Nothing to say that I can state plainly. Um…the Outcrowd CD is okay, love the T-shirt. I wonder when they’ll do CBGB’s again.
Friday should be cool, I’m seeing Dandelion at Coney Island High (a new place right near Venus Records). Hope they don’t cancel (bands like that have a tendency to do that). Don’t know if Anita will be going, hope so. The ever-generous Claudia is letting us stay over (again). I’m so glad I’m not going to the semi-formal, this is so much cooler.
When I was a teen, going to see obscure bands play small venues, part of me hoped that one day they’d become superstars and I’d be able to tell the story about how I saw them live back in the day.
This is not one of those stories.
The reason I had to be vague in the journal was because I lied to my parents about studying with Claudia when it was really about going to the legendary CBGB’s, a tiny graffiti-covered punk rock shrine with bathrooms that would give you nightmares.
I don’t remember why we chose that night to go. It might have been an all ages night or I might have won free tickets from a local radio station to see Outcrowd (they had one song played on college radio). It wasn’t really about hearing the band in question. Seeing a show, any show, at CBGB’s was something of a musical pilgrimage in itself—back in the day, bands like Ramones, Talking Heads, and Blondie played there. Later on, even Debbie Gibson made a surprise appearance during a Circle Jerks show (which my inner 10-year-old secretly hoped would mark a comeback for her; it did not).
The interior of CB’s was rather small and narrow (I don’t think more than a few hundred people were able to fit without violating capacity laws) and I heard enough horror stories about the bathrooms that I didn’t brave it, even for a peek at its squalor. I recall doing a lot of people-watching, though the crowd was more “normal” than I expected; still, there were a smattering of punks, maybe a rude boy or two (of the ska—not impolite—variety) that night, even though the band was more indie-grunge-pop.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of the music or band.
What I do remember, to this day, was the band throwing a CD out into the crowd towards the end of their set. I caught it. A little while they threw a T-shirt in my direction. I caught that, too. And even though I wasn’t a particular fan of Outcrowd, I was so excited and thought I was so lucky.
After the show, Anita told me about these two pretty girls standing behind me, who were talking earlier about how the band members promised to throw merchandise their way. When I caught the CD, Anita heard them say, “Damn!” Then when I caught the T-shirt, one of them said, “Again? I can’t believe she did it again!” I laughed.
Unfortunately, CBGB’s closed in 2006 and the space that once housed this iconic club went on to be repurposed. I think there’s a restaurant there today, and I refuse to ever set foot in it, or anything else that may appear in its place. To me, the spot will always be a place where music history was made, a place where the creative New York City spirit thrived, and the place where I caught swag from a go-nowhere band that was meant for groupies.
(It wouldn’t be the last time I saw band play CB’s—in fact, a few years later, it would be the setting for a (melo)dramatic story involving a very pretty boy… but that is another diary for another time…)
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.
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.
[The following journal entries are sponsored by great big globs of disdain.]
“This is the first day of my last days” – NIN
Roller coaster is beginning its slow descent. At least I might be able to write something decent again. The writing activity helped a little. Actual interesting ideas would help more. Maybe one brilliant line that just sparks an entire story. The first day of Creative Writing we just wrote anything that came into my head and the first thing I put on the paper (which turned out to be a quote) ended up being the opening sentence for Raphaela.
Here I am in Physiology watching a ridiculous film on muscle. I can barely see this as I’m writing.
Had a dream with Wonderfully Random, don’t care. There was a round candle lit and I was looking through a couple of CD’s (that were Anita’s friends’ or something) one of which was an old Lemonheads, one of which was an old Killing Joke CD. On the way back to WR’s house we mentioned the amazing way in which the radio switched on.
The mood I’m in now would have been the perfect time to write a letter to Tim, but I already mailed it.
H.S. is so much like “The Breakfast Club” it makes me sick.
Keeping this log is not helping me at all. I hope Ms. Donaldson reads this.
THIS LOG IS NOT HELPING ME AT ALL!!!
[note from Ms. Donaldson in green pen: “This is pretty hard to miss. Perhaps you need to alter your expectations of what you should get out of writing a journal.”]
