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Posts Tagged ‘memories

It’s amazing how a single moment can make you feel really young and really old at the same time.  Last week I was at my friend Maria’s house, and before I came over she had emailed me saying her 9-year-old daughter really wanted me to bring over my DS so we could play Phantom Hourglass together, so I did. Her little brother seemed amazed that a grownup had a DS at all, which made me feel all young and hip and stuff.

Then he asked me if I had Mario Kart. I told him I don’t have the DS version but that I have it for Nintendo 64. At this, his sister perked up and asked something that made me feel really old:

“What’s a Nintendo 64?”

After recovering from the shock, I explained it was a system that came out when I was about her age (I was actually about 11, I think). Her response? “Wooooow! That’s a long time ago!”

And you know, I can understand that, because it came out like, four years before she was even born. I’ve never thought stuff from four years before I was born is old at all, but I grew up listening to Motown and watching The Partridge Family in the 90s, so my perspective on time is a little weird.

But boy it made me feel old to hear that. The N64 wasn’t my first console, or even my second console, but my third. Fourth, if the Super Gameboy counts. My first console, an NES, was brought home by my dad when I was only three.  What made it so great was that it brought us all together. My parents’ marriage was already on the rocks, but they’d get together to beat up the Hammer Bros or play Duck Hunt. My mom loved to play Spy vs. Spy, which was a little beyond my abilities as a three-year-old, but I loved Super Mario and Q-Bert. Unfortunately the system got fried during a lightning storm and we couldn’t afford to replace it.

My second console, an SNES with the included Super Gameboy, came one Christmas when I was ten. As was typical at the time it included a leaflet advertising Nintendo Power, and I begged my mom to subscribe me. My mom is pretty awesome, so she did. And it was because of Nintendo Power that I knew, a year later, exactly when the N64 was coming out and what it could do and how fucking cool it was going to be.

I just had to try it out, and our local video store happened to have one for rent. You could rent the entire system with Super Mario 64, but you had to put down a ridiculous $100 deposit (which you’d get back as soon as the thing came back in one piece) in addition to the rental fee. My grandma’s head just about exploded when she heard that, but she did it anyway, even though $100 was an awful lot of money for my family. I swore up and down that I would be extra super careful with it and that she was the best grandma ever and NINTENDO SIXTY FOOOOUR OH MY GOD!!!!

And of course it blew me away. The idea of a game where you could go in any direction, where things didn’t chase you down every second and you could just wander around doing nothing if you felt like it, was revolutionary. You could fly like a bird, swim, go on giant twisty slides, and surf on lava in what appeared to be the very bowels of Hell. With so many similar games out now, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary Super Mario 64 was at the time, but it truly seemed like you had stepped through your TV and into a Carroll-esque wonderland.

Of course, once I had rented the thing, I had to own one. I begged my parents for it, and they were willing to oblige me, but there was a problem: every store everywhere was sold out of the damn things. Remember the infamous Tickle Me Elmo shenanigans in 1996, where people were going crazy and beating each other up to get the last ones? Yeah, that was the same year the N64 came out, and the madness with that was nearly as bad.

So they put it on reserve at Walmart and cautioned me that it might be a really really long time before we were able to get one. And then one day (and this was in 5th grade, a grade that I loathed, which makes this story that much more awesome) my parents picked me up early from school. They did this once in awhile to avoid the school traffic, so I wasn’t that surprised – at least not until I found out why.

“Walmart just called and they said they have a Nintendo 64 and we can go get it but they only have one and we have to go RIGHT NOW so we’re going right now hurry up let’s go!” is approximately what my mom said. I couldn’t believe my ears: not only had my grandma and my mom picked me up from school early to get a Nintendo, but my mom was as excited to buy it for me as I was to get it. She never once played the thing herself, she just knew how bad I wanted it and couldn’t wait for me to finally have it. My mom is cool.

So maybe the kids these days wouldn’t be that excited by an N64. They have DS’s and Wii’s with way better technology and just wouldn’t get why the games I loved so much as a kid were that impressive. And if I felt like it I could sit here and snot about how back in my day we appreciated every little leap in technology and thought it was exciting just to be able to jump on Goombas.

But I’m never going to do that. Because the fact that kids are still excited about Nintendo, still playing for hours just to beat that one level that is really hard, still asking people who come over to please play Zelda with them? That is really fucking cool, AND it makes me feel young, because Nintendo is bridging the generation gap. Rock on, Nintendo, rock on.

So.

Posted on: June 26, 2009

Edit: A bunch of other random memories keep surfacing, and I feel like I want to post them somewhere, so I’m just adding them to the end of this as I think of them.

