The Case for Anilingus in The B52’s “Roam”

Jim DeRogatis is pop-music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times. He’s written several rock ‘n’ roll books, and is a host of Sound Opinions.

In an article titled “Songs About Sex,” a compilation of 40 such songs, DeRogatis lists “Roam” from the B52’s. He says, “…and only these New Wave art-popsters could pen one about analingus.”

This isn’t the first time DeRogatis has made this claim. In a June 19, 2008 article regarding Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III, he says, “…some of the greatest hits in pop history have paid subtly veiled homage to oral sex, ‘Please Please Me,’ ‘Sugar, Sugar’ and the B-52s’ ‘Roam’ among them.”*

Upon reading this for the first time, I loudly exclaimed, “Anal-oral sexual contact in a catchy pop song? I don’t freakin’ believe it!” The elderly woman sitting next to me at the bus stop made a strangled gurgling sound and fainted. In my excitement, I performed anilingus on her while she was unconscious.

I then raced home and, after brushing my teeth, I looked up the lyrics to the song and watched the video on YouTube. I was astonished by how little anilingus is present in the song. There is so little, in fact, that it doesn’t even appear to be present at all.

Unsatisfied by my own interpretation, I turned to the Internet to see whether DeRogatis is full of crap or not. So, here are the lyrics and the results of my further research:

I hear a wind
Whistling air
In my ear

I think this means that the narrator hears a wind in her ear. Perhaps, though, this is a “wind” that is coming from the anus she is about to put her mouth on.

Boy mercury shootin’ through every degree
Oh girl dancin’ down those dirty and dusty trails
Take it hip to hip rocket [rock it?] through the wilderness
Around the world the trip begins with a kiss

Is it “Boy mercury” or “Boy, mercury”? “Boy mercury” could be the male ejaculate. It could also be blood, though, or maybe “love.” I don’t know how any of these substances could “shoot through every degree, though.” It makes more sense to me to read this as, “Boy, mercury shootin’ through every degree.” I imagine this more probably refers to a thermometer.

“…dancin’ down those dirty dusty trails.” As of this writing, 220 Urban Dictionary users have assessed the following definition of “dance”: “foreplay in a crowded, public place.” Of those assessors, 148 have given this definition a thumbs-up. Now, if you’re engaging in foreplay in a public place “down those dirty, dusty trails,” I have to admit, I don’t know what you’re doing. Is the anus a “dirty, dusty trail”? Maybe. This seems like a long shot to me, though.

“Take it hip to hip.” This calls to my mind, “Take it easy.” I think I understand the “it” in “Take it easy” to be “life.” So, “Take life easy.” And, if someone “takes it hard,” I think “it” refers to some situation or news the person has received.
So, I’m inclined to hear “Take it hip to hip” in a similar way: “Take life hip to hip.” What does that mean, though? Take life by dancing with someone? The “wilderness” could easily be the “unknown.” So, the line could possibly translate as, “Dance with someone when you venture into the unknown.” Or, perhaps, “Take someone with you when you venture into the unknown.”

However, as’s Robert Fontenot points out, “rock ‘n’ roll” can be a euphemism for sex. But, double-however, if this line is a sexual reference, it can’t possibly refer to oral sex of any kind unless “hip” is slang for both the mouth and the genitals.

“Around the world” is a bit interesting. In her book An American Obsession, Jennifer Terry writes,

As a way of disguising their literal meaning, many used metaphors of travel which had the effect of figuring the body as a terrain to journey. For example, taking a trip around the world meant to lick a person over every surface of their body before performing oral sex on their genitals. lists a similar explanation for “go around the world”: “To kiss and lick the entire body of a partner prior to fellatio or cunnilingus.”

So, what have I learned after the first verse? Well, it seems to me at this point that what may be a countless number of words have been used or can be used euphemistically. Consider, for instance, that I just typed the word “used.” Collectively, Google reports about 15,000 results for the phrase “used her/him/me/them for sex.”  I’m not surprised then that I get a certain picture in my mind when I hear someone say, “He just used me.”

