NKOTB Fan: A Confession

Now that my brother has ‘outed’ me, I have no choice but to embrace and then explain my identity. Yes, it is true, I was (although, unlike my sister, do not remain) a New Kids on the Block fan. The Younger J, out of kindness or because of the failure of youth’s memory, does not paint the picture in its true horror. I was not just a fan, I was a fanatic.

I had NKOTB posters on my wall. I had a fine collection of NKOTB pins, collectible cards, and every album (up to Step by Step and including the Christmas album). I watched their specials on TV; I envied my friends who had the concert tapes. I missed out on their concerts, but they would certainly have been revelatory experiences.

I definitely had this pin

As you can probably imagine, I took some abuse for this love. When I wore my pins to school, I heard sneers and catcalls. (I may have been pushed into a snow-bank, or two.) But, at the end of the day, it didn’t matter, because I had Donny, Danny, Joey, Jon and Jordan (well, not really Danny, who liked him anyway?)

How did this happen? How did I fall in love with one of the most annoying, overproduced, pop-crapular ‘bands’ ever? How did I, who came to exhibit such fine and discriminating taste (please understand the sarcasm), start here? Three answers: crazy parents, isolation, and girls.

First: the Parents J, well, mostly the mother, were a little extreme in the 80’s. They went from free-loving, getting stoned in small airplanes, driving across the country in snow storms with an infant, to attending church regularly, forbidding television, and exiling violent toys in a few years. As a young kid, I could not watch MTV (I saw “Thriller” at a babysitter’s house and FREAKED out), could not own G.I Joes (until I prevailed upon them in my first ever rhetorical triumph); even Nickelodeon was considered too vulgar (there was something about “You Can’t Do that on Television” that made my mother crazy).

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Radio XXV, side B, track 7: “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” by New Kids On The Block

Thanks, Mixed Tape Masterpiece, this will be in my head all day now. My brother, sister and I all loved this song at one point. The important thing? We loved it together. It was one of the first songs we loved independent of our parents’ tastes. I still think of Tony’s Pizzas and the Disney channel when I hear it.

Mixed Tape Masterpiece

New Kids On The Block - The Right StuffOh, New Kids On The Block, there are some people out there who get mighty riled if you intimate that humans are descendants of apes.  Well, New Kids On The Block, clearly those people have never been a teenage boy or been around them.  Particularly when those teenage boys are around teenage girls, and ESPECIALLY when those teenage girls are talking about you, New Kids On The Block.  Oh, sure, we didn’t beat our chests and throw feces or anything like that, but that’s called evolution.  What we did do was hoot and grimace and make fun of you guys and preen and make fun of you guys and sneer and did I mention that we made fun of you guys?  Obviously we were jealous of you guys, New Kids On The Block, but if a girl that we were bad-mouthing you to would suggest such a thing, we…

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Radio XXIV, side B, track 8: “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” by New Kids On The Block

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Ah, New Kids on the Block. How could any of us remember you without some mixture of love and loathing?

The blog Mixed Tape Masterpiece is doing a phenomenal job of recapping and discussing the hits of yesteryear. This one makes me stop because I cannot hear the basketball-beat opening without remembering those ridiculous pins and the pink walls of my sister’s room (broken by pictures of Donny and Joey) back in 1989.

 

 

I wrote about my guilty love of this band. My sister is completely unrepentant and recently saw them live for like the 100th time.

 

 

 

Thanks for this, Mix Tape Masterpiece. Now I have to go listen to this song.

Mixed Tape Masterpiece

New Kids On The Block - You Got It (The Right Stuff)Oh, New Kids On The Block, you had the right  stuff, no question.  I’ve already written about how most of us boys in junior high hated you, and I myself was conflicted.  Back then, we were all jealous of you because our female counterparts had it bad for you bunch even though there was no way you guys were going to show up in our neck of the woods, much less date one of our pretty classmates.  Not saying they wouldn’t have been worth dating, New Kids On The Block, but it was a numbers game.  It was the same reason that I wasn’t going to be holding hands with Debbie or Tiffany or Alyssa or my beloved Staci Keanan.  You just accepted it and moved on.  I mean, come ON, New Kids On The Block, me and my fellow males were right THERE.  We were prepared…

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New Niece Playlist

About a month ago, my sister gave birth to her first child, a little girl. She came very early, about six weeks before she was supposed to, so apparently she shares our family’s complete lack of patience. It was a little scary at first because they had to perform emergency surgery due to complications but everyone is doing fine and she seems to be progressing well. I was able to go down and see her just two days after she was born and it was a very cool experience. The Elder J lives on the other side of the country, thus I was not able to see either of his kids in their first few days of their lives which only made this experience more significant.

