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So here’s a list of my least favorite things in the world: getting up early, talking to lawyers, and dressing up. Guess what I did the morning before Courtney and I left for New York? Yeah. Way to start the holidays, eh?
Courtney and I took the train to the city, though, which was nice. My sister was learning some really fascinating stuff in school, a lot of it from talks given by alumni that weren’t necessarily part of her regular classes. I had known Emerson had a lot of performing arts and communications stuff. What I hadn’t really known was that Emerson–which I thought of as one of the dinkier colleges among the hundreds in the Boston area–was a kind of job pipeline into the entertainment industry. So I picked Courtney’s brain for a couple of hours on Amtrak and she was, I think, very happy to have a lot to school me on.
My little sister is cool.
What time we didn’t spend deconstructing the vagaries of entertainment capitalism we spent gossiping about Colin, Chris, and Carynne. Court didn’t approve of Colin’s girlfriend in the same way I didn’t approve of Carynne’s boyfriend. And Chris just seemed lonely. He was going to come down on the weekend so at least he wasn’t dealing with family baggage for the holiday.
“I mean, who says you have to be ‘with’ somebody to be a complete human being,” Courtney said, at one point. “Why does everybody have to be paired up?”
“Well, if most people feel lonely, it’s kind of inevitable that they’d glom together to solve that problem, right?” I said.
“I guess. But what about people who aren’t driven by loneliness and who just want to have a good time and enjoy the company of other people without it being a, like, soulmates thing? Wouldn’t that be healthier for everyone?”
“Healthier?” It was only the middle of the afternoon but it was already dark and there wasn’t much to see of Connecticut going by outside the windows anyway. “That’s assuming that loneliness is a symptom of a psychological wound as opposed to… it’s just human nature to want to be with someone?”
“True. But isn’t it? What about being with multiple someones? Why don’t we have more group marriages if it’s all about just not being lonely?” Court made a gesture with her hands like she was rubbing the sides of a bowling ball, as if illustrating how touchy-feely a group marriage would be. “The two-person norm is what I see as unhealthy.”
“Because jealousy is bad?”
“Yes. And because people swallow the fairy tale of Prince Charming and Cinderella and all that.” She cleared her throat. “And I don’t mean that in a straight way. Gays and lesbians are just as prone to that cultural programming, and that’s a shame since you’d think since we’re already having to step outside the mainstream we would examine things a little and leave the rest of the bullshit behind, too.”
“But what if it isn’t bullshit? Just theoretically speaking. The whole soulmates idea.”
“But it obviously is.” She waved her hand as if the argument wasn’t worth making. Hm.
“When you think about it, Court, I’m part of the cultural machine that promotes the ‘soulmates’ fairy tale.”
“What do you think like ninety percent of songs are about? Love, Capital-L Love. Whether it’s falling in love, or falling out of love, or broken hearts from losing the ‘one,’ or what. But a whole lot of them are about finding that perfect one, that perfect match.”
“What are the other 10 percent about?”
“Dancing. Or music itself. All other topics are statistically insignificant.” Yes, even songs about nuclear war.
“Hm. I never thought of it that way.”
“This is why the silver lining of bad breakups is you get some good songs out of it.”
Suddenly a face was looking back at us from the seat in front, moon round and brown. She held onto the seat back, looking over the top. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation and I’m finding it fascinating. I just had to ask who you are?”
“Who are you?” Courtney asked without missing a beat.
She smiled. “Sanders. I’m a sociology and women’s studies professor at Brown and you sound a lot like some of my students, yet I don’t recognize you.”
I laughed. “Close, I guess! I went to RIMCon and took a couple of classes in the Brown music department.” We shook hands and I introduced myself. “Daron Marks.”
“I’m his sister, Courtney, and I’m at Emerson right now.”
“And you both identify as non-heterosexual?”
I appreciate that Court glanced at me to check in before answering. “Yes. I identify as bisexual and he’s supposedly gay.”
I poked her on the arm. “What? What do you mean ‘supposedly?'”
“Oh, come on.” Court rolled her eyes. “You know you’ve exhibited bisexual behavior in the past.”
“Hey, how do you know that wasn’t just me succumbing to pressure to conform? Isn’t that what we’re talking about? Social norms warping the way we relate to people?”
