When I was 21, most of my friends were trying ecstasy for the first (or 20th) time, staying up late drinking and dragging themselves to work the next morning. Yes, my friends were in the Chumbawumba phase of their lives, which is a natural sequence of phases, which also includes the “reggae” phase (aka listening to ‘Legend’ by Bob Marley on repeat ad nauseam) and The Doors phase, where everything Jim Morrison touched glitters like gold. (It isn’t gold, it’s just a long series of competent metaphors.)
Meanwhile, I was living with my girlfriend 11 years my elder, helping to take care of her ten and five year old kids. I made their lunches in the morning, dinners at night and kept a clean house. I also began to delve into my girlfriend’s music collection, which consisted of a LOT of 90’s R&B and hip-hop. One of her favorite groups was the Indigo Girls, because she was a staunch feminist and that’s what staunch feminists listen to. Or at least that’s feminism’s gateway drug. Like The Doors, the Girls are adept, capable musicians making music that many people like, but that I could not find an appreciation for no matter how many times I tried.
One of her other favorite groups was TLC, which I’d initially dismissed as trashy, disposable Top 40 bullshit. Then, one day, she left her Fanmail disc in the car, queued up to the middle 8 bars of ‘Silly Ho.’ The timing was perfect, and even after the song kicked back in, I jammed out, and listened to the song three more times before allowing the car to play another song. I was sold. I made my way back through their catalog, then Mary J Blige, then Missy Elliot, then JT, Destiny’s Child and it’s been a weak spot for me ever since.
Perhaps it was also just a reaction to the environment I’d relocated to, a town of 3,000 (from a city of 380k) of almost entirely white people. Everybody knew everybody, everybody was plain, liked to drink and loved country music. Inside of the house, I was loved and accepted, but the moment I stepped outside it was abundantly clear I was the outsider, and nobody seemed to be in a rush to help me forget that. Instead of changing myself and adapting to my environment, I outwardly rejected my environment. I flaunted my differences.
I’m sure the kids got sick of TLC at some point, as I’d pull up in their mom’s Passat to pick them up from school, blasting TLC on the stereo, in the one imported car in a sea of domestic wagons and pick-up trucks. Who knows, maybe part of them loved the looks we got as well. They also liked it when I made the tires squeal as I floored it out of the parking lot and onto the main road. Maybe I just wound up a faceless name in a string of mom’s boyfriends, but I like to think they remember that fondly as well.
This Sunday, maybe look somebody up that had a profound effect on you, that helped to define or was just there at a time that helped to define you, and send them a song that was playing at the same time.