As I said in my New Nephew Playlist, my siblings having kids polarized the loss of my father. I don’t want to belabor the point but I wish he had been able to see more of his grandkids and something my brother in law said led me to believe he might just be seeing them anyway. When the baby was born, he said he felt a hand on his shoulder. This could be a multitude of things; however, it is known that my father was not a toucher. I can’t ever remember him hugging me until the last year he was alive and even then he was weird about it. Some people don’t show their love that way. He never hugged his son-in-law and in fact, the only time he even touched him was at their wedding. He put his hand on my brother in law’s shoulder and said something, the specifics of which I do not know. Who knows what is real and what is not but I know that I am confident he’s looking on from somewhere. So what music does this make me think of?

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NKOTB Fan: A Confession

Now that my brother has ‘outed’ me, I have no choice but to embrace and then explain my identity. Yes, it is true, I was (although, unlike my sister, do not remain) a New Kids on the Block fan. The Younger J, out of kindness or because of the failure of youth’s memory, does not paint the picture in its true horror. I was not just a fan, I was a fanatic.

I had NKOTB posters on my wall. I had a fine collection of NKOTB pins, collectible cards, and every album (up to Step by Step and including the Christmas album). I watched their specials on TV; I envied my friends who had the concert tapes. I missed out on their concerts, but they would certainly have been revelatory experiences.

I definitely had this pin

As you can probably imagine, I took some abuse for this love. When I wore my pins to school, I heard sneers and catcalls. (I may have been pushed into a snow-bank, or two.) But, at the end of the day, it didn’t matter, because I had Donny, Danny, Joey, Jon and Jordan (well, not really Danny, who liked him anyway?)

How did this happen? How did I fall in love with one of the most annoying, overproduced, pop-crapular ‘bands’ ever? How did I, who came to exhibit such fine and discriminating taste (please understand the sarcasm), start here? Three answers: crazy parents, isolation, and girls.

First: the Parents J, well, mostly the mother, were a little extreme in the 80’s. They went from free-loving, getting stoned in small airplanes, driving across the country in snow storms with an infant, to attending church regularly, forbidding television, and exiling violent toys in a few years. As a young kid, I could not watch MTV (I saw “Thriller” at a babysitter’s house and FREAKED out), could not own G.I Joes (until I prevailed upon them in my first ever rhetorical triumph); even Nickelodeon was considered too vulgar (there was something about “You Can’t Do that on Television” that made my mother crazy).

 

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Songs of the Year – 1990

(Note: This is the first entry of a series on the most memorable songs from each year. The songs selected are not necessarily the most successful or the ‘best’ in any other way; instead, they are those that most clearly represent the year in memory. These entries will appear monthly.)

My-my-my-my music hits me so hard
makes me say oh my Lord
Thank you for blessing me
with a mind to rhyme and two hyped feet
-MC Hammer

Songs of the Year: “U Can’t Touch This”, M. C. Hammer; “Ice Ice Baby”, Vanilla Ice

Runners Up: “Nothing Compares 2 U”, Sinead O’Connor; “Poison”, Bel Biv Devoe

This running item is not about picking out the ‘best’ song of the year, but instead for selecting the song(s) that we most strongly associate with specific years and times in our lives. The Younger J introduced this topic to me as, I think rightly, fitting well with our focus on the power of memory and the inescapable connection between songs and times.

I will start not at the beginning of my life (perhaps later the Younger J and I will write about the best songs to be born to) but with the first years when I was buying albums. And, rather than revisit the NKOTB nonsense of 1987-9, I will start with 1990.

A banner year for music, 1990 saw the release of They Might Be Giant’s Flood, Frizzle Fry by Primus, Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy, Social Distortion’s eponymous album, Glider by My Bloody Valentine, Goo by Sonic Youth, Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual de Lo Habitual, Pixies’ Bossanova and Chronicles by Rush. What was I listening too? M. C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”.

This topic is worth revisiting. Pre-adolescence can be as tough on boys as adolescence. I made things tougher on myself by spending the previous years wearing NKOTB pins to school proudly. I was not allowed to sit certain places on the bus. I actually got in an altercation that involved (1) insulting Bugle Boy jeans and (2) re-breaking an arm.

During each summer, I attempted what I think most of us did every year from elementary school on: self-reinvention. When the boys at the back of the bus were reciting “U Can’t Touch This”, I convinced my parents that I could not live without Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Them (that title alone incited a temporary war with my mother). When, later in the year, the fixation turned to  “Ice Ice Baby”, the less threatening, for unfortunate skin-tone reasons, To The Extreme soon found its way to my home. (The cassette singles just wouldn’t do.)

