There was a time I thought I knew what the Love Shack was. In my mind, it looked like Patrick Swayze’s bar in Roadhouse. (Not the horrible yuppie place he eventually turns it into, but the cool raunchy dive it is at the beginning.) But then I stopped to consider one particular lyric: “Glitter on the mattress.”
What the hell kind of place is this? It’s a place where there not only is at least one mattress, but that mattress is sparkling like a pre-schooler’s artwork. Personally, there are few places in the world I want to see glitter less than on my mattress. If Scarlett Johansson wanted to hook up with me but would only do so on a glittery mattress, I would thank God I’m married.
But let’s get to the bottom of this Love Shack mystery. I could simply go to the song’s Wikipedia page and learn the true story, but at Overthinking It the author is dead, and the text itself is all that matters (at least when it’s more fun that way). So what do we actually know about the Love Shack?
- Location clearly labeled via signs
- Located in the Atlanta area
- Known as “love getaway”
- Has jukebox
- Has sign that either says “Stay Away Fools” or “Stay Away Fools Cause Love Rules At the Love Shack”
- Set in middle of a field
- “Just a funky old shack”
- Has mattress (glittery) and front porch (glittery)
- Very hot
- Structurally unstable (shimmies)
- Line outside
- Door needs to be knocked on for entry
- Tin roof (rusted)
I have three possible theories, none of them perfect.
1. The Love Shack is a bar/dance club.
We know large crowds are going there and bringing jukebox money. We know there’s dancing going on in skimpy outfits. HOWEVER: What’s up with this mattress and front porch? Why do you have to bang on the front door? Wouldn’t it either just be open or they’d have a bouncer (Patrick Swayze!) out there checking IDs?
2. The Love Shack is a brothel.
A lot of the lyrics are actually euphemisms for down and dirty sex. “The love getaway.” “A little old place where we can get together.” “Love rules at the Love Shack.” “Huggin’ and a-kissin’.” “Bang bang!!” The Best Little Whorehouse in Georgia theory explains why the place is set way back in a field, and of course it explains the mattress. The singer’s description of how the whole shack shimmies as “everybody’s moving around and around and around and around” suddenly isn’t about dancing; it’s about an orgy of epic proportions. No wonder the place is hot as an oven. HOWEVER: Are the proprietors really going to put out signs by the side of the road advertising the location? It seems like even if local law enforcement is going to turn a blind eye, they’d have to be somewhat discreet. More importantly, the Love Shack is said to be a place where WE can get together. You go to hook up with the people you come with, not the girls that work there. (But here’s an interesting theory: what is the female singer is one of the girls working at the Love Shack? The whole thing is basically an ad for sex, and the part where she purrs “Bang Bang” is… wow.)
3. The Love Shack is an actual shack.
On this reading, the Love Shack is not a commercial establishment at all, but a spot where the local teens go to party. This does the most to explain the dilapidated condition of the place: a rusted shack on the verge of falling down. It’s just an abandoned cabin that the kids sneak off to for dancing, hooking up, and glitter fights. The only detail I’m not sure about is the jukebox. It doesn’t seem like that’s something that would be in a dilapidated sex cabin. In fact, I’m surprised the Love Shack has electricity at all.
But perhaps part of the confusion is that the song doesn’t present a single cohesive description of the Love Shack. We’re hearing two competing perspectives.
The first singer is B-52s singer Kate Pierson (fun fact: she did guest vocals on “Shiny Happy People”). She’s heading down the Atlanta highway, looking for “the love getaway.” Taken by itself, we’d assume she’s on her way to some sort of romantic weekend with a boyfriend, maybe a bed and breakfast followed by some antiquing.
But then B-52s sprechgesang expert Fred Schneider chimes in. He is also heading to the Love Shack, but in a very different spirit: packing his car full of people like he’s a circus clown. If Kate and Fred are on their way to meet each other, one of them is going to be very disappointed.
These divergent expectations only deepen. To Kate, the Love Shack is a “little old place” (sounds quaint!) where “we can get together.” It’s “just a funky old shack.” She makes it sound small and sleepy. Whereas to Fred, it’s pandemonium. There is scantily-clad huggin’ and a-kissin’ practically threatening to bring the place down. Now admittedly, my theory threatens to fall apart (much like the Shack itself) when Kate sings “Everybody’s moving, everybody’s groovin’ baby,” which implies that she knows it’s a crowded dance party and not a romantic chateau. But I’d still say the “baby” there implies that she’s focused on one person, whereas Fred can’t stop talking about the scale of the crowds. Keep in mind that she’s the one who sings about the mattress; that’s the most important part of the Love Shack to her.
