About That “Me & My Dog” Sample On Boygenius’ “Letter To An Old Poet”
The rage-filled song ties up some loose ends.
One of the most devastating songs on boygenius’ 2018 self-titled EP is “me & my dog.” Over crashing guitars with their voices intertwining like a rope, Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus deliver a crushing suite of lyrics: “I wanna be emaciated/ I wanna hear one song without thinking of you/ I wish I was on a spaceship/ Just me and my dog and an impossible view.”
Since 2018, these venerated lyrics have transcended from being fan-favorites and eclipsed into meme-dom, becoming a half-joking, half-serious reference point for die-hards of the indie rock supergroup. Now, it’s also become a self-referential kernel of lore for the group members themselves. On the band’s long-awaited full-length album, The Record, those lyrics and exact melody (and Phoebe’s dog, Max) live on as an interpolation on the record’s hefty, Bridgers-led closer, “Letter To An Old Poet.” It feels fit to become another album standout, as it comes full circle and brings the previous album’s narrative to a close.
Unlike “Me & My Dog” — which, per Bridgers, is about having an anxiety attack at a show and wanting to be with her dog — “Letter To An Old Poet” is a skewering of a song, a soft cushion stuffed with barbed wire and teeth that’s not afraid to bite. (Its credits cite Bridgers, Baker, and Dacus as equal songwriters, but at its core, it signals like a Bridgers track — from its meandering form, down to its simple but emotionally visceral lyrics.) This time, its lyrics have a targeted direction: cutting down an “evil” former partner (who may or may not be the same one from “Me & My Dog”) to speak on an unbalanced, power-tilted relationship.
“Letter To An Old Poet” is structured as a free-flowing rant with no chorus or hook, just an open dam of rushing anger. It opens on a conflicting flurry of emotions that paints an uneven relationship from the start: “I said I think that you’re special/ You told me once that I’m selfish/ And I kissed you hard, in the dark, in the closet.”
Things only get darker and more toxic from there, folding in meta commentary about her own art and public persona: “You said my music is mellow/ Maybe I’m just exhausted/ You think you’re a good person/ Because you won’t punch me in the stomach.”
But in the next verse, Bridgers’ true feelings finally spill out in a rage: “And I love you/ I don’t know why/ I just do/ But/ You’re not special you’re evil/ You don’t get to tell me to calm down/ You made me feel like an equal/ But I’m better than you and you should know that by now.”
After Bridgers remarks in a darkly comical way that she “wasn’t sorry” to see them fall down the stairs — “I should’ve left you right there/ With your hostages, my heart, and my car keys/ You don’t know me” — she finally reaches the light at the end of the tunnel, ready to disengage and return to herself (cueing the interpolation, the memory of her dog this time serving as a life preserver, rather than a dissociative escape): “I wanna be happy/ I’m ready to walk into my room without looking for you/ I’ll go up to the top of our building/ And remember my dog when I see the full moon/ I can’t feel it yet/ But I am waiting.”
The obvious question that arises after all of this is: Who exactly is this song about? Given the public’s rabid fascination with Bridgers’ private life since her precipitous rise over the last few years, there are a few names that could be thrown around. Bridgers’ rumored ex and Better Oblivion Community Center co-lead Conor Oberst is one, and the likeliest candidate. (Bridgers declined to confirm their relationship in a Rolling Stone feature, however, when asked about the future of the project, perhaps tellingly added, “I don’t know.”) Or maybe Paul Mescal (less likely).
But the speculation is all secondary, and ultimately irrelevant, to what “Letter From An Old Poet” is really about: “all-consuming love” and “someone [who] has so much power over you, they stop being a person,” per Bridgers to RS, wrestling free from that power, and wanting more for yourself. Artistically, the song is also the ultimate flex of becoming seminal enough to be self-referential in your art and have it successfully render new meaning into your old and new work at once.
While “Me & My Dog” ended with the possibility of happiness only being a dream, on “Letter To An Old Poet” it’s a material possibility. It might not be there yet, but it’s coming.
boygenius’ ‘The Record’ is out 3/31 via Interscope.