Sarah Harmer has played an amazing joke on a lot of people – probably not intentionally, but that's not important. Every time I hear her 2000 tune “Basement Apartment” in a public context – whether it's an in-store music channel or a radio station – I have a little chuckle to myself. Why? Because the upbeat, easy-listening vibe of the music is squarely belied by the gloomy lyrics recounting the stifling malaise of suburban life for young adults. It's also about smoking hash.
A lot people haven't caught on to what the song is about because they're probably not paying much attention. It's even been on a couple TV shows (Degrassi, 6 Feet Under), but viewers don't seem any wiser to the meaning and instead ascribe their own; as a commenter on one YouTube video for “Basement Apartment” wrote:
This song kinda makes me think of a girl who has moved in with a friend after school ends or when shes old enough. She doesnt exactly like what her life is, but everytime she tries to leave and change things, she realizes that its ok, and she likes what she has now. her and her friends used to say that they would all be different growing up, but actually, most of her friends are doing the same thing she is, living in a cheap basement apartment. Its just what I think. This is a great song. :)
Not quite, ilikeshinyobjects, but at least you listened to some of the lyrics. Probably more listeners are like garycalgary:
This was one of the songs that would be piped through a store speaker system and i would be singing to it recognizing only a few words/
So, what about the words? I mentioned malaise earlier. Now, if you've ever lived in North American suburbia or a basement apartment anywhere, practically every line in this song should resonate with you, but choice excerpts include: “I can smell the bleach/that they use in the hall/but it can't clean the dirt off of me,” “Now the toaster sticks/and the empties are piled/I haven't been upstairs in a while now,” and “There's nothing like watching TV all night underground.”
The smoking hash reference sneaks in at the song's climax with the last line of the final stanza:
Now we live out where the street ends/
in a basement apartment, just like our friends/
we always said that we were different/
but you know now that we weren't/
'cos there's holes in all the bottles and my lungs hurt
As another YouTube commenter, jgallzz, explains:
"holes in the bottles and my lungs hurt" refers to the canadian pastime of bottle tokes...also known as BT's or bots or bing banging a couple woohoos!!!
Not sure about the “bing banging” part, but the rest sums it up well enough and if you need visuals, the Internet has plenty.
So while "Basement Apartment" is not the epitome of subversive material, remember that in 2001 there were international histrionics over Weezer's single “Hash Pipe” (which is more about a transvestite prostitute than smoking hash, but who cares about that when you said the name of a drug). All considered, Harmer's tune slipping past the radar and becoming something of an adult-contemporary mainstay played often in the very environment it's obliquely critical of is a delightful irony – especially when you hear it in the toothpaste section of a stripmall chainstore.