A SECRET HISTORY: 1989 - 1990

After my grandmother gives me a twenty dollar bill for my 14th birthday, it suddenly hits me: I can buy music with this! After much deliberation, I purchase Kick by INXS and Information Society. I listen to each of them constantly until I know every lyric by heart (or at least those I can comprehend). Those two cassettes, The Escape Club’s Wild Wild West, and my taped-off-the-radio tapes provide the soundtrack for a twenty-hour bus trip to Washington DC (my first time outside Wisconsin or Illinois). By the time we reach Pennsylvania, my friend Mike has listened to Salt ‘N Pepa’s “Push It” nineteen times in a row, thinking it was called “Smush It” until I told him otherwise.

Captivated by MTV’s Top Twenty Video Countdown, I start listening to American Top 40 (with Shadoe Stevens) every Sunday morning, scrutinizing chart positions, speculating and predicting what song will place where. When I find out these songs are actually part of a one-hundred position chart, I’m nearly overwhelmed. Whenever I’m in the mall, I stop by Musicland or JR’s and look to see whether they’ve posted the Billboard Hot 100 by the singles for sale--45’s rapidly giving way to cassingles by summer’s end.

I’ll only buy an entire album if I’ve heard at least two or three songs off it that I know I like. My tastes are populist, not too embarrassing for a high school freshman at the time: Fine Young Cannibals, Roxette, and Milli Vanilli (I admit it!). In August, I’ve discovered Dr. Demento. No one in Milwaukee carries it, so I strain each week to pick it up on garbled frequencies transmitting from a low-watt station in nearby Port Washington. By Christmas, I’ve worn out the “play” and “play-record” buttons on my boombox and have to get another one.

That second dual-cassette boombox sputters out by mid-year. Apart from occasional babysitting, I don’t have a job and thus no money. I live off my walkman until November when I’ve saved enough to buy a replacement, a more durable model that I hang to for a considerably longer time. I christen it with a brand new tape, Depeche Mode’s Violator (which I’ve already heard four songs off of, thank you very much.) Otherwise, I continue to do the things I did in 1989, only at a more fervent level.

I start buying Billboard magazine on a monthly basis, usually a two-week old copy from where I buy most of my tapes, Mainstream Music in the Point Loomis Mall. I usually stop by there on my way home from school, making my way through the swarm of elderly women attending the mall’s weekly craft bazaars until I reach my destination, a former pharmacy hidden all the way in the back next to the Ponderosa. I eagerly wait the new INXS album (the oh-so-cleverly titled X) and buy it on the day it comes out--my first time ever doing that. By the end of 1990, my favorite bands are Erasure and The B-52’s, which says a little about my budding sexuality. I might’ve repressed and denied being gay for another seven years, but I didn’t stop listening to music that would’ve identified as such.