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August 14, 2007 11:18 PM   Subscribe

Little Boxes is a song written by Malvina Reynolds in 1962 that lampoons the development of suburbia and what many consider its bourgeois conformist values. [1]

During the first season of the Showtime series Weeds, Malvina's original recording was used during the opening credits. In the second season, the song was performed by a different artist each episode — Elvis Costello, Death Cab for Cutie, Engelbert Humperdinck, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Maestro Charles Barnett, Aiden Hawkin, Ozomatli , The Submarines, Tim DeLaughter, Regina Spektor, and Jenny Lewis. [Malvina's recording was used again for the season finale.] Randy Newman just kicked off the third season, which the network promoted with a Little Boxes music video contest. Kevin Nealon and Romany Malco were notable among the participating cast members.
posted by Poolio (132 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Masturbation Lesson from Weeds (NSFW)
posted by Poolio at 11:26 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


My parent's used to sing and play that on guitar when I was a child. But then again, a hunk of that childhood was spent on an Ozarks commune.
posted by sourwookie at 11:33 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, Romany Malco's remix is remarkably good.
posted by damehex at 11:34 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


One of the most brilliant shows on television, marred by one of the most annoying theme songs EVER! Getting lots of different people to record it doesn't stop me from skipping it each and every week.
posted by crossoverman at 11:34 PM on August 14, 2007


I don't think I'd ever heard it prior to seeing Weeds for the first time. But then again, I was born in 1974.
posted by Poolio at 11:35 PM on August 14, 2007


Great post, I've never watched the show but I love the idea. Very interesting to hear the artists in their individual styles. Regina Spektor is very distinct sounding, as usual. And, of course, Randy Newman sounds like Randy Newman. I was least impressed with Death Cab's version. It seems like if the music isn't written and produced exactly for Ben Gibbard he just doesn't sound very good. I greatly enjoy his Death Cab and Postal Service work but live or improv he just never sounds great. My favorite version was probably Elvis Costello's.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 11:35 PM on August 14, 2007


Wow, Romany Malco's remix is remarkably good.

I thought so too.
posted by Poolio at 11:37 PM on August 14, 2007


No disrespect intended, but I don't buy the "I don't know x because i was born in y" leveller.

Born in '74. By your reckoning, your are excused for not knowing a single Beatles song.
posted by sourwookie at 11:38 PM on August 14, 2007


No disrespect intended, but I don't buy the "I don't know x because i was born in y" leveller.

Read between the lines, sourwookie ;)
posted by Poolio at 11:40 PM on August 14, 2007


I thought Pete Seger wrote that song. That's the first version I ever heard, at least.
posted by bardic at 11:49 PM on August 14, 2007


Pete Seeger (user made vid)
posted by Poolio at 11:52 PM on August 14, 2007


Interesting. Always wondered how to say "ticky-tack" in Quebecois. And I wonder if Andy Milder is related to Malvina; whose maiden name was "Milder".
posted by RavinDave at 11:59 PM on August 14, 2007


So, if I loved Six Feet Under, would I like weeds?
posted by rsanheim at 12:01 AM on August 15, 2007


So, if I loved Six Feet Under, would I like weeds?

If you're asking whether it's a smart show, the answer is yes.
posted by Poolio at 12:02 AM on August 15, 2007


Thanks for this post. I love Weeds and I love the opening credits. My fiance hates the fact that I sing "Little Boxes" for hours afterward, but you can't please everyone.
posted by chudmonkey at 12:06 AM on August 15, 2007


Well, if Malvina was horrified at what was happening to Daly City in the 60's, I figure she'd be absolutely gobsmacked at the Bay Area today.
posted by ooga_booga at 12:11 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's a fun show, but does anyone agree that Season 2 ended on a somewhat darker plane??
posted by Rain Man at 12:15 AM on August 15, 2007


Nancy Schimmel, the daughter of Malvina Reynolds, is writing about her.
posted by tellurian at 12:18 AM on August 15, 2007


I actually watched the first 4 episodes of Season 3 online (at one of the places we don't talk about) a few weeks ago, but it got pulled a few days later. Anyways, to answer your question, Rain Man, yes.
posted by Poolio at 12:20 AM on August 15, 2007


Malvina Reynolds is wonderful and I love her original version of the song. She was prolific in the extreme, supposedly writing a song every day. The story I heard about Little Boxes was that she was driving up to San Francisco with her husband and when they passed the housing developments in Daly City, she said something along the lines of, "Take the wheel honey, I feel a song coming on!"

I once read a pretty good critique of Little Boxes, I wish I could find it, but I suspect it was a comment in someone's long-ago LJ entry, but the point was basically that that song sums up an essentail problem of the left in that it critiques what she identifies as an aspirational and uniform culture, assumably as being what is wrong with our society, but in fact, those 'little boxes' in Daly City were built for working class people during the post-war housing boom, and that in fact, the people in the little boxes do not grow up to be "Doctors and lawyers and business executives" but instead are just hard-working regular joes , and that the left in general tends to see regular working people as the enemy, instead of precisely focusing on those who actually hold the power in our society.

Anyway, Malvina's Wikipedia page has some nice links including the Smithsonian Folkways page where you can listen to a couple (tiny) snippents of her. My favorite of her songs is probably The Little Mouse.

(P.S. I was born in 1974 too.)
posted by serazin at 12:26 AM on August 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


(And when I say "the story I heard about Little Boxes" I mean that I heard that story on one of her albums.)
posted by serazin at 12:29 AM on August 15, 2007


I was least impressed with Death Cab's version. It seems like if the music isn't written and produced exactly for Ben Gibbard he just doesn't sound very good. I greatly enjoy his Death Cab and Postal Service work but live or improv he just never sounds great.

