire that is inside all of us. He takes the themes of security, identity, and covering and manages to blend them together so seamlessly until a picture emerges of something beautiful: the truth of being completely known and at the same time being completely sheltered.
Someone who sees the whole of who you are and yet, is willing to be a refuge for you. This is what you, me, and everyone else has a deep longing for.
Somebody who knows the pain and history you’ve endured. Somebody who knows the stories behind your “souvenir” scars. Somebody who sees your loneliness in the midst of you “being a star.” Somebody who THINKS of you and waits for you. Somebody willing to be a refuge that you long for.
“You could hide beside me,
Maybe for a while.
And I won’t tell no one your name.”
The truth of being completely known and at the same time being completely sheltered.
This is how you craft a song that resonates so strongly with people. This is art that reaches something real in the hearts of listeners.
And there’s a reason this beautiful paradox is down inside you.
Why is the song so enticing to us? Daily, we experience the opposite of Johnny’s paradox.
We become experts at putting forth an image, a mask, a false appearance of who we are. The things you publish to social media, the persona you take on at work, the answer of “fine!” when you’re asked about how things are going. Cropped and edited. Filtered and photoshopped. It’s almost our reflex to make sure we aren’t completely known…because what would they think if they knew all of you?
And shelter seems fleeting in this life. The economy turns in a hurry. Jobs are downsized and eliminated. Good looks don’t outlast the years that pass so quickly. People we love end up letting us down. What was certain morphs into increasing doubts. Where is stability and security to be found? Where is a real covering?
Furthermore, what human could DO all of this for us? Who can know the fullness of your life? Who can know all your thoughts? The hairs on your head? The secrets you hide? No person can know you like that.
What human can shelter you so completely? Who can protect you from disease? From cancer? From natural disaster? From the drunk driver? From your past? No person can cover you like that.
Our masks and our hollow, short-term security. Our frail human strength and inadequacies. These are the painful opposites and true limits to our desire to being known and covered.
Yet, the song rings like a siren down in our souls: “This is REAL! This is what you want! This is what you need!” We can’t do this for each other, but somehow, this desire is real within us.
The paradox of “Name” can’t be fully achieved by somebody. But it can be perfectly given through Somebody.
The Somebody this desire points you toward is God.
God is the One who does know the fullness of your life. He knew you before your heart beat for the first time in your mother’s womb. He knows your every word, even before you speak it. Your every thought….He knows those too. He knows everywhere you go and everywhere you’ve been. He DOES know the hairs on your head. God has the most intimately personal knowledge of you. You are completely known by Him.
God is the One who offers you the shelter you need. Everything and everyone in this life can be taken away, at any time. God is from everlasting to everlasting. And He has demonstrated His incredible love for you by making a way of refuge.
How would God be good and just if He didn’t do anything about all the mistakes you’ve made? The scars and souvenirs you’ve accumulated? The thoughts you’ve had in your head that no one else knows about? How could God be good and just if He completely knew you and everyone of your sins and yet did nothing about it? There would be no refuge without justice; just lies and coverups. There must be justice for true safety to be possible.
But God has done that too.
The Cross is where Jesus takes all your sin upon Himself and gives you His perfect life. Your bad record becomes His and He pays that price for you. His perfect record becomes yours and you get that benefit, that is, to be accepted and adopted by God Himself.
God doesn’t accept you because you go to church sometimes and you try to “live a good life.” He accepts you because of Jesus. You hide in His righteousness.
“You could hide beside Me,
Maybe for a while,
And I won’t tell ‘em your name”
Johnny ends up pointing us toward the Gospel. We all want security, identity, and a covering. Every single one of us wants to be completely known (even though that scares us) and every single one of us has to have complete shelter (though we don’t know where to find it). Jesus Christ is the Somebody who is fully aware of every sin you’ve ever committed and yet, He is the One who willingly becomes the Refuge you want.
Why did my friend share that song with me? Was it just on the chance we do end up on a wacky game show? Possibly. Or was it a small piece of that desire to be known, to let me in on who he really is? This song means something to me and I want you to know that. This is a piece of me.
That’s the longing for the paradox of “Name” creeping out. And I bet you do the same from time to time. That desire is real and it’s in your heart. There’s wisdom in that 90’s song.
In one sense, we are grown up orphans. This world isn’t our home. We don’t belong here. Our hopes and joys aren’t sustained by things here. There’s something fundamental missing..and we know it. We feel it. We have a strong sense of the absence of something essential.
There’s a family you can gain forever. There’s a Father who knows you and loves you perfectly. There’s Someone. You can hide beside Him certainly for forever.
There’s Somebody who loves you, He knows your name.
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**If you have a suggestion for something 90’s-related that you’d want me to consider for this ongoing series, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org**