It’s been 20 years now since the heyday of Generation X, a catch-all term for the teenagers and twentysomethings of the early 1990’s. They wore flannel, they listened to grunge, and their fallback emotion was indifference. At least those are the broad generalizations you’ll get from retrospectives of the era.
Hollywood, of course, tried to put their own spin on this loosely-defined group, with 1994’s Reality Bites being one of the more high-profile examples. The film was practically anthropological in its look at these strange creatures. (Behold the mating rituals of the heavy-lidded slacker and the over-analytical pixie!) What it did yield was a song that not only succinctly summed up that era but also managed to transcend it.
That song is “Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb and her band Nine Stories, and the story of its success is an unlikely one. It seems that Loeb wasn’t even signed to a recording contract but was acquainted with Ethan Hawke, who starred in Reality Bites. Hawke passed a tape of the song along to the movie’s director Ben Stiller, who promptly put the song in the movie. Helped by the exposure, the song became the first ever by a literally independent artist to top the Billboard Pop charts.
As Loeb told Songfacts, “Stay (I Missed You)” was inspired by her own personal relationship turmoil. “It was a story about a breakup I was going through, and that situation where it’s gotten into your head too much,” she said. “Partially because somebody else is telling you that you’re only hearing what you want to, and that puts you in a little bit of a tailspin.”
Loeb’s lyrics definitely capture the breathless way of expressing oneself that was common at the time. Considering all of the lines that start with “And,” the song can seem like one big run-on sentence. Yet in the midst of all of the breathlessness, she focuses enough to spin out several couplets that really nail the topsy-turvy feeling that romantic mind games can play on you. Consider the poetic flow and offhand profundity of these lines: “Some of us hover when we weep for the other who was/Dying since the day they were born/Well, this is not that/I think that I’m throwing, but I’m thrown.”
The tonal shifts in the vocals also are quite affecting. Loeb rants and rails through much of the song with barely contained emotion only to pull back for some tenderness in the refrain. It’s an outstanding performance of an enduring song. As it turns out, Lisa Loeb’s “Stay (I Missed You)” is not just the relic of a specific era. It still resonates with anyone who ever loved someone not mature enough to properly reciprocate.