Three Totally Inappropriate Episodes, or Beware the Radio
Eighth grade art - Mosaic Elephant, 1993
Eighth grade isn't all bad. I know we've collectively agreed that middle school wins as the most awkward and awful time of life, and, no doubt, my thirteenth-into-fourteenth year of existence contained plenty to suffer. The emotions. The urges. The hygiene. The embarrassment, the endless, heart-stopping embarrassment, like when a friend's mom suggested I start wearing undershirts. Like when some older boys asked why I sat female-style cross-legged on the bench during basketball games. I didn't get to play much during those games. I had one job: sit there and look manly. But instead I apparently adopted a posture like we were about to be served tea during our Women's Society meeting, twirling my foot and commenting on how delightfully our team was playing.
Penguin Dawn, or Maybe Crows, 1993
But eighth grade boasts plenty to balance all the awkwardness. Eighth graders are kings and queens of their schools, and junior high is the only time the achievement of top status isn't immediately followed by stressful, crushing reality. Senior year of high school means college starts soon. Senior year of college means jobs and real world. Seniority at work means the eventual slow fade of retirement. But eighth grade means... freshman year of high school. Sure, freshmen year offers its own challenges, but they are paired with freedom, and dances, and football games, and, if nothing else, relief from the trials of middle school. I called my first girl in eighth grade. My first parent-less overnight trips happened in eighth grade. Growing up takes a long time, but in eighth grade we settled in to enjoy the ride. There were still plenty of bumps, but at least we had our safety belts buckled and our seats adjusted.
That was how eighth grade felt to our class that one spring day. We were on top, high-school bound, and grown-up, not all the way, but plenty for a warm afternoon in April. Our small school couldn't employ a dedicated art teacher, so our regular teacher, Mr. Mooney (names changed to protect the innocent), led an art class a couple times a week. We focused on projects that didn't need lots of extra supplies. No paint or clay for us, just paper, scissors, and glue. Mr. Mooney was a serious man with big academic glasses who cared deeply about the straightness of lines, so art class must have been torture. Most of the time he delivered instructions, turned on his big console radio, and sat at his desk.
Everything would have been fine, if it weren't for that radio.
This memory takes place during the early 90's, so we must have heard some Mariah Carey, maybe a little Ace of Bass. For some reason, "Baby I Love Your Way" seems inexplicably linked to that time period in my mind. But in between those songs, one particular track came on the radio. The band Firehouse released the song in 1992 on their album Hold Your Fire. The song is titled "Sleeping With You," and it goes a little something like this...
We learned what it took to peel away the eighth grade veneer of confidence and well-being. It took a holdover 80's rocker singing about his disinterest in the moral ramifications of sexual intercourse.
While the song played, we all sat up straight and giggled a little, then stared at Mr. Mooney to see his reaction. If he heard the song, he didn't show it at all. Whether it was tragic obliviousness or calculated disinterest, he doomed us to listen to the whole track. The humor faded to awkwardness as we all tried to retreat into our desks. There were girls in the room. And the song was about sex. Each chorus became another set of nails on the chalkboard. No one moved. We all put our scissors down. Before the song, we felt like adults. Then Firehouse ruined us all by showing how many miles we had to go before we were anywhere close.
I blame the radio.
Little kids mishear song lyrics all the time, then try to sing along with their own versions, and it's almost always cute and hilarious. When I was a little guy, this song received a ton of airplay.
My version went something like this. "Woah-oh here she comes. Watch out boys, she'll chew you up. Whoa-oh here she comes, she's a mad beaver."
My parents asked me to sing my version often, for their friends and relatives, and they all found it hilarious. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out why my version was so humorous. But that's okay. I get tons of laughs out of my kids saying unintentionally dirty things. Circle of life.
This One Might Be Upside-Down, 1993
My kids have a superhuman ability to remember song lyrics. They hear a song one time, and then they are able to sing along with the entire thing. They inherited this skill from their mother. It's a little freaky, and it's so consistent that it has to be genetic. I don't know what advantage was conferred on my wife's caveman ancestors by their talent for repeating songs. I imagine they gained status and resources by winning caveman karaoke contests, thus passing along the trait to their offspring.
Last year, my kids heard "Animals" by Maroon 5 and sang it all the time. I picked them up from school one day, listened to their rendition a few times in the car, and when we got home I had a great idea. I would put the video on repeat so they could sing along. That would entertain them for at least an hour. I took advantage of one of the fancy technological features of our television and zapped the video from my phone to the TV screen. Then I retreated to the living room to write. Solid parenting. A+ dad.
After at least six times through, a thought occurred to me. "I wonder what that video is like?" I assumed it was fine. Maroon 5, a popular band, would never put out anything to offend their younger fans. So I watched the video, and saw this.
That's right! I willingly played this creepy, dirty, sex-saturated, horror-movie video for my seven- and five-year-old. Multiple times. Ha ha!
After watching it on my phone, that last thing I wanted to do was race into the family room and make a big deal of it. That would confirm whatever scary salaciousness my kids most certainly suspected and make the video even more enticing. So I casually walked over, ready to flippantly comment on the song and suggested we switch to a different video.
And then my wife came in the door.
She saw what was on TV, and I tried to calm her down.
"I know this is bad," I said, "but we can't make a big deal out of it."
My wife didn't agree, so I accelerated the plan. I turned the video off and expertly deferred the kids to another Youtube clip. After a hundred apologies and assurances that kids see weird stuff all the time, I didn't ruin them for life, no problem, my wife forgave me. I still get to see our children.
But as part of my penance, I must warn others of the dangers of popular radio. There's some dirty stuff out there, as I seem to experience over and over again. Please, take my advice. Stick to classical music.