I stopped keeping a diary for a reason, I hardly ever wrote about nice things. For the most part, it was a depressing read. There are some things I’m glad I wrote about, like events that I want to remember.
Right now I’m listening to “Just Like Heaven,” I never realized that the Cure could in any way be uplifting. Just ordered Disintegration from Columbia House (nasty scam artists). This will have to be my last entry now, seeing that I’m sitting outside of Creative Writing.
“’I wanna be just like you. I figure all I need is a lobotomy and some tights.’” – The Breakfast Club
Writer’s block is the worst. You can try to discipline yourself as best as you can as a writer (never something I did effectively) but if the ideas aren’t there you just can’t force it. When inspiration struck, I could spend hours lost in putting words to paper/word processor (it would be a few years before I got another computer). When it wasn’t there, I endured a limbo fraught with frustration and insecurity that I wasn’t cut out to be a “real” writer. I still get that way today.
Social divisions in school were getting to me, which meant I probably had a crush on a popular boy. Again. The fact that I can’t remember who it was today could only mean he wasn’t that special or worth all the agonizing I did over him, but really, how many unrequited crushes really are? My depressed penpal Tim was another crush, even though I knew he was too gloomy for me.
As I mentioned before, the headline for my high school experience was John Hughes Lied to Me. While the films accurately portrayed high school to an extent — especially the cliques represented in The Breakfast Club — I was growing more dubious that an 80′s magical makeover and/or happy ending was in store for me. I had given up on popularity and tried to take ownership of my misfit-but-not-quite status and develop my own identity. Which would have been easier if I was able to channel continuously channel all that teen discontent into creative outlets, but I was being failed on that front. I had nothing new to articulate, and the journal we had to keep for Creative Writing wasn’t providing any comfort or catharsis.
Ms. Donaldson had a good point. My expectations for the journal were unrealistic, much like my expectations for lots of other things (love and life, to name two). I thought the log would be some magical source of insta-inspiration, but it often became a chore to fill those lined pages. Much like writing of any form can feel like a chore. It didn’t dawn on me just how much discipline — and even tedium — was involved in being a good writer. It’s something I still struggle with.
Luckily, I was still expanding my pool of musical muses, with the Cure, patron saints to angsty teens everywhere, entering into the rotation. Nine Inch Nails was my gateway drug into goth/alternative music, but the Cure was another catalyst. Robert Smith provided a musical prism of bipolar despair and a catalog a less agressive than Trent Reznor’s, but more nuanced in its emotion. It was still taking me some time to adopt the classics, but slow and steady I was getting there.
And a film on muscle? 17 years later and that still sounds ridiculous to me.
After all the waiting and obsessing, it was finally time for the Nine Inch Nails concert. I expected an intense, thrilling show that would blow me away and that night I got one… only not from Nine Inch Nails.
“Nothing quite like the feel of something new” – NIN
NIN COUNTDOWN: 1 DAY
Robin sprained his finger. It bloody figures. My face got comments. Claudia and I were one of the first ones to find out (“don’t say ‘cancelled’ POSTPONED” I heard through the walkie-talkie).
The Limelight was fantastic, my ears are still ringing with Killing Joke (more likely feedback). Maybe I’ll write a story about that. Hmm… I’ve gotten over my fear of mosh pits. If we don’t find a way to get floor seats tomorrow—no we will find a way. We have to.
“Uncertainty can be a guiding light” – U2
Claudia and I got to Madison Square Garden early and lined up outside the arena. The reason my “face got comments” was because I drew three black spikes under each eye with eyeliner (inspired in part by The Crow without copying it straight out). We stood near a security guard and when I heard the words “cancelled” and “postponed” I thought I was in for one of the biggest disappointments of my teenage life. All that anticipation, only to have Robin Finck, the guitarist for Nine Inch Nails, sprain his finger and unable to play that night. However, there were two saving graces. The first was the fact that the NIN show would only be delayed by one day, with all existing tickets being honored the next night.
