[Red Spiral Notebook with the following band logos drawn on the front:
U2, Bauhaus, PWEI, NIN, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, Christian Death]
September 13, 1994
“Into the flood again…” – Alice in Chains
I’m back in school and just as I decided I would no longer continue my diary, we have to keep a log for creative writing. Great. Well at least this is my free space to do what I wish. Went to Anita’s on Sunday and watched “Faraway, So Close!” (the same name as my fanzine. Though the movie and song came first). What a great movie. I wanted to pause it every other minute to write down what they were saying. I still think I like the “prequel” “Wings of Desire” better. It was more…philosophical.
I’m eagerly awaiting my next trip to the village, don’t know when I’ll get the chance to go. I want to get some more written material on U2 for my ever-expanding collection. Got an idea spinning around my head for that short story due Friday. Think it’s pretty good. We’ll see.
“Wish there was something real in this world full of you.” – nine inch nails
Funny, because as much as I grumbled about it at the time, the red spiral notebook I kept as a journal during my junior year of high school ended up being one of the most comprehensive records I have of any period of my life. Yes, it’s full of frivolity and quotes and stream of consciousness entries written for the sake of completing the minimum number of entries required by the class, but it’s also a personal time capsule that chronicles a pretty pivotal time in my life, when I was discovering not only music and movies and other sources of inspiration, but also developing what would be one of my greatest passions in life: writing. The creative writing course I was lucky enough to be in that year is the single most amazing class I took in all of my high school (and even college) years. It not only gave me an outlet of expression for all my turbulent adolescent thoughts and feelings, but it made me want to be a storyteller, to put down words and refine them and share them.
What made the class so stellar was our teacher, Ms. Donaldson. She not only offered the perfect balance of freedom and guidance with respect to our writing, she was also incredibly insightful and damn cool. Ms. Donaldson resembled Jodie Foster, had multiple ear piercings, and rode a motorcycle. She shared hilarious stories from her younger days (“did I ever tell you about the flaming diaphragm?”) and created an atmosphere in her classroom that was nothing short of illuminating. And it wasn’t just me. I recently met up with a couple of classmates who had the same reverence for Ms. Donaldson that I did.
“We all had a girl crush on her,” one said. “That class was magic.”
Despite the different shades of teen angst I’d continue to experience at 16, it was an inspiring time. That summer, I saw Wings of Desire, a movie I loved so much I made my best friend Anita watch it with me the very next day. The Wim Wenders masterpiece instantly became my favorite film, and still is to this day. The story of angels watching over the people of Berlin circa the late 80’s, shot in black and white, sepia, and color, in several languages, was unlike any film I had seen before or since. If a movie can be a muse, then this would be mine for a long long time. In college, I saw it in revival houses several times, once with an orchestra providing a live soundtrack. It is the only movie I have ever purchased on DVD. I would tell people it’s the closest thing I have to religion.
That summer I also discovered Greenwich Village, which was already starting to get gentrified, but at the time still retained much of its bohemian charm and was filled with tiny record stores/memorabilia shops that Anita and I frequented. The East Village in particular still had an alternative grit to it, since starving artists/musicians could still afford to live there. The Village became a Mecca for me, where I could satisfy existing musical obsessions and cultivate new ones, where I could ogle the outrageous hairstyles, piercings, and outfits that would inform my future style, and where I could escape the blandness of my Brooklyn life.
Something else that helped me escape that blandness was in fact a new musical obsession. But that’s a whole other story, for another time…
Monday, December 21, 1992
My birthday is tomorrow and I am very excited. Yesterday my mom and I went to Manhattan and it was great. We went to the “Gap” first and I got a whole bunch of new stuff. Then we went to A&S where I got a tape for myself (U2, “Boy”) and one as a present (Genesis, “ABACAB”). I also got a book there. Then we went to Macy’s where I got a new watch (it is a really pretty Swatch). Also my starter jacket and Doc Martens were part of my birthday/Hanukka presents. I love all the stuff I got. Oh yeah. My parents also got me “Poison” (it’s a perfume by Christian Dior and it smells really good).
[After many, many, many instances of exhibiting what some might consider questionable music taste, I finally got to fulfill somebody else’s sonic guilty pleasure. Whether Genesis surpasses Samantha Fox in cheesiness is up for debate, but I vote hell-to-the-yes. I’d rather listen to “Naughty Girls (Need Love Too)” over Phil Collins any day.
As for The Gap, starter jackets, Swatch watches and Doc Martens, welcome to the 1990’s, where plaid shirts, combat boots, puffy sport-related outerwear and colorful plastic timepieces reign supreme. It was the year I was a slave to the trends, though I still kept a bright palate. Despite never seeing a basketball game in my life, I selected a jacket for the Charlotte Hornets, simply because it was teal and purple and I found it pretty. (Full disclosure: I even had to double check that the Hornets were in fact a basketball team. Just now. True story.)
I got some of my presents already from my friends. I got a U2 tape (“The Joshua Tree”) from Linda. In case you haven’t noticed, I am really into the group U2 right now.
