Most people have a “coming of age,” musically.
Your early exposure to music is completely at the mercy of your parents.
The songs I associate with my young childhood, going to the bank or the grocery store or the post office with my mom, are classic 90’s pop. For some reason, TLC’s “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” is consistently playing in the background over all of those memories. I didn’t realize until I had graduated from college that my mom wasn’t necessarily a fan of 90’s music. She was listening to Top 40 music in the 90’s.
I have distinct memories of Gloria Estefan playing in the background while my sister and I played at our house, and of my mom yelling from the kitchen that we had to stop jumping around because we were making the CD skip.
On Saturday mornings, I’d lay on the floor in my parents bedroom while my dad played 80’s rock on the radio. My parents are fully to blame for my deep appreciation for 70’s music and my modern infatuation with Elton John - for which my co-workers have properly roasted me. (I stand by it and I will treasure my concert t-shirt until the day I perish, you monkeys.)
At some point in those elementary school years, kids get the chance to uncover their own taste in music. They listen to what older siblings or babysitters are listening to, and pretend to like it. They decide which songs their parents play on car trips are ones that they like or dislike.
The early 2000’s pop music my friends were into certainly has a place in my heart, and of course I took my turn memorizing the lyrics to Backstreet Boys songs, trying to perfect my “Bye Bye Bye” hand gestures, and dramatically reenacting Britney Spears’ “Lucky” music video with the girls across the street.
I’m sure there were kids who gracefully aged into appreciating a specific music genre with some level of consistency. My taste in music evolved wildly and without any sort of linear path - I’ve gone head over heels for Billy Joel, Avril Lavigne, Cat Stevens, Blondie, Fall Out Boy, and Simon and Garfunkel. My first concert experience was Hootie & The Blowfish. I went through a semi-ironic infatuation with Meatloaf in high school, and no - I don’t want to talk about it.
So it should only be moderately surprising to hear that the band I first latched onto - my musical awakening! - … was the B-52’s?
Anybody born in the year 1980 or earlier is already embarrassed for me. My fellow millennials - allow me to explain:
The B-52’s were a new wave pop rock band that hit their peak in the 80s. Most of their big hits had a weird blend of dance and surf vibes, and they’re also characterized by the sprechgesang style of their lead singer - Fred Schneider, whose lead vocals were usually loud spoken word over the rest of the music. You've definitely heard their music, but probably only because it was played loudly in P.E. class or on a car radio you weren't in control of.
To further the weirdness of this whole situation, let me say that my love for the B-52’s wasn’t shared with their entire discography. I was just really, really, really into Cosmic Thing.
(Thank goodness, because I watched the Rock Lobster video while writing this, and it would have been straight up embarrassing to have to own up to that. I can’t wait until we all feel the same way looking back on Despacito in 30 years. Though I will say that the part towards the end where the lead singer is calling out the names of various sea creatures and the women are returning piranha noises and narwhal sounds has its merits.)
One of my parents owned a Cosmic Thing cassette tape. If either one of them would like to come forward now to claim it, I’d be very interested in learning which one I can blame this entire blog post on.
I stumbled across it at 7 years old while snooping through their collection. Some things never change, eh? (Dad, this is my way of saying I stole your Andrew Gold album when I moved out, and you’ll never get it back.)
I’d play the whole thing through on my tape recorder, then I’d rewind and listen to Love Shack again and again and again. In a feeble attempt to defend myself here, I would like to point out that Love Shack was named the Best Single of 1989 by Rolling Stone, and is listed somewhere in the middle of their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
I remember going on a family vacation that summer at the height of my infatuation and having an entire conversation with my uncle, who owned an independent record label, about the B-52's. "Yeah, I'm kind of into it," I said with a sigh, trying to seem far more adult than any 7 year old can ever be. I truly hope he doesn't remember it, because I recall him being quite amused and trying to get to the bottom of why his young niece was listening to Love Shack 14 times a day.
The other day I actually listened to the words of Love Shack for the first time. Shout out to all the other adults in my life for not being the least bit concerned when 7 year old me developed an intense love for a song that is either about a structurally unsound dance club or a roadside brothel.
According to the internet, “Love Shack” was a popular name for adult video stores following the release of this song. There is also a 2010 movie that went straight to DVD entitled Love Shack, about a group of porn stars who get together to make a film in honor of a deceased producer. So that’s cute.
At one point in the chorus it is referred to as “the love getaway,” which actually makes it sound like a very pleasant and affordable Airbnb location. And when I re-watch the music video today, it does look like a bunch of my parents’ friends having a very embarrassing dance party in a very colorful barn.
Do I at least get cool points for being an early adopter of RuPaul?
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