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It all began with the “Jump” video. It was a routine weekend visit to my godparents’ house in Miami, Florida. The year was 1984 and I was four years old. At this time, I was already subsisting on a steady diet of MTV viewing, so it was not unexpected that as soon as I entered my godparents’ home, I greeted them monosyllabically—as any four year old would, I suppose—and plopped down directly in front of the television set. When I say “directly in front of”, I mean I was so close I could taste Martha Quinn’s skin cream. In a pitch-dark family room with the comforting sound of my parents’ voices echoing from the dining room, I witnessed the world premiere of Van Halen’s “Jump”. And it was a spectacle.
The man with the lion’s mane streaked with Sun-In seemed to take up the entire screen as he kicked and lunged about the stage, his body aerodynamically contorting itself in slow-motion. He tossed his hair like a swimsuit model and had the predatory eyes of an animal lurking in my backyard at night. But he was also really funny. Like a birthday party clown but with more jewelry. The other guys were smiley and friendly, too. That one with the yellow zebra jacket seemed to totally enjoy what he was doing to that guitar. They all seemed so darn pleased to be in the presence of this really flexible man with all his great dance costumes. The best part was that it seemed as if they were playing just for me, as if I had willed them onto that softly-lit black stage for my own amusement. The music sounded like robots soaring in a metallic sky or a less frightening version of when the Blue Angels would fly directly over my house and cause the world to shake. The colors, the sounds, the smirking, the gymnastics, the fun, the gaze of the lion-man! I was hooked. I had to see it again.
HBD to DLR.
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When I was thirteen, a lot of terrible things happened. And more bad things took place before then. The ’90s, in general, were not so kind to me. Life stopped being polite and started getting real. Really real. Real, real, real.
Early on in the decade, pop culture’s premium on ‘realness’ emerged: It bit the beautiful slacker’s hand that fed it; it extended itself into slick and sinister virtual realms; and it was filmed by television producers intent on capturing how it imbued the lives of fresh-faced, young folks with an addictive earnestness that viewers would allow to merge with their own inferior realities that constantly betrayed them.
See, there was ‘real’ and then there was real. The latter belonged to us, the regular people whose lives weren’t being filmed, because the media wanted nothing to do with it. I understood this even as a precocious pre-teen quick to jump on the latest fad that primetime Fox, all too liberally, doled out. In 1993, I was wearing chokers and crocheted vests layered over bodysuits that echoed Jane, the drippingly sincere, but oh-so-hip boutique owner and doting wife of Dr. Michael Mancini on Melrose Place. I was twelve. I was insecure and susceptible to the charms of advertising. I bought the sickly sweet perfumes featured in every print ad in Seventeen magazine. I wore them even though they made me gag. Yet, I was media-literate and happily let myself be duped. Smelling like a brothel fronting as a bakery, I was Cindy Crawford confronting the elements of fire and ice. I embraced the sham(e) of it. I was the perfect demographic for the advent of ‘real’.
I knew that when I took off the velvet rope around my neck, my problems would loom much larger than whether or not I should lose my religion to Beverly Hills High’s resident bad boy. Or how I would ever reconcile my friendships with a black woman and male model with my conservative Midwestern upbringing. Were these real concerns, issues to take seriously and digest as a socially-aware consumer? Certainly. Were they germane to negotiating my own conflicted childhood? Well, yes and no.
It’s not really important what sorrowful threads made up my reality because I consciously traded them in for a realer reality so often that the threads started to braid themselves with those I co-opted from cable and Sassy magazine. I wanted the’90s version of an honest life: political activism, bowler hats, coffee, black baggy blazers, Toad the Wet Sprocket. I wanted to discuss the state of the environment with a bearded boy while wearing sensible shoes and my grandmother’s dress. I wanted us to fight about “selling out” our lives to capitalism and then make up in a dark bar with Eddie Vedder ringing in our ears. I wanted to break up with bearded boy unceremoniously and then get a tattoo (a black hole) to celebrate our dissolution. I wanted to live the sloppy, somewhat sad, pop-culture saturated life of Janeane Garofalo’s character in Reality Bites and have meaningless sex with guys in bands until my heart hurt constantly because I was just being true to myself. I wanted to lose my job, lose my purpose, lose myself in melancholy and inhabit the warbling chords of a Cure song that wasn’t “Friday, I’m in Love”. I wanted to live in Cameron Crowe’s Singles, but in a grimmer version that sucked slightly less.