The second was a group of guys handing out free passes to a different show that night at The Limelight: Killing Joke. I heard of the band but was only familiar with a song or two of theirs from their latest album, Pandemonium, which were played on MTV’s alternative shows late at night. Seeing as my parents gave me a free pass to stay out late and sleep over Claudia’s house that night, I didn’t want the evening to go to waste and hoped we could still get an adventure out of it.
The Limelight was a converted church that played a prominent part in New York’s club scene in the 1990’s (the movie Party Monster was based on the gruesome true events surrounding the club kids and this venue, which was central to their partying). I had never been in a nightclub of any kind before and could sense the dark and debauched vibe when I walked in. Much of the church décor still remained, the pews and filigreed arches mixing with disco lights, dry ice, and metal catwalks to create a dim, disorienting, multi-leveled maze of a club.
I don’t know if it was an all-ages show, but I was just shy of 17 then and too intimidated to do much exploring, so I kept to the stage area, hoping the live show would live up to the surreal surroundings.
The opening act involved an array of sideshow performers eating glass, laying on a bed of nails, and spewing fire. The finale was particularly disturbing and featured a young woman cutting her arm, filling a cup with her own blood and then drinking it. At one point, her knees buckled a little and it looked like she would faint. This may have been part of the act, but I believed it all and was utterly riveted. It was the type of act The Jim Rose Circus, who found pop culture fame as a notorious part of the early Lollapalooza festivals, took on the road, but seeing it up close like that shook me up, in a good way. I was equally fascinated and repulsed.
Finally Killing Joke took the stage, and their metal/industrial-edged music quickly inspired a mosh pit (my first up close experience with one). I remained at the edge of it, avoided the kicking, thrashing whirlpool of bodies and felt like I was absorbing the music with all my senses. The songs were surprisingly melodic despite the aggressive guitars and Jaz Coleman’s vocals, which altered between singing and shrieking.
I had never experienced music on such a visceral level before. Between the setting, the gory opening act, and the mosh pit, there was this sense of barely-controlled chaos to the evening. And as dramatic as it may sound, there was something almost transcendent about it. I knew music was a powerful force, but that I night I experienced a whole other level to it, and even though I can’t exactly say how, I know it changed me.
“I’m drunk and right now I’m so in love with you.” – NIN
NIN COUNTDOWN: 28 DAYS
Yes, the countdown has moved up 2 days because I’m going to the Wednesday show (after Claudia the Wonderful gets us tickets). It was an up day. Don’t care about randomness too much. T.W. Wrote back, just what I need. Wonders indeed (I use that word too much. Even though I don’t use it all that often). Chorus sub looks like a Depeche Mode reject. Bad thing? Naw.
“Love comes in colors I can’t deny” – S.P. [Smashing Pumpkins]
More of my teenage code in this entry, but I’m actually able to decipher most of it.
Collecting crushes became something of an inadvertent hobby for me when I was 16. It was rare for me to go more than a couple of months (or even weeks) without having at least one target for my boy craziness, but sometimes I accumulated a few. I remember a lot of them today, but still can’t recall who “Wonderfully Random” was. If it wasn’t Neil, the younger punk kid, it was some classmate I decided was cute and crush-worthy.
However, none of that mattered because I was smitten with Tim Wunderlich from his first letter (and because of his last name, I was fond of making bad puns using the word “wonders.” Sorry.). He was frustrated and jaded and had the furious male scrawl of a teenage malcontent. Tim lived in a small town full of ignorant people, where he was called a “faggot” because he wore his hair a little long and listened to bands like The Cure and Cocteau Twins. He felt imprisoned and misunderstood, which was something I could identify with (as could just about any other adolescent, I imagine). Even though I lived in one of the most dynamic cities in the world, Hunter was a small school which felt like a microcosm unto itself, a brick prison full of kids who were smart, but not wildly eclectic or unusual–at least not on the surface. And while I had momentary escapes from the school, it dominated my social existence for a long time, and I felt more pressure to fit in than stand out. Tim did as well, but fought back against that pressure and did not pretend to be something he wasn’t. That quality in both Tim and Neil were big reasons I had crushes on them (on top of finding them generally attractive, of course).