“Well, I guess.” She frowned. “It’s just, you know, there are so few of us identifying as bisexual because people get drawn to the poles and don’t stay in the middle. Would you agree, Professor Sanders?”
“Oh, please, just Sanders.” The woman gave a no-nonsense half-laugh. “How much weight should you give to self-identification versus behavior? Is a bisexual person not bisexual until after they’ve had a certain type of experience? Wouldn’t say that about a heterosexual person, certainly. No proof required.”
Court’s frown deepened but she nodded. “I guess I just want there to be more bisexuals. But Daron, you really barely identify as gay.”
I wanted to know what she meant by that. “What do you mean ‘barely’?”
“You said it yourself, you’re not gay-gay.”
“Only in the sense that I don’t fit the stereotypes. I don’t look or dress or talk like a lot of guys do.”
Sanders nodded like she knew what I was talking about. “So you identify as gay without identifying with the community.”
“Yeah. It’s like Jonathan said, I’m not culturally gay the way he is.”
“Even though you lived in West Hollywood,” Court pointed out.
“And felt like a tourist the whole time I was there,” I answered.
The woman’s eyes lit up with recognition. “You don’t mean Jonathan McCabe, do you? The writer?”
Small world. Small, small world. “I do,” I said. “He was in LA for a couple of months–”
“I know, I know. He was a student of mine and he’s kept in touch. He just sent me a draft of his first novel.”
“Is it good?” Courtney asked. That was really not the first thing I would have thought to ask, but Courtney’s mind worked a lot differently from mine.
“Well, I’m not a literature professor, but I think it was pretty good,” she said. “Certainly better than some of the self-indulgent crap I read.”
“I think we’re going to see him this weekend in the city.” I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening when but I assumed we’d run into him at some point.
“Well, tell him I said hello. In fact, I owe him a letter. I was going to write some Christmas cards on the train but somehow I always end up sucked into some fascinating conversation.”
“The train is like that,” Courtney agreed. “That always happens to me.”
It almost never happened to me, but I had a tendency to put my headphones on and then go to sleep against the window. I didn’t say that, though. Instead I said, “It’s wild that we know someone in common, though. Isn’t it?”
Small, small world.
(And happy belated birthday to Sanders! -ctan)
(Sorry about the extreme cheesiness of the power ballad above but I’m trying to stick with songs from 1990 and this was what there was a hell of a lot of. -d)
(UPDATE: We ditched that song for Suzanne Vega’s “Language” per comment below. -d)
And guys, don’t forget to send me photos of your Kickstarter packages and yourselves wearing your T-shirts and stuff…
And I found this LJ icon someone made in 2012, misfiled on my computer. I don’t seem to have notes on who or if there are others! (Trys, was it you?)
Keep ’em comin’! 🙂
The thing I’m cracking up about is insisting on not using the title ‘Professor’. I went to a Quaker college where everyone was known by their first name (or equivalent), and I only ever called my thesis advisor by his full title and last name out of both teasing and having the utmost respect for him. Of all the things about me, that’s the most random and wonderful bit to nail.
I don’t know what to say about the rest. I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s too much and too right and overwhelming to find before I’ve had coffee.
I am going to start a petition, though, for the song to be changed to Suzanne Vega’s “Language”, because it’s less traumatic and still topical.
DONE. Not to knock on the guys from Alias, or Warrant, or any of the other hardworking fluff-hair-power-ballad bands of the era–I know that’s what their record companies demanded–but this song is sooo much better. You’ll note we had to crank the clock back to 1986 to get it:
1986, bah. Suzanne Vega is worth it.
On the other side of sketchy company demands from the hair bands, good things did happen. Ani Difranco released her first album in 1990, with lyrics that didn’t at all hide her bisexuality. The Black Crowes blended rock and blues and roots into their first release. Sinead O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got was released. It was also a really interesting time for hip hop and R&B, because New Jack swing was starting to spread into influencing mainstream (read: white) musicians. So I don’t know how I feel about reducing the year to hair bands and cheesy pop. Some things came out of 89, 90, 91 that have held up against time, and some of the controversies that broke in 1990 have shaped popular music culture.
