By Alli Patton
The meaning behind the Goo Goo Doll’s hit “Slide” is misunderstood, too often disguised by the song’s dazzling alt-rock arrangement. Paired with its ambiguous lyrics, the tune regularly gets chalked up to a loved-up lullaby. And it is, sort of. At the core of the song, however, lies something darker, a desperation that speaks just as loud today as it did in the 1990s when the song was released.
In 1998, the Goo Goo Dolls had a slam dunk with their song, “Iris.” The hit was a tough act to follow for any group at the time, but for the band themselves, a follow up success seemed almost impossible. That is until they released “Slide.” The song quickly became their second No. 1 single after “Iris” and equally well-loved by fans.
Many initially interpreted the jangling tune as a happy little ditty and even earned the band an appearance on Sesame Street to sing an Elmo-fied version of the hit. But Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik has since explained the song’s deeper meaning.
“If you really sit and listen to the lyrics,” he revealed in a 2002 performance on VH1 Storytellers before launching into the fan favorite, “the song is actually about these two teenage kids and the girlfriend gets pregnant … They’re trying to decide whether she should get an abortion or if they should get married or what should go on. And I don’t think a lot of people got that.”
The song’s lyrics are poetic, but vague as the band careens through lines like Could you whisper in my ear / The things you wanna feel / I’d give you anythin’ / To feel it comin’, asking again and again, So why don’t you slide? The meat of the story doesn’t come until the chorus when the narrator poses the question: Do you wanna get married / Or run away?
“That song is very much East Side Story kind of thing,” Rzeznik further detailed in a 2018 interview with Stereogum, alluding to some truth in the song’s narrative. “When I say East Side Story, I just mean I grew up on the east side of Buffalo. That was a not-so-apocryphal tale about some hard choices and dealing with a very rigid culture with a lot of demands put on the people who are part of that community, whether it was religious pressure, family pressure. It was really interesting to me to examine all those things.”
He explained his upbringing was not necessarily politically conservative, but was ruled by the Catholic denomination central to his community. “Everybody was a democrat where we grew up,” he continued. “It was a blue-collar town and the democrats represented the working class and the unions. But very, very super-conservative Catholic, very proud immigrant community, very stoic.”
The Catholic religion condemns the act of abortion and if she did not have the support from family, the teen girl in “Slide” must have felt a great deal of fear and desperation, believing her only options were to either get married or run away.
Dreamy notions of escape soundtracked by an angsty pop rock composition aside, “Slide” is a song that rings just as true in modern day with abortion still widely scrutinized—and in some cases banned —across the country.