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[January, 1995] Sponge

September 4, 2012 3 comments

I still think of this album cover when I see candy corn.

1/21/95

Anita and I went to Tower Records in Paramus. The Q104 people were there and I got a hat, after identifying 3 DJ’s (including my favorite one, Trent Tyler). First they quizzed the crowd on what bands they play.

“Do we play Metallica?” they shouted.

“Yeah!”

When they asked, “Do we play U2?” I shouted “You should.” And some people replied “Yeah!”

So the guy asked “Should we play U2?” and at least half the people yelled “Yes!”

Then Sponge came out (the drummer wasn’t there though). Vinny (lead singer) played percussion for the first two songs (“Rotting Piñata” and “Molly” or “Drownin’.” I’m not sure about the order. “Plowed” was last, though). For the other two, he got a boy from the crowd to do drums (the first was good, the second a little off, but he wore a Pretty Hate Machine t-shirt).

I was afraid they wouldn’t sign stuff after they performed but they did, and we were near the front of the line. They signed our cardboard flats of the album and Vinnie signed my Converse (the toe of it). I asked them what bands they liked and the blond guy answered “Live.” They were so nice, Anita and I hope they tour soon (and I know their music’s good because I got Rotting Piñata today—I heard it before at Anita’s though).

I got Afghan Whigs’ Up In It today. Very screamy, I can get used to it. Can’t wait to get Congregation

Over the years, I’ve seen a fair number of musicians do record store appearances. Since many were cataloged in my diaries, I’ll leave out the full list, but I did get to meet Cyndi Lauper at a Tower Records about ten years ago, which was a special moment for my not-so-inner ’80s fangirl, and a future journal entry (spoiler alert!) almost certainly describes having a famous ’90s singer/songwriter sign my yearbook. There’s something a little odd about the experience, even though it makes sense for a band or soloist to meet (and often perform for) their fans in the establishments where their music is purchased. But on the other hand, squeezing people in among racks of CDs is awkward at best, crowd control can get tricky, and sightlines can be a nightmare depending on where you end up. Nevertheless, there was something terribly exciting about meeting musical talent that you’d seen on MTV in the flesh, even if it was a band that wouldn’t go on to super-stardom and few would remember years later. Even if it was a band like Sponge.

[Edited to add: Anita saw this post and reminded me of another detail about this outing. “Remember that my mom drove us to the mall, where we thought the Tower was, but it wasn’t there? We’d sat in traffic for an hour and she was in such a bad mood that she wouldn’t get back in the car. So we had to walk a mile, along the shoulder of the highway, to get there?” I do remember walking along the highway now (which we had to do there and back). But I’m sure I just saw that as another part of the adventure.]

For those who don’t remember (and/or are under 30), Sponge was an alternative rock band who had moderate hits with “Plowed” and “Molly.” I still feel a twinge of guilt for asking lead singer Vinnie to autograph one of my stinky Converses. He signed his name “Vin-e” so it looked more like the word “vine,” adding curlicues to the first letter. I wore those sneakers for years after.

And gee, I wonder if my favorite Q104 DJ had anything to do with the fact that he was named Trent, much like the object of my obsession, Mr. Reznor.  No matter how many other bands I listened to, Nine Inch Nails and U2 were still my top fixations and any reference to them (even something as small as seeing a boy in a Pretty Hate Machine t-shirt, which could outshine a flaw like poor rhythm) brightened my day.

There are many reasons to lament the closing of bricks and mortars record shops, and these in-store appearances are one of them. I know nowadays social media makes it even easier for bands to connect with their fans, and some large acts still do occasional gigs in smaller venues or secret shows, but there was something special and endearingly dorky about all of us being crammed into a record store like that. There were no fog machines, no fancy lights or costumes, and an adequate-at-best sound system. It was just the performers and us, and music everywhere.

[July, 1992] The Walkman: In Memoriam

Monday, July 27, 1992

Dear Journal,

As I am writing this, we are on our way to Boston.

Right now I am sitting next to Anita. She is really nice (& cool) and I like hanging out with her. Didi is acting nice toward me.

I am feeling pretty restless and a little bored. In the front of the bus the councelors are playing Donna Summer songs and Anita knows the words to almost all of the songs because her mother listens to her a lot. Anyway, I am very bored. I don’t know what I should do next. I’ll probably listen to my walkman. I can’t wait until we arrive at our destination. I’ll write more later. See ya!

How we listened to music in the (not so) olden days.

A moment of silence for the walkman.

