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‘60 Songs That Explain the ’90s’: Limp Bizkit, the Nü-Metal Death Rattle of a Decade

In honor (dishonor?) of the new Ringer Films doc ‘Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage’ on HBO this week, we’re looking at the baddest boys of rap-rock and their hit song, ‘Nookie’

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Grunge. Wu-Tang Clan. Radiohead. “Wonderwall.” The music of the ’90s was as exciting as it was diverse. But what does it say about the era—and why does it still matter? On our new show 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s Ringer music writer and ’90s survivor Rob Harvilla embarks on a quest to answer those questions, one track at a time. Follow and listen for free exclusively on Spotify. This week, in honor of Ringer Films’ new HBO documentary, Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage, we’re looking at Limp Bizkit with help from Rolling Stone’s Brittany Spanos. Below is an excerpt from the episode.

I had forgotten about the giant toilet. I cannot believe—I am so angry with myself. To put it mildly, it is unlike me, to have forgotten about the giant toilet. Did you forget? Let me remind you, about the giant—about the 30-foot-high toilet, onstage, from which, through which, the Jacksonville, Florida, rap-rock band Limp Bizkit would emerge, to begin every show, like climbing out of the lid of this toilet—the toilet is painted (presumably) to look used, to look stained, to look befouled, the toilet is super gross—and Limp Bizkit would climb out of this gnarly gargantuan toilet to (presumably) applause and take the stage, whereupon, having emerged from the 30-foot toilet, the boys would then perform a song called “Pollution.”

That is the voice, of course, of your friend and mine Fred Durst, frontman, Limp Bizkit. Fred likes both kinds of music: rap and rock.

This occurred—the mega-toilet did—during Limp Bizkit’s infamous stint on the main stage of the 1998 version of Ozzfest, the traveling hard-rock and heavy-metal bacchanal first launched by Ozzy Osbourne in 1996, after Lollapalooza rejected him. The thought process behind the Limp Bizkit mega-toilet, such as it was, was that Ozzfest audiences, in turn, might reject Limp Bizkit. Ozzfest in ’98 you got Ozzy of course, you got Tool, you got Megadeth, you got Soulfly, you got Motörhead, System of a Down, and Melvins on the second stage—you got a healthy overview of the past, present, and future of Serious Heavy Music Dudes. It’s a rad lineup, honestly—and here come these rap-rock clowns from Jacksonville, Florida, are these guys joking, are they poseurs, are they Korn rip-offs, or what? Turn down the volume, Limp Bizkit!

I do greatly enjoy photos of Fred Durst atop the mega-toilet, holding court as it were, though depending on the camera angle, or the photographer’s distance from the stage, it can look like a regular toilet with a Fred Durst action figure posed on the lid. Like somebody just went, DING, and positioned him there just so. Like remember the Starting Lineup action figures of pro athletes, very popular at this time. I have Barry Zito, from the Oakland A’s, here in my office, still, for sentimental reasons. Anyway, the mega-toilet, as Fred would explain to Rolling Stone the following year, was a message to Limp Bizkit’s myriad haters. Specifically, Fred said, “Everybody was saying, ‘Limp Bizkit is shit.’ So we said, ‘OK, we’ll be shit. We’ll make a gigantic toilet and come out of it like five turds.’ We got their attention. They were watchin’ the show, and they were buyin’ the records. You gotta do that sometimes, man.” Turn down the vocal, Limp Bizkit!

