I Am A 90’s Song

sometimes-britney-spearsI am a 90’s song. Not quite electronic enough to be 80s. Not quite teeny bop enough to be early 00’s. I’m like Britney Spears’ “Sometimes.” I wanna believe in everything that you say, ’cause it sounds so good. But if you really want me, move slow. There’s things about me you just have to know. It takes time, though, to open up, because like most people I’ve been hurt before. I’ve trusted the wrong people who have let me down. And I’ve let down others, but I’m trying.

Sometimes I am guarded, and I retreat into my shell, while others I am gregarious and over the top. Sometimes I play to the stereotypes of what others expect of me, as some kind of a joke on them (Shhh, they’ll never know I was playing a part). Sometimes I go the exact opposite direction of what others might expect of me. But always I am a 90’s song, ready to explode into a soaring chorus… when the mood arises.

95b5d0531990cd9ef08a0822a04ba1df--nada-surf-song-lyricsSometimes I am like that Mm Mm Mm Mm song, where I simply hum along with the beat, whoever is setting it at that moment. While other times I am “Popular.” I’m head of the class. I’m popular. I’m a quarterback. I’m popular. My mom says I’m a catch. I’m popular. And if I say it enough to myself, in my mind, I start to believe it. I start to think that everybody should love me, even though I know that’s setting myself up for a fall. Obviously not everyone can like or appreciate everyone else. But I wish it could be the case.

I am Tevin Campbell in that “Can We Talk” video, chilling under that bridge because he knows the girl is going to give him the time of day if he just looks cool. I take selfies because I’m trying to affect that cool look. And not even for others, but for me. At least sometimes just for me. I don’t share the vast majority of those selfies. I am that Spice Girls song, “Say You’ll Be There.” There is no need to say you love me. It would be better left unsaid. I’m giving you everything, all that joy can bring. This I swear. And all that I want from you is a promise you will be there. I fear being alone. Does that make me codependent?

hqdefaultSometimes I am that Gin Blossoms song, “Follow You Down,” even though most times I’m a leader. But when the ball gets rolling I can tend to get caught up in the momentum without thinking ahead. I know we’re headed somewhere, I can see how far we’ve come. But still I can’t remember anything. Let’s not do the wrong thing and I’ll swear it might be fun. I have to always remember that, to keep it in the back of my brain so I don’t go off the rails. It might be fun.

But I try not to worry about the friends thing, even though I’m like a dog chasing his tail when it comes to that. I try to stay slightly aloof about it all, not to dive headfirst like I’ve done before just to drown. But if I can’t swim after 40 days, and my mind is crushed by the crashing waves, lift me up so high that I cannot fall. Lift me up. Lift me up when I’m falling. So I try to keep my head above water, even when it seems that the world all around me is a flood.

hqdefault (1)I am a 90’s song because I can’t help being one, because I’m a tortured soul living a life that gives me everything I want. I’m like that R.E.M. song, “Everybody Hurts.” Well, hang on. Don’t let yourself go. ‘Cause everybody cries. Everybody hurts sometimes. It’s okay to feel things. It’s alright to be disappointed with how things are. But it’s not okay to dwell on it to the exclusion of appreciating what’s wonderful in my life. I look around me, and I am so grateful despite the letdowns. Maybe even partially because of them. Because how else would I grow?



300 Writing Prompts: #30

“Write about something you purchased used.”

usedcdsWhen I was in college I bought a lot of used stuff, not the least of which were books, CDs, and video tapes. There was just something about being entertained that appealed to me, and that still does today. Only today there are less used items around here because of innovations. For example, instead of used CDs I have a lot of digital music, and in place of video tapes there are DVDs (oh, and Netflix). Only books remain, and even then I’ve weeded out a lot of my used gems because of space constraints. Besides, my wife’s a librarian, so I can read those used books instead.

But yeah, back in college I would find new “used” stores pretty much every week, on Fridays after I got paid from my on-campus job at the library. Sometimes I would go alone, and other times I would take friends along for the ride (the subway ride, of course), but I would always end up back home once the night was over with some amazing finds. Back in the mid-90s it was easy to locate pretty much anything used, and I guess Amazon.com’s Marketplace makes it easy to find them as well, even today. Just the other week I found the new CD from one of my favorite bands — Better Than Ezra — for only .75 cents.

Yet, even though it’s still possible to find used items online nothing beat the fun of going into a little dingy shop, nodding to the tattooed cashier, and getting my hands dirty rifling through old CDs, old books, or old videos. There was just something about the experience that touched a place in my soul. I need those kinds of interactions with my purchases before I make them. I need the physicality of going to an actual place instead of just sifting through web links and clicking on “Buy Now.” Something… human is missing from the enterprise now, and even though I’m enjoying the Better than Ezra album, something is lost in the translation.

Nothing beats the smell of an old book, or finding an old bookmark hidden away in its pages, or getting a CD cheaper because the case is cracked. I remember going into a record store that was going out of business and all of the albums were 50% off. It was like Christmas even though it was July. I even bought one of the posters off the wall because it too was on deep discount. There’s just nothing like it today. All those small shops are gone, and the interactions with others looking for their own diamonds in the rough are gone with them. When I go back to the streets and avenues that used to house them and see all the “For Sale” signs, or the different stores that have risen up that scream NEW NEW NEW I can’t help but feel sad.

