I loved Buddy Holly too much to become a goth Justin Bieber
Artwork by Chris Strouth
Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.
In countless ways, youth has bypassed baseball as our national pastime. You see evidence of this fetish everywhere -- even in otherwise "normal" people who are suddenly being stricken with Bieber Fever, Taylor Swiftitis, or what could only be described as paranoid delusions of One Direction. (The main symptom of the last one is deluding oneself that One Direction has any artistic value other than being pretty.)
Celebrity doesn't cut it anymore -- it's gotta be celebrity that is 27 and under. If you can't have youth, implied youth is almost as good a choice. Just ask Nate Ruess, the man behind the YOLO anthem "We Are Young." He just turned 31 on Tuesday. You know who else is 31? Britney Spears. Kind of mind-blowing, I know. That means Justin Bieber was four when Britney asked us to hit her "...Baby One More Time." Spoiler alert: I secretly adore her.
Maybe it was the "...Baby One More Time" video and that no one ever danced in the hallways or wore skirts that came above the knee at the private school I went to. Maybe it was that she showed up at the height of the "alternative" nation, and years of looking at Billy Corgan had worn on me. Every yin needs its yang, so seven years of sonic sludge is inevitably going to give way to Spice World.
In the eight-year period that followed, she went from naughty school girl to milf-hood, went crazy, got better, got crazier, got better, got K-Fed'ed, got better, all while retaining her role as a teen sensation.
My Britney fandom started as kitsch, with the occasional sticker that graced my office filing cabinets. The flames were fanned with the introduction of my first Britney doll, pre-nose job -- which then meant I needed the post-nose job one. People gave me them as gifts, and suddenly there was way too much teen girl pop stuff at the Twin/Tone label office. Eventually I moved onto the harder stuff: Pink, a brief flirtation with Christina Aguilera -- "Beautiful" is still a pretty amazing piece of music -- and Lady Gaga. Long story short, we are all susceptible.
Even at the height of my "punker than thou" phase, I still loved pop music. I played WLOL in the car all the time, and scheduled classes and work so I could get back in time to watch Dance Party USA -- sort of a super crappy ripoff of American Bandstand, but with kids that seemed like real kids. Each dancer had a back story, their own dance moves, and personality-driven bits. My personal favorite was "Princess," who was obsessed with Prince, made her own Prince-inspired costumes, and just seemed like she was having fun. She became part of my ritual during that time when you're finally free of people who are trying to tell you who you are, and you actually find out who you really are. I may have been hip-deep in the Minneapolis underground but I was, and will to some extent always be, a mall kid.
Now, I will admit something to you, dear and gentle reader. I had not one, but two chances to be a teen pop star. This isn't a story that I even told at the time -- in part I was absolutely mortified by it. During my freshmen year of college, I was approached by an acquaintance to be in a boy band that had a deal in the U.K., they were a smarter New Kids on the Block whose main influence was the Power Station. Yeah, the Power Station, otherwise known as some guys from Duran Duran with Robert Palmer. Musically, the idea was to mix dung with crap into some sort of excitement sundae, and then add dancing. I pointed out that musically I was at the far end of the spectrum from that. They told me it didn't matter -- I would be the dark, broody one, because "You've got a good look."
At the time, I had blue hair and fashion sense somewhere between Count Chocula and Paul Weller. A mod Gomez Addams with hair by Robert Smith, if you will. I described myself as a moth -- half mod/half goth. Part of me wishes I had said "yes," just to see what else this band would have looked like, but I didn't. It was also during this period of time that I saw the Monkees movie Head. In one of the scenes, Frank Zappa advises Davy Jones.
He tells Jones he should spend more time working on his music and less time on his dancing because the youth of America are depending on him. To me, it was a message from God, so I passed.
I would love to tell you that the group I refused to join went on to be the biggest thing ever, but they didn't. We lost touch almost immediately. About a year later, I heard they had a low-ranking chart single in the U.K. I can, however, tell you that TV's Princess now owns a Pole Dance Fitness studio in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
I can look back now, and it all seems wise and mature. But at the time, I just didn't want to be a sell-out. The young superstars I respect and admire most are people like Buddy Holly. He hit fame at age 20, and was dead by 22. But in that time, he took rock 'n' roll from raw rhythm and blues into a sophisticated savagery. He wrote and produced his work, and set what became the standard rock lineup: two guitars, a bass, and drums. He experimented with the sound, and created something clean yet crunchy. He also changed the way deals worked with labels, taking more control of copyrights and his own destiny, and paving the way for artists like Frank Sinatra, Led Zeppelin, and Tom Petty, who all would also change how business was done.
Buddy Holly wouldn't dance, so I didn't either. Granted, I'm no Mr. Holly. But I could hold my head up that I stayed true to my punk side. Years later, I can see that what I thought was a movement was really just a lot of people with funny hair who didn't fit in and wanted to listen to music both fast and loud. In a lot of ways it was a communal bond of dissatisfaction in an era before Hot Topic, which meant you really had to work for it. You were going to be made fun of, taunted, and maybe beat up. (In my case, definitely beat up.) But if you saw someone else with f'ed-up hair and a leather jacket you immediately had a bond and knew that they had your back.
It all comes down to wanting somewhere to belong. It's a thing we all need no matter what our age. Twenty years later, I still miss the camaraderie that a scene like that can provide, the bond of strangers singing a common song. Maybe that's part of our youth obsession -- we are all still looking for a place to belong, and enough freedom to be able to enjoy it. When I visit youth culture now, it's more like chimpanzees at the zoo. I can appreciate it, but I am not of it. Though, in truth, sometimes I still wish I were.
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