Exactly. Not a musician in the working term. Just a product of the studio.
posted by sourwookie at 12:34 AM on August 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's a fun show, but does anyone agree that Season 2 ended on a somewhat darker plane?? - Rain Man

I do agree, and for a while was convinced that it was the finale of the show, which pleased me. I'm twisted like that. What I really want to know is, how many of us Weeds watchers, like me, don't actually partake?
posted by the_royal_we at 12:36 AM on August 15, 2007


I find the song smug and elitist in the extreme. It makes me cringe; I'm actually embarrassed for Reynolds at her facile, clichéd critique of suburbia. She's the very epitome of the detached Berkeley liberal.

And I say that as an elitist, detached liberal. Who was born in '75.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:37 AM on August 15, 2007 [5 favorites]


Oh, and chudmonkey? I get the French version by the McGarrigle Sisters stuck in my head for days regardless of what version we just watched. It drives my fiance nuts, too!
posted by the_royal_we at 12:40 AM on August 15, 2007


Oh my God.

I remember listening to this as a kid, only sung by these ladies.

They sounded like a group of nuns.
posted by bwg at 12:57 AM on August 15, 2007


God, that song is addictive. The cover versions are ok I suppose, but there's something about Malvina's wobbly voice and odd little inflections that are just pure quirky goodness.

Now I'll be humming that song for months. Again.
posted by stefanie at 1:13 AM on August 15, 2007


serazin: Your confusion is the result of being born in 1974, and lacking an appreciation about how different the world was in the early 60's. Which isn't a criticism.

The kids of the working class (which in those days, meant high paid union workers, not McDonalds burger flippers) did indeed expect to grow up to be the doctors and lawyers. And they did indeed live in boxes, little boxes, just the same. I know, they were my neighbors. I too lived in one of the little boxes.
posted by Goofyy at 1:19 AM on August 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


Hey, fun post! I love Weeds. I just watched the first three (seemingly deliberately leaked) episodes of season three last night!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:25 AM on August 15, 2007


Our music teacher in middle school made us sing this song as a hymn. I'm not sure if she was a crypto-communist sneaking some subversion into the service, or a crypto-anti-crypto-communist demoting the song by putting it in the same little box as the equally implausible religious anthems.

Masturbation Lesson from Weeds (NSFW)

Honestly, I hate to do this to you MetaFilter, but this clip touches on a major reason why un-youknowwhatted folks raise such a fuss about youknowwhatting infants.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 1:55 AM on August 15, 2007


... this clip touches on a major reason why un-youknowwhatted folks raise such a fuss about youknowwhatting infants.

I have noideawhat you're talking about
posted by Poolio at 1:59 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was born in 1974 and I hate that fucking song
posted by criticalbill at 2:03 AM on August 15, 2007


Poolio, hoverboards don't work on water is trying to avoid dragging the overthought bean plate that is the subject of circumcision into the thread. (See how I used the overused "plate of beans" thing there? Same thing hoverboards was up to, really. Just in-joking in the middle of the night on MetaFilter.)

As far as "Little Boxes" goes, I think it's a remarkable testament to the song that it can stand so many interpretations, maintain its original character, and allow the musicians to do what they're going to do with it. I'd only heard its connection to Daly City in the past month or so and found the idea caught my attention for reasons I still don't understand, although the lefty liberal idealism versus workers-in-reality stuff sounds worth thinking about.
posted by cgc373 at 2:35 AM on August 15, 2007


Ambrosia: Episode 4 is leaked too, check it out.

Death Cab is awesome live. Ben Gibbard can do no wrong.

Weeds is a great show.

I love this post.

That is all.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:37 AM on August 15, 2007


That's was my first thought, cgc373, but then I thought maybe the what was the same thing in both youknowwhats... too much weed, methinks.
posted by Poolio at 2:38 AM on August 15, 2007


lazaruslong - That is all.

You forgot to tell us what year you were born.
posted by Poolio at 2:45 AM on August 15, 2007


I've added the intros for Season 3 episodes 2 (Angelique Kidjo) 3 (Kinky) and 4 (unknown) to the playlist.
posted by Poolio at 3:06 AM on August 15, 2007


Here's a Flickr set of the houses that inspired the song.
posted by nonemoreblack at 3:15 AM on August 15, 2007 [9 favorites]


awesome pics... thanks for the link, nonemoreblack :)
posted by Poolio at 3:16 AM on August 15, 2007


I remember my mom humming this tune back in '60s and there's no way she was an elitist, detached liberal. She actually liked tricky Dick and Reagan, and was quite the hawk if I remember correctly.

Also, I tried to watch Weeds during the first season and the show just didn't seem all that interesting. And I like John from Cincinnati, just so you can imagine where I'm coming from.

Oh, and if you were born in 1974, I'm old enough to be your weird uncle Steve.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:23 AM on August 15, 2007


Oh, and if you were born in 1974, I'm old enough to be your weird uncle Steve.

*ewww*
posted by Poolio at 3:28 AM on August 15, 2007


Poolio: 1983, but the levels of awesomeness sustained by both Weeds and Death Cab are unaffected by mere numbers.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:32 AM on August 15, 2007


Coming up, presumably, the Victor Jara version.

(Note: very different video.)
posted by Grangousier at 3:53 AM on August 15, 2007


Coming up, presumably, the Victor Jara version.

He'll have to speed it up quite a bit to get it to 50 seconds.
posted by Poolio at 3:58 AM on August 15, 2007


Wow, Romany Malco's remix is remarkably good.
posted by damehex at 11:34 PM on August 14 [+] [!]