Before it was possible to carry hours, days, weeks worth of music in a portable device the size of your palm, there were cassettes, boomboxes, and walkmans (according to Sony, they prefer the device be pluralized as Walkman Personal Stereos, but I prefer saying “walkmans” or “korvalappustereot” which is how they say it in Finnish. Those wacky Finns).

Back in the early 1990’s, CDs were starting to appear on the scene, but the cassette tape was still my preferred music medium. Not only were tapes less expensive, but you could buy blank ones and fill them with songs taped off the radio.

I was around nine when I discovered this clever and elusive way to capture music, except that I had a stereo that only had one tape deck and no record functionality. However my parents did have a clunky tape recorder, which I was able to hold up to the radio to capture two-thirds of Europe’s “Carrie” (not the most auspicious musical beginning perhaps, but I’ve always had a soft spot for power ballads.

George Michael: did not fool Mom's gaydar.

Luckily, my parents noticed my emerging passion for music and started buying me tapes, and eventually a stereo with two tape decks. The first piece of music I ever owned was George Michael’s Faith (followed by Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors). I remember one awkward summer day listening to “I Want Your Sex” with my mother; she grew thoughtful and said “I think he [George Michael] is light blue,” in Russian. She then explained “light blue” in our native language meant “gay.” I didn’t know what to think of such a statement at the time, considering that back then I associated homosexual men with the flamboyance of someone like Liberace or Elton John. I also developed something of a crush on the tight-jeaned, 5 o’clock shadowed, aviator-shade-wearing George Michael of 1987, and was completely under his hetero-spell. Who knew Mom had such dead-on gaydar?

In addition to the tape player, my parents bought me several walkmans (take that, Sony!) over the years, and much of my allowance was spent on cassettes. For the next five years, my music tastes grew but remained limited to pop selections from the Top 40, and often the cheesier end of the spectrum (though I did stop after one Paula Abdul album, so a little credit for that, right? No? Okay). The later models of the walkman I owned had fancy features like Auto Reverse, which would start playing the second side of the tape without the need to manually remove and flip the tape. Back then this was considered pretty high tech.

A happy MTV moment any time they played the video for "With or Without You".

The summer of 1992 expanded my musical horizons beyond Donna Summer (who was fun for bus trips, but not anyone whose albums I sought out). I remember the counselors also played a lot of Billy Joel and Meat Loaf (Anita couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” before), neither of which I was crazy about. It wasn’t until Anita let me borrow her cassette copy of The Joshua Tree that I started to understand how intriguing and captivating music could be. “With or Without You” was the song that hooked me, more than any other song had in my life. Compared to the more straightforward catchy tunes I was used to, I found this song haunting, ambiguous, and deliciously tortured. I didn’t bother listening to the rest of the album, just that one song, over and over again, recording it onto a blank tape repeatedly until it filled up all of Side A. I was slowly discovering music that made me think and feel on a level I never had before and was on the cusp of a music revolution, one that would help me survive some dark days ahead.

Later on, “With or Without You” would the first piece of music I owned on CD, when someone gave me the CD single as a gift. However I was so stubborn about remaining true to my walkman and growing collection of cassette tapes, it would be a while before I had anything to play it on. The discman would not be part of my reality for a few years yet…

[June, 1990] Madonna = MINT

...

June 14, 1990

Dear Journal,

I went to a Madonna concert, and, well what can I say it was FABULOUS!!! TERRIFIC!!! WONDERFUL!!! EXHILARATING!!! GREAT!!! SPELLBINDING!!! UNBELIEVABLE!!! SPECTACULAR!!! BREATHTAKING!!! THRILLING!!! I hope that says enough!

Even though our seats were in the back of the Coliseum (The concert was at Nassau Coliseum.) We could see very well because there was this big screen on top of the stage that showed everything that was going on the stage.

These are the people I went to the concert with: My Mom, my cousin Anna, Tolya, his father and Tolya’s friend Peter.

When I went to the Debbie Gibson concert, I was really amazed at all the energy she had, but when I was at the Madonna concert, forget about it, I was so shocked at the LIMITLESS energy that SHE had. I will NEVER forget what a MINT concert that was!!

[This was the last Doogie Howser-style entry.  After this I returned to the composition book.]

It’s quite probable that I consulted a thesaurus when writing that concert review.