Because, contrary to what Barney Stinson said, new is not always better.


Friend 2.0

chatI’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t always a good friend. There was a time in my life when I was so incredibly selfish that I took advantage of people who I called friends, telling them what I thought they wanted to hear, making them feel special for the moment, and then forgetting all about them when the next one came around. Oh, and did I mention that during this time most of my friends were of the online variety? Or that I was 19 back then?

When I was 19 I was in a state of flux. College was on hold but I was still working at the campus library, I was still able to use my college ID to get into the computer labs, and no one had canceled my email accounts so I was all set to talk to people from all over the country, and indeed all over the world. My friend Anthony had gotten a hold of some pirated internet chat software called Homer. I’ll never forget it because it had a drawing of Homer Simpson on it. He gave me a disk and kept one for himself. And I was in business.

Now, you might not know how things were on the internet back then, still in its early stages, but it was all about messageboards, actual email conversations, and places called chatrooms. A chatroom was a place you could connect to at any time of day or night and others would more than likely be there… chatting. I was fascinated by chatrooms when I first found them. There were just so MANY of them it was daunting at the start, but then I got totally into it. At my apex I was spending up to eight straight hours sitting in a chair at an old-school Mac with the Homer disk in talking to people from all over the place.

I made so many friends it was incredible, and I called them friends, not “friends.” I mean, I spent more time talking to them through IRC (internet relay chat) than my own family, and my two real life friends. It was so easy, being so far apart from them, to embellish things about myself, and before long it was impossible to tell the real me apart from the various versions of me that I created to suit each other person. Then I started emailing them. They wanted to talk apart from chatrooms so I obliged. I began getting and sending a cubic ton of emails.

Then the phone calls started and I really couldn’t keep things straight. Continue reading “Friend 2.0”

Sam’s Friday Top 5: ’90s Bands

While I grew up in the 1980s, I was a teenager in the following decade, so my prime years of music listening were all in the 1990s, making that music special to me. Now there were many bands during that time period, but my focus in this post is on what I would characterize as ’90s bands. The definition of a ’90s band is a group most known songs and albums produced and/or released between the year 1990 and 1998. They also have to have played their own instruments (sorry, N*Sync), and written their own music. During that time period there were numerous bands who fit this description, so this was difficult to do, but here are my personal Top 5 Bands of the ’90s…

5. Counting Crows

Mr. Jones and me, we were big stars. Well, at least Mr. Duritz was. That song was huge in 1993, and the Counting Crows kept it rolling with Round Here, Goodnight Elisabeth, A Long December, and Angels of the Silences. The Counting Crows represented the ’90s in every way with their quirky lyrics and enigmatic frontman. Standout song: A Murder of One.

4. Goo Goo Dolls

Baby’s black balloon makes her fly. Or at least we thought it did when the Dolls sang about it. It seemed like every time they released a song, it was amazing. From Name, to Slide, to my favorite, Iris, the band could do no wrong. But they inextricably belong to the ’90s. Standout song: Broadway.

3. Gin Blossoms

Hey Jealousy! The Gin Blossoms fell into the Blind Melon trap and broke up after a band member died, but they did no wrong until then. Their debut album was full of cool songs like Mrs. Rita, Last Horizons, Found Out About You, and Allison Road. And to follow it up with Til I Hear It From You, and Follow You Down just added icing to that cake. Standout song: Hey Jealousy.

2. Better Than Ezra

They were Good from the start, and they got better with every album. If I knew an Ezra I would certainly ditch him for this band. With songs like Desperately Wanting, In the Blood, Rosealia, and King of New Orleans, the band proved its worth again and again. Standout song: Porcelain.

1. Live

By far the best of the so-called ’90s bands, Live was fronted by Ed Kowalczyk, a singer and songwriter who has few equals. Their second album, Throwing Copper, was one of the biggest selling records of the ’90s, but their first album rivals it for lyrical excellence. Live epotomizes the ’90s in every way. Standout song: Iris.


**Special mention to these other ’90s bands in my top 20 (in no particular order): Spin Doctors, Stone Temple Pilots, The Cranberries, Oasis, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Blind Melon, New Radicals, CandleBox, Collective Soul, Everclear, and Incubus.

Friday Top 5 Archive

Music That Shaped a Decade: The ’90s

The 1980s was firmly defined as a music genre, so it was easy to categorize the different music contained in those 10 years. We knew we were going to hear some synthesizers, quite a few horns, some androgynous singers, quick, catchy pop tunes, and maybe a little too much of Daryl Hall and John Oates. For every “Like a Virgin” there was a matching “I Need You Tonight”. Every “Bette Davis Eyes” had a corresponding “Love is a Battlefield.” “99 Luftballoons” was so much better with the German but everyone danced when it was played anyway. 1980s music even influenced the fashion of the time period. Who didn’t have big hair like Poison? Who didn’t wear a ripped leather jacket like Bon Jovi? Who wasn’t desperately seeking Madonna? It was easy to recognize the 1980s by the music that so completely embodied the decade. So it was expressly disturbing when the clock struck midnight and led us into the 1990s. What could we expect. I think U2’s frontman, Bono, said it best when he said “We’ll have to go away and dream it all up again.” When we woke up in 1990 the dream had yet to be realized, but now, looking back on the era, it is possible to define it.

