Incubus – “Drive”

When: 21 June 2001
Where: Don Benito School, lower field, under the southernmost liquid amber tree.
Who: several classmates
Weather: Hot, dry

The day before our graduation (which we were strongly advised to call a “promotion” in the last gasp of post-Soviet political correctness) was a big softball game and picnic for all the kids who were moving on. I did my part, and brought along my boombox and an enormous bottle of cherry 7-up. It was at this point that I gave up on my lingering germophobia and shared it, as I’d forgotten to bring cups.

We hung out. I spent some time watching the game, playing Marc Anthony for one of the teachers, until “Drive” came on. It was such a good song, I thought, why couldn’t anybody tell me who brought the CD? The day came to an end, graduation came and went, and I later discovered it was mine all along. I’d never heard it before.

The definite article

Next: Graduation loses its gravitas, thanks to Lil’ Romeo.

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Crazy Town – “Butterfly”

When: March 2001
Where: School yard
Who: Various classmates
Weather: Sunny

I was on my way to be picked up– no more bus for me– when I passed by some kids attempting to rap this song in unison. I felt encouraged, but looking back it feels more like a warning, because this song is an integral part of the film Orange County.

In Orange County, the main character is really excited to go to Stanford. But when he doesn’t get in, its as if he wakes up and realizes he’s surrounded by vapid idiots. The alienation he experiences goes hand in hand with this song. The film was one of many 2001-era media that predicted the central conflict of that era, the Third Culture War. Hipsters vs. Douchebags, Woorstock ’99 vs. Make Music Pasadena. The cast of Jersey Shore vs. the Producers of Jersey Shore.

Without even realizing it, a choice had been placed beofre me: Do you want to get dirty, be trashy for the sake of trashy, or do you try to be civilized? Do you make an effort? I was only eleven, and the choice to come would be neither immediate nor conscious. But it’s one we all made.

Of course, I didn’t even see that movie for another year.

Next: Why people hate Coldplay.

*NSYNC – “Bye Bye Bye”

When: 4:00 PM, June 2000
Where: My dad’s 1994 Honda Passport, in the parking lot at Don Benito
Who: My dad
Weather: warm, clear

The Friday before the last week of school, I had a violin recital with the rest of my class and, taking an offer from my parents, gave it up forever. From now on it would be piano only.

In fact, I had piano lessons after my recital, and my dad even picked me up. He mentioned that while I’d been playing in the auditorium, *NSYNC had been playing the Rose Bowl. We left as I considered their main song, which I thought was called “555.”

You have to wonder...Next: My mother unexpectedly breaks into song.

Brian McKnight – “Back at One”

When: Afternoon, September 1999
Where: The school bus
Who: Whoever was riding the school bus
Weather: Hot, dry

Though I’ve expressed my distaste for the direction R&B took in the ’90s, I understand what it’s for. R&B music is for sexing people up. But I can’t imaging anyone even trying to do that with this song. “Back at One” is a song for slow, vague swaying.

I was riding the bus home when the problem started. The bus driver Joe kept the radio on while he drove the long, unnecessarily circuitous route through the mostly black neighborhoods at the edge of which stood my house. This song came on the radio, and suddenly as if this had been planned for months, the driver pulled over, and five fifth graders in the front row started singing and dancing swaying along with it. This happened every time the song came on.

I continue to not understand why those five kids– all boys– would have such a vested interest in this song.

Next: The Pokémon craze reaches its logical conclusion.

Los Del Rio – “Macarena”

I believe this was used to torture people

When: September 1996 (and by extension the entire fall semester)
Where: Don Benito School
Who: My first grade class
Weather: Clear

I’ve discussed the prospect of being forced to dance before, but this time it was different. I didn’t want to dance in 1993 because I was tired. This time, the dance was so transparently stupid and instantly dated, even to a seven-year-old, that dancing to it was an act of temporal humiliation, the modern equivalent of burning witches or voting for Dukakis.

As discussed before, my early exposure to adulthood was fun, but now I was desperate to grow up. And trying to influence my teachers was part of that. My teacher was good already, one of the best, but the fact remains that we had to do the macarena every thursday for three months. And I couldn’t do anything about it.

Next: The most life-changing movie I never saw