But let’s be real: I was in 6th grade. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted. I just wanted to escape from a bedroom that was always dark even though it was filled with pink stuff and neon-headed Troll dolls. I wanted to scrub away the patina of stability and comfort my parents offered to mask the amorphous gunk of death and dysfunction that crudded my childhood home. My dad had begun videotaping our outings to riverside parks and craft festivals, forcing us to smile as we made memories to put off the inevitable. My mom insisted we buy a Sears photo package the year before she died. By that point, you could see the disease in all of us. I’ve looked at those pictures once since they were taken. The ghosts scared me off. The date is on the back of the photos: May 1992. In 1992, I wished for a life that would make me miserable, over-analytical and hyper-aware of the tragic beauty of the human condition, but in ways that I did not currently already know. I sought to live authentically as someone else. Someone equal parts Christian Slater’s quirky love-interest and Natalie Merchant. I thought it a fair compromise.
In 1993, I loved Nirvana, Lenny Kravitz, and Dr. Dre. I liked Toad the Wet Sprocket. I hated the Gin Blossoms. In 1994, my mom died. And so did Kurt Cobain. In 1995, I dye my hair cherry-cola red in an attempt to become Angela Chase. The hair dye is semi-permanent. I am still me.
What’s, perhaps, most strange is that Toad the Wet Sprocket evoke the ‘real’ of that time in my life more than almost any other band. At the time, they were just a signifier of false promise that rang true, the sincere score accompanying my coffeehouse daydreams. My pubescent soul took in their folky poetry and clung to it as much as I did to Johnny Depp’s mischievous gleam or a new addition to the MTV Buzz Bin, which is to say I buried it somewhere very deep within my burgeoning consciousness of what should forever shape my identity.
“All I Want” can play anywhere and I get nostalgic for a life that was never mine. This irrevocable loss feels so real that I conflate it with the actual loss that did take place. The song is a melancholic lilt—if there could be such a thing. During the verses, the singer embraces their purported honesty and tethers himself to the real: “The truth is not kind. And you’ve said neither am I.” And then he begins to hope, to evade the truth he’s grimly laid out, allowing himself to be beckoned by the siren’s call of “everything”. And he wants and he hears things on the evening air that he desperately wants to believe. By the time we reach the bridge, it’s clear he’s reached the core of his truth: the siren’s song is just a taunt of what will never be: “Though the air speaks of all we’ll never be/It won’t trouble me.” The singer’s easy dismissal of this deceit, in the guise of accepting what’s he’s lost, somehow seems more dishonest than anything. For we know, he will go on wanting and listening to the air “confessing everything” despite what will never be. Acknowledging the futility of this wanting doesn’t make it any less true. The ‘real’ will continue to defeat the real. He’s just pretending to be honest with himself.
This is how I hear “All I Want” in June 2012 while drinking a margarita beachside at a Jacksonville bar & grill. My dad’s ex-girlfriend’s daughter is getting married the next day. I am nursing the wounds of a book proposal rejection and trying to enjoy the Florida sun with my boyfriend. I am attempting to be real with myself. I am in my 30s now and no longer want the ’90s version of an honest life. I want what my life is naturally: its complications and disappointments confessing everything that I wouldn’t myself. Or this is what I say anyway. It might have been the tequila, but I couldn’t help it: It is fall of 1993. I am Neve Campbell coping with a family tragedy, clad in tasteful denim and a baggy Gap sweater. My boyfriend has eyes like Johnny Depp’s soul and his goatee circa 1994. The leaves are gold and the sky is dark. The moment is quiet, sad and real. The air outside is soft.