Then there was, of course, the “Depeche Mode reject,” which was in reference to a substitute teacher who bore a striking resemblance to Dave Gahan, the band’s lead singer. Even though I was not a fan of the group as a kid, I did gradually like them more and more as my music tastes evolved. And while Dave Gahan was no Trent Reznor, he did have a certain physical appeal at times. And having a temporary chorus teacher who had a similar slender, dark-haired, broody, pale British look to him made me… rather uncomfortable. It was the first–and possibly only– time, I felt attracted to a teacher (not counting my girl crush on Ms. Donaldson, which had no sexual component to it). I was embarrassed by this crush, because it felt taboo to have lustful feelings for a so-called authority figure. Much like the crush on Neil felt wrong because he was so much younger than me, this felt wrong because Mr. Pseudo-Gahan was considerably older than me… and because I kept picturing him starring in music videos wearing leather pants. I could barely even look at him in the classroom for fear of blushing. Luckily, he only subbed for a few chorus sessions.
“Some things are melting now” – Tori Amos
I went to HMV today and got a great tape, Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. Her second release, Whip-Smart just came out and I’ll probably get that fairly soon. Exile is just so good, there are 18 songs and not one of them suck. Her voice isn’t amazing or anything but I like that, it’s earthy. I’m also interested in getting some earlier Afghan Whigs.
Oh Liz Phair. There’s such a muddle of impressions that comes to mind when I think of her. So much surprise and admiration at first, so much disgust and disappointment later on, so much indifference in-between.
Let’s go back to the glorious beginning, when a girl in Chicago recorded an album in her bedroom or basement on an eight-track or four-track or however many tracks it is that gives you the most indie cred. This evolved into Exile in Guyville, and was hailed as an 18-song lo-fi masterpiece.
It wasn’t the sort of music I would normally go for. Phair’s range as a singer was (is) limited, so the vocals were flat/monotonous. The production values weren’t spectacular, and all the songs were rough around the edges. The album’s title was cheesy. And yet…
From the first song on the first side (yes, let’s not forget I got the cassette), I was hooked the moment she sang, “And I kept standing 6’1″, instead of 5’2″, and I loved my life, and I hated you.” Here was a woman we could all relate to. She got hung up on the wrong guys, she was ostracized, but deep down she knew she was worth something. She had moments of triumph, she had orgasms, she got pissed off, she talked back. If Tori Amos was the crazy aunt who baked pot brownies and pranced around the backyard in fairy wings, Liz Phair was cool older sister who teaches you about what guys want, remembers what it was like not to be cool, and reassures you that you’ll come out okay on the other side.
Exile in Guyville was a raw and sexy breath of fresh air for me (as were Afghan Whigs, in an irresistible-boyfriend-from-hell kind of way). I got Phair’s first album just as the second one, Whip-Smart, was making her an alterna-MTV darling. Whip-Smart was more hit-and-miss, but had enough remnants of the debut sound to make it acceptable and also got more commercial attention. So Exile remained more of a gem for the “true fans.”
Then I went off to college and got her third album, whitechocolatespaceegg, which was surprisingly slick and striving to be pop-like and utterly forgettable.
And then in 2003 came a fourth, self-titled album. And yeah, she was straddling a guitar in a way that looked more contrived than empowered, and yes, she collaborated with a duo who wrote songs for Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne, but maybe it wouldn’t be all that bad.
And then I heard the single, “Why Can’t I?” and it was all that bad and a bag of crap chips. I didn’t get the album, but I did see her in concert, hoping that the earlier better material would redeem the show. It didn’t. To make things worse, she acquired a dull, generic fratty crowd that looked like they were there to see Dave Matthews Band. To make things worse, the songs they cheered on the most were the new ones I couldn’t stand.
In interviews, Liz Phair defended selling out, saying she had a son to support, and who doesn’t want success, and blah-blah-look-at-me-posing-in-a-trucker-hat-wearing-an-american-flag-in-the-shower-like-an-idiot-blah. Attaining commercial success is one thing; doing so while stripping all quality, charm, talent, and intelligence from your creative work is another.