(Perhaps at a later date I will write about the disturbing quality of certain tracks. M. C. Hammer’s “Soft and Wet” was a bizarre sex-ed class; half the songs on To the Extreme were incoherent. Nevertheless, this is about the song…)

Liking these songs wouldn’t be enough. That would be inauthentic. I had to learn to love them (which implies, truly or not, that I didn’t at the outset). Along with the theme song from The Fresh Prince to Bel Air and the 99 lives code for Super Contra, every boy my age had to know at least the first verse of “U Can’t Touch This” and “Ice Ice Baby”. We would sing these songs on the bus. We would sing them on the playground. I would practice my cadence while walking home, skiing, or lying in bed at night.

(There was much talk of the videos for either song; but alas, MTV was still verboten in my house. That didn’t stop me from surreptitious viewings of Mariah Carey’s early videos or the scandalous C+C Music Factory sequences. Another story, another time).

All right stop
collaborate and listen
Ice is back with my brand new invention
Something grabs a hold of me tightly
Flow like a harpoon daily and nightly
Will it ever stop? Yo I don’t know
Turn off the lights and I’ll glow                  Vanilla Ice

What made these songs attractive to pre-adolescents in the second whitest state of the union? Some questions are beyond me, but it is fair to say that ‘black’ music, especially de-racialized music like that of these artists, had long been the mainstay of pop merchandising and the complicated, not to mention seedy, marketing of popular music. Marketing, serendipity, and cultural context.

Why did I like these songs? Well, the beats were good (enough). The lyrics were catchy (M. C. Hammer’s were certainly more inventive and interesting than Vanilla Ice’s). But the real fact is that I didn’t know much better (it is certainly debatable whether or not they represent improvements on NKOTB). But mostly, these songs were about fitting in, about being accepted. Music can be, and often is, a lingua franca of social conformity. 1990 is the year I tried to speak that language and didn’t do a terrible job.

I still feel something when I hear these songs. I feel a twinge of pride (?) in remembering the first verses and, now that I have accepted their places in my life, I don’t love them, but I feel. And that is the bedrock of being alive.

And you brother? Were you even out of diapers in 1990? Was it Barney whose songs entertained you, or do you too remember these days (and my sad part in them)?

The glory:

First Song I really Liked

The first song I ever loved is really lame. I would normally never discuss it with people but this format is supposed to be anonymous and only those in the know will be able to give me shit about it anyway. Furthermore, I think it’ll help me heal the wound of having such a whack song as the first I remember really liking.

The first song I remember really liking is “Hanging Tough” by New Kids on the Block and I must have been four or five as my mom remembers my brother being about 12. I don’t know if it was the music that originally brought me into the NKOTB or the time I got to spend with my brother and sister.

I don’t remember ever hanging out with my brother without being harassed up to this point except whilst watching NKOTB. I am sure he will dispute this now but it is how I remember it. We ended up being essentially best friends from about sixth grade on, but those first few years I remember being stuffed in my fair share of closets and perhaps even deserving a few due to my lifelong struggle with being a wiseass.

The fact is that this was a rare time when all three of the siblings hung out with each other at the same time. This may seem trivial but I honestly can’t remember very many times this happened afterwards since we now live on three different sides of the country.
In hindsight, what was my brother thinking? I distinctly remember him having pins and posters of the band all over his room. My sister gets a pass for being a pre-adolescent girl but what’s my brother’s excuse? Was he seeking identity or having a sexual identity crisis?  I was a toddler so my blame is minimal, so what’s up with the Elder?
When the NKOTB specials were on the Disney Channel, a premium option like HBO in those days mind you, we would get our parents to buy us a few Tony’s frozen pizzas and my sister would make red Tropical Kool Aid that was basically a sugar delivery device. We would sit around the TV in a semi-circle and watch a solid two hours of what I now perceive as an extremely lame lip-synching, choreographed mess that helped launch the pop cheesiness of the 90’s like N’SYNC and Britney Spears.

“Hangin Tough” was what I thought at the age of four to be a badass tune. They struck tough poses, wore leather jackets and Donny Wahlberg actually looked tough to me back then. Hearing it now, I shudder at whatever my young naïve brain was deluding itself into thinking about this processed bubblegum crap, but I remember thinking “Man, these guys are badass”. The lyrics are nonsensical at a glance now, talking about putting people in a trance with a funky dance and such. They did seem tough to me at the time but in hindsight, that’s only because they kept repeating “hanging tough”. In actuality, none of these boys were tough and I am sure no one fell into a trance except young girls. I soon fell into the grunge music scene with skinny heroin addicts replacing Donny Wahlberg as people I thought were badass at a young age.

I will never forget the evenings spent with my brother and sister eating cardboard pizza, drinking fake juice and watching their entertainment equivalent on the brand new Disney channel. It seems like a lame thing to remember but I feel warm and slightly ill in a good way recalling these times. Oddly enough, my sister remained a fan of the band and recently saw them and told me they were “still awesome!” I highly dispute this claim but at least she kept the magical delusion going.