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I suppose this is my way of assessing whether or not I am in the minority more than anything. Channing Tatum isn’t so bad, right? In fact, he can be downright enjoyable or surprising in his ability to convey actual human emotion. There is a certain pathos present in those smoldering green eyes. An inchoate ferocity that can catch you off-guard, that can make you overlook that he is essentially the hulking, slabtastic epitome of beefcake supreme. He redeems himself somehow with his doltish charisma and makes you want to believe that what dwells within his tawny, chiseled warrior-flesh is pure, composed, questioning, cerebral.
It’s not that I’ve even seen many Tatum films. I saw Stop-Loss years ago and remember that he was believable as an Iraq soldier, but surely that isn’t much of a strech. I vaguely remember his brief appearance in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies as none other than Pretty Boy Floyd. What I recall most is my sincere disappointment that he was killed so early on and, therefore, wouldn’t have the opportunity to truly show his chops. Even then, before 21 Jump Street, it occurred to me that I had never seen these “chops” myself. It was too late: I’d invested absolute faith in the incipient reign of Tatum. And still the question lingered: Why in the hell?
I have no interest in the male physique on steroids…on steroids. The muscular estuaries that form Channing’s action figure torso leave me indifferent and, in fact, more ambivalent about my mysterious affinity for him. It’s not that a celebrity so hyper-male should raise my red flags, but I should have the good sense to take him completely off my radar. Perhaps my fondness can be lucidly explained if I review those shreds of trivia that create his “still under construction” persona.
I know he is a dancer—apparently a good dancer in the first film in the Step Up franchise. I am a total sucker for men who can move (see: Justin Theroux, Paul Rudd, Sam Rockwell). I also like men that are steadfast and romantic. Tatum has been with his now perky and pint-sized dancer wife for six years. Yet, none of this information sets him apart as an object worthy of my reverence. If anything, it proves that he is a simple and monogamous type with good motor coordination.
Here’s where things could get enlightening: Tatum was once an exotic dancer shaking his tailfeather in seedy Orlando, Florida. More impressive, he is co-producing a film (directed by Steven Soderbergh) about this particular point of time in his checkered past. This demonstrates that Tatum’s interior life is not necessarily pure, but it is unapologetic, humble and slightly wild. Yet, this discovery seems slight. It’s not a solid argument for cheering on a guy who played G.I. Joe and was the latest piece of menopausal eye-candy in a Nicholas Sparks adaptation.
So, maybe all I really need is some validation that these feelings aren’t completely ridiculous. Even though I’ve created a weak and confused defense for him, maybe if I put the unpacking of my thoughts/feelings on Channing Tatum out there in the public sphere, I will be one step closer to clarity of some kind.
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Heard this song in an empty Carroll Gardens sports bar this week and found myself enchanted by its breezy, U2 lite sound. It’s a song that is easily forgotten and, in most instances, its flash-in-the-pan mediocrity should be. But awash in whiskey, the sun-flecked cadence of its chorus is irresistible. Who doesn’t love rain in the summertime? Never mind that the band intends it to be some sort of allegory for faith’s redemption, the song’s image of a cool shower in the blaze of a summer sun remains soothing and just affecting enough for you not to be irked by the incredibly repetitive chorus. As the weather grows milder, I fully intend to bath in this innocuousness.
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Big news: I finally saw Tuff Turf this weekend. For the longest, it had been the missing link in the Spader-Downey Jr. catologue. Now I can rest easy because I’ve seen every film starring the once angsty, baby-faced duo. In my mind, prior to viewing, Tuff Turf was essentially a prequel to the “young, debonair and without a fucking care” aesthetic I would grow to love to a maddening degree at the ripe ages of 8-10. The movie would document a time when “Downey Jr.” was just “Downey” and Spader didn’t talk like he was screwing you with every uttered morpheme.
However, I wouldn’t say that I saved the best for last. This is no Less than Zero. It’s not particularly sordid or sleazy or fantastically over-acted. People either have terribly normal, middle class names that aspire to be WASP-y like “Morgan” (Spader’s suburban rebel) or really bad fascimilies of working-class names like “Frankie” (the tritely named female heroine played by Real Housewife Kim Richards!) or Nick (the name for every studly prick in every 80s movie ever). This is a movie I would recommend to people who didn’t think The Wraith was “altogether that terrible” or masochistic folks that wish to endure a toe-cringing scene where James Spader performs a lipsynced piano serenade to a totally crimped-out Kim Richards.