I’m not happy to write this, but I wonder if Liz Phair was never a real artist, if she was just a fluke. She used to use her sex appeal in an unapologetic, playful way, to spread the word on her music, which was actually worth something. But ever since that commercially-successful/creatively abysmal fourth album (to this day, I could only hear it all the way through once) there’s been something increasingly used up and desperate about her, like she knows nothing she ever does again will have the same magic of Exile in Guyville, not even a little bit. And I can’t help but feel somewhat betrayed and swindled for ever loving her in the first place.
Who knows, maybe she still has a great album in her somewhere, maybe that gritty/clever/smirking woman will be ressurected and prove me wrong. Can’t say I’m counting on it, though.
[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…
Thursday, May 26, 1994
I only have two interesting things to write about. The first is I died my hair purple a couple of weeks ago. Actually it came out streaked pinkish-purple, and a lot of it has washed out already but it’s still really cool.
The other thing has to do with Propaganda (the official U2 world service magazine). In the back there’s this thing Grapevine that lists over 200 addresses. I wrote a whole bunch of letters and have already gotten 5 responses: Carla, an artist from Minnesota, Nia, a dancer from Australia, Marjorie who is practically my soulmate, also from Australia, Stephen, who knows amazing U2 insider info, from Scotland, and Ronin McMullen Jnr who sounds really sweet, also from Scotland. They are all U2 nuts! I’m in heaven.
And my non-U2 friends were in hell.
It’s difficult for me to dabble in something. If I pick up an interest, I tend to do so in a wholly-encompassing way until that interest grows into something of an obsession. This was certainly the case when I was in my teens and 20′s. If I found a band I liked, I had to own every one of their albums (and sometimes b-sides); if it was an author, I tried to collect every book written by them. Sometimes it didn’t work in my favor, like when I discovered Charles Bukowski and learned that a little squalor goes a long way. However, I never burned out on U2, at least not for years. I found such inspiration in their music, and I wanted others to discover the same magic in their songs. So I became a U2 preacher of sorts, and likely drove my friends pretty nuts with my music proselytizing.
Discovering the pen pal section of Propoganda couldn’t have come at a better time. This was before the internet made it easy to connect with like-minded individuals via message boards. This involved pen and paper and postage and waiting up to weeks for a response, depending on how far the letters were traveling. But I didn’t mind, because I finally had an outlet for my obsession that would cultivate new friendships instead of straining existing ones. I was corresponding with people all over the world, including one boy thousands of miles away who I was developing a crush on sight unseen (well, I sent him a photo but was still waiting on his). It didn’t hurt that his last name was pretty close to Larry Mullen Jnr’s, and that Ronin also spelled it “jnr” instead of “jr”–I was a dork for that kind of minutiae (who am I kidding, still am). The fact that we had the same favorite band and that he had what I imagined must be an irresistible Scottish accent was already working in his favor, as were his letters, peppered with sweet and flirty missives. And Scotland was pretty darn close to Ireland…
While I was finding more people to share my U2-holism with, I probably owe some of my friends form back then an apology for inundating them with my musical obsession (especially Didi, who still can’t listen to them today because of me). So if you’re reading this and knew me back in the day, and if you endured one of my U2-are-the-best-band-in-the-world monologues, I’m sorry for the preaching, and I’m grateful you stood by me anyway.
As for the purple hair, I was determined to push the boundaries on just how much my mother allowed me to chemically enhance my tresses. Mom was cool with anything that would wash out, but hennas and other semi-permanent dyes didn’t create the kind of dramatic, lasting technicolor effect I was going for. After frying my hair with sun-in, it shouldn’t have been a big deal for me to dye it permanently, but no matter how much I tried to wear down my wonderful mother, she stood firm on the issue. So I started experimenting with rinses until I found ways to mask my natural bland dirty blonde color. And I haven’t seen it again since.
Monday, April 18, 1994
Last night Anita and I went to a Pearl Jam concert. It was great! It was announced Friday at 6:00 and the only way to get tickets (if you weren’t in the fanclub) was through a radio station. Anita called one for 2 ½ hours and actually got through.
