Music (Part I): First Loves

It was 1980. My family had moved so I was starting at a new school part way through fourth grade – George P. Way Elementary. My teacher was named Mrs. Hood and she had crazy green eyes – possibly early incarnation, rudimentary, not very subtle color contacts. Every day I rode the bus with a mixture of trepidation and wonder. I sat alone those first days, hoping not to be noticed, warily observing these strange new kids, trying to intuit where I would fit into the pecking order, hoping it would be anywhere but the bottom. It was winter, and I began to identify different kids by their brightly colored ski jackets and hats, by their chapped lips or perpetually runny noses.

I remember two things from those bus rides:

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with Jeff Borglin.

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with music.

Jeff Borglin was a tall fifth grader who ignored me at the bus stop. He kicked the snow. He threw snowballs at tree trunks. He stomped on ice to make it crack. But he didn’t talk to me. Not that I tried to talk to him either. We waited for the bus in silence, tiny puffs of white air holding no words hovering in front of our mouths.

One day he sat up on his knees with his back to the steamy bus window and pull off his ski hat. I gasped. I was smitten. That’s all she wrote.

He was blond. His face was dark – I had just assumed his hair was dark. But he was blond . . . I silently pledged my nine year old heart to him and spent the next few years pining for him, spying on him, concocting cockamamie schemes to put myself in his path. I took bogus surveys with my best friend Susie, furrowed brows and official looking note books in hand (favorite food: hotdogs, favorite sport: soccer, favorite subject: math). I rode by his house relentlessly on my aqua Schwinn ten speed, cooly sitting back using my arms for carefully choreographed moves to Electric Avenue instead of holding the handlebars . . . until my dog, Ginger, ran in front of my bike and I wiped out right in front of him. We’re gonna rock down to Elec-tric Aven-ue. And then we’ll take it higher. BAM! Stupid golden retriever. Stupid Eddie Grant. One time I even played the damsel in distress card. There was a frog in our pool (horrors!) and I quickly dispensed my little brother to go get Jeff Borglin to help us. When Jeff silently lifted the frog out with the skimmer in two seconds and threw it over the fence, I felt pretty lame . . . and I’ve never played the damsel in distress since.

You live, you learn.

The other love I found on that bus came wrapped up in these words:

We don’t need no educa-tion . . . we don’t need no thought control . . .

Someone in the back of the bus had a little radio and I remember peering over the seat and wishing so badly I knew what it was. It is absolutely my first memory of any kind of rock music and I was completely enraptured by the tinny, scratchy sound I was hearing.

No dark sarcasm in the classroom . . . Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!

My parents only listened to classical music, and in those days of cumbersome turn tables and gigantic speakers, even that was a rarity. I felt my stomach churn with longing as I watched, greedily hoping against all hope that one of the kids might blurt out “Hey, I love this BLANK!” Even then, what would I have done? I had no idea how to find music . . . how to get music. And I certainly wouldn’t have been allowed to touch the stereo. I was the oldest child and I had inherited nothing by way of musical heirlooms from my parents. I was a tabula rasa. If I wanted music, I was going to have to find it for myself.

All in all you’re just a – nother brick in the wall!

I loved how they said “wall” and I innocently mimicked the Cockney accent when I scrunched my face and sang those couple lines to myself in the mirror, over and over. Wohl. What was I hearing? What WAS it? Powerful beautiful angry confusing. I needed to know. I don’t think I even knew to ask “who” . . . I don’t think I even knew there was such a thing as bands . . . singers . . . rock stars . . .

When I was twelve I bought myself a little tape player/radio with forty dollars of my babysitting money. I spent all my time listening to the top 40 station and trying to tape songs off the radio. I would get so angry when the dj talked into the beginning of the song, ruining my Abracadabra, my Jack and Diane, my Eye of the Tiger, my Hard to Say I’m Sorry, my Tainted Love, my 8675three-oh-niyiine.

That little piece-of-shit radio cracked open the world for me and out spilled the blood, guts and glory of eighties rock. Just take a look at this and see if it isn’t just a bubbling stew of mushy pre-pubescent melodramatic yearnings. Or maybe the stew was me, and I was just projecting it onto the music. No. It wasn’t just me – this bunch is drenched in harmonizing male falsettos and swelling synthesized guitars -perfect fodder for a bookish twelve year old girl holding nothing but a little black box of unrequited love: her little black radio.

Doctor Dash knows to forgive me for the occasional lapse in . . . shall I say . . . taste? Most people our age were bequeathed rich tracks of musical territory from their older siblings or their parents. If your baseline is The Dead, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Who . . . If those are the bands you took for granted, that constitute your early consciousness of music – pre-reason, pre-choosing, then what a gift you received! What a golden starting point for your musical journey!

My baseline was 80’s rock, if you can even call it rock: Rick Springfield, Survivor, Toto, Men at Work, Yes, Aha, Olivia Newton John, Journey, The GoGos, Duran Duran, Boy George, Eddie Money . . . Eddie Grant! I started there and by early high school had immersed myself in the Cure, New Order, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Yaz, Alphaville, Brian Ferry, Thomas Dolby . . . synthesizers and effeminate men . . . then I worked my way back to the greats, and then forward and then back and around and around to where I am today . . . still peering over the plastic bus seat, wide-eyed, confused, and falling in love.

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