Space—the Slacker Frontier: The Grifters, “Spaced Out” (1997)

“Spaced Out” 1

The lo-fi Grifters of Memphis were not what you would call a pretentious band. That an outfit who titled their album masterpiece Crappin’ You Negative (1994) would try to lay down an anthem for a generation seems highly unlikely, or possible only tongue-in-cheek. But conceive a generation that is perfectly represented by a bemused, flaky, genial, “whatever” sort of song—precisely a spaced-out generation that lets random influences and associations flow gently through its mind, of which any member might at a given moment let “Joe South spill out of my mouth” to say, with some amusing version of conviction, that “the games people play when they’re spaced out are okay.”

The hook that nails this way of being is the phrasing of the thesis statement, “Spaced out,” which should be written

. . . spaced
. . . out

as each word comes a little late, unpredictably late, sometimes by as much as half a beat. It’s a pothead’s delay opposite to the amphetamine stammer mimicked in The Who’s “My Generation” (“Don’t try to dig what we all s-s-say”). To hear this phrasing is to lay back.

But the anthemic power depends on the teamwork between this verse hook and a quite different hook in the chorus. In comparison with the verse, the chorus is suddenly on time, in gear, and passionate in the relative minor key (B minor to the verse’s D), the melody hitting the earnest high fifth note in that key (F#) over descending chords wrought thickly by piercing guitar lines:

“Spaced Out” 2

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the kids out there
Who has two bits in the summertime, it’s ecstasy shared

On paper this looks like a blast of fragments from 1967, some combination of “Groovin’” and “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” perhaps, but the real story is the 1990s summoning and filtering of the old ideas in which we feel both the comforting presence and the sad remoteness of the Summer of Love. There is a real historical placement here.

The verses, though, sound just like Dave Shouse (the writer) is sitting on his sofa going from measure to measure, trying out plausible chords on his guitar and phrases from his notebook, sometimes rising up to heroic pitch and then sinking back down. Here he’s self-sufficiently happy to think of

“Spaced Out” 3

Dreaming of just how
Holes in the road
Smooth out on this ride
If it’s this route, hop in
Let’s get . . . spaced . . . out

which gives us just enough to go on. You can fill the spacing figure with your own social and cosmic yearnings. It has made space. If you learn the wait-a-moment rhythm of “. . . spaced . . . out,” as though always registering what’s around you before you act, you’ll be a space-maker too.


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Passions & Attitudes, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Space—the Slacker Frontier: The Grifters, “Spaced Out” (1997)

  1. Spaced Out says:

    This is awesome. Thank you. I’ve long wondered (since ’96 or so?) if anyone else ever caught the Joe South reference (Games People Play) in this song.
    Bored on a Sunday, trawling, and found this. Nice.

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