Damon Albarn admits in 1000 UK #1 Hits
by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, "It's about drugs basically. I'm not sure what a Beetlebum is. It's just a word I sang when I played the song to myself. I asked the others if I should change it, but they said no. If it felt right, we decided that we wouldn't tidy it up like we've done in the past."
Not only is the song about heroin, but the title is a reference to the practice of "chasing the beetle," a specific method of smoking drugs (it's most commonly done with heroin, opium, methamphetamine, and crack cocaine). To see the sense of this description, you have to understand the technique. Here we go: you have an aluminum foil piece which you have folded into a gutter shape about a foot long. Drop your drugs at one end of the foil gutter, hold it slightly tilted towards the other end. Now run a lit lighter under the drug; as it heats, it will give off smoke vapor, and begin to melt and run down the gutter (that's the 'beetle'). You inhale the smoke with a tube, chasing behind the drop of melting drug. When it gets to the other end, tilt it back and repeat. You're chasing the beetle's bum! And ruining your life and getting some aluminum toxins in your lungs as well! Why would anyone do it this way? Because it's safer than sticking a needle in your arm, requires no specific paraphernalia (so it's easier to avoid being busted), and less wasteful of the drug. We don't advocate it, but we stop at nothing to give you every fact about a song we can.
Note the cover art on the album Blur. It's a hospital nurse pushing a patient on a gurney, distorted by blurring. Yep, that's what's going to happen if you chase the beetle's bum too much, alright.
Until two of Elvis Presley's 2005 #1s fell out of the UK Top-40 in a record two weeks, this was the previous shortest-lived #1 at three weeks in the UK Top 40.
In the 2010 Blur rockumentary, No Distance Left To Run, Albarn confesses this song is about heroin use and implies that he was personally involved. He said: "That whole period of a lot of people's lives was fairly muddied by heroin. It's in that place. A lot of stuff was at that time."
This was recorded by Blur in Iceland. It was first UK #1 to be recorded in that country.
The album Blur represents an important turning point for the band. Previously, they'd had more of a Britpop sound, which was slowly killing their career. Instead of trying to be like other bands, Blur resolved to accentuate more of what made them different, by turning to the alternative rock sound they're best known for today.
The Sophie Muller-directed performance video was shot in Islington, London, England. Muller also directed the band's clips for "Song 2
" and "On Your Own."
Producer Stephen Street was initially unaware the song was about heroin. "Then one night, we were out in Reykjavik," he recalled to Q magazine, "and we'd been having a drink, and Damon piped up about him taking heroin. I was not amused. He was a bit put out that I took umbrage with him about it.
Street continued: "I can remember walking off at a distance because I was a bit pissed off with him... He was kind of gloating about it, and I was saying, 'Were, I don't think it's very f---ing clever, basically.' There was a bit of an atmosphere that night."