Prior to acting he had a short career in music (both as rapper and producer).
posted by basicchannel at 4:31 AM on August 15, 2007


Malvina's is by far the best. No one else seems to have caught the children's song vibe in that version.
posted by DU at 5:24 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


I love Little Boxes. I love Weeds. I loooove Romany Malco. I love Six Feet Under. (Maybe my two all-time favorites, actually). I love Sanjay! The only fault of the season 3 premiere was a distinct lack of Sanjay. He wasn't in the preview for next week either. Boo.

I can't bring myself to watch the leaked episodes. There are only 12 episodes, and watching four of them right off would be depriving myself of a whole month of anticipation/joy.

It's my favorite opening sequence in TV history (with the possible exception of the Golden Girls), though I must admit I prefer the original Malvina Reynolds one from the first season.
posted by lampoil at 5:25 AM on August 15, 2007


Here's a Flickr set of the houses that inspired the song

Wow, really? Those are the houses that inspired her to write the song? Damn, they're cute! They're charming as hell! I always figured it was some of those Long Island subdivisions, which were much more bland, design-wise. That Flickr set shows little houses with curiously slanted roofs and angles and whatnot: I think they look great!

And I do agree that the sentiment expressed in the song is somewhat elitist, but also that she was commenting on a social phenomenon that deserved a certain scorn. Suburban conformity. It was a drag. Hell, still is.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:31 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Heh. I bought a Smithsonian Folkways CD (from Amoeba on Haight, SF so not far from DC) at the start of one of my US road trips and this was one of the songs that always stuck in the head and it always reminds me of the US suburban sprawl. I was amused to hear it when I saw the first episode of Weeds in the UK but I couldn't be arsed to get into another serial so I knew nothing about all of the cover versions that followed.

Thanks for posting these.
posted by i_cola at 5:44 AM on August 15, 2007


Here's a Flickr set of the houses that inspired the song.

Those houses are great. They don't look just the same at all. They look like a 1960s version of Port Sunlight or something.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:45 AM on August 15, 2007


The Wire did this each season with the Tom Waits song "Way Down in the Hole"
posted by gwint at 5:50 AM on August 15, 2007


I watch Weeds, I do not partake, though I've had many friends who did.
posted by substrate at 5:51 AM on August 15, 2007


the Victor Jara version.

He'll have to speed it up quite a bit to get it to 50 seconds.


It'll probably need to be as brutally edited as Señor Jara himself was.
posted by Grangousier at 6:18 AM on August 15, 2007


In answer to two questions above, born in 1953, did some in college (also the original, fun not lethal second-hand smoke) and haven't for a long time.

The song was all over the place back in the day. I did tire of Malvina's version by the end of season one, but liked hearing it again at the start of season three Monday night.
posted by Rain Man at 6:38 AM on August 15, 2007


I sang Little Boxes as a hymn too, in church. When I watched Weeds for the first time, it was jarring (in a kind of awesome way) to hear Ben Gibbard sing a song I learned as a little kid sitting in a beanbag chair. (Unitarian born and raised - no crypto in our communism!)
posted by clavicle at 6:38 AM on August 15, 2007


Metafilter: People born in 1974 who think your fucking song sucks.
posted by jonp72 at 7:21 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was born in 1974 as well (we're everywhere!), but I think it's a cute song.
posted by grubi at 7:26 AM on August 15, 2007


For the record, I like the song. I wouldn't have posted this FPP otherwise.
posted by Poolio at 7:28 AM on August 15, 2007


The crank is now spouting crankiness: I find it tiresome to badmouth the suburbs as is done in this song and in so many novels. Suburbs are of course with a certain "sameness," bujt then how mny variations are there? You live in the suburb, in a rural area, or in the Big City...the trend worldwide is to move from rural to cities (jobs), and many folks move to outlying areas for more space and good schooling for the money. Pete Seegar, who made the song famous, of course lives (still) in upstate NY. But then he does not try to earn a living with a big farm. Cute song. Cute show. Cranky closes down.
posted by Postroad at 7:34 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was born in 1964 and I hated that song 10 years ago. Now I like it.
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:44 AM on August 15, 2007


The fact that people look so adoringly at the houses in that Flickr page just shows you how much worse stuff we've gotten used to since then.

"...but then how many variations are there?"

Wouldn't it be nice to have gotten to find out?
posted by hermitosis at 7:45 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


As an aside, has anyone ever noticed the dissappearing jogger?
Everytime the wife and I watch it I make a *voomp* sound as the universe opens up and swallows him.
posted by JonnyRotten at 7:55 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Now I won't be able to get that song out of my head for the rest of the day. I love that show and I really love Angelique Kidjo's version.
posted by mike3k at 7:59 AM on August 15, 2007


The fact that people look so adoringly at the houses in that Flickr page just shows you how much worse stuff we've gotten used to since then.

No, what it shows is that the grass is always greener on the other side of the decades.

We like those houses because they look different than what we are used to. They would like our houses because they'd be different than what they are used to. People crave the different.

So why are houses so similar in certain areas? Because a house is a huge investment in money, time, geography and relationships. What is fresh and different in 1977 isn't anymore in 2007, but few want to spend the money, take the time or move away from their neighborhoods.

People also have a herding instinct. Both of these things can be true, it is one of many contradictions in the human mind. Another one is my ability to both love this song and still think it is elitist.
posted by DU at 8:04 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


goofy - that context makes sense, although I guess the person's original critique still stands up in that Malvina was critquing 'normal' people as the left tends to in general. And I think its also difficult for folks now to understand a straight up critique of conformity, since that critique has been so absorbed into mainstream thought that its now a part of every car commercial on TV.
posted by serazin at 8:16 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


nonemoreblack writes "Here's a Flickr set of the houses that inspired the song."