As someone who 1) writes about pop culture nostalgia, 2) is a fan of Michael Jackson, and 3) keeps promising to write more and then disappearing, I feel the need to post something now. Except this is usually a humorous blog, and Perez Hilton’s stupid ass notwithstanding, this is not an occasion for humor. So I’m a little stuck on how to approach this. But since the loss of a huge pop culture icon certainly lends itself to a lot of nostalgia, I’ll start there. Here’s a smattering of memories of a man who always seemed to be in the background of my life, in odd little ways.

“Dirty Diana” was the first song I can remember hearing. Not just the first pop song, or the first Michael Jackson song  – this is my earliest memory that involves music at all. I must have been just about three or four, and all I remember is hearing the line about “unlock the door because I forgot the key”, and thinking that didn’t sound very safe. I didn’t listen to the rest of the song at all, and I had no idea what song it was until I heard it many years later, as a teenager, and that line sent me hurtling back in time. Up until then I’d figured the line must be from some old country song, because that’s mostly what my parents listened to in the 80s. So that’s one memory, a rare one, from the only time in my life when I didn’t care all that much about music.

By the time I heard “Beat It” a year or so later, I cared a lot. I danced my little preschool ass off to that song every time it came on Alvin and the Chipmunks, which was my main source of music at that time. Together with “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Material Girl”, “Beat It” completed my Holy Trinity of 80s Music. I’d still put it in my top five favorite songs of all time. The first time I actually heard Michael Jackson sing it was on a commercial for one of those “best of the decade” type CDs, so it must have been early 1990, and I remember wondering who the hell was this random black dude singing my favorite Chipmunks song.  To this day that’s probably my favorite “look how silly I was as a kid” story.

In the early 90s I didn’t care so much, because I spent that time immersed in music from when my mom was a kid – the Beatles, Elvis, Stevie Wonder, all that good stuff. But I remember my mom, a die-hard Elvis fan, obsessively collecting all the tabloids about Michael Jackson marrying Lisa Marie Presley. Eventually she started collecting ones that were just about Michael Jackson, hoping they’d mention Lisa Marie too. We had nightstands with cabinets and she had one totally full of these things. I thought this Michael Jackson dude sounded pretty weird, and frankly I was sick of hearing about him, and I made absolutely no connection between this pale man and my beloved “Beat It”, which I knew a black guy sang.

Then came 1997. As a preteen, I had just recently eschewed my mom’s music for more recent stuff, and had started watching MTV, mostly for stupid shit like Beavis and Butthead and Singled Out. Don’t let this fool you into thinking I was in any way hip. I wore sweatpants and tie-dyed Tweety Bird t-shirts to school, I carried a teddy bear backpack, and I made up stories based on the Babysitters Club. I was the dork to end all dorks, and I got into MTV in an effort to impress another dork into being my friend. Yeah.

So anyway, I was trying to watch Singled Out one day, except it was supposed to come on at 7, I think, and 7 passed, and they were still showing videos, which I quickly realized were all Michael Jackson videos. So. Many. Stupid. Michael Jackson. Videos. Finally a veejay came on and said they were playing a marathon of his videos because he had just become a father. “Uh, good for him,” I thought, “now where’s my show?” But I didn’t turn the channel right away, because some of the songs were kinda catchy, and I didn’t have anything better to watch, and… holy shit is that “Beat It”?! It was, and a black guy was singing it, and that black guy was the same as the “white” guy I’d been whining about a few seconds before. That hurt my head a little, but I didn’t care, because hearing that song again was like running into an old friend. And then magic happened, because the video for “Thriller” came on. I had never seen it before, and I loved everything about it. From that point, I was a huge fan.

I was also really, really embarassed about that, because if you were going to become a squeeing MJ fangirl, the late 90s were not such a good time for it. At the time I didn’t know anything about the allegations against him, but I did know that kids at school made fun of him, and I was dorky enough without admitting to being a fan of his. So I kept the whole thing secret – even from my parents, for some reason that existed only in my head, because they never really said anything about him to make me think they’d disapprove. Occasionally other kids would hint at being fans – we were all born in the 80s, after all – but none of us directly admitted it. Being a fan of an extremely popular musician seems a strange thing to have as a dark secret, but peer pressure is weird like that. (Today, I find it much more embarassing to admit that I once watched Singled Out.)

It wasn’t until last year that I started freely admitting to listening to him a lot, even to my own friends. First I posted this, admitting I owned a copy of Thriller on vinyl. And then a couple months later I was at my mom’s cousin’s house in Arizona for a week, and she had Off the Wall on vinyl, and I played it while she was at work. And I was like “this is a fucking good album, and I am gonna fucking buy it, and I’m gonna put it on my computer, and then I’m gonna fucking listen to it.”  And I did, and I put Thriller and Bad on there too, and put some of the songs on my iPod. I don’t know why I thought my friends would care when they saw the songs on my “now playing” message on MSN, but of course they didn’t. That whole ridiculous fear was just in my head. Hell, many of my friends had some of the same songs.