The louche reptilian we instantly loved in Pretty in Pink is altogether absent here. Spader’s pretty mild-mannered as Morgan, riding his bike around and stirring up minor trouble in a working-class California neighborhood. He’s from Connecticut (I think… but it doesn’t really matter) and he’s caused some sort of mayhem at his old boarding school. He’s bright, sensitive, but just can’t stand still in the face of injustice. When will he ever learn? On top of these imperative life lessons about rebellion/identity/typical teenage bullshit, his dad lost his lucrative gig, had to move the family, inexplicably, to the West coast and now moonlights as a cabbie. Mom refuses to accept that her family’s tony lifestyle went out the window when the Cali sunshine came on in. She’s all Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People and favors her other son: the successful law school preppy who isn’t all brooding and messed-up in the head.
But don’t pity Morgan too much. He doesn’t want your petty sympathies. If a bunch of thugs run over his bike in the school parking lot, so be it. He’s not going to blink an eye. He accepts his plight with a quiet, fierce-eyed dignity and a signature leather jacket. Yep, these thugs, again inexplicably, have it out for Morgan. But Morgan has his eye out on the gang floozie, Frankie. With her Crystal Gayle tresses that’ve seen a 6 hour crimping iron session and her signature red ZZ top babe gear, she’s gonna get a full heaping of that creepy Spader Stare. In response, she will look at him blankly through a veil of fake lashes, with what I presume to be conflicted yearning. You see, Frankie is the girlfriend of head thug, Nick. He’s not a nice guy: he’s possessive, dumb and way too old to be in teen film. But Frankie’s never known she should desire anything else. Until…Morgan’s ten speed rode up and changed everything.
To resuscitate this pile-up of teen movie cliches, the film calls on the puppy-eyed vigor of Robert Downey (Jr.). As Jimmy, a cutie punk drummer that straddles the line between low-rent thug and big-hearted comedic relief, Downey Jr. steals any scene he’s in. Why that’s not hard to do in this crapshow, one can witness the rudiments of the flamboyant wit and undeniable charisma that made RDJ a star twice over.
Now here’s the best scene from TUFF TURF:
Jim Carroll, inexplicably, is in it rocking out with Jimmy in a downtown warehouse hangout. RDJ looks a bit awkward here on the drums, but of course, charmingly so. Everyone is goofily dancing like they are Carroll’s twisted, fresh-faced puppets. It’s like the world’s coolest, darkest and longest deodorant commercial, which is to say, I relished every tacky moment of it. Kim Richards makes a stunning entrance in a little grey, cut-out shoulder number. And yep, that’s about it. This is where Tuff Turf peaks.
From this point on, with the exception of the heavily choreographed scene that follows it, the turf becomes a lot less tuff and a lot more WTF…oh, nevermind, who cares. Oh wait, that’s not entirely true. There was this:
But besides that, Spader’s dad gets shot by Nick the Prick, Kim Richards looks around like a lost fawn, Morgan takes on the bullies and learns that…I have no idea. By the movie’s close, you are left thinking: “Did Kim Richards have formal dance training?” And: “To whom did Jim Carroll owe a favor?” Oh and: “Pretending to play the trumpet is always good for a laugh.”
Sometimes paying witness to your heroes’ humble beginnings proves to be less than rewarding. I’d rather see how far they have fallen rather than how much farther they had to climb. If I could go back in time and give advice to my two favorite quasi-Brat Pack Babes, I would say: “The turf will be tuff, but in the end, a bloated face coupled with a starring role on a fading adaptation of a British sitcom awaits one of you. For the other, a glorious comeback and eternal status as a strong, sassy, sex god. I am here to offer solace to the former.”
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• Teaching 8th and 9th grade at an all-girls’ institution in Brooklyn since September 2011.
• Mastering the art of discipline and the craft of self-preservation afloat the tides of adolescent rage and idiocy.
• Taking refuge in episodes of HBO’s Enlightenment. Seriously, Laura Dern is the goddess of quotidian hardship. Am I right?