Madonna was never one of my favorite singers.  In terms of pure ability, even as a kid I thought Cyndi Lauper and Debbie Gibson could sing circles around her.  I also found her boldness and uninhibited (if not calculated) sense of sexuality daunting, much the same way I did of Samantha Fox.  Seeing Madonna live on her on her Blonde Ambition tour changed all of that.  It raised my opinion of her as a performer and made me gain an enormous amount of respect for her that I have to this day.  It’s a concert I’ll never forget, and not just because of how uncomfortable I was watching her writhe around on a big red bed during “Like a Virgin” with my Mom next to me.  Regardless of the bawdy shenanigans, the energy, charisma and precision with which she executed that show was nothing short of phenomenal.

I saw Madonna again about six years ago for the Reinvention Tour, and even in her mid-40’s the woman was still impressive.  She twisted her yoga-fied body into complex shapes, tangoed in five-inch stilettos, and showed off complex choreography– all while singing live, which puts other divas who use backing tracks (*cough*JLo and Britney Spears*cough*) to shame.  Say what you will about Madonna as a singer (and we won’t discuss her “acting,” unless we’re talking Desperately Seeking Susan), but as an entertainer, few can rival her.  Sure, Lady Gaga seems to be her present-day successor, but Gaga’s career is a few years old.  Madonna has been evolving her persona and captivating the public for over thirty years, without a single collapse or rehab stint or breakdown or bout with “exhaustion.”  Let’s check back in a decade or two and see who’s still standing.

Pop culture is fickle, with very few constants.  Madonna is one of the rare survivors, and I feel lucky to have been able to see her when she was putting out some of her best music, and to enjoy a concert which shocked and dazzled me so much.  Few shows since have made me want to use as many capital letters and exclamation marks.

Oh, and did I mention Technotronic opened up for her?  They pumped up the jam, and wore puffy neon pants while doing it.

Like I said, pop culture has very few constants.

[July, 1989] Spin the Bottle

October 26, 2009 8 comments

7/10/89

Dear Journal,

I just came back from my trip and it was super!!!

I met this gorgeous guy, his name is Francis and he lives in Brooklyn, not too far away from me. I met a lot of people. Here are their names: Liev, Martha, Marina, Ilena, Carrie, Mark and Glen.

Also, I got my First KISS.

We were playing a game called “spin the bottle” and I kissed Francis twice on the cheek and he kissed me 3 times on the cheek and 2 times ON THE LIPS!!!!

I really like him and he likes me. He lives like 15 blocks away from me. Ilena is giving me his address. I still can’t believe I got kissed on the lips by this GEORGEOS boy. My mom saw me with him and she likes him. You never know what will happen.

Wow, My First KISS!

boredom + young hormones = spin the bottle

boredom + young hormones = Spin the Bottle

 

With all these gorgeous boys crossing my path, you’d think I’d take time to learn to spell the word correctly, but alas. The important thing is that I finally got a smooch from one of these “georgeous” fellas.

The momentous experience took place at a bungalow colony in upstate New York. In the summertime, it was common for groups of Russian Jewish families to gather in these ramshackle living quarters near enough to a body of water and let their kids run rampant.

Some of our youthful escapades were innocent enough, like playing handball or holding séances or singing Cyndi Lauper and Little Mermaid songs in a gazebo pretending it’s a stage (that last one might have just been me). Other activities were more questionable, like playing Seven Minutes in Heaven and Spin the Bottle.

One night, a group of us gathered in a circle beside the outdoor pool with a discarded glass bottle. Someone took the first spin and I began to fervently pray that Francis’ spins would land on me.  The only thing I remember about Francis is that he had blonde hair and green eyes, and he wasn’t a jerk. That was enough for me to be over the moon when I got to kiss him, not once but two times. Even though they were quick pecks on the lips, I remember buzzing with excitement long after the game was over, unable to sleep after such a new and thrilling experience.

[April, 1989] New Tapes: The Bangles and Samantha Fox

4/3/89

Dear Journal,

I got another song for Jonas. It is called “Eternal Flame.” It is from one of my new tapes. The Bangles. I also got Samantha Fox.

my favorite girl band from the 80's

my favorite girl band from the 80’s

The musical miseducation continues…

Actually, I still listen to The Bangles once every so often. Music is a powerful thing, and was especially so for me as an eleven-year-old nursing a hardcore unrequited crush on someone she hadn’t spoken to in years. At the time, I thought Susanna Hoffs knew my heart better than I did. When I heard “Eternal Flame” in the late 80’s, I was blown away by the vulnerability and wistfulness of the song. I marveled at lyrics like “Say my name, the sun shines through the rain/A whole life so lonely, and then you come and ease the pain.” Nevermind that the song implied a real relationship, whereas the few times Jonas actually said my name, it was to get me to stop talking during assembly.