Jesus. I was expecting dumpy little bungalows. Those are just beautiful; perfect examples of everything that was right about mid-century American architecture. Screw you, Malvina.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:17 AM on August 15, 2007


Isn't the use of the song ironic anyway? It's a critique of homogenous, conformist suburbia, but characters on the show don't fit in with that vision at ALL. They are as diverse and individual people as you could find anywhere. The "ticky-tacky" characters on the show really seem to be in the minority-- to the extent that they exist at all.
posted by hermitosis at 8:20 AM on August 15, 2007


I find the song smug and elitist in the extreme. It makes me cringe; I'm actually embarrassed for Reynolds at her facile, clichéd critique of suburbia.

Pretty much. Imagine, people who are so terrible that they have utilitarian houses. O, what woes of modern production are these, when actual working crud have the choice to live in utilitarian detached houses instead of apartment blocks! How dare these unenlighted, noncreative people value having a yard and not having to put up with upstairs neighbors above the holiness of my sense of satisfaction with the architectural landscape! Defilers! Anathema!

And don't even get me started on the horrors of children growing up with commonplace career aspirations instead of wanting to sing obnoxiously smug folk songs in smelly bars. Having common aspirations for careers that are traditionally labeled noncreative is clearly something that would make Santa, Hitler, and Gandhi all vomit with rage. Can you imagine what a conformist moron might value a career that provides well above expressing himself on a daily basis? Or the sort of buffoon who would rather help people not die than sing poorly thought out songs?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:30 AM on August 15, 2007 [10 favorites]


I was born in 1973, and we used to sing this song in my public elementary school Music class in rural East TN in the early 80's. Probably because all of the books and albums were from the 60's. We also rocked out to Woody Guthrie, the Beatles, and Ella Jenkins. Siftin in the Sand, anyone?
posted by kimdog at 8:30 AM on August 15, 2007


Here's a Flickr set

Wow! It's full of atomic googie goodness! It fills me with the urge to put on an apron and dance about singing the praises of my pushbutton electric appliances. Awesomeness.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:35 AM on August 15, 2007


As an aside, has anyone ever noticed the dissappearing jogger?

Well damn! I've been watching Weeds since the start and never noticed that... how strange.
posted by jacobian at 8:41 AM on August 15, 2007


Wow, methinks a few people are a mite defensive. Your throwing daggers at a sassy troubador over a cute little song seems a bit extreme.

The song really just points out how it all looks from an outsider's point of view. Try one sometime.
posted by hermitosis at 8:48 AM on August 15, 2007


Wow, some of you are far too serious. I like the song, but haven't seen the show.

And as for the meaning of the song, well, take what you can from it, I guess. All I know that if I was standing in the middle of some suburban cul de sac, I wouldn't be able to tell if I was in NY, OH, CO or CA, &c. Little boxes made of ticky tak, indeed.
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:56 AM on August 15, 2007


Fascinating that the song is supposedly about Daly City, because Daly City is about as far from any homogeneous conformist "ticky-tacky" suburb as you're going to get.

If anything, Berkeley (where the linked Wikipedia entry says that Malvina Reynolds lived when she wrote the song) is more homogeneous and conformist than Daly City is.
posted by blucevalo at 9:06 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]



The Wire did this each season with the Tom Waits song "Way Down in the Hole"


Made of Win and Whiskey, that is.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:13 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


As an aside, has anyone ever noticed the dissappearing jogger?

You'll be pleased to know they fixed that in Season 3. Or maybe you'll be sad, I'm not sure. I miss his time shifting antics, personally.

Great show, and although I may be mistaken I seem to recall reading in a season preview it is going to be 15 episodes in length. On the one hand I find it interesting that Showtime leaks the episodes prematurely (they pulled the same stunt for the first 3 eps of S2) but on the other it is infuriating because I cannot resist watching them all successively, so now I have to wait another month for the updates. I suppose that's one of my favorite problems to have, on reconsideration.
posted by prostyle at 9:25 AM on August 15, 2007


Here is some ticky tacky. Are they charming? So wonderfully different from one another? Please imagine hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of the, curving up a hillside on identically laid out streets. Little boxes indeed.

I drive past developments like this every day, and I usually find myself humming a few bars of the song.

For those of you freaking out over how mean and awful the song is, and how it cruelly mocks the aspirations of the Noble Working Man!: chill out, and get your humor/social commentary/satire meters calibrated. Geez, people!
posted by rtha at 9:27 AM on August 15, 2007 [4 favorites]


The song has always had its detractors as well as admirers. Wikipedia says that Tom Lehrer called it the most sanctimonious song ever written, but doesn't source the comment. Does anyone know where it came from?
posted by texorama at 9:37 AM on August 15, 2007


I actually stopped watching Monk when Randy Newman started doing the theme.
posted by wigu at 9:53 AM on August 15, 2007


You guys have no sense of metaphor. The song's objection isn't that the houses are the same. It's that the people in those houses perceive uniformity as intrinsically virtuous; believing that everyone's goal should be the pursuit of wealth and traditional success.

Moreover, it decries that the only vestiges of individuality are token in nature, as if your choice of green, pink, blue, or yellow paint is sufficient to identify you, rather than just your residence.

Non-smoker who watches Weeds and plans to attend Hempfest this weekend.
posted by Riki tiki at 10:01 AM on August 15, 2007 [8 favorites]


It's a few years ago, my first visit to the Pacific coast. I'm driving a rental subcompact south on I-280, come over a hill and around a bend, and when I can pull my attention away from the traffic I see the highway is lined on either side with hundreds and thousands of small houses with just enough yard to each, and barely any trees, and I start singing 'Little Boxes' to myself over the NPR newscast.

