For the past two Novembers, I’ve saluted the arrival of Tonic Ball by writing about the music featured at that year’s event. Two years ago, I wrote about my on-again, off-again love affair with R.E.M.; last year, I ranted about how much I hated the Grateful Dead.
The R.E.M. essay didn’t exactly light up the Internet, but the Grateful Dead rant—that one struck a chord. And it wasn’t always a pleasant one. While a good number of readers enjoyed my fish-in-a-barrel diatribe, a few took strong exception to it. I’d intended it as good-natured fun, but I suppose when you start bandying the word “hate” around, you’re going to earn some haters of your own.
And why not? After all, who appointed me the arbiter of taste? What qualified me to stand in judgment of a rock band that, if we’re being honest, accomplished more during a single acid flashback than I probably will in my entire life?
The answer, of course, is no one and nothing. I spoke out of school, plain and simple, and I’m here to own up to it. How? By outing myself as a person with supremely bad taste in music.
Sure, these days I present myself as a something of an underground rock ‘n’ roll connoisseur; a guy who, though no longer a youngster, can hold his own in a conversation about Wolf People, Wolf Parade, and all of the other “wolf” bands.
But the truth is, I listened to stupendously shitty music in my formative years. Consider this my confession—a voluntary public shaming wherein I reveal my past as a person with some ghastly Top 40 skeletons in his closet. Also, consider it my way of making amends for any hard feelings I caused last year. I humble myself before thee, Deadheads.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
1987. The twilight of the Reagan years. I was 13 years old. Any normal, red-blooded American teenage boy would’ve been freaking out his parents by listening to Metallica and the Misfits. Not me. While my classmates were passing around cassettes by those bands, my favorite song was “Take Me Home Tonight” by Eddie Money. I still remember singing along to it in my parent’s car (just like Ronnie sang) with gleeful abandon.
I wish I could say my romance with Mr. Money ended there. But later that year Eddie released “I Wanna Go Back,” a mid-tempo ballad about a guy who wishes he had just one more chance with an old flame. “I wanna go back,” Eddie sang. “And do it all over, but I can’t go back I know.”
I, too, knew. I thought I did, anyway, even though at that point in my life I had never even gotten close enough to a girl to smell her hair. Chalk it up to Eddie Money having his hand on the pulse of pre-pubescent wussies.
1988. Eighth grade. From what I can remember from eavesdropping on the conversations of cool kids, Guns ‘N’ Roses and U2 were really popular that year. I wouldn’t have known. I was too busy listening to E.U.
You may not remember E.U., but certainly you remember their song “Da Butt.” In the tradition of “The Twist” and “The Electric Slide,” “Da Butt” was a dance as well as a song. To do it, one crouched down and moved his “back field” in a rotating motion, as if washing an oven door. As much as I loved the song, I never actually did da butt myself. And I was never at any parties where young females were doing it—which, in retrospect, was kind of the whole point.
1989. This was the year that the Pixies released Doolittle, one of the most influential and important rock albums of its time. On Doolittle, the Pixies galvanized a sound that would shape the next 20 years of college rock. It was raw and dangerous, yet melodic and, at moments, heartrendingly beautiful.
Of course, I had no idea about any of that at the time. I was obsessed with a chart-topping power ballad that explored the vagaries of romantic love called “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” I’m not lying, although I wish that I was, when I say that I often found myself nodding in wistful agreement as Bret Michaels sang, “Every rose has it’s thorn / Just like every night has it’s dawn / Just like every cowboy sings a sad, sad song.”
1990. I remember 1990 well; it was the year I hit puberty (finally). Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also the year I openly and proudly declared Bell Biv Devoe my favorite band.
Made up of three cast-offs from the ‘80s boy band New Edition, Bell Biv Devoe’s biggest hit, “Do Me” was an ode to no-strings-attached sex with underage groupies. You may remember the part where Michael Bivins—or Biv, if you prefer—sang “Move to the jacuzzi, ooh, that booty, smack it up, flip it, rub it down, oh no!”
To say that I find it unfortunate that I still remember singing along to those very words in my living room as my stepmother danced in mock-appreciation is an understatement of galactic proportions.
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Do I have more examples of my atrociously bad taste in music? Oh, yes—far too many to mention: Milli Vanilli, Color Me Badd, Paula Abdul, White Lion, Roxette, Sheena Easton, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam.
Like I said: ghastly skeletons—skeletons with names that should never be uttered aloud by a self-respecting, reasonably intelligent adult. Names like Breathe, Richard Marx, Mr. Big, But Seriously-era Phil Collins.
So the next time you hear me pontificating judgmentally on this or that band, just remember: it’s a cheap façade. Look beyond it, and you’ll find an insecure boy, quietly repeating to himself the words to that one song that, without fail, always makes him feel better. You know the one:
Some day somebody’s gonna make you want to turn around and say goodbye / Until then baby, are you going to let them hold you down and make you cry? / Don’t you know things can change, things’ll go your way / If you hold on for one more day.
Thanks for reading, y’all. See you at Tonic Ball.