dispatches from the pop scene...minus the corn syrup.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Throwback: Coffee, Drugs, Death And Ace Of Base

Fifteen years ago, in January 1994, spirited, wide-eyed college sophomore D'luv, age 19, assumed the position (!) of managing editor of my school's student newspaper. I was in my last semester at the community college I was attending before transferring to a four-year university that fall, and occasionally I'd bump into kids I went to high school with.

One such encounter was with two girls who I'd been pals with since the pre-teen days. I'd lost track of both of them since graduating from Butler Area Senior High. The one went on to study architecture in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University (or, as she referred to the grueling program, "archi-torture") while the other became a manager at a shoe store in Cranberry, Pennsylvania (home of Christina Aguilera).

I don't recall the specifics—whether it was a phone call out of the blue or one of us bumped into the other—but somehow we all got together one snowy Saturday night in mid-January 1994 for the first time in two years, and went into Pittsburgh for dinner. Shoe Store Girl was telling us about how she was in love with her boss, but was dating a guy we'd gone to high school with who was now a freshman at the University of Pittbsurgh. Archi-torture was driving. I was sitting in the back seat.

The radio was on, and while those two chattered away, that's when I heard it for the very first time; "...and now, here's the brand new single from Ace Of Base—'The Sign!'"

Wha'?? Surely Ace Of Base were only destined for one-hit-wonderdom in the U.S. It had to have been a fluke that "All That She Wants" was such a smash that previous autumn. How were these four Swedish goofballs getting a second crack at U.S. radio?

Alas, I didn't understand the iron-fisted, omnipresent ways of Clive Davis at the time!

Anyway, on came the clomping, somewhat lazy beat of "The Sign," and I was hooked. It was like the greatest thing I'd ever heard coming through car speakers, and those two broads in the car just wouldn't shut up. But I tuned them out and listened to every note the other two broads on the radio sang!



****
The onetime site of the Oakland Beehive in Pittsburgh.

The following Saturday, I got together with Shoe Store Girl again. She and a different friend, who we'll call Hippie Chick, picked me up at my parents' house. It was the weekend before the spring semester was to begin.

We drove into Pittsburgh to meet up with Shoe Store Girl's boyfriend at the University of Pittsburgh. The four of us then went to the Beehive, which was this really cool two-story coffehouse in Oakland near Pitt that also had a movie theater.

The outside of the Beehive was built to look like a castle. On Friday nights at midnight the place would show The Rocky Horror Picture Show, while on Saturdays they'd play Saturday Night Fever or another cult classic. All other times current indie movies were screened.

Later that night someone had the bright idea to score acid. We ended up in some parking lot near the Pitt campus that, like the Beehive, is no longer there. I'd never tried any kind of drug before that.

While Pitt Boy got out of the car to meet his contact in the parking lot, Shoe Store Girl, Hippie Chick and I sat there talking. I smoked a cigarette—something I only did on lost Saturday nights when I was feeling young and infinite.

Acid was acquired. We ended up back at Hippie Chick's house in our suburban hometown, and we all tried it. Nothing happened. At all. I'd never touched drugs before that night and I never did again.

****
Amidst freezing temperatures and a barrage of snow storms, the spring semester began that following Tuesday. But later that same night, we all got the call that my diabetic uncle had died. He was only about 45. It was the first time a close relative of mine had passed away.

I'd just started my new college classes, and now I had to miss the rest of the school week to attend the viewing on Thursday, and the funeral on Friday. And it was depressing.

Relatives came from far and wide, some I probably hadn't seen since I was a little kid. But that didn't stop them from talking to me like it was just yesterday when we'd last spoke. For them, it probably was just like yesterday. Many of them were in their 60s, while I was 19 going on 20, with the world ahead of me.

My parents and I went to the chuch service that Friday, but while they went on to the burial, I was allowed to skip it. I was feeling kind of out of it. So I called my friend Becky and she met me at the mall.

And that's when I walked into National Record Mart and was thrilled to find Ace Of Base's "The Sign" had now been released. I bought it on cassette single.

I'll point out that the much darker B-side, "Young And Proud," had a sort of urgency that, in retrospect, I was probably always going to be drawn to:

We're much too young
And life's so big
We don't know yet what the future brings in its hands for us
What tomorrow brings the future knows

****


THIS PIECE IS A CONTINUATION OF:
* Pet Shop Boys' 'Very' At 15: How Can I Even Try To Explain?
* These Are Days You'll Remember

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