It wasn't until later that I learned it was Daly City, and that 'Little Boxes' was about Daly City. But this wasn't synchronicity, it was common sense.

I've visited plenty of neighborhoods across the country better or worse than that, but few offer rolling clear-cut hillsides of tract housing and prime vantage points to view them.
posted by ardgedee at 10:07 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've noticed that neighbourhoods that begin as tract housing seem to develop some visual character as they age. The one I live in now, for instance, has dozens of houses that started out identical to the 1940's bungalow I live in, but over the last 60 years they've all gotten different siding/stucco treatments, landscaping, been painted different colours and had bedrooms, decks, etc. added on. I don't know if Malvina Reynolds would approve now, but I do.
posted by arto at 10:24 AM on August 15, 2007


For those of you freaking out over how mean and awful the song is, and how it cruelly mocks the aspirations of the Noble Working Man!: chill out, and get your humor/social commentary/satire meters calibrated.

Give me a break. That song has all the satirical bite of a playground taunt. There's no wit there, only aloof disdain. Unless you consider singing nonsense words in a funny voice witty.


You guys have no sense of metaphor. The song's objection isn't that the houses are the same. It's that the people in those houses perceive uniformity as intrinsically virtuous; believing that everyone's goal should be the pursuit of wealth and traditional success.

Moreover, it decries that the only vestiges of individuality are token in nature, as if your choice of green, pink, blue, or yellow paint is sufficient to identify you, rather than just your residence.


All conclusions Reynolds apparently drew by driving past. A value judgement based on the most superficial of superficial experiences. I agree with hermitosis: Weeds uses the song with tongue firmly placed in cheek.

The song really just points out how it all looks from an outsider's point of view. Try one sometime.

Like I said. Superficial.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:31 AM on August 15, 2007


Are the variations in the pictured houses, like the different roofs, original or later changes?

I think those houses are all crap, but not as bad as what we have today with the aluminium siding and the pre-fab construction where it comes in on a few trucks and a crane plops it down. Trailer homes for the bourgeousie.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:34 AM on August 15, 2007


she was using the houses as a metaphor for talking more about social conformity. it's fairly obvious if you listen (or read) beyond the first few lines.
posted by jdfalk at 10:37 AM on August 15, 2007


Interesting that some of you sang this song in church. My 7th grade public school music teacher (1978, do the math) had us sing Little Boxes as well, and he was a minister in a local church -- Baptist IIRC, which would have been in the distinct minority in our little slice of New England suburbia. I feel like there is a connection there, but it's just outside the reach of my conscious mind.

We also sang Sneaky Snake and, being adolescent and horny, changed all the words around so that it became a Penthouse Forum-like story of our extreme sexual prowess. Sung sotto voce, of course.

Good times?
posted by oncogenesis at 10:44 AM on August 15, 2007


Wow, got some touchy home-owners in here, don't we.
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:51 AM on August 15, 2007 [4 favorites]


The reason people have memories of singing this in church and hearing it from conservatives or right-wingers is because everyone can get in on the good time of feeling superior to "average people," especially with average people's tacky little pretend identities, which aren't really "authentic. The song is simply the aural equivalent of this.
posted by Snyder at 10:54 AM on August 15, 2007


I think those houses are all crap, but not as bad as what we have today with the aluminium siding and the pre-fab construction where it comes in on a few trucks and a crane plops it down. Trailer homes for the bourgeousie.

I can't believe you're a student Manhattanite and you're dissing prefab homes as bourgeois. Bourgeois is paying out the nose for a cush apartment or going into debt for a McMansion, isn't it? I'm looking at mobile/prefab homes as my first purchase because it's the only way to get into the market at my income level and stop throwing money away on rent. Option two: leave my home state for something squarer.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:59 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, got some touchy home-owners in here, don't we.

I've lived in apartments in cities for the past ten years. I live in LA now, and therefore plan to never be able to afford a home.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:01 AM on August 15, 2007


This red diaper baby, born in 1945 in San Francisco, had had enough of Malvina Reynolds, years before she wrote "Little Boxes." She was a musical fixture of the left/labor world I grew up in. I still shudder at accordions.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:03 AM on August 15, 2007


I don't dislike the song. What I do dislike is the assumption that it speaks some startling, unacknowledged truth (sarcastic, ironic, or otherwise) about American suburbs.
posted by blucevalo at 11:06 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Have this song on iTunes, never watched the show. The words are very much stuck in my head! I think Malvina's sing-song quality really makes it poignant.

Thanks everyone for the discussion. I'll be taking a more critical listen once I get home.
posted by betafilter at 11:10 AM on August 15, 2007


something that would make Santa, Hitler, and Gandhi all vomit with rage.

And thus the seemingly innocuous post gets the Godwin.
posted by iamck at 11:12 AM on August 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


What I do dislike is the assumption that it speaks some startling, unacknowledged truth...

How about an obvious, universally felt (so as to be humorous to most) one?
posted by hermitosis at 11:20 AM on August 15, 2007


Anyone watch Californication yet?
posted by hototogisu at 11:28 AM on August 15, 2007


Maybe this isn't the place, okay, this isn't the place at all, but don't you ever wonder if American society will ever recover from the great big shill game that we know as the suburbs? We, as the middle class, have been had. The suburbs didn't give anyone any more freedom or security - they just tied people to an economic system based on unsustainable credit and empty consumerism. The suburbs drained the urban areas of their tax bases, disenfranchised minorities, created the need for more highways, cars and SUVs. All for some little boxes in a subdivision named after whatever natural feature those boxes displaced.

