Private Idaho by The B-52s

You're living in your own private Idaho
Living in your own private Idaho
Underground like a wild potato
Don't go on the patio Read full Lyrics
Owyhee Mountains, scenic Idaho
Perhaps it's been said on this site before, but it bears reminding that it's best not to examine B-52’s lyrics too closely. Like many in their New Wave niche - Talking Heads, Blondie, Depeche Mode, and The Vapors leap instantly to mind - comprehensive lyrics are not Job One. They take a back seat to rhythm, catchy guitar hooks, being "dance-friendly," and playing with ideas and words.

Playful. That's the key word for a B-52s song. You almost can't think of a song by the B-52s that doesn't approach its subject with the enthusiasm and recklessness of a toddler. This tower that we're going to build with these colorful blocks may not pass a building inspection, but by golly it's going to be creative, and it's also going to be fun when we knock it down with the toy fire engine. But logic? Bah, leave that boring logic stuff in school. Bands like the B-52s live for recess.

So when the B-52s agreed to play the Eagle River Pavilion in Eagle, Ada County, Idaho, and to perform their song "Private Idaho" at said show, and the Idaho Statesman interviewed B-52s lead singer Fred Schneider and asked, in pretty on-the-spot terms, what exactly these lyrics are supposed to mean, Schneider weaved and bobbed around like a blow-up punchy-clown. Well, see, don't take it literally.

In the first place, the title "Private Idaho" is more of a pun on the phrase "private eye." So it's not aimed specifically at Idaho. The interviewer (we picture it) leans in and asks, "But Mr. Schneider, what about lines like 'Where do I go from here to a better state than this? Well, don't be blind to the big surprise. Swimming round and round like the deadly hand of a radium clock at the bottom of the pool"? And then we picture Fred Schneider under that hot light bulb in the interrogation room, smoke billowing in his face, and he wriggles some more. "It doesn’t relate to Idaho. The song’s about all different things. It’s not like a parody of Idaho or anything." Puff, puff. Sweat, sweat.
Shoshone Falls
(thanks, karthikc123)
"Private Idaho" barely peaked on the US Billboard charts at #74, but ran up to #5 on the US Hot Dance Club Play. It was released as a single off the Wild Planet album. You're probably wondering when we'll get to it, so we should point out that the film My Own Private Idaho, starring River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, was inspired in title only after writer/director Gus Van Sant heard the song on the radio in the 1980s, when he visited the state. But the plot, theme, and so on, of the film and song don't intersect at any point. In fact, the song isn't even in the film.

Eagle, Idaho, is a city that had about 20,000 people by the 2010 census. It is a smaller-sized Western town, with a little bit of Wild West frontier and a little bit of suburban cul-de-sacs. It is the sort of place with its own annual Rocky Mountain oyster festival. It's located in Ada County, which, you'll be charmed to know, was named for the first pioneer child born in the area in 1864. But even though "Private Idaho" doesn't dwell on any specific location within Idaho, the B-52s debuted the song (for its Idaho debut) in Eagle, Idaho, and so this makes it the official song for this place.

But look out for that swimming pool. It sounds like it has a Bermuda Triangle lurking down there.
~ ”Penguin” Pete Trbovich
Private Idaho Songfacts
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Comments: 2

  • Daniel from London, EnglandThere's also a strong theory I saw in a YouTube comment, that it is also inspired by the final episode of The Twilight Zone: The Bewitching Pool. It can be viewed on YouTube as well. It not only links well with the lyrics, but also the similarity of the programme's theme tune to the organ keyboard played in the song leading up to the chorus.
  • Ron from New OrleansI love the B-52s especially Cindy ❤️❤️❤️
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