Saying I love you
is not the words I want to hear from you
it’s not that I want you
not to say, but if you only knew
how easy it would be to show me how you feel…
(Before I even get to this post: how can I deal with the grammar of the first two lines of this song? I loved these lyrics, I really did. In 20 years will I think that the current me is as dumb as I now think that 1991 me was? Will I actually be any smarter? Had I rejected the me from 1990? I know I was in denial about my NKOTB phase.)
Songs of the Year: “More than Words”, Extreme; “Summertime”, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
Runners-Up: “I Touch Myself”, Divinyls; “Losing my Religion”, R.E.M.
In the year that “American Music” by the Violent Femmes, “Alive” by Pearl Jam, and “Smells like Teen Spirit” were released as singles and during the same year that 2Pac, U2, Pixies and Guns N’ Roses released albums, I was listening to some real schmaltz. Some true crap. It is almost embarrassing to think of the two albums I remember buying that year after my sojourn with M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice.
The two albums: Pornograffiti (Extreme) and Homebase (D. J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince). My brother will probably remember that peppering this fine collection were such tasteful acquisitions as the debut album of Another Bad Creation, the hit record by Heavy D (R. I.P.) and the Boyz and a copy of Color Me Badd’s self-titled offering (including the sublimely subtle “I wanna sex you up”).
(At least I wasn’t listening to “Everything I do…” by Bryan Adams or “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Michael Bolton. But, there’s only so much solace to be had there).
Now, the “More than Words” fixation is not one I am actually that embarrassed about. The song remains, if trite and a little too polished, a unique and pretty song. Certain aspects of it reflect tastes that I never quite shook: intricate harmonies and acoustic guitars. (As you can imagine, I saw the Simon and Garfunkel reunion special on PBS many times when I was very young. That explains it all, really. And this: I think my parents preferred Art to Paul. Seriously.)
“More than Words” came on the radio as I was just beginning to think about someday, just maybe, dating girls. The tone, rhythm, pace and overall arrangement made it sound like quite the love song. Upon contemplation, however, I was in a quandary. At first, I thought the singer was trying to guilt-trip his girl into sex. After almost rejecting the song for such a base message, I decided instead that it was really about matching words with actions (thus beginning a long personal practice of debating, rejecting, and reconciling song meanings).
The dark side of this song is the rest of the album. My recent album training under M. C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice led me to expect “More than Words” to be surrounded by songs that were more or less like it (just not quite as good). My shock, upon discovering that Extreme’s name was no accident, was incurable. I don’t think I could ever get through the screaming vocals and heavy guitars of the rest of the album.
The Younger J and I grew up on a dirt road; our family had built a house in the 1980’s and my dad spent most of the non-winter part of the year taming the forest around it. By 1991, the lawn was large enough that it took several stages to mow it. This was also the year when I was deemed old enough to operate the lawn mower alone on the uneven terrain. As incentive (besides an allowance), my father let me use his personal tape player.
The lawn was large enough that in just finishing the front part I listened to the entire album Homebase twice. That’s right. I had to flip the cassette three times while mowing. (My brother will attest to this; the lawn is his labor of love and hate now.) I bought Homebase less because I liked anything on it than that I thought, as with Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Them and To the Extreme, that knowing this album would win me acceptance. I already knew the lyrics to the show’s theme song.
For better (and not for worse), I don’t really remember anything from that album. No one at school the next year recited it; I can kind of think of some words and images from the title track “Summertime”. But, when I think of Homebase, I think of long summer afternoons, the humid, languorous air, the smell of fading lilacs and the whirring lawnmower blade over that stupid, endless lawn.
The Runners-up from this year deserve mention: No song has ever been so fine an accompaniment for or comforter about “personal massages” than the Divinyls’ number 1 hit. A local station would play the top nine most requested songs of the day at nine PM. There was a several week period when I heard that song every night. The Divinyls should get a Nobel prize or something.
“Losing My Religion” was memorable on the radio because of the mandolin riff but the visuals of the video were striking. No matter what Michael Stipes or the rest of the band did before calling it quits, I will always think of that video when I hear the letters R. E. M.
And you, brother? What music makes you think of the lawn? Is 1991 a year you can remember yet? You may have been tying your own shoes….