And now, now that the upper class has realized the suburbs are a dead end, they are moving back to the cities with their boxy mentalities in tow, as evidenced by their boxy little condo buildings named after the warehouses (where people, you know, worked) they displaced.

/rant
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:44 AM on August 15, 2007 [5 favorites]


Here is some ticky tacky.

rtha is right. The modern pictures of Daly City don't correctly portray how it looked 50-60 years ago. The fact that they were simple boxes likely made them easily modified [or as Boing Boing would say: "hackable"]. In addition, the uniformity likely encouraged the inhabitants to finds ways to individualize years after they settled into their starter home.
posted by yeti at 11:55 AM on August 15, 2007


elwoodwiles, Watching this gave me some good ideas about what we might do about our decadent, ugly sprawl.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:58 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


I can't believe you're a student Manhattanite and you're dissing prefab homes as bourgeois. Bourgeois is paying out the nose for a cush apartment or going into debt for a McMansion, isn't it? I'm looking at mobile/prefab homes as my first purchase because it's the only way to get into the market at my income level and stop throwing money away on rent. Option two: leave my home state for something squarer.

McMansion to me includes a lot of prefab homes. I guess there are things we call McMansion that are not prefab, but I bet enough of them come in on a truck.

There's nothing wrong with living in a trailer park. I know some awesome people who live in RVs and tents (and they're not on vacation or anything, but have a bit of an itinerant lifestyle spending a few months at each place) for months at a time if not fulltime. If life took me there I'd do that in a heartbeat. I just find it funny that people will, basically for conspicuous consumption or recently for get rich quick purposes, get a big home that may be superficially "nice" but in reality is just an overpriced trailer home that comes in on several trailers: shitty construction, bad design, ugly, and by the way we bulldozed anything resembling trees or terrain to make it cheaper to build. That's what bourgeois means to me in this day and age: You get some money, and instead of buying nice, even expensive things with it, you buy marketed & advertised conspicuous consumption crap that costs the same as nice things. You have a lot of money so you eat a lot of McDonald's (or "Organic" frozen pizzas that are made of processed crap that manages to fit some organic labeling guideline) instead of eating at nice restaurants or cooking with nice ingredients. You get an oversized overpriced superficially fancy McMansion instead of a well-built house.

As for the personal stuff, Manhattan is surprisingly cheap if you want it to be. The rent is the only necessity that costs more than anywhere else. After that, bars, movies, and other entertainment destinations seem to be universally more expensive than elsewhere. Just about everything else is the same or cheaper. My commute's been $0 - $70 a month, no car, no gas. Food is generally the same or lower price for the same or higher quality, including restaurants. Sure, you could eat $200 restaurant meals and ride a car service everywhere, but you can also eat $10 restaurant meals and ride the subway. And anyway, in a week I'm moving to an apartment in a row of shitty townhouse apartments in PA, because that's what was available. I just don't fool myself that it's nice, and hopefully in a year I'll be able to find something of pre-war construction. (Thankfully, it looks like 1980s or early 90s shitty construction, which is still crap, but compares very favorably to the shitty construction of the 21st century.) And in your case, there's nothing wrong with living in a prefab house. Just don't pay too much for it, and don't fool yourself into thinking it's some fancy place.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:06 PM on August 15, 2007


Lovely post; lovely show; lovely song, lovely songwriter.

A++++++++ would click again.
posted by chuckdarwin at 12:13 PM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sorry Tim, but McMansion really doesn't refer to prefab or trailer houses, which tend to be of a fairly limited size. Your own use of the term has been mixed with other ideas.
posted by hermitosis at 12:15 PM on August 15, 2007


I'll grant I could be wrong in the terminology, but I've personally seen a pretty big house come in on tractor trailers and get put in place with a crane, and I've also personally seen, several times, convoys of trailers travelling around carrying enough to make some more good sized houses.

Anyway, prefab or not, shitty construction is shitty construction.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:21 PM on August 15, 2007


mr_roboto writes "I find the song smug and elitist in the extreme. It makes me cringe; I'm actually embarrassed for Reynolds at her facile, clichéd critique of suburbia. She's the very epitome of the detached Berkeley liberal."

ca. 1962?

I get what you're saying, but I don't think that stereotype even existed when she wrote the song.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:35 PM on August 15, 2007


Tim, tell it to the economists. Also, the people with children. Dependents are of course, more costly in NYC than anywhere else in this country.

That's what bourgeois means to me in this day and age: You get some money, and instead of buying creative or functional things with it, you buy into a marketed & advertised pre-packaged, premium lifestyle rooted in locational identity that costs the same as nice things.

I'm in such a location, myself (and ready to leave for sprawly SoCal because I'm missing my mama). I'm just saying it's not as cut and dried as you make it seem.

In other news, I just picked a worm off my shirt. WTF.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:35 PM on August 15, 2007


Anyway, prefab or not, shitty construction is shitty construction.

Agreed. Prefab is no longer a necessity for shitty housing complexes. High-volume production housing builders stamp out whole neighborhoods/communities with the same floor plan (with the token sign-off of some builder-friendly "architecture" firm), eschewing any breaches in conformity because (gasp!) they might lose one unit out of a thousand if they turned this garage or altered that setback, or, heaven forbid, put in an outdoor area that ties the neighborhood together.

Don't like the suburbs? Don't hate the resident. Hate the builder. Suburban development is about money, and nothing else. They don't try for anything else, because they don't have to.
posted by Brak at 12:42 PM on August 15, 2007


Dudes, prefab is trendy as hell right now. Serious architects are doing impressive things with modular prefab construction. It certainly no longer says "trailer park", or even "suburbs".
posted by mr_roboto at 12:57 PM on August 15, 2007


Who's hating? We're just laughing. Because it feels better than crying.
posted by hermitosis at 1:00 PM on August 15, 2007


How about an obvious, universally felt (so as to be humorous to most) one?