Did you seriously just pull a “not all ____” on me? 😉
That’s of course my point–there’s always something rumbling in the underground, but absolutely none of it was making mainstream breakthrough at that point the way it had been in the mid-1980s. The corporate machine had co-opted everything and homogenized it. Look at the top 40, or even the top 200, for 1990 and you’ll find a distinct lack of originality and a huge load of copycat bands and artists in all genres, not just cheesy power ballads like this, but cheesy R&B, cheesy dance, cheesy synthpop, cheesy you-name-it. And by cheesy I mean highly formulaic, overproduced copycattish pap. It’s not a coincidence that Prince, George Michael, and Sting all had fights with big record companies around this time that all boiled down to them wanting to stretch themselves as artists and the companies wanting them to repeat their previous successes as closely as possible. I had actually forgotten exactly how bad it was until I compiled all the billboard charts for the year. Even the “alternative” charts are filled with pale retreads and forgettable crap for the most part (and we’ve been cherry picking the rest already of course).
Yes, Daron, not all music of 1990 sucked. 😛
I think you can make the same argument about the ratio of crap to originality (which is a manufactured and subjective concept anyway) in any given year, though. Any time we look at it, we’re going to be cherry picking. Prince, George Michael, and Sting had those previous successes because the things around them had had the soul sucked out already. A void has to open up for new music, new styles, new voices to move into, or something else has to be shoved aside into a new shape.
Obviously I disagree. It wasn’t just that there’s the same ratio of crap versus original stuff all the time. 1990 is a transition point. It was a time when the ratio, after having been tipped toward innovation briefly in the mid-1980s (largely because of the disruptive force of MTV) had swung hard in the other direction. You could say it ebbs and flows. If so 1990 was definitely an ebb. But I think it was even more than an ebb, it was a point when the disconnect between the vitality of the music being created/innovated and the industry supposed to be commercializing it hit a very crucial breaking point. Musical movements and genres of many kinds (acid house, anyone?) were being completely ignored instead of commercialized: the industry wasn’t even doing what it was supposed to do. The groundswell was building and next disruption(s) were on the way but hadn’t arrived yet.
Or you can ignore me and just say I’m full of shit (like Courtney does, often, now that I think about it). But as you well know, my sometimes warped perceptions are built on my warped experiences. They’re all I’ve got to go on.
Aren’t you both basically saying it’s a transition point?
Oh, I suppose. I really do think 1990 was worse, though. But maybe it’s just that it sucked so much for *me.*
Well, fortunately, it’s about to be 1991 in the narrative.
True! Here’s your reminder to ask for people’s favorite songs from 1991 next post!
I was just about to make that argument, that maybe you see the year in a worse light because you’re caught up in that ebb of what you consider originality. I really do think there have been plenty of years since that have hit or even surpassed the same level of vapid soullessness on the airwaves. The difference, as time’s gone on, is we have a broader reach as an audience to find new things. Digital music has leveled some of the playing field where we aren’t restricted just to what we can get from a record store or hear on our local stations. Of course, it also raises the amount of crap that gets through along with the true talent, much like MTV, VH1, and BET did in the 80s and 90s.
I’ll have to see what was released in 91. I’m hoping to see some Tori Amos around here soon.
Of all the things about me, that’s the most random and wonderful bit to nail.
The muse is funny like that sometimes, no? 🙂 I was going to wait and work you into the story in a couple of weeks and then I thought a friendly identity politics argument seemed like a good moment to do it. (Plus Courtney wanted to meet you. She might have even gotten your number when Daron wasn’t paying attention for all I know.)
That’s part of what makes it so perfect, that you had virtually no way of knowing that detail would matter so much, but there it is anyway. I’m really so pleased about the whole thing, and it makes absolute sense to me that I’d jump into that conversation. It’s the same vein of the friendly arguments I’ve been having with Daron in the comments for ages after all.
As for Courtney, I think I have to say yes, she totally would have at least gotten my card. Because if I’m going to be a professor, I get to have a business card and make sure to give it to both of them so the conversation can continue over coffee one day. It’s only logical.
Oh, totally. Hm, just occurred to me yr character probably knows Sarah’s new girlfriend, too!
At this rate, I’m going to have my very own fictional Ladies’ Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society inside DGC.
Courtney would sign up for that. Heck. She’ll probably edit the newsletter.
1991 songs that make good chapter titles? “Joyride” by Roxette? Or one of my all-time favorite, guilty secrets, “Groove is in the Heart” from Dee-lite.
LOL. I’ve had “Groove is in the Heart” on the list for years waiting for it to come up. 🙂 Excellent suggestion, as you saw when you got to next chapter. 😀