Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver is a song written and performed by the American rock band Primus. It served as the lead single from the band’s 1995 album Tales from the Punchbowl. Les Claypool, the lead singer of Primus, primarily wrote the lyrics. Band members Larry LaLonde (Guitarist) and Tim Alexander (Drummer) made some contributions as well.
The song earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1996. It also faced some controversy for its lyrical content and
a false assumption that “Wynona” referred to the actress Wynona Ryder. The band cleared up the rumors, stating that Wynona from the song was a fictional character.
The Title – What does it mean?
The song title Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver is like the title of a story, featuring Wynona and her big brown beaver. The entire song enfolds like a children’s rhyming tale.
Some may find a sexual innuendo in the title. But, if you listen to the entire song you will realize that it is literally a story about a woman and her pet beaver. According to Les Claypool, he got the idea for the song on a fishing trip in Lassen County, California. He encountered a giant brown beaver on the trip and had an interesting experience. Both Les and the beaver were frightened of each other’s presence. Yet, they continued to keep an eye on each other, unsure of the other’s intention. It was a while before Les and the beaver parted ways.
This inspired Les to come up with the line “Wynona’s got herself a big brown beaver”. From there, he worked on the line and turned it into an entire song about a beaver of mythological reputation. Needless to say, Les added a double entendre to the song. But the song is completely open to interpretation.
Verse 1 – What does it mean?
Wynona’s got herself a big brown beaver
And she shows it off to all her friends
The lead character in the song, Wynona, found “a big brown beaver” that she started owning. The beaver in this song could be a metaphor for something precious which is rare to come by. It could even be a reference to true love.
Wynona was so proud of her prized possession that she flaunted it to everyone she knew. Compare this to buying an expensive car, or wearing a huge diamond wedding ring. Wynona could not contain her excitement.
One day, you know, that beaver tried to leave her
So she caged him up with cyclone fence
The beaver here may refer to her lover, who felt smothered by Wynona’s affection. Perhaps Wynona took things to the extreme.
So the beaver tried to run away but Wynona would not let that happen. This is a direct hint at Wynona’s mad obsessiveness. She trapped him with a “cyclone fence”. As a natural disaster, a cyclone cannot be contained and is unpredictable. It warps away everything it comes into contact and makes it swirl along. This implies Wynona’s own frenzy and how she sucked the beaver into her world of craziness.
Along came Lou with the old baboon
And said, “Recognize that smell?
Smells like seven layers
That beaver eats Taco Bell.”
Baboons are often portrayed as wise animals in cartoon films (like the baboon in The Lion King). Someone smart and wise, like Lou, can detect that Wynona has kept the beaver against its will. He can recognize it through the smell. Taco Bell has an item on its menu called the seven layer burrito. It has a distinct funky smell and can be easily identified. The beaver’s unwillingness to be with Wynona is that obvious.
Verse 2 – What does it mean?
Now Rex, he was a Texan out of New Orleans
And he traveled with the carnival shows
He ran bumper cars, sucked cheap cigars
And he candied up his nose.
The song introduces a third character, Rex. “…travelled with the carnival shows” describes his lifestyle. Since animals are used as symbols in this song, Rex’s association with carnivals (which may contain exotic animals) hints at his promiscuity. He also leads a fast life full of adventures and parties (“bumper cars” and “cheap cigars”). The phrase “candied up his nose” refers to the use of cocaine. Many use cocaine as a party drug. The expression “Nose Candy” is used to describe cocaine as it is snorted through the nose.
He got wind of the big brown beaver
So he though he’d take himself a peek
Rex is naturally drawn to Wynona’s beaver. Many promiscuous men look for women who are unhappy in their relationships. Their aim is to lure these women into an affair. Taken literally, Rex wants to add the beaver to his carnival collection of animals.
But the beaver was quick
And grabbed him by the kiwis
Now he ain’t pissed for a week
(And a half!)
Wynona’s beaver may be stuck with her, but it is no fool. The beaver does not buy into Rex’s scheme and shoos him away. Taken literally, the beaver grabs Rex by his testicles (“kiwis”) so hard, that he has difficulty taking a piss for the next week.
“And a half” could imply that Rex loses one of his testicles in the incident. That is how hard the beaver squishes them.
Verse 3 – What does it mean?
Now Wynona took her big brown beaver
And she stuck him up in the air
Said, “I sure do love this big brown beaver
And I wish I did have a pair.”
Parents lift up their babies in the air as an expression of love. The babies also tend to enjoy this. Wynona sticking up the beaver in the air could indicate a growing bond between them. Maybe, the beaver is getting used to Wynona.
Here comes the twist. While the beaver is presumably enjoying itself with Wynona, she has second thoughts. “I wish I did have a pair” hints at either a threesome (if the beaver is a metaphor for lover) or that Wynona is bored of the beaver. So she wants to hook the beaver up with someone else.
Now the beaver once slept for seven days
And it gave us all an awful fright
So I tickled his chin, and I gave him a pinch
And the bastard tried to bite
“…slept for seven days” could imply menstruation. A woman’s period can last up to a week. Many women are irritable during this time due to hormonal fluctuations. Some may even become aggressive, likely to “bite”. Even the attempts to make someone feel comfortable during menstruation (by tickling, for example) may result in a negative response.
Wynona loved her big brown beaver
And she stroked him all the time
She pricked her finger one day, and it occurred to her
She might have a porcupine
Wynona is blind in her obsession with the beaver. It does not occur to her that, maybe, the beaver she loves is a different animal. Getting pricked may also imply the beaver retaliating to Wynona’s aggressive love. It has had enough and will not tolerate it any further. All along Wynona had thought that the beaver was harmless.
In a dirtier interpretation, the beaver (Wynona’s lover) ends up giving Wynona an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection). Wynona would often have sexual intercourse with her lover (“she stroked him all the time”). Eventually, she realizes that the lover she had trapped took their revenge with a painful STI.
Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver is to be taken with a pinch of salt. If interpreted literally, the song is a funny tale of Wynona and her beaver. The last verse brings out the comedic punch-line beautifully. Symbolically, the song is completely open to interpretation. The listener can decide what the song means to them.