Lyrics Made Relatable: “Thirteen” by Danzig

Welcome to a new feature here on The World’s Greatest Blog In The World: “Lyrics Made Relatable.” I do this because, seriously, we don’t all live a posh, J.Lo / Diddy / Weird Al kind of lifestyle, and most of us can’t relate to post-apocalyptic or mushy love songs, neither. In the words of Benedict Cumberbatch, “Shall we begin?” And in the words of me, “Yes.”


I really love the song “Thirteen,” written by Dan Zig and first recorded by Johnny Cash. I like the Dan Zig-sung version even more, because Mr. Zig actually sounds like he’s this Mad Max-type badass with no soul and Mr. Cash sounds like he’s reading the lyrics off a piece of paper during a tent revival, the preacher who’s tasted evil but rejected it.


Bad luck wind been blowing at my back

I was born to bring trouble to wherever I’m at
Got the number thirteen tattooed on my neck
When the ink starts to itch, then the black will turn to red

I was born in the soul of misery
Never had me a name
They just gave me the number when I was young

Got a long line of heartache
I carry it well the list of lives
I’ve broken reach from here to Hell
Bad luck been blowing at my back
I pray you don’t look at me, I pray I don’t look back

(Chorus repeats, &c.)

So let us now try make these lyrics more relatable to those of us who aren’t number-labeled cogs in the machine of … misery? Death? Tattoos? Because being relatable is what music is all about, especially songs with lyrics.

Bad luck wind been blowing at my back
I was born to bring trouble to wherever I’m at

All right, we’re off to a good start with the “wind at my back” thing. Mr. Zig is clearly referencing the tune “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler from the movie Beaches, where she is a superstar who constantly shits on and is supported anyway by Barbara Hershey, who (SPOILER ALERT) dies later in the movie from TOTALLY UNNOTICEABLE collagen injections into her lips:

duck lips [Photo provided courtesy of your nightmares.]

Now the wind with the blowing and the commotion is fine, but “I was born to bring trouble wherever I’m at” is troublesome. Not only in relatability — I personally was born to shit myself for about two years at the beginning of my life and again at the end — but the “at” tacked on at the end is just superfluous. You may be a dehumanized man-monster (who also writes and sings songs), but bad grammar always distances you from your audience.

Moving on:

Got the number thirteen tattooed on my neck
When the ink starts to itch, then the black will turn to red

All right, this is where we have to go to work to make these lyrics more relatable to you and me, not just to those toiling in the spice mines of Kessel. First of all, neck tattoos are (1) quite painful to those of us with low (or, let’s be real, nonexistent) pain thresholds, and (b) a “13” neck tattoo may hamper a person when he or she goes on future job interviews.

new f13-2 “Man, who knew getting a daycare center job was so tough!

I’m thinking maybe a butterfly on your ankle. Its wings could have a 1 and a 3, respectively. Get creative and have fun with it! Maybe an ejaculating Hello Kitty?

Also, what’s with the ink itching and turning to red? You might be having an allergic reaction. Maybe see your local tattoo doctor? I think he lives in a grass hut near that of your South Pacific island Big Man.

yams I believe your PPO has a two-yam co-pay.

Then we get to the chorus, perhaps the least relatable part of the song for middle-Americans, but be strong, we can bland this down!

I was born in the soul of misery
Never had me a name
They just gave me the number when I was young

Okay, here Dan is basically kvetching that he doesn’t have a name, or perhaps he has an uncool name like, I don’t know, Glenn Allen Anzalone instead of something hardcore and German-sounding. Either way, you can name yourself, you know. You don’t just give up after being given a number instead of a name. You say, “Okay, I was probably grown in some kind of petri dish and transferred into an artificial womb of nutrients and heated amino acids. So I will take my father’s name: Vat Unit Supervisor. Yes, it feels right.”

Anyway, let’s take a look at the first line. “Born in the soul of misery”? That is a bit unclear, even more it’s an obvious metaphor. But what is the analogy here, exactly? I have to go with “the soul of misery” being a stand-in for “Cleveland.”

clevelandclinic_innovations1

Their innovation: Transferring suicidal patients out of state for an immediate cessation of symptoms.

