Although my formative years took place in the 1980s, the 90s were a force to be reckoned with, once I started to pay attention. That being said, the close of the decade brought a seal to the era in an unusual way: a commercial on television, featuring a song from the 1970s.
There’s many an explanation as to why this is a defining moment in my 90s decade, but to be sure it was the boom of the internet, and how listening to an unknown song that hocked a product that I wasn’t going to purchase led to an online search that brought an (almost) immediate response.
I have the habit of not changing the station, or the tape, or the CD, or the playlist that I listen to and I end up listening to the same album for months on end. Whether it be auto search, or song skip or whatever, I burn a song in my head until I get sick of it. As of late, I find that if I come across any of these songs, I’ll “feel” the time it was burned in my chemistry. It’s not always good. But it’s always interesting.
1980? We got cable, and HBO. Before MTV, the Music Breaks provided my first exposure to music videos
1982-83 Tuning the radio away from my parents’ stations
There was this time we got an FM antenna and I heard this song in stereo on the old console:
1984 Summer-school biology, with the Oz
1986 Wasting time in high school
1988 Second semester at Texas Tech, and the CD is blaring at the end of the summer
1987 First days in college and realizing that even the pop charts were limited back home
1995 The blank days of my life, and the sudden reminder (thanks to the Columbia Records and Club) that Bruce Springsteen recorded several albums in the 80s
2018 I hesitated for a moment — indeed, a lifetime, to share this new rendition of a 1980s song with a friend that only had days to live
1987 Walking the cold sidewalks to chemistry class
No explanation, really. At the time — 1991, I think — I was stuck in a bus for two days. It moved forward, yes, but ever so slowly. All the time, all I had was my Sony Walkman and one single tape — “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John. Also, I only had two batteries. I also had one book, “Fear and Loathing in the Campaign Trail” by Hunter S. Thompson. The batteries ran out, I read the book twice. What a miserable time. What a wonderful moment.
I’m a big David Bowie fan, but not because I heard his songs and listened to him on the radio. The first song of his that I liked was the collaboration with Queen “Under Pressure,” and even then (early to mid-80s) I associated that song more with the supergroup than I did with just Bowie. Radio hits of the 80s that followed (“Let’s Dance,” “Blue Jean”) were a welcome splash to the otherwise repetitive string of pop put out at the time.
Because pre-internet times demanded to do so, I was a member of the Columbia Records and Tapes Club, and one fine day, after failing to reject the album of the month, I received a copy of “Nirvana Unplugged in New York,” which I diligently listened to, it being the 90s and surely anything by Nirvana was worth listening to. The truth is, only one song stuck in my head, and that was “The Man Who Sold the World.” I couldn’t quite understand who Kurt Cobain credited the song to, although I was able to figure it out in not-too-long a spell (I actually had several conversations with friends and co-workers — pre-internet days, remember?).
It was during those times that I also frequented driving to the big Metropolis (Houston) to visit the big stores (Barnes & Noble) and I was able to secure my own CD copy of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World, and suddenly, maybe 20 years too late, I became a big Bowie fan. I don’t know that I can easily rattle off the names or melodies of the rest of the songs in the album, but “The Man Who Sold the World” is enough to fill a library of memories, hopes and doubts that were otherwise filled with synthesized chords and other regrets.
After my initial approach to “The Man Who Sold the World,” slowly I absorbed the rest of the Bowie library, which lives with me even without the help of Spotify or any other recorded medium.
Nirvana’s cover was a faithful rendition of the song, and I guess that any artist that attempts to do so will triumph in his or her or their own way, which is why that accidental CD delivery made up my mind once and for all that performing a cover song is indeed the most sincere form of flattery. If I had any talent at all, I would pick up an instrument and record R.E.M.’s “Find the River” and call it a life.