• Numbing my battered pride with wine, hard cider, the feeble “Will they? Won’t they?” potential in Dan & Blair’s inevitable coupling on Gossip Girl.
• Discovering that scotch tape is at the root of most of the discipline problems I encounter.
• Discovering that I can be, in fact, perceived as the “b-word” by others, that I can set limits, that I can convey high expectations to stubborn minds. This feels good, but doesn’t necessarily take the sting out of overhearing a student exclaim that she “hates that lady” when referring to yours truly.
• Hearing the same obnoxious part of Drake’s “The Motto” escape the mouths of preteens for an interminable span of 5 months, praying that they will find something new that doesn’t reference Sir Mix-a-Lot in a way that lacks creativity. Hoping that they will stop asking you what “Tunche!” refers to even though you went to urbandictionary.com and think you now have a pretty good idea.
• Crying. On the inside. On the outside. Crying just because that room full of faces never shuts up. Just because they demand that you re-direct them at every turn. Just because they’re utterly exhausting.
• Breaking up my first fight, but not my last. • Hearing stories of pain scrawled in journals. Attempting to respond to them sensitively but not insincerely. This proves quite easy.
• Learning what my students listen to when enduring the purgatory that is adolescence. Here is the shortlist:
*LOTS & LOTS OF K-POP
*30 SECONDS TO MARS
• Learning the highest compliment a teacher can receive from her students is the proclamation that she has “mad swag”.
• Learning that it’s difficult to pinpoint what is more insulting: a student throwing a chair while exiting your room, a still unidentified vandal defacing your office photo, a yawn, an eyeroll, a student remarking on your chapped lips to her snickering sidekick, a student exclaiming “What the fuck is this?” in reference to your midterm, a student who writes her name on an assignment giving you that ephemeral buzz of false promise and then writes nothing else.
• Smugly realizing that you really identify with Mrs. Coach on Friday Night Lights. The W.G. Snuffy Walden theme swells in your head as you roam the empty hallways that are about to be filled with 8th graders just released from lunch, the same 8th graders who will enter your class with atomic-level braggadacio and chaos. You silently repeat your new mantra: What would Tammy Taylor do? while thinking of Tim Riggins’ smile. This cures most 5th period ills.
• Carrying the lives of countless students on your conscience at all times.
• Talking to unwilling participants (friends, significant others, etc.) about every minute detail of your day, every witty exchange you had with a student, recounting every moment of that day’s lesson in vivid detail as if you are painting a Proustian scene of transcendent revelation . Readily ignoring the fact that to anyone who is not an educator, these anecdotes are both repetitive and tedious.
• Learning to love those that once detested you. Realizing that you have a soft spot for the rebels, the naysayers, the ones that shrug, curse, scoff, yell, and find it all futile and pointless. You realize that this is because they are sort of right. This unsettles you.
• Being consistently awe-inspired by the stories and art shared in students’ journals. There is one young lady you herald, without hesitation, as a genius. She wants to be a tattoo artist, but you think she could start her own movement. Her most recent drawing involved an octopus with a frosted donut head eating Five Guys fries with its tentacles. She also wrote a short story about grilled cheese clothing and Fran Drescher. Her heroes are Earl Sweatshirt and Lil’B. She is consistently dumbfounded that you know who these people are.
• Proudly observing that students can read the New Yorker without realizing it when you make them read a very slightly modified version of Sasha Frere Jones’ Drake piece and answer comprehension questions you created about Drake’s place in the annals of hip hop. Students work in reading discussion groups and you overhear such rich exchanges as Student 1: “Well…I think it’s because he stands out when he tells everyone about his life, wears his heart on his sleeve. Lil’ Wayne doesn’t always do that.” Student 2: “Yes, but he learned everything from Lil’ Wayne. He basically stole his style and added things here or there to it. Not that cool.”
• Teaching students that Drake totally owns that new literary term: the “likeless simile”. To them, this is mind-blowing. Delfonics.
• Voraciously reading The Hunger Games due to student recommendations.
• Brushing up on algebra, slope, y-intercepts and other confusing math concepts that I cannot confidently teach even after thorough review.
• Candidly and thoughtfully discussing Trayvon Martin with students. Candidly and thoughtfully discussing the issues of class and race with students and realizing that this conversation is truly enlightening for all of us.