Some bands from the 80’s fade away and are worth being forgotten, but I think The Bangles were a talented group with some solid tuned and I stand by my appreciation of them. And while I don’t have them in the same heavy rotation I did 20 years ago, I do still get a kick out of “Walk Like an Egyptian” when I play Dance Dance Revolution (in case you had any doubt that I am still dorky today).

 

naughty girls got too much love, that was their problem

As for Samantha Fox… yeah, I’ll take that shame.  The only thing I can say in my defense is that I didn’t really have anyone around with edgy music knowledge to guide me, only what was on Casey’s Top 40. Though even if there was someone, I don’t know how far they would have gotten considering my soft spot for bubblegum pop back then.

The Samantha Fox song that really hooked me was “Naughty Girls (Need Love Too),” which I didn’t realize until much later was something of a slutty girl anthem. I also didn’t know right away that she was a topless model in England, which I found mildly scandalous but not all that surprising considering her first hit in America was called “Touch Me (I Want Your Body).” Fox’s overt sexuality was something I found intimidating and unappealing, but oddly intriguing. I couldn’t relate to her the way I could to someone like Debbie Gibson, and I didn’t idolize her style the way I did Cyndi Lauper’s. I liked her, but I didn’t love her. And at such a young age, listening to her suggestive lyrics was kind of like the musical equivalent of reading V.C. Andrews. It was ultimately harmless, but it made me feel like I was getting away with something at the time.

[November, 1988] Two of Hearts

September 11, 2009 12 comments

11-13-88

Dear Journal,

I have a lot to tell you about my weekend.

Well first of all I forgot to tell you a dream I had a few weeks ago. It was about this book that I found.

to this day I love that hair

You see, you write a question on it, and the answer magically appears…

So in my dream I wrote asking when I would see Jonas again. (Jonas is this boy I like that graduated from my school.)

Well, anyway, in my dream the book answered: “Nov. 11, 88.” And that was the day of Jessica’s birthday party. By the way, Jessica’s brother knows him. So I thought that I would see Jonas again, but I was wrong, because Jessica told me her birthday party was going to be postponed.

So I thought I would never see him again.

But since Friday I did not go to school I spent the day with my parents. Then we went to the movies and my parents were outside waiting for someone (I was inside) and who should I see by Jonas. So my dream came true.

Plus I got two tapes, Stacy Q and Kylie Minogue so I had a really good weekend.

Of all the things I could ask an all-knowing book, I didn’t for the meaning of life or how to cure global hunger or for upcoming lottery numbers or even for Corey Haim’s phone number (not for me now; for me then). Oh no, instead I aimed much lower than that. I asked when I would randomly run into the red-haired hall monitor I had I crush onback when I could barely spell. And I was thrilled when my dream became prophetic. Never mind the fact that I saw Jonas from fifteen feet away and did not even make eye contact. It was important to me to be psychic and this was burgeoning proof that I very well might be.

I should be so lucky…

As for my music selections, what can I say, I was ten. It would be years until  I discovered the “cool” 80’s music like The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Duran Duran, Bauhaus, New Order, Alphaville, and of course, Depeche Mode. Before I was into male-fronted new wave and post-punk, I was into colorful female-fronted unapologetic pop. Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Cyndi Lauper, The Bangles, and the two women added to my burgeoning music collection that day: Stacey Q and Kylie Minogue.

Stacey had style I coveted and a guest appearance on my favorite t.v. show back then (okay, and maybe of all time), The Facts of Life. She also had what I thought was one of the coolest names in the world, second only to Vanna White.

Kylie had an infectious smile and perky spirit I could not resist. When her hit cover of “Locomotion” came on the radio, I was filled with delight and an urge to dance (badly; rhythm and coordination were not my friends–the way my parents tell it, my childhood dance recitals were “hilarious”).

Truth be told, the use of Stacey Q’s song “Two of Hearts” in Party Monster was my favorite thing about the movie and I still get a kick out of the tune to this day. As for Kylie, I was happy to see her have a major U.S. comeback in the early 00’s and still maintain a strong presence in the pop world.

I still wonder where Stacey is today, but I don’t want to Google her out of concern that it might make me sad.  I want to remember her as the crimp-haired, wide-eyed, helium-voiced pixie that wowed me back in 1988.