The Righteous Gemstones is a good show. This much is already clear, today, just a handful of episodes into its first season. The third installment in Danny McBride’s Terrible People Universe has almost everything you could want: a dysfunctional family of crooked televangelists, mass baptisms gone awry in Chinese wave pools, failed blackmail attempts in strip mall parking lots, John Goodman, etc. That much you probably expected from the trailers and the general history of Danny McBride’s shows. What you might not have expected, however, was that the show would also feature a song you will never, ever, get out of your head. It does, though. We’re going to talk about it.
Context first: The fifth episode of the first season took the show back in time. John Goodman’s character, Eli Gemstone, was still building his ministry with his wife, Aimee Leigh, played by Jennifer Nettles. Her brother, Baby Billy, played by Walton Goggins, was very jealous and upset because this all broke up their longtime lucrative sibling act. He poked and prodded and lied and manipulated and eventually convinced her to give it a go for one last tour, and as a preview for their fans, they went on the Gemstone’s weekly broadcast and performed their biggest hit. The song was titled “Misbehavin’” and it has been stuck in my head every waking moment since that happened. Maybe you’re having the same problem. I assume you are. I don’t see how you could avoid it after hearing the song even one time. Let’s deal with this together. Let’s at least try. It’s all we can do, really.
Presenting: The Four Stages of Having ‘Misbehavin’ Stuck In Your Head.
STAGE ONE — “Hey, this song is pretty catchy…”
This happens right away. It’s undeniable. It starts at the first line, to be honest. The song is bouncy and has a sticky quality to it that somehow transcends the fact that the visual part of the performance features Walton Goggins clogging. That’s not nothing. It’s the opposite of nothing. It’s… something. Walton Goggins is great and I saw a short clip of him dancing in the trailer and I assumed, like a rube, that the cloggin’ Goggins would be the highlight of that scene. Nope. It was one of the highlights. I feel like I’m not getting across just how good the song needed to be to achieve that for me. I’m saying the song is at least and good as, and possibly better than, Walton Goggins clogging on television. It’s high praise.
Also, this is the stage where you might find yourself thinking, “Hmm, I wonder where they found this song. Why haven’t I heard it before?” Great question. Better answer: The song was made specifically for the show. It was written by stars and writers Danny McBride and Edi Patterson with an assist from the show’s music producers, as explained in the oral history of the song that FastCompany put together. You’re not the only one who was surprised by this. It even happened to the crew, according to Patterson:
The response to it has been, honestly, so incredibly fun. The first day when Jennifer and Walton performed it, people were walking around on their phones trying to find the song on iTunes or whatever. Because they didn’t understand, they thought like, “Oh, this must be an old song that exists.” I kept having to tell numerous people that definitely, “Oh no, this is a brand-new song.” People seem to really like it, though. It’s sticky. It gets in your head really fast, and for whatever reason you remember it and you just know it.
Yes, it does get in your head really fast. That’s what we’re saying here. This first stage lasts for about eight or ten listens. Then you get to…
STAGE TWO — “Hmm, I appear to be humming it in public loud enough for people to hear me.”
We’ve all been there. A song gets lodged into your subconscious so firmly that you start singing or humming it out loud without even realizing it. Sometimes it’s really quite embarrassing. One time I was in an elevator with a few other people and realized, to my horror, that I had been humming “The Chicken Dance” for a solid five seconds. Five seconds is not a long time in the grand scheme of things. It’s less than a blip. But it is an absolute eternity to be humming “The Chicken Dance” in a crowded elevator. Hum it for five seconds right now. Start the clock. You’ll see.
“Misbehavin’” isn’t nearly as bad as that. It’s actually a fun song to have stuck in your head. The only problem you can run into is if someone hears you and says something like, “Hey, that song sounds familiar. I can’t place it. What is it?” Now you’ve got a dilemma. You can try to explain it all, sure. But please do take a minute to consider how unhinged you’ll sound trying to explain this to a stranger in a few short sentences. “Well, it’s actually an original song from a show called The Righteous Gemstones that is about a dysfunctional family of televangelists led by John Goodman — like, a character played by him, not actually him. It’s a song that his wife and brother-in-law sing to while clogging and it happens in a flashback and it’s called ‘Misbehavin’ and one of the characters is a real slick black sheep named Baby Billy who is played by Walton Goggins — you know, from The Shield and Justified — and…”
The second option is to just say “A song I saw on a TV show” and then mention the weather or some other elevator-appropriate conversation topic. Up to you. But choose wisely.
STAGE THREE — “Maybe I should try running through my house with a pickle in my mouth.”
I’ll be honest: I didn’t fully clock this line the first two or three times through. I was too caught up in the “Mama said not to, I did anyway, Misbehavin’” of it all. It did finally sink in, though. And once it did it became all I could think about.
Who runs through the house with a pickle in their mouth?
Why were they running through the house with a pickle in their mouth?
Is it… fun?
Should… should I run through the house with a pickle in my mouth?
What kind of pickle are we talking about here?
Like a spear or a whole-ass dill pickle?
Better try a few to see.
There’s also a moment where you, like me, probably thought “Is running through the house with a pickle in your mouth really misbehaving?” It does seem kind of harmless. But please imagine yourself as a frazzled and fried parent who is trying to get a moment of peace — just one — as you see your young son or daughter go racing by you with an entire pickle in their mouth. The sentence “STOP RUNNING AROUND THE HOUSE WITH A PICKLE IN YOUR MOUTH” would come flying out of you so fast you wouldn’t even grasp the absurdity of it.
STAGE FOUR — “Well, I guess the song just lives in my brain now.”
There’s this legal principle called “adverse possession” that every first-year law student has to learn. The least boring way to describe it goes something like this: If someone starts living on your property without your permission and you don’t do enough to kick them out, after a certain amount of time the property becomes theirs. It’s sometimes called squatter’s rights.
The theory behind adverse possession is long and complicated and not very important right now, but I bring it up here because “Misbehavin’” has been living in a part of my brain continuously since I first heard it. It’s been days. Over a week, actually, because I first heard the song in a screener I watched before the episode premiered, which made Stage Two even more awkward because I was humming a catchy song no one had heard and then I would have had to explain my job, too. (“Well, I’m a writer for a website, not a blogger exactly, and…”) Elevator rides are only so long, you know? The point here is that, if adverse possession applies to the brain, at some point very soon “Misbehavin’” could end up with a legal right to stay in mine forever, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I suppose this is not really a complaint, now that I think about it. I like the song a lot. Things could be a lot worse. I could have “The Chicken Dance” stuck in my head again.