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10/29/2002 Pop Music

Clear Channel moved in a year or so ago and shook up the radio market. In the snowglobe of our North Dakota broadcasting area, an 80s/90s station appeared in the blizzard.

I forget to listen to it, because it's on a frequency that used to belong to a country station. Today, a coworker stopped at my desk and we mused on the local stations. She mentioned it so I reached over to my radio and flipped over on the dial.

Mostly innocuous, stuff that's been on the radio in the Top 40 rotations as the "old song people still like," but then a song came on I hadn't heard in a while: Tesla's Love Song.

It hit me with a subtlety I'm not accustomed to, probably because I was working and was distracted at the time. Part of me was straightening out reinsurance reports while another part was slowly sinking back into my basement bedroom in Sidney MT, sitting on the floor reading New Mutants and Alpha Flight comics long into the night.

I haven't thought much about my teen years at all in quite a while, and I'm not sure what the sensation in my stomach means. The empiricist that I am, tonight I fired up WinMX to get some more songs from that era and see what they produce. The only songs I can remember are the ones in permanent rotation on the radio and the songs I've brought with me like Jesus Jones, Shakespear's Sister, Faith No More, and Tom Petty.

In search for tunes that truly belong in my high school days, I found Top 100 charts for 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992, thanks to a site called Rock On The Net. Just looking through the lists, that sensation comes back, something digging at my abdomen, some uneasy feeling that I can't describe.

I'm dropped back into my high school cafeteria, eyes closed, listening to the 1,000-watt DJ system I had just set up for the dance later that night. I'm listening for echoes, for distortion, for hints that the speakers are being pushed beyond their limits. It won't matter once the room's full, but I care because I'm the sound guy, along with my friend Shawn. Hole Hearted by Extreme is what we're using to tune the room. The sound flutters through my rib cage, and I can faintly hear the metal light fixtures vibrating to the bass tones.

I'm editing video for something-or-another, and Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane is the background music. Probably a dance advertisment; DJing dances was a major pasttime for me. I'm pleased with the transitions, the movement of it, sitting in the back room of the library after normal school hours.

I'm piecing together bits and other pieces of plastic models into unique, new shapes and forms, primarily spaceships. Joyride by Roxette is on the radio; Shawn knocks on my door, and I exit my room. He makes a comment about the thick smell of model glue and paint in my room. No, I laugh, I'm not getting high...fresh air would do me some good. He needed help with science homework. We were both getting low grades: he struggled with it, and I didn't care enough to put a lot of work into it.

I'm sitting in the basement, watching MTV, amazed at the way music videos have grown in the past few years. The golden age of Pearl Jam's Jeremy was still a couple years away, but a touch of filmmaking had already started to leech into videos. Sadeness Part 1 by Enigma, Silent Lucidity by Queensryche, Blaze Of Glory by Bon Jovi, Something To Believe In by Poison, none of them are considered works of art but I saw what they were doing and I wanted to be that, I wanted to be able to create things like that. Even when I film & edit video today I still have a very early-90s quality of cuts and movement. In my senior yearbook, every graduating student got a humorous 'blurb' written about them. Mine said I was going to be a filmmaker...nothing DJ or theatre related, but film.

I'm in the family car as a passenger, and Cherry Pie by Warrant comes on the radio. I mention I want the CD. Mom hems and haws about it a little, because it's one of those new CDs with the parental warning label. I eventually get it anyway, but I wondered how it'd have been different if there wasn't a label on it.

Then, a continuation of my first recollection: I'm standing, listening to the overpowering DJ system with my eyes closed, and I'm tackled. There were a few younger girls hanging around, watching us set up. One, her name escapes me, was sort of a tomboy. We had been picking on each other earlier, and she saw my closed eyes as an opportunity to get me back. We tumble, landing on the tile floor holding on to each other. There's a little tingle of sexuality for both of us, but we let it go and we return to where we were before.

It's 5 in the morning on a Saturday, and I'm on the bus going to a speech & drama tournament. I'm a new student, and I don't know hardly anyone, but I sit near Dustin Douglas and a few of his friends. They're listening to Aerosmith Pump. At the meet I get into trouble for socializing with other competitors more than paying attention to my rounds.

Shawn and I are driving around in his big green car, listening to AC/DC, Money Talks. He's got a portable CD player hooked up to his Pioneer stereo system which was probably worth more than the car itself. We go through the McDonald's drive through, and he puts on his Hardee's hat. We find it terribly amusing, but the McDonald's attendant probably didn't even notice. That car eventually caught fire, but it didn't stop him from driving it around right up to graduation.

Simon and I are riding our bikes to White Drug, where I'd pull together a couple bucks and buy cassette singles -- this time, Milli Vanilli, Girl You Know It's True with Baby Don't Forget My Number as the B-side. I rode my bike everywhere for years, until I got my license in 1990. I had a walkman in a fanny-pack at all times, with the headphones slung around my neck and the volume turned all the way up. The rest of my attire consisted of a jean jacket, whose pockets were filled with an infinite number of useless items. The deck of cards was the exception: it was often put into service between classes, on school trips, or anytime boredom prevailed.

We're DJing a dance again, and someone comes up carrying a CD. It's new, he said, play this song, track one. Shawn says, no, I don't think so. Things are bustling; it's a busy dance, the music is loud and we can hardly hear each other, and we're spending our time making sure nothing gets spilled on the mixing board. I stop Shawn, say, I've heard of it, it's going to be really big, play it. We crossfade out whatever was on, and bring the mystery track up: Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.

Every once in a while, a song came on the radio, and I never heard who it was by or what it was called. I eventually managed to record it on tape, with a little radio-announcer overlap at the beginning and end. Long after graduation, I'm surprised to find out it's Ozzy with Lita Ford, Close My Eyes Forever. I never really thought about suicide or death much then, but it struck a chord with me as plenty of reason not to ever try it.

I'm sitting cross-legged on top of a table, at another dance shortly before graduation. The girl I like is off dancing with someone else, but she's not really my girlfriend because I know I'm moving away. Nothing Else Matters by Metallica is playing, and Shawn's running the audio mixer because I'm tired. Heidi Phillipi comes up to me and says, "Aren't you and Tiffany dating?" I answer, no, not really.

The rest come back as flashes, bits of memories, things I thought I had long forgotten. Friends, events, crushes, things said and things done -- they were all fun times, and I can hardly remember anything bad happening. Even things that should have been tough like a breakup or moving away didn't really feel all that tragic.

I start to download songs from my youth, but give up on them; they're not really anything I want to listen to anymore. I'm not feeling ashamed or sad or pained by my memories, but I wonder if there's a little bit of regret. Teenage years are carefree ones, and my life is anything but carefree now. When I was DJing, I was at the peak of what I was. I wasn't trying to make a living, I wasn't trying to live up to someone else's expectations. I stood behind the table and played music for my appreciative peers. In the theatre I was the guy who knew how everything worked. I was in the choir, I was in the science club, I was in speech & drama, and I used the newly installed Channel One TV system to work in my advantage. What I have now is far better than the things in my life then, but twelve years ago I didn't have the responsibilities that come with life. I no longer life in a world where a game of frisbee spontaneously breaks out, and I miss that.

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