First off, the 1990s cannot be encapsulated in quite the same way as the prior decade. For one, we had no Hall & Oates figures to lean on. Instead, we had a hodgepodge of characters ranging from Sarah McLachlan, to MC Hammer, to Hootie & the Blowfish, to Dr. Dre. Some group called Radiohead was introduced to the public consciousness, along with Alanis Morissette, the Backstreet Boys, and Counting Crows. The 90s was just as much the decade of grunge as it was the decade of gangster rap, boy bands, and female singer-songwriters. With as many styles as the 90s engendered, you can imagine the number of fashion revolutions it inspired as well. With no solid way that 1990s society dressed, it’s easy to see why the music wasn’t as memorable upon first listen. However, if you listen more, you’ll see a decade fraught with confusion, desperation, and dreams. These emotions were mirrored in the music of Mariah Carey, Milli Vanilli, Eminem, and Ace of Base.

Some groups made the seamless transition from the 1980s to the 1990s. Groups like Bon Jovi and R.E.M. just kept making the same crowd-pleasing music they always made, for the same people who always bought and listened to their music. For groups like that, and for individuals like Phil Collins and Michael Bolton, they treated the 90s like a natural extension of the 80s. They never had to change because of the people who came along with them who also never wanted to change. There was a caveat attached to that stagnation, however, because eventually time caught up with them. Phil started the 90s on a tear and fizzled out midway through when his fans instead began to embrace a newer sound. The same is true of Mr. Bolton who realized his retreads weren’t working soon after 1992. If you ask kids today they would probably not be able to name one 90s song by either artist.

Other groups and artists decided they needed to make a change. INXS introduced a bolder, brasher sound with their epic album, “Welcome to Wherever You Are,” which signaled a new era and a new group of fans for the group. Metallica brought their brand of metal to the mainstream, changing it just enough to make them palatable on popular radio stations, exposing them to a new generation of fans who would otherwise have never known they existed. U2 did more than anyone with this transition, transforming themselves so completely that their hit album, “Achtung Baby” was unrecognizable from their 80s sounds and whose concert tours in the 90s drew just as many 20-somethings as they did 40-somethings. These were not mere coincidences. This was more than just a fluke chance. This was solid change, and the 90s were all about change.

Also enhancing that image of change were the new groups and artists who were quickly embraced by the public. Groups like Pearl Jam, Better than Ezra, Gin Blossoms, Spin Doctors, Blind Melon, Candlebox, Live, and Collective Soul were born from this idea that change was good. Each of these bands featured a lead singer who wasn’t a classically trained voice. The gravelly voice was in, and the androgynous voice was out. No more was the public embracing the falsetto of a Peter Cetera or a Boy George from the 80s. Now the heroes were regular people with regular, flawed voices.

This of course led us to Alanis Morissette and Sarah McLachlan, the voice of female America, and the entire female world, if we are to be honest. “You Oughta Know” was a global anthem of independence, a big middle finger to the solid hierarchy that said you couldn’t talk about those issues publicly. McLachlan’s “Angel” was an understated call to a simpler time when songs told stories, and we were drawn to it like moths to a flame. Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” rounded out the decade on the same note that it entered, with lyrics about relationships and being a positive female in a negative world. Yet, somehow along the way the world became a lot less negative. The world became a place we were proud to call our own, even if it was so different from the comfort of the 80s.

Gangster rap assaulted our senses with artists like Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Dr. Dre. We had to adjust to swearing as a fact of life on our favorite songs, and with stores like Wal-Mart covering up the music, covering up the message. “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” resonated with middle-class, white America just as much as it did with the inner-city ghetto population because it inspired us to be individuals, to defy the system that forced us into malleable sheep. We loved it because they said what we dared not say, to express themselves in ways we thought to be impossible.

Lest we forget the pop world, we were also introduced to boy bands like N’Sync, 98 Degrees, and the Backstreet Boys during the 90s. Spurred on by the success of New Kids on the Block, these groups were churned out by the dozens, creating a sound that blended well with everything else that was on the radio in the time period, while at the same time not compromising its blatant candy-coated sweetness for anyone. They reminded us that we like harmonizing, another facet of music that was lost way too often in the 80s.

Vanilla Ice said it best when he rapped, “To the extreme I rock the mic like a vandal. Light up the stage and wax a chump like a candle.” The 1990s music scene really did know how to rock the mic like a vandal. It made you stand up and take notice, even if you weren’t always pleased with what was being forced on you. It made you appreciate it for what it couldn’t help being — individualistic. And of course we like that, of course we thrive on that, and of course we threw that all away once that clock switched to midnight on January 1, 2000. But we can remember.


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