Mudhoney opened up for them and they were okay. Then Pearl Jam came on and for the first couple of songs I was real stiff (I almost felt like I didn’t belong there. I mean my favorite band is U2 and Smashing Pumpkins are way down the line at second favorite). Then I loosened up and just got real into it. I danced, screamed, it was wonderful. I hadn’t been to a concert in such a long time (about 4 years) and it was incredible. I want to go to so many more now.
(Also I should mention the fact that there was an extremely high number of cute guys there).
–“Just Say Maybe” (the back of a cool Smashing Pumpkins shirt this really cute guy was wearing at the concert.
Few things encapsulate the 1990’s as much as grunge. I’ll be honest, I had Doc Marten boots and a few plaid shirts, but for the most part, I hated the sloppy, unwashed grunge aesthetic. In terms of decade trends, I felt completely and utterly cheated coming of age in the 90′s after experiencing the 80′s as a child. The 1980′s were full of so many things I adored: the clothes, the movies, the TV shows, the hairstyles, the music… pretty much all of it.
The grunge that typified the 1990′s didn’t move me as much as the new wave and pop of the 1980′s. Nirvana, Hole, and most of the other bands associated with the scene did nothing for me, as evidenced by my lukewarm response to Mudhoney. There were exceptions music-wise, Pearl Jam being one for a short time (Alice in Chains and Smashing Pumpkins being others). But these bands never felt like a revelation to me, more like a reluctant acceptance, because they were so ubiquitous it was easier to just give in and like them after a while.
While I knew I wasn’t truly part of the scene Pearl Jam represented and didn’t love their music, I did become more of a fan after seeing them live. They sounded infinitely better in concert than they did on their albums, their growling intensity was mesmerizing, and the show reminded me of the power of live music. I don’t listen to Pearl Jam anymore apart from a rare song here and there, but to this day, having attended ~100-200 concerts since that one, I’d still say they are one of the strongest live bands I’ve ever seen.
Sunday, July 26, 1993
I’ve been back a week now. Let me tell you about the rest of the cruise before I talk about other things.
In St. Thomas I went scuba diving. It was really great. I felt like I was in another world. I had been snorkeling before but there I was actually down 20ft under the water and breathing. I’d love to do it again. Nothing happened w/Jack. Too young and too immature (besides, he has a girlfriend).
[Blah blah, breathing underwater, blah. As if mermaids don't do it all the time. Okay, so it was pretty exhilarating and a little bit scary, not knowing if there might be a creature that could sting or bite around the corner, depending on a clunky tank of oxygen not to drown, etc. As much as I loved it, I don't think the mermaid life is for me. Oh, and Jack? Yeah, as if his immaturity had anything to do with it and I wouldn't have sucked face with him at the slightest chance. There just wasn't one on the cruise. Just a rumored girlfriend. Bah.]
Anyway on to other things. Before I went on the cruise I spent almost a week at my cousin Jenna’s house in Connecticut. That’s where I got the new U2 tape (“Zooropa.” It’s the best. No “Achtung Baby” is the best. It’s my favorite tape. But “Zooropa” is really good.). When I was there I got a letter. That is not very amazing because I get letters all the time. But not from Leon Lehman.
[Before we go on about boys (and get comfortable, because we will go on. And on. Take a load off, make some tea) a few words on U2. The budding interest I started taking in this Irish foursome around the time of my last birthday had by this point mutated into a full-on obsession (all the way). Achtung Baby was my album of the decade and Larry Mullen Jr, U2's drummer, my (hopefully) future husband despite the fact that Mom thought he had "a nose like a potato."]
I don’t know if I ever mentioned him before. He was on my bus the past 2 years and I’ve gone from fighting with him to flirting with him (I didn’t like him, I just liked flirting with him. It was fun) to being good friends with him. Before I left for Connecticut I wrote to him and when he wrote back I was surprised but very pleased. And the letter was really funny (I read it at least 3 times). I sent him a postcard when I was on the cruise and then I called him when I got back. I had a good excuse but we ended up staying on for more than an hour. The next day I wrote and mailed him a letter.