Okay, granted. I don't see it, but I guess I'm just having an off day.
posted by blucevalo at 1:06 PM on August 15, 2007


Dudes, prefab is trendy as hell right now.

That's pretty cool! Glad to see the prefab concept being turned on its ear. Anyway, I guess my point was that the medium isn't the important factor in crappy development, rather the motivation.

Who's hating? We're just laughing. Because it feels better than crying.

Sometimes you just have to get it out.


In other news, am I the only regular Weeds watcher who's gotten fairly disappointed with the show? It seems to me that their writing style resembles a recurring system of painting themselves into a corner, and then finding increasingly outlandish ways to get out of it. I also don't really like any of the characters (i.e. the characters are not likable people) except Conrad. The rest, I find to be rather despicable (at least the adults).

Anyone watch Californication yet?

I saw the first episode. Looks like it might have potential; I laughed out loud a few times. It also looks like it has the potential to write itself into the boring corner, so I'm taking it with a grain of salt at this point.
posted by Brak at 1:15 PM on August 15, 2007


Seconded, mr_roboto.

TheOnlyCoolTim: I don't really know what you have against prefab housing, but prefab houses are looking a lot better these days. Especially if you are interested in attractive, modern designs for a fraction of the cost of a custom home, or in living in an advanced, green house whose price is significantly reduced by economies of scale. Not to mention that the environmental impact of assembling homes along an assembly line in a factory is often quite a bit lower than on-site construction, and the build quality of these units is inherently more predictable (based on past reviews of the same units) than that of custom houses.

Anyway, I guess all I'm saying is that stylish, more efficient homes that are delivered complete to your lot for a cheaper price while requiring a lower environmental footprint to produce are nothing to sneer at, for a lot of folks

hototogisu: Yeah. And it was pretty funny, although the sheer quantity of sex scenes involving a burly David Duchovny sure pissed all over a bunch of fond memories I had of his Mulder years
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 1:20 PM on August 15, 2007


I call bullshit on those economists (actually, I think I should call bullshit on all economists.) I tried a bunch of random places and I could not find any place where it would tell me that transportation cost less in NYC. That's pure bullshit. As I said before, I've spent $0-$70 (it's now $76) per month on transportation. That seems to me to be roughly impossible to beat using a car. Utilities is the other one it says costs more, but I'll bet they're double-billing NYC on at least heating and perhaps water, garbage, and sewer. (All those things are required to be provided by the landlord, and so will have been included in the rent. If they priced them out separately as well, double billing.)

I don't know who's marketing my premium lifestyle and locational identity (I guess I do more or less root for the Yankees when they're in the world series.) to me - I don't have a TV etc. and in general don't see much non-internet advertising besides on the bus stops. But all that extra rent means the supermarket is 1 minute away, the park 3 minutes, the bars 2-15 minutes, restaurants again 2-15 minutes. I never deal with traffic. And there's all sorts of things available because of the density - arts, different kinds of foods, whatever. Hell, I could get a number from my pot-smoking friends and have marijuana delivered faster than most of the country can probably get a pizza. Those sort of advantages are worth a lot of extra rent in my opinion.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:39 PM on August 15, 2007


It seems to me that their writing style resembles a recurring system of painting themselves into a corner, and then finding increasingly outlandish ways to get out of it.

It's hard to say, but I think it's more of an impetus for them to leave every episode on a cliffhanger note. They've been banging on all cylinders with that drive since the introduction of Peter in S2, each episode keeps ending on a heavier tone which leads to more anticipation and focus for resolution.

You also have to remember that if it was as serious as it could be the show really wouldn't be very funny at all and in fact would most likely be insanely boring. Cultivating and distributing marijuana isn't really interesting work, and those mechanics will never change. The writers have to reach for extraneous complications to provide the central drama, I'm just thankful they held off with the employment of the Mexican Standoff as long as they did.

As the business elements spin farther and farther out of the central focus I've begun to notice more traditional sitcom/soap tropes seeping into the pacing and driving the story arc for each episode, and I think that's indicative of the creators involvement in other series. Although that's a tentative assumption as I've never digested a single episode of anything else Jenji Kohan has been involved with.

I also don't really like any of the characters (i.e. the characters are not likable people) except Conrad. The rest, I find to be rather despicable (at least the adults).

I agree entirely, and again I'm not so sure this is a byproduct of the writing as much as an original element. I think I recall an interview where they were discussing the central character and her inability to give up certain aspects of her lifestyle/living arrangements to ease the financial burden on her family even though that's her only justification for her illegal business operation. She keeps her maid, she goes on shopping sprees whenever she scores major profits, etc.
posted by prostyle at 1:43 PM on August 15, 2007


blucevalo: I don't dislike the song. What I do dislike is the assumption that it speaks some startling, unacknowledged truth (sarcastic, ironic, or otherwise)


I agree, that's how I feel about most songs in fact. Voltaire had something clever to say about songs but I won't drag this post down to that level of pedantry.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 1:44 PM on August 15, 2007


Saw all the seasons so far and it's good
posted by zouhair at 1:54 PM on August 15, 2007


wow. romany KILLED it.
posted by gnutron at 1:58 PM on August 15, 2007


I don't know who's marketing my premium lifestyle and locational identity

This is just disingenuous. You live in the most branded city in the world, the one synonymous with American cosmopolitanism, and you are oblivious to the fact?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:00 PM on August 15, 2007


I ♥ Weeds, especially Tonye Patano. I was quite happy to find this contest; and thanks to everyone for the added fun links.
posted by gummi at 2:06 PM on August 15, 2007


Anyway, I guess all I'm saying is that stylish, more efficient homes that are delivered complete to your lot for a cheaper price while requiring a lower environmental footprint to produce are nothing to sneer at, for a lot of folks

I'll freely admit they might be coming out with prefab homes better than most stuff you'll get a home-building company to make you today. It's just my standard of house quality comes from a lot of exposure to pre-war or shortly post-war construction. The only later house I've seen meeting similar standards was personally built by the first owner.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:08 PM on August 15, 2007


This is just disingenuous. You live in the most branded city in the world, the one synonymous with American cosmopolitanism, and you are oblivious to the fact?