We can, of course, continue on this route through the rest of the song, but the exercise might be excessively masturbatory. The clearest route, in my opinion, would be to take the song at face value. Otherwise, we run the risk of simply over-analyzing Scrotie McBoogerballs.

I use both spellings of the word here and I don’t think I can justify correcting “analingus.” A Google search for both terms favors the “analingus” spelling, roughly 3,000,000 to 1,000,000. Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, and Random House dictionaries all favor the “anilingus” spelling.*
I excluded “hilton” from the results to eliminate stories of Paris Hilton’s apparently widespread news of being used.

6 thoughts on “The Case for Anilingus in The B52’s “Roam””

  1. I always thought this song was meant to be about sexual exploration in general. Hip to hip = two bodies together. “Around the world, the trip begins with a kiss”
    “Without anything but the love we feel”

    1. Could be. I still think, though, that anilingus is a tough sell, especially given the “hip to hip” part. (That would require some inhuman flexibility, no?)
      Lines that may be difficult to reconcile with sexual exploration: “Fly the great big sky, see the great big sea / Kick through continents bustin’ boundaries.” Hmmm….

  2. A mighty weird blog, at best.
    Jim DeRogatis might have part of it right.
    “Around the world” has long been a euphemism for oral sex from back-to-front (or, front-to-back).
    As for the “hip to hip” part, it is pretty obvious we’re talking genital-to-genital interaction.
    Come on now: “Roam if you want to, without wings, without wheels” – this is about exploring each other, ALL OVER!
    This is one incredible, beautiful and harmonic song about love and sex and I DO mean uninhibited, no-holds-barred intimacy.
    Personally, I get shivers in my lower regions when I hear Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson singing THAT is ear-gasmic!

    1. Hey, thanks for stopping by my admittedly weird blog, Eric. It’s interesting that you say, ” ‘Around the world’ has long been a euphemism for oral sex from back-to-front (or, front-to-back).” Do you have some evidence for this by chance? Because I cite two sources that contradict your statement. Also, on its face, this doesn’t make sense as the word “around” is at odds with “back-to-front.” Perhaps you disagree.

      There’s a decent case to be made for “Roam if you want to, without wings, without wheels … without anything but the love we feel” being sexual. This could pretty easily mean, “let’s roam around each others’ naked bodies.” But, it could also mean, “let’s roam around the world on foot, like Caine from Kung Fu.”

      It’s a fine song, but has never moved me as it clearly has you. And, that’s OK. I would just suggest that you may be more married to the sexual reading than the words themselves warrant.

      Incidentally, I do object to characterizing my blog as “weird at best.” I’ve put a lot of stuff on here that I think could be useful to others, rather than just entertaining. This piece I thought was worth sharing as I have a strong interest in textual analysis, especially with respect to song lyrics. I think I highlight problems with making pat conclusions where ambiguities abound. Which is what I think DeRogatis did.

  3. Aside from “Revolution Earth,” which always brings me to tears, this is my favorite B-52’s song. I like the sexual innuendo aspect that’s been brought up, and think some parts of it are more than just speculation. However, like early versions of “Love Shack,” I’ve really always thought the song was mostly about coping with the death of Ricky. After a horrible illness, he’s free to roam the universe with the love he shared in life.

  4. For decades I have understood “around the world,” in a sexual context, to refer to something one might find on the menu in a house of ill repute, i.e., fellatio (“French”) followed by vaginal intercourse (“Vatican” or “Italian”) followed by anal penetration (“Greek”). Apart from (perhaps) the very first line, that makes more sense of these lyrics than the anilingus interpretation — especially “hip to hip, rockin’ through the wilderness.” And it wouldn’t be the band’s only song on this subject — check out “Dirty Back Road.”

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