And then there’s the fact that the number you got tattooed was a “13.” If they started at 1 and your spice-mining community is of average size, that puts you pretty high up on the pecking order. Like you can cut in front of “236” in the chow line to get your Soylent Gray and other top perks, like the first crack at tetherball when the radiation allows you to go outside.

Got a long line of heartache
I carry it well

This is probably the most relatable line in the whole song. Who hasn’t had their heart broken, like when their children were taken by the State to become crawlspace cleaners in the spice smokestacks; or, for us, when Zayn left One Direction and had a public spat with Louis over social media? We’ve all suffered a long line of heartache is my point.

The list of lives I’ve broken
Reach from here to hell

Um, yes, this goes from somewhat relatable to downright confusing with this line. “Lives I’ve broken”? I mean, you’re a numbered, heart-aching spice miner. Whose lives are you breaking? The guys down in the curry pit, who maybe also have no name and didn’t get a cool neck tattoo that acts like a mood ring? Breaking their lives, whatever that means, seems like it would be an improvement.

hell
“Break my life, please.” (rimshot)

And “reach from here to Hell” is a little bit sloppy on Mr. Zig’s part. From most post-Aristotelian conjecture, Belinda Carlisle was wrong: Hell is not a place on Earth, or at its center, or anything like that. It is a realm wholly other and unrelated to our physical realm, whether on Earth, on Kessel, or in Cleveland. So “stretching from here to Hell” should be changed to “stretching metaphorically from here to Hell,” which is much more plausible, not to mention scans MUCH better. 

And finally:

Back luck been blowing at my back
I pray you don’t look at me, I pray I don’t look back

We can all relate to having a bad day where it feels like, rather than the wind beneath your wings, fat-lipped Barbara Hershey instead breaks wind as her body undergoes its death throes. It’s tacky to react, but goddamn what was her last meal?

cabbage and bean soup

“Cabbage and bean soup! This is for Bette Midler, you user!”

Anyway, when we’re having such a day, you don’t want people looking at you. Red, itchy “13” tattooed on your neck, fucking Arrakis baby spice worm eggs laid in your ears, and your lunch had “the taste of Cleveland.” So yeah, don’t look at me (on the subway? in the break room? Where are people staring at you in this place?) and I won’t look back at you since that would probably be in violation of the harassment rules outlined on the laminated posters near the timeclock.

Now that we have done all this, let’s take a look at the lyrics made more relatable to you and me:

(Bad luck wind been blowing at my back)
You were the wind beneath my passive-aggressive wings
(I was born to bring trouble to wherever I’m at)
I was born to shit my diaper for my first two years wherever I am

(Got the number thirteen tattooed on my neck)
Got a pleasant butterfly tattooed on my ankle

(When the ink starts to itch, then the black will turn to red)
When the ink starts to itch, I visit my doctor for an anti-inflammatory medication

(I was born in the soul of misery)
I was born in Cleveland
(Never had me a name)

I adopted the name “Vat Unit Supervisor”
(They just gave me the number when I was young)

They gave me the number 13, which is pretty good, considering

(Got a long line of heartache, I carry it well)
Pain, it sucks, right? But you gotta keep your chin up!
(The list of lives I’ve broken reach from here to Hell)

I try to inspire people to break loose through the use of unclear metaphors

(Bad luck been blowing at my back)
Why does my spice pit have to be downwind from garlic powder? Ugh!

(I pray you don’t look at me, I pray I don’t look back)
Look, it’s just been a tough day, okay? I smell like Chicken Vindaloo and my ankle itches, so please fuck off.

And there you have it! A much improved music experience for everyone! You’re welcome.

For next time: “Rocket Man” by Elton John!

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2 thoughts on “Lyrics Made Relatable: “Thirteen” by Danzig

    • Both versions shall be represented in all their ’70s glory. That is, if I do another one of these. This post got less traction than somebody in bowling shoes running on an ice rink.

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