Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Inauspicious Beginnings

So I've had a blog at Myspace for a while but I like the interface here way better, plus it feels more official, so I'm gonna bring over a few things from that blog as well as add new stuff when I feel like it. So this is one of my previous posts, and I thought it was a good one to start with.

I was a very lame child. It's true, and I've come to grips with it. And for the sake of comedy, I'd love to tell you all about it.

I was not in touch with popularity, both in culture and in my personal life, for a long time. I didn't start listening to the radio or watching MTV til well after all my friends did. No, most of the music I listened to came from soundtracks. The quality of the music varied greatly, and often depended on the time period of the movie we were such a fan of. I say "we" referring mostly to my mother and I. Oh yes, I was, am, and will be a mother's boy, which of course contributed largely to my lameness. Mom was a stay-at-home type, so she drove me everywhere. In doing so she put me at the mercy of her tastes. I distinctly remember dozens and dozens of listenings to the soundtracks of Dirty Dancing (highlight: Swayze's "She's Like the Wind"), Miami Vice (highlights: theme song and Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"), Lost Boys (highlight: Echo and the Bunnymen covering "People are Strange," which of course I did not know was a cover), Good Morning Vietnam (highlights: "What a Wonderful World" and interstitials of Robin Williams' radio riffs), and the finest work of Kenny Loggins: Footloose and Top Gun. Highlights here? Tough. Footloose I'd probably pick the title track and "I Need a Hero," which got me pretty pumped. Top Gun? "Playing with the Boys" (I am absolutely amazed that I'm attracted to women after hearing that song as much as I have) and the instrumental theme song, which was the last song on side B. These were all cassettes. Mom knew how much I loved the theme song and would have it cued up for months when she picked me up from school. It also pumped me up immensely, but as a lame 9-year old I had very little to actually be pumped up for.

I missed some huge pop culture moments while living in soundtrack-cassette-world. I had no idea what this "Ice Ice Baby" song was all about, but you can be sure I knew who Vanilla Ice was after he appeared on the soundtrack to the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (Secret of the Ooze) with the Ninja Rap. I did, however, know the song he sampled for "Ice Ice Baby," which of course is "Under Pressure" by David Bowie and Queen. See, my dad had Queen's greatest hits on cassette, which I stole when I shed a few layers of lameness, and I knew it well. I'd never really heard or seen the New Kids but I could rock out to "Fat Bottomed Girls." Thanks mom and dad.

Mom liked Air Supply, Billy Ocean, and George Michael's Faith. I heard "I Want Your Sex" a lot when I was a kid. I, being lame, had no idea how strange it was for a young boy to listen to this with his mother all the time. Mom, knowing full well how lame a child she'd produced, clearly wasn't worried. I also didn't understand why Mr. Michael was friends with someone whose pet monkey would not let that person go ("Monkey"), nor why he was so unhappy about it. I did understand that "Father Figure" was about a woman that he probably wanted to be more than friends with, which brings me to an interesting point. I was aware that there was something different about George Michael. I thought he either wasn't very interested in women, or that he was really interested in women. I don't think I was actually alone here. Everyone knew how gay he was in Wham!. It was just obvious. And everyone knew how gay he was in the 90's, because he tried to touch/get touched by a few male police at different times. But somehow he fooled everyone in between, during the Faith years. I clearly remember Dana Carvey playing Michael on SNL as a straight, kinda rugged Englishman. Women swooned over George's tight jeans and leather jacket, his calculated stubble. How did he fool us like that?

Anyway, I remember a girl in fifth grade asking me what radio stations I listened to. I literally didn't know any. She didn't understand, and neither did I. What was on the radio? I just thought they played old songs our parents grew up on. I finally just told her I listened to soundtracks, and named a few. She looked at me funny and didn't talk to me much for the rest of the year.

I began to discover my own tastes late-fifth grade, early-sixth, so this was around 91-92. I believe the first CD I bought was Def Leppard's Hysteria. I honestly have no memory of discovering who they were or why I wanted that album. Then in 92 I went on a trip with school to a camp for a week. While there everyone kept playing the same song out their windows, and it was all you'd hear as you walked through the camp. That song sounded unclean, repetitive, and completely unintelligible, and its name was "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I had an absolutely terrible time that week, being as lame as I was (one specific memory is someone I considered a friend laughing loudly, publicly, and for a long time at my matching striped flannel button-up pajamas), and that song became strongly entwined with my misery. When I got home, I couldn't get it out of my head. I tried to understand it more by tuning regularly to channel 25, which I wasn't very familiar with. That was MTV. I finally saw the video, and I believe it actually frightened me. But I couldn't stop. I tried to watch that video as often as I could. Mom finally walked in once when I had it on, and I felt the need to distance myself as much as I could. "I don't actually like this, really, it's just that everyone else does so I guess I should watch it," which is really the reason that everyone turns on MTV. Suddenly I was aware of bands that other people knew as well. I sheepishly started looking at music at the Sound Shop in our mall, when mom would take me every Saturday. I recognized some of the names I saw. With guilt I started buying cassingles. Remember those? What was the point of that? But I did it. I went overboard. I bought every popular song I could find, which was quite silly considering how often you heard them on the radio. "I'm Too Sexy" (little-known fact: the B-side is the same song in Spanish). "Jump" (the words were too fast; I had no idea what most of it was about). And yes, "Informer" (which noone understood). I went whole-hog into the scene and very quickly regretted most of the things I got. I would listen to a tape once or twice and never hear it again. I finally narrowed my vision down to the field of hard rock, with Guns N Roses and Metallica (still a die-hard fan of all GNR, and Metallica's Black album), and made a slow progression into discernment.

On the flip side of my musical journey, I was watching stuff like RoboCop, Predator, and Twin Peaks at age 9 or 10, which is also when I began devouring Stephen King's entire catalogue. If I'm not mistaken my fifth-grade English teacher began fearing me when I walked in with mom's 500-page hardcopy edition of Skeleton Crew. That year I also read Cujo, Tommyknockers, and It, if not more. Strangely this still managed to convey a certain image of lameness to my peers, though I can only imagine mom encouraged my consumption of this material to counteract my sad, sad musical tastes.

In the next installment, I discover girls through Married...With Children and comic books.

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