Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” seems like pretty innocent music; however, it wouldn’t exist without a brutal murder. The murder caused people to demonize AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and other bands that made heavy metal — and it inspired Wheatus’ Brendan B. Brown to write a song of defiance. The song was also his way of calling some of the people around him idiots.
The connection between Satanism and Wheatus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag’
Salon reports there was a media panic over supposed Satanism in rock music in the 1980s. For example, a minister named Michael Mills spread the rumor that Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” contained Satanic messages. While this rumor was false, an infamous murder from the era actually involved Satanism.
During an interview with Tone Deaf, Wheatus’ Brendan B. Brown discussed how a violent crime helped inspire “Teenage Dirtbag.” “It came from the summer of 1984 on Long Island, when I was 10 years old,” he said. “That summer in the woods behind my house, there was a Satanic, drug-induced ritual teen homicide that went down; and the kid who did it was called Ricky Kasso, and he was arrested wearing an AC/DC t-shirt.”
How Wheatus’ Brendan B. Brown fought back against people who demonized his love of heavy metal bands
The murder affected Brown indirectly. “That made all the papers, and the television, obviously; and here I was, 10 years old, walking around with a case full of AC/DC and Iron Maiden and Metallica — and all the parents and the teachers and the cops thought I was some kind of Satan worshipper,” he said. “So that’s the backdrop for that song.”
Brown explained how the song was a statement of defiance. “So when I sing: ‘I’m just a teenage dirtbag,’ I’m effectively saying: ‘Yeah, f— you if you don’t like it. Just because I like AC/DC doesn’t mean I’m a devil worshipper, and you’re an idiot,'” he said. “That’s where it comes from.”
While the song doesn’t mention Kasso, it mentions Iron Maiden repeatedly. The protagonist of the track is a “teenage dirtbag” who wants to listen to Iron Maiden with Noelle, the girl of his dreams. Ultimately, Noelle ditches her boyfriend for the protagonist and asks him to see Iron Maiden with her. While Brown’s love of Iron Maiden was a liability in real life, the band’s music plays a positive role in “Teenage Dirtbag.”
How the world reacted to ‘Teenage Dirtbag’
“Teenage Dirtbag” was a hit in the United Kingdom. The Official Charts Company reports the track reached No. 2 in the U.K., staying on the chart for 39 weeks. None of the band’s other singles peaked in the top 10 there, with the exception of “A Little Respect,” which reached No. 3. The songs’ parent album, Wheatus, was a hit there as well, peaking at No. 7 on the chart and staying there for 34 weeks.
“Teenage Dirtbag” apparently had a bit of a legacy outside of its chart success. It appeared on a rock compilation album called Teenage Dirtbags. Its title was also used as the name of a 2009 film. The public seemed to enjoy “Teenage Dirtbag” — even if it was connected to the fallout from a violent crime.