[Actually, I did mention Leon before in an entry where I said pretty much the same thing about liking to flirt with him. Which goes to show how repetitive consistent I can be. I don't know about you, but I don't think I've ever heavily flirted with someone who I wasn't at least mildly attracted to. Though while I found Leon empirically attractive, and while we had a rapport, I'm not sure that it was a romantic one.]
Anyway, the point is I’ve been thinking a lot about him and how I want to be really good friends with him. We have almost identical tastes in music (except for my little, okay humugous almost out-of-control obsession with U2) and both love those great 80’s songs. It’s almost like (don’t laugh ‘cause what I am about to write is kind of corny) he is my soul mate. I think he is such a wonderful person but I don’t want to do anything too sudden or dramatic for fear of losing what tentative friendship we have. See, when school starts again Leon will only be taking the bus in the morning so I don’t want that to be the only time I can talk to him.
[I think it's rare to want a platonic relationship with someone you flirt with, but in Leon's case, it was true, not a matter of immaturity or having a girlfriend or some other excuse. Up to that point in my life, all my close friends were girls, so developing a friendship with a boy was new to me. Boys were for crushes, not friendships; my brain could not compute this new programming. And music was a big part of it. While Leon wasn't a U2 nut, he was a big fan of 80's music and we often talked of the songs we heard on retro stations, from Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" to Cutting Crew's "(I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight."]
A lot of this was sparked by some things he wrote in my yearbook. He said he thought that we had become great friends. He also said I was more human than some of the stuck-up snobs he knows, that we made each other laugh and that I was very pretty (Aw! Tell me this isn’t like the perfect, sweetest, most sensitive guy in the entire world). I wrote nice stuff in his yearbook too, by the way.
Now I’m not saying that I’m in love or even in “like” with him but I have been thinking incessantly about him. I want us to be really close (best?) friends.
[I guess what it came down to was that while Leon and I had a lot in common, could make each other laugh, and all that good stuff, I just didn't feel that same sort of spark that I did toward Mark or Jack or even Larry Mullen (but then, Larry was in a class of his own). Leon had all the qualities I wanted in a guy, but I wasn't sure that x-factor was there. I wasn't sure it was missing, or just hadn't developed.]
And if I’m not thinking about Leon, it’s U2. Today I went to a mall and bunch of flea markets with Didi and her parents and I ended up buying a video (“Achtung Baby: The Videos, the Cameos, and a whole lot of interference from Zoo T.V.) and two U2 shirts. I also wrote a letter to Larry Mullen Jr, through Island Records which I don’t expect to get any response. I would give anything to meet them but my next goal is to see a concert.
I’m both deeply regretful and deeply relieved that I don’t have a copy of that letter to fan letter to Larry.
I feel kind of bad for Didi, who bore the brunt of much of my U2 mania back then. She told me years later that I pretty much ruined the band for her with my over-zealousness. How bad was it? So bad that nobody could even utter the words “you too” without me immediately perking up and asking, “U2? Where?” Sorry, Didi.
As for Leon, he is still in my life today and I can safely say he is not my romantic soul mate, though he is a good friend. If and when he reads this post, he may get quite a chuckle out of it.
Lehman, this one’s for you.
Monday, January 25, 1993
I got some new tapes from this Columbia House deal and they are free as long as I promise to buy 8 more within the next 3 years. Right now I am listening to Tori Amos and it is a great tape. She is a poet and most of this stuff is real deep. I don’t get a lot of it but I understand it even though I don’t exactly get the symbolic meaning.
Anyway, I found out Chris Drewski likes me last week. Sigh. It feels good to have somebody like you but, you know, if it was only… Oh I don’t know. It’s kind of bugging me though.
Hahn thinks that I like Leon. I don’t (not really), I just love to flirt with him. Not that I would mind if it was more.
I think I’m pretty much over Will. Moving on. Gotta go.
I remember seeing the video for “Silent All These Years” late one night on MTV. I was utterly intrigued with this strange, full-mouthed redhead tumbling across the screen in a wooden box, singing about being a mermaid (as I’ve hinted at before, I have a soft spot for mermaids). I was struck by lyrics like,
“i got something to say
you know but NOTHING comes
yes i know what you think of me
you never shut up”
(come on, that’s lyric heroin for an angsty teen)
Who was this Tori Amos woman?