• Masquerading at Starbucks’ pretending that I will fully revise my children’s book and get it published before middle age sets in.
• Working diligently after work at Starbucks, revising my children’s book and being dead-set on getting it prepped for inevitable publication.
• Feeling painfully incomplete because I have no time for writing anything besides my infinite to-do lists. Hoping, hoping, hoping that this will change. A co-worker likened me to a candle dimly flickering. This image is apt, but depressing.
• Feeling pathetic for feeling incomplete because I have no time for internet perusal, i.e. Facebook.
• Feeling hopeful because it’s Spring Break. Time for me to quietly re-enter the Tumblrverse.
But you give him a girl, it seems, a girl who you know’s gonna look good in a pale pink sundress (which she puts on a little while later, but still, you knew from the beginning) and all Raylan can do is let her talk.
I just have to say up front that I’m wary of that. I’m wary of the strong woman in the pale pink sundress, the one who shoots her husband and kisses the marshal all at once. That woman is a magical woman, altogether vulnerable and in complete control of her side-eyed sexuality. She’s hungry and she’s got wet hair all the time. And you let her talk because she talks but watching Raylan glance at that list of numbers, you think, you let her talk because she’s surely going to say something of value. They always do.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Timothy Olyphant is playing Raylan like the museum of masculinity’s equivalent of the pale pink sundress, his goddamned strong jaw and quick smiles and taking off his hat at the right moment, all the time. When he’s violent he’s so quick with it that you see the damage long before you recall his movements. And he makes jokes, lord help us, he’s got a sense of humor that you just know got forged in the mines of pain and suffering. hum-um. I nearly died when he made a joke, the first time, if anything sets this man apart from the ghost of Seth Bullock it’s the up-turned mouth in place of the clenched jaw. It’s the feeling that while Seth always knew what was the right thing to do, whether or not he was doing it, Raylan might not be sure. For all his he drew first for all his you make me pull, I’ll put you down, I mean, righteousness is best adopted to quell a man’s quiet uncertainties. The Bible is best misinterpreted to rob banks.This is an incredibly well-written and astute assessment of the characters on Justified. It’s the best thing I’ve read all day and I am looking forward to more from Meghan. She already really understands these characters. Oh, how I miss Raylan Givens and the Crowder clan and Ava and Winona….
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There’s a certain kind of music that sounds like it should be played in a dark arcade that smells of french fry oil and smuggled liquor, that is redolent of Saturday nights spent in a decade not my own (perhaps the late ’70s?, early ’80s?) indulging in the foibles of youth. It’s the kind of music that would be good to hear while losing yourself in a downward spiral/cocaine haze, but it’s also the kind of music that you could listen to while cruising empty suburban streets with your first love.
A frenetic, propulsive energy accompanies this kind of music that is not unlike the hyper-speed pings and clacks that accompany a game of pinball.The music feels sweaty and confident in its own stamina as if it’s goal is to go quickly and carelessly in search of its own gratification. It’s capricious and insouciant, full of futuristic buzzes and bells that now sound charmingly anachronistic. I have decided to choose four songs that share some qualities of “pinball music” : Sniff ‘n’ the Tears’ “Driver’s Seat”, Sweet’s “Love Is Like Oxygen”, Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason” and Donnie Iris’s “Ah! Leah!” As you will soon discover, the categorization is rather arbitrary but when hearing these songs in succession, one could envision a fleeting era of randy kids in muscle tees and cropped tops rocking into the night and flirting in a dimly lit rec space near the Miss Pacman console. Some are partaking in amphetamines Some are revved up on their own sexed-up fumes. All of them are careening towards some unknown zenith of elation and desire.
