A Brief History Of My Relationship With Pop Music


Kindergarten: Michael Jackson is a mean vampire and I hate him. If you lose your glove at recess tell the teacher, don’t try to moonwalk because it’s not even a real dance.

First Grade: Saturday morning means my dad makes waffles and plays The Stones “Miss You.” I think the song is about reindeer because during the intro my dad presses his index fingers to his temples in the shape of tiny horns and dances around the dining room table.

Second Grade: For Halloween I go as Aja from Jem and the Holograms. She’s hot because she’s Asian which I could be too, if I wanted.

Third Grade: My mom tells a friend she’s ready to recreate herself. She starts wearing black stirrup pants, flashy red blouses and combat boots. She blasts Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” while making dinner and I shout from under the table to stop acting like a punk teenager because it makes me feel weird.

Fourth Grade: I want to be a standup comedian so I watch and re-watch The Best of SNL on VHS. I have the music montage memorized and I know when to hide behind the couch because the guy dressed in purple with high-heeled lady boots is on and he can see me through the television.

Fifth Grade: My best friend who goes to another school turns me on to Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. I love Tiffany the most because her hair is red. At school I have to pretend to like Bel Biv Devoe.

Sixth Grade: For the talent show I lip-sync “Stop in the Name of Love” in my silk magenta nightgown. Diana Ross is hot because she’s black but when I suggest painting my face to look more like her my mom says ‘absolutely not.’

Seventh Grade: I become convinced that the Katrina and the Waves song, “Walking On Sunshine,” has the word vagina in it so I play it on the tape-deck in my parent’s Volvo every time we’re in the car to see if they notice.

Eighth Grade: My best friend finally goes to my school. At first we sing “On my Own” from Les Mis every day at lunch but then she starts wearing turquoise Gap T-shirts and rolled cuff jeans like all the other girls. I usually wear shorts over fishnets and a baggy shirt with a funny phrase like “What can you expect of a day that begins with getting up in the morning?” or “Dear Auntie Em: Hate you, hate Kansas, taking the dog, Dorothy.” Also hot pink lipstick and black chucks. My best friend stops sitting with me at lunch and one time I hear her call me a slut even though she’s the one who likes Madonna.

Freshman Year: My mom takes me to New York to see my idol, Bette Midler perform at Radio City Music Hall. I sob for the next two days because I’d been looking forward to seeing her live for a year and now it’s over and nothing will ever make me feel fulfilled like that again. Not in Milwaukee where everyone but me is German. I sob because Bette gets to wear sequins and fishnets and no one calls her a slut. I sob during breakfast at our hotel, and a trip to the Met. I sob walking through Washington Square Park where a pale girl with black eyeliner and greasy hair grabs my hand and says “Kurt’s happier in heaven, don’t cry.”

Sophomore Year: I beat out my best friend for the lead in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown but instead of getting to feel excited about it, I end up comforting her in the bathroom of the theater building while she cries. After rehearsal one night the cast goes to Pizza Hut and the girl playing Patty says “look how all the boys are eating like, three slices but we girls are having salad,” which makes me want to have four slices but I’m lactose intolerant so I can’t. The great part is my best friend is stuck on yhr tech crew building sets while the guy I like sits right across the table, shiny with free-floating grease and asking me how I feel about Nirvana. I say, “Great. I’m totally into eastern religions.”

Junior Year: My dad’s agent friend is considering representing Ani Difranco and wants a teen girl’s opinion. I tell him Alanis Morisette is the real deal.

Senior Year: My former best friend performs “Secure Yourself” at a choir concert and it seems to me the most hauntingly beautiful song created. I buy a bunch of Indigo Girls Cds and lie on my stomach in bed listening to them and studying for finals. I’m finally a real teenager with mainstream taste.

Freshman Year: I start listening to Sarah Mclachlan because we have the same name. I have dreams where Melissa Ethridge hugs me for a long time. A dorm-mate who thinks we’re dating takes me to see Sleater-Kinney at a tiny club in Madison, Wisconsin. Their opener is a male/female duo wearing red and white. The girl plays the drums and the guy, guitar. They’re both pale and intense and I think they’re pretty great but then my dorm-mate tries to kiss me and I literally run away.

Sophomore Year: My girlfriend and I email each other Ani Difranco lyrics. I start wearing overalls because when I wear hot pink and fishnets no one knows I’m gay. My 14-year-old sister explains to me who Kurt Cobain was.

Junior Year: So what if I go to five Lilith Fairs in one summer?

Senior Year: In an effort to like cool music, I expand my cd collection to include the Bare Naked Ladies and They Might Be Giants. After a week I trade their CDS for Hole’s “Live Through This” and when I see Hole play live in Milwaukee everyone else is wearing fishnets and hot pink and I’ve got on jeans and a turquoise Gap shirt and I’m pissed.

After College: I move to LA for a woman who loves the Indio Girls. I still do, too, even though it’s become clear this will not win me friends without mullets. My sister has told me that Jack White is better than Amy Ray which is blasphemy but my girlfriend and I go to see The White Stripes play The Greek Theatre just in case. The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s open and Karen O reminds me of my high school best friend who I heard works in the shoe department at Boston Store now. In the warm night, my girlfriend leans close and explains that I’m what every lesbian wants, a feminine bottom. This is a relief for many reasons, but mostly because no one wears overalls in LA.

Before Graduate School: My girlfriend and I break up and so does Sleater/Kinney. I’ve applied to grad schools and am living with my parents, waiting for whatever important thing happens next. I can’t talk to anyone about my break up’s aftermath, that I’m uncertain how to separate what I’ve learned from what’s really true. Instead, I tell my sister about the first time I saw Sleater/Kinney. About their riveting opening band. “You’re describing The White Stripes,” she says, slamming her bedroom door.

Graduate School: I read The Road. I read Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man. I read Lolita. I’m still not sure if I want to have sex with or be Britney Spears, but when someone asks who I listen to most, I stop saying Kanye West.

After Graduate School: I’m assigned to review a play about The Rolling Stones whom I’ve always sort of thought were Aerosmith. I find out they aren’t. I find out the Reindeer Song is actually about the futility of fucking Puerto Rican girls when you’re otherwise adrift. It’s Super Bowl Sunday and the theater is half-empty, everyone else in America enthralled by the game including the ushers with their tiny ear-buds, their clandestine radios. None of that matters though, because listening to “Paint it Black’s” tremulous intro, it’s rapacious acceleration, I know that everything important is happening right here now.

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image – Thriller