I had the chance to find out when my parents let me join Columbia House. For those too young to remember (*sob*), there was a time when you couldn’t pick up a magazine without seeing full page ads for this music club. The ads would be dotted with album covers on perforated paper, so you could tear out the gratis albums you wanted and affix them to the membership form. The lure of all that free music was great and I eventually succumbed, though over time my relationship with Columbia House grew more sinister, until I eventually felt like I was being stalked, manipulated, and extorted through my mailbox. But the early days were sweet, and they did bring me and Tori together.
When I first listened to her debut album, Little Earthquakes, I felt a bit the way I did at my initial listening of U2’s Achtung Baby. It wasn’t immediately catchy and I didn’t understand it entirely, but there was something compelling about it. I respected that it took a numerous listens to find rich nuances in the music and lyrics. Tori Amos was confusing, confrontational, crazy, and other adjectives not beginning with “c” (I like alliteration; sue me). She sang about relationships and sex and female identity in a way I had never come across before (it would be a while before I discovered Kate Bush). I also loved that nobody else I knew was familiar with Tori at the time, and took pride in my musical discovery. Her second album, Under the Pink, would be the one to get her the mainstream attention, which I had mixed feelings about. I wanted others to love her as much as I did, but I also wanted her to be something of a secret to share with a select few. And for a little while, it was. In early 1993, finding Little Earthquakes was like unearthing musical buried treasure.
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…
June 14, 1990
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.
Our glee club will have our concert soon.
Also, I feel very different around Mitch. As if I have to watch my every move. I feel uncomfortable but maybe I’m just feeling the tension before a date. Oh well, I hope the feeling goes away.
One of my favorite things about elementary school was singing in the glee club. Mrs. Angelo was no ordinary music teacher. She had permed hair teased into a giant halo around her head and three-inch nails that miraculously did not impede her ability to accompany us on the piano. She was also inventive when determining the musical programs. One concert included a Neil Diamond medley, and to this day I have a soft spot for that crooner, from his immigration anthem “America” to his east coast/west coast struggle in “I Am I Said.”
Mrs. Angelo had us put on concerts for our entire school just for entertainment’s sake, like the showcase of Broadway tunes we did (I sang “Memory” from Cats solo). For the holiday concert, she even had an original Hanukkah song that she composed, “How Many Nights” (so catchy that I can still hum the chorus, decades later). She devised elaborate harmonies for us and made us rehearse often, but shared music with such enthusiasm and love, we didn’t mind.
Mitch was in glee club, too, so we were frequently in the same room together, though we didn’t speak. I guess we were saving up actual socializing for our date, and besides, we’d be scrutinized by our classmates if we talked to each other in front of them. As for the pre-date jitters, I think there was a part of me that worried Mike might find the reason to call off the date before it happened. To make sure that didn’t happen, I tried to keep my distance until then, and focused on singing instead.
April 28th 1986
a girl named Fay is coming for the second to the last days of Passover. I am so happy because She is my best frend.
Teusday April 24 1986
Today is my frends Fay birthday. I went to her and today is still passover. I am so excited to go there. I got her a present and she loved it.
Fay was the granddaughter of our downstairs neighbors, an elderly Jewish couple who took us in as family when my parents and I immigrated in 1982. Fay lived in Ohio, so I only saw her once or twice a year, but those visits were easily some of the happiest moments of my childhood.
She had an older sister, Jade, who also came to visit that Passover. Jade was 16 and talked mostly about make-up and music. She wanted to be a model and I found her sophisticated and intimidating. She was obsessed with Depeche Mode and made me listen to one of their songs on her Walkman. The electronic sounds and Dave Gahan’s deep voice was a dark and strange sonic experience for me, one that I found jarring and did not want to repeat.
It would be over a decade until I rediscovered Depeche Mode and grew to love their music, especially their work from the ’80s, which I was too young to appreciate back then.
But I still remember hearing their music for the first time and I still remember Jade teaching me the correct way to apply eyeliner. I wish I could send my teenage self back in time to be friends with her.