It should have read who's marketing my lifestyle to me. There's tons of crap that you'd probably consider part of a branded NYC lifestyle that I have no truck with, especially if you pull that brand from TV or from the newspapers.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:16 PM on August 15, 2007


hermitosis, I always thought the name 'weeds' was also meant to distinguish the central characters of the show - you know, like dandelions in your otherwise perfectly manicured suburban lawn.
posted by anthill at 2:36 PM on August 15, 2007


It's also the theme song to Robin and Wendy's Wet Weekends, a particularly insipid comedy on Radio Four, which is the first place I heard the song. 'Course, this being BBC Radio, no indie rock stars have covered the song for them.
posted by featherboa at 2:54 PM on August 15, 2007


Born in 1973, and grew up in Ticky-Tacky hell, aka near a Levittown.

Yes, the Daly flickr set is a great group of homes, really cool and interesting. But it's really important to remember, as others have sort of said, that they didn't start out that way. Think identical houses, front and back yards. Identical gardens, trees, plantings. Think not being able to change the uniformity so as not to ruin the look. Now, that neighborhood I grew up in is semi-funky, and definitely not just a row of identical homes...they've been personalized and upgraded and painted and whatnot over the years, some so much so that they're unrecognizable as having been Levitt homes. However, it only takes one glance to that aerial photo taken of the place just as people were moving in in the 1940s to make me shudder and remember what the place represented a few decades back. You've gotta remember the context.

Also, I disagree that the issue is with "prefab." There's some really crazy and interesting stuff being done with prefab. It's the notion of exact copies, all lined up in rows or in precise curves that makes most people gag. When I think of McMansions, I don't think "prefab," I think "homogeneous." Which is what the song's about....all these people, with the same hopes, the same dreams, the same aspirations. Living in the land of "freedom" and instead locking themselves into step with everyone around them to march en masse toward the same fairly boring and uninspiring goal, all while buying into the advertising they're continually bombarded with and thinking about how cool and lucky and interesting and unique they are. I love the song, I think it's perfect, because I grew up there.
posted by nevercalm at 3:45 PM on August 15, 2007


Also I forgot to say that WEEDS is essentially the only reason I ever know about any hip indie music. I find a lot of songs I like through the show, and then my much more hip friends are like "OMG you know this song??!!" Without this show, I would have been the last person I know to have heard of The Mountain Goats, the Be Good Tanyas, etc.

I realized when re-watching the second season recently that when I first saw it, I didn't know who Regina Spektor was. This time, I recognized her voice immediately.

It's a double-edged sword, because sometimes the show's awareness of its own hipness is its only drawback. And its hip-sort-of-in-a-Garden-State-like-way soundtrack is a big part of that. Still, I like the music.
posted by lampoil at 4:21 PM on August 15, 2007


I don't dislike the song. What I do dislike is the assumption that it speaks some startling, unacknowledged truth (sarcastic, ironic, or otherwise) about American suburbs.

That has never been my assumption, nor was it the point of the song in the first place. After WWII social conformity became a significant part of American society, much more so than now. Employers were using psychologist derived tests in order to search out people who were "just like everyone else". The liberal left opposed society's imposition of sameness on the American population, and homogenization of American dreams and aspirations (doctors, lawyer and business executives). Basically, it's an anti- bland song, not an anti- middle class or anti- suburban song.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:46 PM on August 15, 2007


Great post, great thread. I love Regina Spektor's the most (other than the original, of course). Costello's was surprisingly disappointing.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:37 PM on August 15, 2007


I hate Weeds. And The Tudors. And the extra $20 I would have to pay for Showtime if I weren't trying to save money right now. Hate. *sob*
posted by spec80 at 9:36 PM on August 15, 2007


That's not a valid reason for hating Weeds, spec80.
posted by Poolio at 9:42 PM on August 15, 2007


Sweet sweet jesus, Poolio. I owe you cookies.
posted by spec80 at 10:17 PM on August 15, 2007


A typical Westlake lot was 33 feet wide and 100 feet deep. The houses were designed sort of like a Mr. Potato Head toy; by mixing and matching basic architectural elements, in 1950 it was possible to transform seven basic floorplans into 260 different facades.

From: Telstar Logistics: A Return to Westlake, America's Most Perfect Ticky-Tacky Suburb:
posted by pixie at 12:19 AM on August 16, 2007


I found this cool-looking book - Little Boxes: The Architecture of a Classic Midcentury Suburb - via a comment on one of the pics in the Flickr photoset.
posted by Poolio at 12:31 AM on August 16, 2007


'67. Was force-fed the song in 4th or 5th grade, state school. Have watched Weeds (but didn't inhale).

And, as I drive along the hilltop roads that surround my city's newest and most upmarket housing estates, I look down and see a sea of McMansions, all the same overall shape, built with millimetre-accuracy to the minimum allowed distance between building and property line, with covenant-enforced One True Roof tile colour and profile, I think of that song.

And weep, as a little bit inside of me dies of despair...
posted by Pinback at 6:04 AM on August 16, 2007


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