[Though clearly I still hadn’t noticed that my diary was an object incapable of observation, not being a living thing and all.]
At the moment, they are my favorite. I also got some jewelry from Renee and Erica (both on the bus). Last but absolutely, posotively not least Didi gave me a Swatch too! I was expecting a plaid shirt and was really surprised. It is really pretty, pinkish purple with anchors and square knots all over it. That is just the beginning. I am going to get even more presents tomorrow and the day after that.
Well, I really should try to get some sleep for tomorrow because not only is it my birthday, but we also have a big science test. I don’t think I’m gonna do well. Oh well. ~See ya!
So let’s review. I was 14-going-on-15, my fashion philosophy could best be described as “Technicolor lumberjack,” and I was become increasingly obsessed with U2. I guess it could be worse.
Considering my girly-pop musical track record, it still surprises me that the first band that would form the backbone of my musical evolution would be a straight up rock band like U2. The best way I can describe it is like falling in love. You might have a type, you might have inclinations, but you can never predict what will capture your heart. Something about Bono’s earnest and feverish voice, The Edge’s soaring guitar riffs, Larry Mullen’s brooding handsomeness and adorable eyelashes drumming really captivated me (Adam Clayton was okay, too, I guess). Never before in my life had I found so much passion in music.
And while we’re on the topic of music and passion, here’s something else I was stubbornly fervent about: cassettes. I was building up quite the tape collection, despite a supposedly superior music format that was becoming increasingly popular. I resisted the “compact disc” hype, refused to pay more money for CDs (“we’ll see how long they last…” I’d scoff and roll my eyes) and swore loyalty to my cassettes. Because surely they would be around forever…
Monday, July 27, 1992
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!
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.
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.
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…
July 8, 1990
On June 22 we had our graduation assembly where I got my award back framed and our show was good! (If I do say so myself!)
On June 26th, we had our prom! It was really great, I had this nice peach and silver dress with silver shoes and a silver purse. We had a really good deejay that played the best music! and everybody danced. I even slow danced. I danced (slow) one time with Bruce, Steve, and even Sam!
For our elementary school graduation, Mrs. Angelo had our grade put on a musical revue. I sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” during a slide show of our classmates throughout the years, including class trips, concerts and candid shots. Our entire grade also sang Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” which was our graduation song. Each of us sang exactly one line and the entire group would chime in for the chorus.
About 30 of us lined up at the edge of the stage for the song. Rose had the lyric “Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex” but was always too shy to sing the word “sex.” Luckily, a boisterous kid had the next line, so the song flowed seamlessly:
“Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician (___)–JFK, BLOWN AWAY, WHAT ELSE DO I HAVE TO SAY”
As for prom, I was nearly delirious with the formality and importance of it. And the dancing! Like many little girls, I grew up on fairy tales, so this was the closest thing I experienced to a ball.
The last song played at the prom was Dionne Warwick’s “That’s What Friends Are For.” Our entire class formed a circle with our arms around each other and sang along, and I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed. I was sad to be leaving my friends behind as I started a new school by myself. At my elementary school, I was considered smart, reasonably popular, and something of a trend-setter (I was the first girl at school to get a perm, and my acid washed denim jacket with white leather fringe was the envy of many). I had a lot of friends, I effortlessly got top grades, I was given solos in all the musical productions, and for a few minutes there I even had a boyfriend. Regardless of the melodramatic way I may have portrayed certain things in the diary entries, sixth grade was one of the best years of my life.
All of this was about to change, in a major way. A new school was looming, one that wouldn’t be nearly as welcoming as the one I was departing from.
[This was the last entry in the composition book diary.]
[I seriously considered leaving this entry out of The Diary Project, to spare myself the many layers of embarrassment contained therein. I decided there was too much for me to mock to keep it private.]
May 15th, 1990
Well there’s not really much to tell you.
[Except that there is. This entry was so long and juicy (that’s what she said) that I ecided to split it up into two blog posts.]
I wrote a fan letter to New Kids on the Block (well Yan Mei wrote most of it and put Carmella Louise, hers and my name on it.) and I wrote one to Debbie Gibson.
[I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that I was involved in the writing of a fan letter to New Kids on the Block, or the fact that I didn’t even write most of the damn thing and just added my name to the bottom. You be the judge. I just wish I saved a copy of the letter I wrote to Debbie Gibson, because I’m sure it would be highly amusing to read today.]
Well I am going to be graduating very soon, and we are going to have a prom. It will probably be so much fun.
I am going on a trip to Philadelphia with my class on May 22 and we are going to spend the whole day going to museums and other places and learning a lot of new things.
I also think that I am going to have my period very soon, because I get cramps pretty often and today I even got a twitch in my leg, and even though Mom says that it’s just nothing, I read somewhere and some one told me that you get these twitches before you get your period.
I hope that I don’t get it in school, because it would be VERY embarrassing, especially if anyone noticed.
[No, what is truly, truly outrageous embarrassing is that I believed a leg twitch was an omen for menstruation. And that I was actually eager for this cursed event to actually happen.
I blame Judy Blume.
