This album was 5 years old when I started listening to it. I was a bartender at a shitty little redneck bar, and I listened to it every day on the way to work. Specifically, I listened to “Smack My Bitch Up” and “Firestarter” because the bar was less than 10 minutes to work from my house. I loved the whole album, but those were my favorites. “Breathe” was also on repeat.
I went to bartending school after getting fired from my manager job at a coffee shop. I was trying to figure out a way to fit school into my full-time work schedule, so getting fired made it easier! I drank a lot back then, but that’s not what appealed to me about bartending. I was really, really good at being a barista, and I figured that would translate easily into working in a bar and making a lot more money. The school was expensive, and every bartender I knew told me it was a waste of time and money because they never went to school to learn how to make drinks, but being a nerd, I knew I wanted to learn the right way to do everything. And I loved being in school! I had dropped out of college (with just a year to go) years earlier because I was bored and didn’t think I was learning anything anymore. Bartending school was fun, and I really did like being in a learning environment (with booze!).
Anyway, it took me a few months to find a job after I got my Mixologist Certificate. The bar I was hired in was pretty trashy, but I could wear whatever I wanted, I could talk to people however I liked, and I made decent money for the day shifts I normally worked. It was slow most of the time, except on Sundays when there was volleyball. It was a Cheers kind of bar, and most of the people who came in were there all the time and tipped decently. I find that working class people tip better than the wealthy; I think we appreciate someone’s hard work better than people with money.
The guys who owned the bar were alright. They both drank the whole time they were there, one of them more than the other; he would often be too drunk to drive home and would curl up on the pool table to sleep it off overnight. Both of them backed me up if I had any issues with customers, but I could hold my own when people got out of control. During one happy hour, two of the regulars, one of whom lived in the crappy apartments above the bar, got into some stupid argument and they started threatening each other in their own stupid-ass drunk fashion. I finally told them both to shut the fuck up, that nobody was impressed with them and that they needed to stop talking to each other or leave. Each one blamed the other for their fight, of course, but I told them that they were both to blame and that they just needed to shut the fuck up because they were annoying me and everyone else at the bar. The less-drunk owner—who was married and allegedly boning the trashy night bartender—was at the other end of the bar while this was happening, and he saw that I was in control of the situation.
I did drink on the job sometimes, but only got drunk a few times. Technically you are not supposed to drink while you pour, but my customers were always buying me shots of Jack and I thought it would be rude to refuse! Once, I got into a fight with one guy who came in every afternoon. Somehow the topic of hyphenated Americans came up, and I said that I have always called myself a Serbian-American.
“You’re an American who’s Serbian,” he responded.
“Yeah, I’m a Serbian-American,” I told him.
“No, you’re an American who is Serbian.”
“I’m a Serbian-American,” I corrected him.
This developed into a big fight, and most people were on my side. This happened after 7 shots of Jack on a mostly-empty stomach. He did not return to the bar for 2 weeks. When he came back, we did not discuss the incident. He bought me a shot and that was that.
Prodigy is great shit for when you need to get psyched up for something, which is why I listened to it on the way to work every day. I did not hate my job, but I did not love it. I was depressed. It was not a bar I would ever have gone to on my own time, ever, since it was filled with trashy straight people. At that point it had been a few years since I spent any social time in a straight bar. I preferred hanging with the gays. I found everything I needed in those bars—everything. Straight boys in straight bars grossed me out. Straight boys—at least, those who claimed they were straight—in gay bars were hot. They were comfortable with themselves. And I was usually the only girl, straight or otherwise, in the bar. They were there for me to enjoy!
Not to mention the fact that this was less than a year after all the drama between me and a former coworker had ended, and I was still not over him. So going out and being scandalous was all I wanted to do. And I did it a lot. And I thought I was having a ton of fun.
Prodigy is also great for when you have a lot of rage. I certainly had that back then, though I only took it out on others in a verbal way; I was physically violent only toward myself. I spent many years being angry at myself. “Fuel My Fire” expresses anger at people who lie:
Yeah, my layers are thick
and I’ve got bad attitude.
Yeah that knife in my back
has fingerprints that belong to you.
Got a grudge, got a grudge
got a grudge that I’m holding
for as long as I like
cuz you lied, you lied
you lied to my face
and that’s something that I can’t forgive
Lying comes in many forms, and I have been subjected to pretty much all of them. Back then, the lack of communication from the guy I had been seeing was excruciating for someone like me who has to express herself as much as possible (though, admittedly, not always in the best way). He never called me his girlfriend, we never talked about not seeing anyone else, and I never asked what he did the nights I wasn’t at his place. But that silence, that was where the lie slept. I was too scared to ask him certain questions because I feared I would get an answer that would break my heart. So I did not say much.
He was the first straight guy I ever spent time with. Once I finally got over him, there was another guy I messed around with for a while who, after I unsuccessfully tried to get him out of my mind, I found out had had a girlfriend most of the time we were having fun together. He was a fucking liar and a cheater. A year later I found out that my best friend was a pathological liar and a chronic cheater. I looked back to try to figure out why I attracted people like this, and I remembered childhood friends of mine who lied a lot as well. Hmm.
“Smack My Bitch Up” is a fucking cool song. There are only a few words to it, but it’s catchy as hell. I remember all the controversy about it when it came out, that it was about violence against women, which I understand people assuming when they hear the title. But it has nothing to do with that. The Prodigy have explained that it is about doing something intensely; it is also slang for shooting heroin. The video for the song is crazy, and it was banned by MTV (which, in 1997, was still playing videos here and there), but in it the main character is a woman, so that should have been the end of all the misogynist shit people were attributing to the band.
When I listen to that song, I think about making someone or something my bitch, and not in a violent way. I just want to own it, whatever it is. Smack my bitch up! I’m in fuckin’ charge here! Nobody gets past me! The same thing can be said for “Firestarter.” I wanna start some shit, I want to be the center of attention and make everyone feel my impact.
I’m a firestarter, twisted firestarter
I’m the bitch you hated, filth infatuated
I’m the pain you tasted, fell intoxicated
That is exactly who I was when I first heard this album. It was all about me. No matter how you felt about me, you were sure as fuck going to notice me, and I was not a bitch you would forget.