Nevertheless, they persisted. Limp Bizkit’s debut album, Three Dollar Bill, Y’all, was released in 1997, and featured such punishing jams as “Pollution” and “Stink Finger” and “Leech” and “Clunk.” Ah, yes, and also “Faith.” An extra-uncouth cover of George Michael’s 1987 smash hit “Faith.” Starting in the mid-’90s and well into the 2000s, amongst rap-rock bands, nu-metal bands—whatever you call ’em, whatever they call themselves—it was a popular scheme, when first courting mainstream attention, to cover some ’80s pop chestnut. To disrespect some ’80s pop chestnut, often, it seemed. To desecrate it. Marilyn Manson did “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by the Eurythmics, very spooky, very subversive. Korn did “Word Up,” by Cameo. Fear Factory did “Cars” by Gary Numan. (That was dope, actually.) Orgy did “Blue Monday” by New Order. (My junior year of college, in 1999, our big spring concert was Orgy opening for Sugar Ray. I covered it for the student newspaper! I used the F-word twice in the lede!) Couple years later, Alien Ant Farm did “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson. Most of those covers feel semi-respectful, actually. But not Limp Bizkit doing “Faith.” This is my vote for the all-time cover song that most viscerally despises the original, and the feeling most likely is mutual. Limp Bizkit covered George Michael the way Attila the Hun covered Europe. Limp Bizkit’s version of “Faith,” very much by design, sounds like five turds emerging from George Michael’s jukebox.

I do dig the rubbery bass line, on the buildup here, I remember hearing this for the first time on the radio or whatever, and going, “Uh-oh. This doesn’t sound like George Michael’s original version of ‘Faith.’” I don’t even know if I’m being sarcastic. I was an extraordinarily stupid 19-year-old person in 1997.

You can find, on the internet, Fred Durst’s isolated vocals, for “Faith.” And you don’t need me to tell you this, but I’m gonna tell you anyway: Don’t do that. When Fred Durst says, “Bring that beat back,” it’s for your own good, and for his own good, also. In effect he’s saying “bring back my special weighted blanket.” He needs the beat more than the beat needs him. Isolated vocals. Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t do anything, actually. Your only job, dear listener, in this moment before the beat drops, is to get in the pit, motherfucker.

A star is born. Fred, why are you so mad? Lemme put it another way. I say that shit just clownin’ dog, come on, how fucked up is you? You got some issues Fred, I think you need some counseling. To help your ass from bouncing off the walls when you get down some. It’s 1997 and Limp Bizkit are about to be huge. Rage—the band of course, but also the noun, verb, and state of mind—rage is about to be huge. Angry white men are about to be huge. Again. Not again: still. Angry white men are about to be still huge. Let’s dispense with this notion that Limp Bizkit represent some sort of revolution, some vanguard, some apotheosis of angry white men. Puff Daddy did not invent the remix, Justin Timberlake did not bring sexy back, and Fred Durst did not invent the concept of breaking stuff. Everyone calm down. Limp Bizkit: so much to answer for. But what precisely should they answer for? Who are these clowns? Are they the symptom? Are they the disease? Are they the cure? (They’re not the cure.) What do they want? And what did they really do? Let’s try and figure this out. Helpfully, one thing we know for sure, is why they did it.

This week we are discussing “Nookie,” by Limp Bizkit. That’s B-I-Z-K-I-T. “Nookie” was the lead single on the band’s second album, 1999’s Significant Other. On Friday, my colleagues at The Ringer are proud to bring you the premiere of the HBO documentary Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage, about one of the most disastrous music festivals in American history. The movie’s quite good—of course I would say that, but I’m not just saying that—and it’s quite bleak, and Limp Bizkit, who of course performed at Woodstock ’99, feature heavily, in the film, as the villains, allegedly, according to some people, in the film. In all fairness, Limp Bizkit did encourage you, the listener, frequently, to blame them for shit. So let’s indulge them. What shall we blame on Limp Bizkit? “Nookie” is the real Y2K crisis. A while back I described “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys as the end credits of the ’90s; “Nookie” is the surprise after-credits movie scene where the aliens from Independence Day come back and blow up the White House again and then pee on it, from space. “Nookie” ushers us to the doorstep of the 21st century and heavily implies that human civilization will not make it to the 22nd. 1999, man. It’s just one of those years where you don’t want to wake up.

To hear the full episode click here, and be sure to follow on Spotify and check back every Wednesday for new episodes on the most important songs of the decade. This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity and length.