Her classic young adult novel and ode to menstruation, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, made puberty this desirable thing. Blume somehow, bafflingly, portrayed a girl getting her period as this cool thing, like a badge of honor. It was an invitation to be part of an older, more with-it, more mature group of not girls (oh no) but women. I wanted that. Had I known the physical discomfort, emotional wretchedness, and ick factor that accompanied the monthly event, I would not have been so impatient. Now I wish I could visit my twelve-year-old self, shake some sense into her, and make her enjoy the few period-free years she had left.]
Today in Family Living class, we were talking about the changes that a girl goes through during Preadolescence and a lot of things that the teacher mentioned are happening to me right now, for example: I am a lot more sensitive now and I cry quite often, and I am growing a lot of hair you-know-where, and my breasts are beginning to grow, also.
In other words, I probably should have been surrounded by flashing hazard lights and enveloped with “CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS” tape. And mind you, this was all before my first bout with PMS. So much for me to “look forward” to…
New Years Eve!!
I can’t wait until later tonight! I am going to my cousins house for a party. (Anna’s)
Yesterday Mitchell didn’t call me so I went shopping and got these amazing “New Kids on the Block” jeans! They are so cool! I absolutely love them! Later!
This is quite possibly the only time the words “New Kids on the Block” and “so cool” were used in the same sentence together.
As a new decade was about to dawn on us, did I take those last moments to reflect on the last ten colorful years? Did I ponder what the dawn of the 1990’s might bring? No and no. Instead I enthused over a pair of acid washed pants with airbrushed graffiti on them spelling out “New Kids on the Block” in bubble letters down one of the legs and the band members down the other. (I have scoured the Internet looking for a comparable photo, but there isn’t one, which can only mean they were one of a kind. Thank heavens for that.)
I could try to defend myself by saying that not hearing from Mitchell caused some sort of fashion temporary insanity. Because there’s retail therapy and then there’s retail suicide. The truth is, I was briefly a fan of this boy band (Joey was my favorite, in case you’re wondering, which you probably aren’t). My taste in music and clothing would take another few years to improve, but at least I ended the decade on a sufficiently tacky and colorful note.
As for the end of the 80’s, I always thought I was born ten years too late. While I was blessed with some fantastic cartoons and sit-coms (Thundercats, Jem & The Holograms, The Facts of Life, Perfect Strangers, Diff’rent Strokes… my definition of “fantastic” is probably not the same as yours), I missed out on a lot of the pop culture being so young. Sure, I had the enormous hair and wore enough shoulderpads to stand in for a quarterback, but I never got to get tarted up like Lucky-Star-era Madonna back then. Wearing fingerless lace gloves a decade later just wasn’t the same. And sure, in recent years I ended up seeing a lot of the new wave and post-punk bands I was too young to appreciate back then (Pet Shop Boys, Sisters of Mercy, Duran Duran, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Human League, etc.) but it would have been really special to see them in their heyday.
I think a lot of people feel out of time in their era. I was a reluctant participant of the 90’s and will always feel like I was stuck with a bum decade to come of age in. And as a another new decade is about to roll in I can’t imagine what kids growing up today will contend with. All I can wonder is whether we’ll ever get those damn flying cars.
In the meantime, I hope somebody out there is tinkering with and putting the finishing touches on a time machine that will one day let me return to the 1980’s and experience it in person again, this time as an adult. I’m sure I’ve glamorized that time period far too much in my mind, and maybe it’s best left in those nostalgic corners. Still, a girl can hold out hope.
School’s great and me and Elaine are starting the cool group.
Also, Mitchell is cute.
Also, Mrs. Angelo (our music teacher) is doing this play thingie that I’m auditioning for. I’m dying to get a solo.
Also Friday I went to a Debbie Gibson concert and it was fabulous!
Well I guess that wraps it up. —Bye—
What more does an 11-year-old in 1989 need to be happy? Cool group in progress? Check. Cute boy in class? Check. Audition for a musical (or “play thingie”) in which I might get a solo? Check. Debbie Gibson concert? Double check!
I didn’t write about the concert at length (probably to save blank pages for mooning over crushes and ranting about friends who done me wrong), but I loved the show. My parents took me to see her in Madison Square Garden, and I couldn’t believe how many thousands (!) of people came to the show. Our seats were pretty far back, but as soon as the music started I forgot the distance between the three of us and the stage. Debbie’s silhouette appeared behind a white screen and the crowd went wild (seven years later, when seeing Nine Inch Nails live, I would be reminded of this concert when Trent Reznor did the same thing, only tore through the screen).
Considering that Debbie Gibson released only two albums at that point, I’m pretty sure she played all my favorite songs. When she finished the last song, my parents and I got up to leave and were surprised when the music started up again a few minutes later. Both my parents had been professional musicians, but it took Debbie Gibson to teach us how to do a proper encore.
The most surprising thing about that night was how much my brooding and difficult-to-please father enjoyed the concert. Despite being critical of much of the music I listened to (especially from the teen years onward), he found Gibson to be a talented singer and was impressed with her live performance. He spoke of that Debbie Gibson show well into his later life and every time he did, a look of surprised wonder always came over him.