Driver’s Seat - Sniff ‘n’ the Tears
This 1979 chart-topper is stupendously awesome apart from any discussion about musical genre. It took me nearly seven years to figure out who sang this damn song and then one mundane afternoon while folding laundry, it came on my Sirius radio and BLAMO! I was able to give credit where credit was due. Just listen to that relentless, adrenalized rhythm section propel and then fade into the taut cacaphony of other instruments pounding onward and upward as the band continues chugging like an engine in danger of going off the rails. But they never do. They are always in control and maintain the restless energy of the song with a deft sleekness. This is the “pinball music” anthem if ever there was one. It’s about getting behind the wheel of one’s life if only for “a little jiving on a Saturday night.” “Driver’s Seat” does not embrace the night’s offerings with a dark abandon, but rather with a youthful bouyancy that seizes whatever may come but holds tight on the reins.
Love Is Like Oxygen - Sweet
The best song that E.L.O. never wrote. These glam rockers take a swing at highly orchestrated rock and knock it into previously unexplored supernal realms of “pinball music” greatness. They’ve crafted a collage of palatable space-age rock sounds: the baroque classic rock intro, the soft power ballad vocals on the verse, the Jeff Lynne-inspired rollicking funkiness of the chorus melded with those helium vocal stylizings that then digress into proggy fathoms to be puncuated by a few false stops and then magically float out on a superbly fun disco-funk outro. “Love Is Like Oxygen” reflects the fickle, mercurial and yet totally fascinating mood swings of the young and restless. For those youthful in spirit, it is neither here nor there. It is nowhere or everywhere. Sweet pay tribute to the overblown urgency of the lovesick heart: every random nuance and note is captured here. It’s also the song that would play before at the night’s decline, the song one hears as dawn approaches and there is one last chance to grab the brass ring, one last moment to make your move before time encroaches and curfew rears its ugly head.
Never Been Any Reason - Head East
Oh my gosh, it’s just perfection. Absolute perfection. It figures that the epitome of classic rock would be a song by a band that no one remembers and never really had any staying power. An exuberant hymn to the powers of a good woman’s love. This is the song you want to play during your first kiss, during your Donkey Kong high score, during that moment when you realize hope is not lost and redemption is just in sight in the guise of that person at the bar, that person whose path you inexplicably crossed again, or that one special person you wronged terribly who has, inexplicably and incredibly, forgiven you. And yet, this doesn’t truly get at what Head East accomplished with this song, let alone does it let it stand apart from countless other rock tunes that are a sonic buoy in a sea of dissonance. I must asservate that “Never Been Any Reason” nails it in an almost spiritual way in which very few have from that amazingly composed synth symphonic opening, the staccato guitar riff, slow and steady, doggedly persistent and yet a wee bit anxious, the plaintive vocals thirsty with longing, pensive and yet strong, giving way to that choral cry of salvation that gives me goosepimples each and every time: “Save my life, I’m goin’ down for the last time/ Woman with the sweet lovin’, better than a white line/ Bring a good feelin’ ain’t had in such a long time/Save my life, I’m goin’ down for the last time.” This is proto-pinball music. The originator. Each time I hear it, I light up in all different places just like the electric mappings of a pinball game board. And you should, too.
Ah! Leah! - Donnie Iris
Donnie Iris is an unheralded pop genius and this is his masterwork. On first listen, 1980’s “Ah! Leah!” seems a parody of a straightforward rock tune a la Foreigner: the stubborn, overly forceful guitars, the horny bravado of the vocals that are borderline threatening juxtaposed with the hushed and lilting chorus that repeats a girl’s name with romantic desperation. Then you listen again and realize it’s incredibly sincere and brilliantly constructed. It’s a rock song, it’s a pop song, it’s of its time, it’s timeless. Then you watch the video and you can’t believe that this super nerdy-looking guy from the band that sang “Play That Funky Music” got away with it while managing to garner himself a Hot 100 hit. And even though you can vouch for its timelessness, you yearn for the days when a pop song like this could be played. It’s jubilant. It’s carefree. It’s fun. It’s ephemeral and yet seems designed to make memories around it. And maybe that’s really what “pinball music” is, the kind of music you made memories around when you were first shaping your musical tastes, your sexual preferences, your life, yourself. When everything was on fire and you’re someone else from one moment to the next, pinging back and forth with bells ringing in your head. When you were young. Of course, this isn’t the music of my adolescence…maybe pinball music is the aural equivalent of John Hughes’ movies for us who were born in the ’80s: it’s what we wanted our teenage years to sound like.
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