Renatta Scotto – “Un Bel di Vedremo”

When: 6:00 PM, 13 October 1998
Where: The TV room
Who: Nobody
Weather: Rain

No man is an island, but elementary school is. Whole schoolsdevelop a unique culture, often completely at odds with what you’d expect. At my Don Benito, tattling was not only accepted, but a privilege, while liking Power Rangers was worse than murder. I didn’t like Power Rangers, but even if I did it would be dwarfed by what was to come.

In the fall of 1998 I was really into opera. At least some. Madama Butterfly was a particular favorite for me because my grandma had it on hand; specifically the 1987 Renata Scotto/Placido Domingo version included on this list. I think we did something about operas in school, but 3rd grade is kind of a blur. Mostly because it was exceptionally boring. Sorry Mrs. Gallo. It’s not personal.

I was still on my opera phase when a new, equally dorky craze hit us: cub scouts. In fact, many of my rivals had joined our school’s pack a year earlier and I, at the peak of my obsessive compulsive period, yearned to be a part of that special group. I’m a sucker for uniforms; ask any girl in the Israeli Defense Forces.
I was watching Madama Butterfly again, playing with legos, before my first meeting. My mom cut me off at this song and I had to leave. I never finished watching.

I wasn’t the only new kid. One of them would become a longstanding frenemy before moving away in the 8th grade. Another kid came in very late. He didn’t go to our school; nobody knew him. Short, chubby, very religious. Today he is part of one of the most well-known families in Pasadena.

Either way, I stuck with the scouts, and while this is not a well-known fact, I made it all the way to Eagle. That rank and the qualifications that go with it have not aided my search for employment, though it may have helped me with college admissions. My opera phase was over.

Next: 1999 hits with a vengeance.

Side note: Thus far, I’ve been covering one year every week. Since the number of songs per year are much higher after this point, October will be dedicated to just 1999 and 2000. Starting in November, I’m switching to covering one year every month.

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Cesaria Evora – “Sodade”

When: September 1998
Where: My house
Who: My parents
Weather: Sunny

This song completely terrified me. That’s pretty embarrassing when your nearly nine years old, but like many childhood fears, it came before I developed a basic understanding of Portuguese. Instead of “Sodade” I heard “Saddam.” By playing this music my father was flouting the common knowledge that Saddam Hussein appeared when you called him three times, and I hastily retreated to the laundry room, which I believed was least susceptible to a chemical attack.

Oh, Mr. Wilson!

Next time: My opera phase comes to a screeching halt, and everything changes.

Sixpence None The Richer – “Kiss Me”

When: 2 June 1998
Where: Dodger Stadium (season play)
Who: My parents, several classmates, and their parents
Weather: Foggy

The late nineties represents the last time baseball mattered. For one final moment, the vast nationwide public fixed its eye on what was now “America’s pastime” by name only. When several California schools offered special tickets to a game, none of us knew any baseball terms, but we did know the name “Mark McGwire.” There was an unspoken rule: even if you knew nothing about baseball, when someone offered you tickets to see the Dodgers play the Cardinals in 1998, you went.

Nobody cared about the Dodgers then anymore than they do now. Everybody wanted to see Mark McGwire, except for my mom, who out of a love of all things obscure and specific, wanted to see the young Fernando Tatis.

I’d never been to a ball game before, but I was definitely surprised to hear the psych-up song, “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer. What were they doing? I thought. This is a song for WB shows!

This incongruity has never been explained to me and probably never will.

The Final Countdown!Next time: World music summons late nineties boogeymen.

Weird Al Yankovic – “Gump”

This is the life I wanted

When: Evening of March 29, 1998
Where: The TV room
Who: Nobody
Weather: Unknown

I was always jealous of kids on TV. Their schools were in one building. They had snow days, and occasionally lockers, no dress code, and they solved mysteries. I was really missing out.

At my school, everyone who was anyone wanted to be a on the Peace Patrol. They had cool nylon jackets and visors, and they called people out. Everybody tattled constantly, but the oft-mean-but-inexplicably-beloved vice principal Mrs. Hoyt would actually listen if you were on the peace patrol. And it was a lot harder for people to push you around. When you were in that little club, you had all the power.

I had all of this in mind when Disney showed the new movie Safety Patrol on ABC’s Wonderful World of Disney, featuring an as-himself performance by Weird Al. I didn’t really care what the movie was about; all I wanted was that sweet, sweet windbreaker. Don Benito later added a Safety Patrol, which was not as cool, but in retrospect had the added perk of being allowed to wear red. Our school district banned red because Pasadena was a Crips town all the way.

Next: Mark McGwire conquers the world.

Elton John – “Bennie and the Jets”

When: After dark, February 1998
Where: My mom’s car, exiting the 210 freeway onto North Lake Avenue.
Who: My mother
Weather: Rain

I don’t know what it is about rain that makes me remember so well. One thing about this song is that I wouldn’t have been able to hear it for the first time if it wasn’t raining. The storm systems are strange here; my mother told me that we should take advantage of the opportunity to listen to a radio station based in Ventura County– that could only be heard in Pasadena when it was raining.

Next: Weird Al Yankovic’s sole appearance in my life. And it wasn’t even very long.

Average White Band – “Pick up the Pieces”

When: January 1998
Where: My mother’s car, somewhere around New York Drive
Who: My mother
Weather: Rain

Actually, that’s not the optimal video:

Winter in California means rain. Lots and lots of rain. It would snow a few miles from my house, but whatever. There hadn’t been a neverending storm in 60 years (about which more later), but there was still far more precipitation than usual, continuing into the spring thanks to what everybody on the news was calling El Niño.

El Niño has been happening every few years for millenia, but everybody on TV talked about it as if it was new. As I got older I realized that LA newscasters are always surprised by everything. They are surprised every time it rains, they are surprised by mountain lion attacks, they are surprised by the very existence of railroads.

Anyway, it was dark. It must have been a Tuesday or Thursday, during the after school science program, because it was pitch black and raining when my Mom drove me home. She was listening to a very strange Marina Del Rey-based radio station that seemed to exclusively alternate between Vivaldi, this song, and another I’m not sure of but included the lyrics “walking in the pouring rain.”

I liked the rain. At least I liked it before I had to walk around places. I prefer the snow as a result. About which more, much, much later.

Next: STORM WATCH CONTINUES!