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

Friday, January 21, 2011

Throwback: All I Really Want Is You

I'm not nostalgic. Nor am I overly-sentimental and living in the past. I couldn't possibly bother with the Britneys, the Pinks, the Willows and the Gagas of Planet Pop if I was. But sometimes there are brief visits back—necessary stopovers, if you will—I need to make to keep the equilibrium stable, and to keep from falling off the edge.

See, these days and these nights, solitary driving hours in my life, have piled up over the decades and could virtually fill a stack of mileage logs jammed behind coffee cans on some dusty shelf in a garage. Only the garage is my head. And they're all stretches of time sound-tracked by radio hits—a bulk of them love songs that, at that the time of release, I had no relatable tie to or relevant frame of reference for. 

I know you have to do this too (or at least I want to believe I'm not the only one who does):  It's a Sunday afternoon in the highly un-exciting month of January. Something random like 76 cents from a gift card is left in your iTunes account, and the determination is there to just decimate it in one fell swoop. Some pop song from the solitary driving days, some guilty pleasure, some jam out there—one you wouldn't have been caught dead owning on CD single at the time—is in need attention. But which one?

Abruptly it hits you. Then you download it. And that seemingly non-exciting day turns on a dime as you find yourself on a long walk on the rain-soaked streets of the town where you live, with the song now inhabiting a playlist on your iPod, stuck on repeat. Only today those snatches of lyrics and flourishes of melody are so, so relatable. Who cares if you're trudging through a cemetery; a sidewalk behind some Eastern Bloc-style apartment complex; the gravelly alley behind the Wal-Mart by the freeway? The once-elusive references hit you like arrows launched from a crossbow. And, Jesus—it's only 4 o'clock.


I enrolled in a class called Literature & The Arts during my final semester at community college, and it stands out in my mind for three things: my friend (we'll call her Kaitlyn) who decided to take the class with me, a field trip we embarked on to see La bohème at the Benedum Center in downtown Pittsburgh, and the two instructors we had—one of whom is actually now the mayor of my hometown, and the other who apparently ran into some legal troubles (to put it mildly) a decade later.

(That's Kaitlyn and I to the right, waiting to take the bus to see La bohème.)

Between that class and the others that filled my schedule, there was also editing the school newspaper, the university applications, lofty ambitions for a future screenwriting career and the endless task of hanging out with friends—steadfast new pals made so easily, the way it only happens at that age.

There were also the treks to Pittsburgh and back on weekends (sometimes twice in one day—a 45-minute drive each way). To the Beehive. To the movies. Through the suburban back roads on cloudy days and at 1 a.m. on warm, hopeful nights. The future was inconsequential.

And every time I flipped to a station that was playing Jon Secada's "If You Go" in those spring and summer months of 1994, it was kind of blissful.

(Note that the video is basically all a re-enactment of the final scene from The Graduate.)


Not sure what the hell it is about this trifle, but I still have the lyrics and the arrangement of every backing vocal and every emotionally-charged improvisation Jon makes in "If You Go" imprinted in my memory—which is remarkable for the fact that, until five days ago, I hadn't heard the song in at least 13 or 14 years.

Learning to love, baby
Without taking you along for a ride

It should be noted that when this single was in heavy rotation, the only action I was getting was of the occasional (read: quite frequent) self variety.

Tried to find myself
Tried to find the truth
Get out from this shell

Of course, there was much more at play, subconsciously, with the way my personal life was heading. But that wasn't on the schedule until next semester.

Sorry if you felt misled
But I know what I feel
I know what I said


When the semester finally ended, the school had a formal dance on the Gateway Clipper, which zipped up and down the three rivers that snake along downtown Pittsburgh. There were three part-time jobs (!!!) to tend to that summer. I played tennis almost daily. The Andy Warhol Museum opened, which I visited with my parents. My cousin had a baby. The movies had Forrest Gump. Besides Jon Secada, Top 40 radio had Lisa Loeb's "Stay (I Missed You)," Prince's "The Most Beautiful Girl In The World," Ace Of Base's "Don't Turn Around" and Elton John's "Can You Feel The Love Tonight."

OJ Simpson's SUV chase went down on a Friday night, which I watched on the news while house-sitting for a friend who took off to Europe and talking to another friend—the only person I knew who was transferring to the same university I would be attending in the fall—on the phone.

All that said, despite the words in "If You Go," there wasn't anyone I really wanted. There was no intoxicating summer romance to get lost in. Hell, I don't even recall any actual intoxication in those months.

I can't imagine I skipped over daydreaming about what being in love would feel like. But my reality then was just a close-knit group of friends, harmless songs on the radio and a blinding, brilliant sense of naivete.

And that's probably why it was so perfect.

Don't you think I don't know
This is where I belong

* Mix Tapes, CD Singles And Being Boring—Tales Of A Lonely Teenage Nobody
* This Used To Be My Playground
* Coffee, Drugs, Death And Ace Of Base 
* I'll Remember
Return To Innocence
* Threesomes, Term Papers, Erasure And The Book-End of Gen X

* Someone Who Won't Leave Me Feeling...
* You Can Depend On Me

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  • At 1:49 AM, Anonymous Pranav said…

    I still haven't gotten over what an amazing song "If you go" is. That is by far Jon Secada at his best. They used to play this song on KC top 40 show (which used to be on Bombay radio every Thursday evening back in 1994).

  • At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Matthew Finn said…

    I loved this post .... =)

  • At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Mental Pictures said…

    As always: I LOVED LOVED LOVED this post. (I actually gasped happily when I saw your handwriting--funny how that is so unique to someone.)

    I do love "If You Go" and all of La Secada's output...it reminds me of the era when I would constantly be listening to my Walkman (usually Amy Grant's "Heart in Motion" or one of La Abdul's masterpieces).

    Sunday nights I would stay up late to listen to all the countdowns on this black plastic radio I had. Jon Secada's music always made me think of this sweeping kind of romance and exciting "big city" life that I vaguely hoped I would have in the future, pieced together from VH1 music videos.

    Sigh. Beautiful writing, as always!! I was moved.

  • At 12:29 PM, Anonymous shaun said…

    D'Best of D'Luv comes gushing forth in these posts (by the way, your grammar and punctuation were impeccable during those years -- I respect a man who properly uses commas, even in his own journal). You really know how to capture mini-eras and their corresponding moods. You are not alone at all in forging strong associations between music and events/eras/moods. It doesn't happen as often since I entered this amorphous blob of years known as adulthood, but, for me, the years between ages 10 and 25 break down into a series of mini-eras. Each little chunk of time is inextricably linked to a series of songs. Thanks for another great trip down memory lane.

  • At 4:00 PM, Blogger 17days said…

    fantastic piece. what a great read!

  • At 5:55 PM, Anonymous ballnchain said…

    love it - and you! but you are wrong about yourself - you ARE nostalgic :)

  • At 6:31 PM, Anonymous darrko said…

    Love it! My all time fav jon secada track is Just Another Day Without You...I'm STILL listening to that ish 15 years later.

  • At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Pranav said…

    I absolutely love these "flashback" posts. It is exactly what makes your blog so damned unique. I mean, it is one thing to write about older music, but to weave a personal experience or a time in your life around it is amazing. Hell, it brings back memories for me too. I lived in India at the time a lot of this music was released and hence I experienced it in a very different way. I still remember first hearing "the most beautiful girl" by Prince right after my 7th grade final exams on MTV Asia at my grandmother's brother's home.


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