Institutionalized

Some songs just have a life of their own. They become a part of your existence and it never even occurs to you that they could be anything but the best song ever.

Such a song is “Institutionalized” by a band called Suicidal Tendencies.

This song was introduced to me by the film “Repo Man”. I can’t remember the scene, but I got the soundtrack and immediately loved it. Iggy Pop, Circle Jerks, Burning Sensations, Black Flag… great stuff. “Institutionalized” with poor Mike just seemed to be perfect for me, a little punk, a little thrash… and not just because he is my namesake.

I must confess here that surprisingly, I have never listened to another Suicidal Tendencies song. I have no idea if all their music is like this or not, but having this one song probably changed my life.

Years later when Dalton and I were friends and started sharing music, we discovered we had a mutual love of this song. We both put it on mixes we shared with each other. It was featured prominently on the tape that we often played hacky-sack to in the backyard.

Thinking back on it I don’t think Dalton had any Suicidal Tendencies music but for this song either. It was just that good.

The story in the song is classic. On a whim, realizing I didn’t know all the exact lyrics, I present them here:

“Institutionalized”

 Sometimes I try to do things and it just doesn’t work out the way I wanted to.
 I get real frustrated and I try hard to do it and I take my time and it doesn’t work out the way I wanted to.
 It’s like I concentrate real hard and it doesn’t work out.
 Everything I do and everything I try never turns out.
 It’s like I need time to figure these things out.
 But there’s always someone there going.

 Hey Mike:
 You know we’ve been noticing you’ve been having a lot of problems lately.
 You know, maybe you should get away and maybe you should talk about it, maybe you’ll feel a lot better

 And I go:
 No it’s okay, you know I’ll figure it out, just leave me alone I’ll figure it out.
 You know I’ll just work by myself.

 And they go:
 Well you know if you want to talk about it I’ll be here you know and you’ll probably feel a lot better if you talk about it.

 And I go:
 No I don’t want to I’m okay, I’ll figure it out myself and they just keep bugging me and they just keep bugging me and it builds up inside and it builds up inside.

 So you’re gonna be institutionalized
 You’ll come out brainwashed with bloodshot eyes
 You won’t have any say
 They’ll brainwash you until you see their way.

[Chorus:]
 I’m not crazy – in an institution
 You’re the one who’s crazy – in an institution
 You’re driving me crazy – in an institution
 They stuck me in an institution
 Said it was the only solution
 To give me the needed professional help
 To protect me from the enemy — myself.

 I was in my room and I was just like staring at the wall thinking about everything
 But then again I was thinking about nothing
 And then my mom came in and I didn’t even know she was there she called my name
 And I didn’t even hear it, and then she started screaming: MIKE! MIKE!
 And I go:
 What, what’s the matter?
 And she goes:
 What’s the matter with you?
 I go:
 There’s nothing wrong mom.
 And she goes:
 Don’t tell me that, you’re on drugs!
 And I go:
 No mom I’m not on drugs I’m okay, I was just thinking you know, why don’t you get me a Pepsi.
 And she goes:
 NO you’re on drugs!
 I go:
 Mom I’m okay, I’m just thinking.
 She goes:
 No you’re not thinking, you’re on drugs! Normal people don’t act that way!
 I go:
 Mom just give me a Pepsi, please
 All I want is a Pepsi, and she wouldn’t give it to me
 All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi, and she wouldn’t give it to me.
 Just a Pepsi.

 They give you a white shirt with long sleeves
 Tied around you’re back, you’re treated like thieves
 Drug you up because they’re lazy
 It’s too much work to help a crazy

[Chorus]

 I was sitting in my room and my mom and my dad came in and they pulled up a chair and they sat down, they go:
 Mike, we need to talk to you
 And I go:
 Okay what’s the matter
 They go:
 Me and your mom have been noticing lately that you’ve been having a lot of problems,
 You’ve been going off for no reason and we’re afraid you’re gonna hurt somebody,
 We’re afraid you’re gonna hurt yourself.
 So we decided that it would be in your interest if we put you somewhere
 Where you could get the help that you need.
 And I go:
 Wait, what are you talking about, we decided!?
 My best interest?! How can you know what’s my best interest is?
 How can you say what my best interest is? What are you trying to say, I’m crazy?
 When I went to your schools, I went to your churches,
 I went to your institutional learning facilities?! So how can you say I’m crazy?

 They say they’re gonna fix my brain
 Alleviate my suffering and my pain
 But by the time they fix my head
 Mentally I’ll be dead

[Chorus]

 It doesn’t matter, I’ll probably get hit by a car anyway

I wasn’t on drugs, had no issues with my parents, and preferred Coke to Pepsi, but somehow I WAS Mike. I got behind the irony and the rage and I loved to shout out these lyrics and pogo in my living room, so far removed from the actual problems of the song, but loving it.

The perfect slice of music, lyrics and sound.

It never occurred to me that someone wouldn’t dig it as much as me.

A few days ago, high on the gadgets in my new (used) car, I filled up a flash drive with mixes and plugged it into the USB slot and ran it through the car stereo (that incidentally sounds fantastic). I was waiting in the driveway to drive Joe to his first night of his first job and as he got in the current song was fading out and as we backed out of the driveway… “Institutionalized” came on.

I cranked it up.

Joe took it in and as we approached his new employer’s parking lot he remarked, “What is this? He is just talking. What kind of song is this?” and proceeded to ask me to turn it down, apparently embarrassed to pull up in a car that was cranking Suicidal Tendencies.

I obliged him in stunned silence.

HOW could he NOT like this song??!!

It is the perfect song.

Maybe he was just too nervous that night. I’ll give him one more chance. I mean, there are 2 types of people in this world: Those that love “Institutionalized” and those that don’t.

Maybe if he was a Mike too.

Sigh…

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