It’s only at the end of this song that the two singers meet up… only they don’t. She’s outside, knocking on the door, and he’s inside not hearing her. He literally says “I can’t hear you!” (which I realize is a paradox). Presumably he’s too busy huggin’ and a-kissin’ with the 20 people he arrived with.
And then we have one of the most well-known fermatas in pop music: “Tin roof! Rusted!”
What’s that about? I have a theory. Kate has finally arrived at the Love Shack for a romantic weekend, only to find herself stuck outside in the dark. Imagine her anticipation slowly turning to frustration as her banging goes unnoticed. Earlier in the song, she was willing to overlook the humble nature of the place because of what was going to happen in there: “just a funky old shack and I gotta get back.” But now that she’s pissed off, the Love Shack doesn’t seem like a magical spot where the road itself is paved in glitter. It seems like it has a rusted tin roof, which is NOT SEXY. I’m imagining that as the song resumes, Kate storms back to her car and peels off while Fred continues his bacchanalia.
Don’t ask me to explain “Rock Lobster,” though. That’s just madness.
1. I can’t believe you just made me purposefully and intentionally enjoy listening to “Love Shack.” Other than its inclusion in “Polka Your Eyes Out” by Weird Al Yankovic, I had planned on never listening to that song again, thank you very much.
2. “but at Overthinking It the author is dead”!!!! This, Always This!
3. So my comments must be prefaced as being based on watching the music video. (The Author is still dead, just alternate texts available.) The female vocals are by two different women. So for there to be an accurate representation of the number of perspectives you ought to include three people heading to the Love Shack.
There is this set of lines where the man says “The whole shack shimmies when everybodys moving around and around, etc.” Then the girls come back with “Everybodys moving, everybodys grooving, baby.” (You totally address this above, I just had an alternate thought.)
These lines to me imply that this is really like one of those cheap locally made commercials, kinda like homegrown car dealership ads, and the Love Shack is trying to attract business. So they put a bunch of disparate images together that sound cool until you start overthinking them. Love making on a mattress covered in glitter sounds awesome until you try it. Banging really loud on the door to show affection for your partner sounds great until you realize their is a dance party in the next room. Boasting about the size of your whale,
car sounds impressive until it does not perform as intended.
I think that the local business creating this advertisement was forced to mix their metaphors because of the obscenity rules that local TV and radio stations are under.
The Love Shack is actually Bob’s Discount Furniture! This is a strong contender, jmasoncooper.
Dunno if this matters for your interpretation, but “Atlanta Highway” is the municipal name for the stretch of US 78 that runs from Bogart eastward to downtown Athens, where it becomes Broad St, and then Oak St, before becoming 78 again in Oglethorpe county. So depending on how dead your author is, the Love Shack is located somewhere on the west side of Athens-Clarke County, not the Atlanta metro area.
I would point out that the “Tin roof rust” part is prefaced by the guy asking with much surprise, “You’re what?!” , to which she replies, “Tin roof…rust!” Therefore, my take is that there’s a big build up to getting together at this Love Shack where there’s people dancing and partying and clearly something else and they arrive and are banging on the door to get in, which makes it sound like this isn’t a commercial establishment, and before, or maybe after they finally get in, she breaks it to him that she’s on the rag. Tin roof rust is slang for being on her period, and some say could mean she’s pregnant. Personally, the lyrics aren’t cohesive in areas and I tend to believe the band who have said that the mattress glitter, tin roof rust and banging on the door don’t mean anything. They say the song lyrics just took on a life of their own. The actual cabin or shack is a real place on the Atlanta Hwy. just outside Athens, Georgia, that was once owned by band member Kate Pierson and which later became a restaurant/ bar where they literally stopped and ate rock lobster. This place burned down in 2004. I’m not sure if the band practiced when Kate owned it or not but I could see why she would want to stop there to see it as a restaurant. Also, the video I believe was Ru Paul’s first TV debut.