When you become a person of a certain age – no longer a freewheeling 37, but not yet a contemplative 39 – you might find yourself in a curious spot. You are continuously being propelled deeper into adulthood by health, family, bills, career, and a waning metabolism. At the same time, you are still tethered to your youth… maybe by your family, your hometown, memories of your old metabolism, and quite possibly by something very simple – your music.
And when you are of that certain age, the bands that shaped your adolescence are also of a certain age – older than they used to be – but still performing. You buy tickets to their show, maybe at a county fair, or a casino, or a vineyard instead of the huge arena where you couldn’t find your mom’s car in the parking lot, and you felt lost and panicky, wishing for the invention of some kind of portable telephone you could carry with you.
As an adult, you arrive at the vineyard, prepared to defend yourself from the mobs of pushing teens you remember having to navigate as a scrawny concert-going kid. Then you see those unruly teens have grown up too, and they’ve spread their picnic blanket next to yours, and they are kicked back on the lawn ready to reminisce with a glass of chardonnay and their spouse of 10 years. You are chagrined to see that your-now-middle-age-teen-idol still insists on not wearing a shirt to perform, and that you will not get to say to your fellow revelers, “Stop stepping on me with your giant Doc Martens!” Or “You kicked me in the face with your giant Doc Marten when you were crowd surfing. Not cool man…not cool.”
My suburban high school sat geographically equidistant from the surprisingly urbane streets of Sacramento and the rolling countryside of the Sierra foothills. We had rap kids and country kids. We had wannabe Rastafarians and punks and metal heads and teenyboppers and kids who undulated between all of the above, simply because they could. (Kids in my high school also loved Jimmy Buffett, RUSH, the Grateful Dead, Journey, Van Halen and The Steve Miller Band – and I don’t know what to say to them, because those bands were already old way back then.)
Like most high schools since the advent of music, and I guess since the advent of high schools, social divisions could easily be drawn by musical tastes, that is until Seattle based grunge exploded, which happened my senior year. It didn’t matter where your musical allegiance had been – you still turned up “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when it came on the radio.
Not to worry, I’m not stuck in my high school years; I’ve picked up new bands along the way. I don’t wear my once favorite Edie Brickell, OMD, or EMF shirts to the gym. (Even if I went the to gym, I wouldn’t wear them).
I do feel like I’ve been lucky enough to have some of my favorite bands stick around to provide new soundtracks for my adulthood. Depeche Mode and Duran Duran are still together, and touring. The Cure, as far as I can tell, is still together. REM broke up the same day Facebook launched a redesign, sending Gen Xers everywhere into a collective tizzy. We sadly lost MCA of the Beastie Boys to cancer. Last year, I had to block Erasure from my Facebook feed, because the frequency of their posts was simply out of control. Somewhere along the way, I lost They Might Be Giants to children’s music, perhaps when they started having children themselves. The Smiths, of course, had already been long broken up by the time I got around to appreciating them. Now after, 35 years, INXS has officially called it quits.
INXS was special. The car ride to Oregon with my childhood friend Jenni and her unfailingly patient parents was defined by repeated playing of our Kick cassette. Kick was the first tape I wore out, listening over and over until the perfect voice of Michael Hutchence was left warped and garbled.
My mother’s own unfailing patience allowed me to go to the INXS concert the night before my huge junior year project was due. I was hoarse from screaming “I love you Michael,” and delirious from seats so close to the stage that Michael Hutchence had surely heard me. I was home by midnight to finish the paper, and asleep by 4:00 am, my mother by my side the whole time. I love her.
Someone stole my “Welcome to Wherever You Are” CD during a party in our freshman dorm suite, even though Michael, Tim, Jon, Garry, Andrew and Kirk (my second favorite) watched protectively from the poster on the wall, and the guys of The Cure kept vigil from their spot, one poster over.
I surely wasn’t the only young adult to cry when Michael suddenly died in 1997.
The band’s televised quest for a new lead singer, “Rock Star: INXS” played in the delivery room, a happy distraction in between contractions as John and I waited for the birth of our second son in 2005. Oh, how I am not kidding at all.
But you grow up a little, and you don’t buy the new albums, but you go back to the songs you sang in the car with your friends. You go back to the song you listened to with your boyfriend, only to find out he was mostly tolerating INXS because you liked them so much, which apparently was a good idea, because you married him. And when you read the headline telling you your special band broke up, you feel a little guilty, like if you had been a better fan, they could have made it. And you feel guilty because the way you found out they were still together, is by hearing they had broken up.
I’ve used these photos before – but I love them. That up there is my sophomore dorm, and my INXS poster. Down here? Freshman dorm…and the guys from INXS, though you can’t see their noggins.