And you know what else? I might not have most of those friends if I hadn’t been a Michael Jackson fan. It was because of him that I started watching music videos and stand-up comedy (because comedians often mentioned him), and those things are what made me who I am. All the humor and knowledge of pop culture I picked up from those sources is what made me actually become a social creature. I became a nostalgia geek because I spent 1997 wanting 1983 back (despite the fact that I hadn’t actually been born then). And without that first big music obsession I wouldn’t have gotten so interested in music or at all interested in dance, and I might not have ever picked up a clarinet or a guitar or a piano. (Okay, I’ve never picked up a piano, but you know.)

I don’t know anything, for sure, about what Jackson did or didn’t do in his personal life, and I don’t especially care. History is full of weirdos with seedy personal lives – Lewis Carroll, also accused of being a pedophile, comes immediately to mind – and that never changes the fact that they were brilliantly creative people who spread immeasurable amounts of joy through their work. I really hope history remembers Michael Jackson that way. I know I will.

A few more random memories:

-Driving home from work, the day after Election Day 2008, and hearing a remix of “Man in the Mirror” with Obama quotes added in. I was extremely emotional that day, and I don’t think anything could have hit me quite like that joyful gospel choir singing “make that change”. It just so perfectly captured everything I was feeling at that moment.

-Watching the “Ghosts” video, with Sabrina, when it first premiered on MTV.  It was pretty bizarre, and we mostly joked about it, but we had a great time.

-Seeing my cousin’s band play “Beat It” on my last night in Arizona. I’d been reluctant to dance all night, but one of my cousin’s friends insisted: “You have to dance to ‘Beat It’!” She was right, and so I did.

-Going to Walmart a lot late at night a couple years back, because I live in BFE and Walmart is the only activity sometimes, and I swear to God every single time I went in the store “Say, Say, Say” came on over the speaker system. It was surreal because I’m pretty sure I’m one of like, five or six people on Earth who even know what song that is. I have literally only ever heard it on Pop-Up Video and in Walmart and Kmart.

-The storm of insanity around 2002 or so when somebody leaked the Freddie Mercury/MJ version of “State of Shock” on the Queenzone forums. This was back when a rare track actually was rare, before you could just go to Youtube and listen to any song in the universe, so collectors were pissed that people were getting it without making any effort to track it down. (For the record – it sucks. I was thinking hearing two of my favorite singers on a song together would be mind-blowing, but really, their voices just sound terrible together.)

-And finally, on Inside Joke Theater, something only Sabrina and I knew: Michael Jackson did not live at Neverland, but in a pineapple under the sea.

You know, reading back over this post again I just realized none – not one single one – of these memories were actually dependent on him being alive. When someone dies the immediate sense is “shit, it’s all over”, but these memories are all based on stuff he did years or decades ago, so it’s not like they’ve come to an end now. I was curious to see what his comeback would’ve been like, and of course it’s still horrible for his friends and family. But the 80s kid within me feels a lot better knowing that Michael Jackson-as-an-icon is pretty much immortal.

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed that a few pretty awesome people have linked me on their blogs. And I’ve had a few of you hint very strongly that you’d like to see me writing again. So I feel pretty bad that I haven’t been blogging, and I figure at the very least I owe you an explanation.

I started this blog early in 2008, with a new digital camera and a dry-erase board full of awesome ideas for articles. And then I wrote, like, four or five before completely failing to update for most of the year. The problem was that 2008 turned out to be a pretty serious year for me. Oh, nothing bad happened or anything, but I spent the year going through a lot of philosophical and emotional changes. I got wrapped up in politics, and educational theory, and redefining my life choices. I even got into prog rock, which is not without its own special brand of hilarity, but is still a far cry from my usual diet of campy 60s and 80s pop. 2008 for me was kind of like spending a year meditating up on a mountain, except I was just here in my room. But in any case, while all of this contemplation and change was good for me personally, it wasn’t really conducive to blogging about toys and candy. Not that I wasn’t still into that stuff; it just wasn’t at the forefront of my mind like it is during more lighthearted times.

And it’s not like I never thought about this blog either. I planned lots of entries, but I’d get all perfectionist and either the appropriate timing or the inspiration would pass before I got anything much written down. Basically I had this model in my head of what I wanted the blog to be – pretty much X-E Lite – and anything that didn’t fit that model got scrapped. Short blog posts weren’t good enough, posts without pictures weren’t good enough, anything that I didn’t have to spend money on wasn’t good enough. So of course that meant if I couldn’t think of a thousand words about a topic, or if I was broke, or if what was really interesting to me at the time wasn’t the kind of stuff other XE-ers typically blog about, nothing got written at all.

Happily, my cocoon year is over and I’m ready to emerge as a glittery, Care Bear-toting, SNES-playing, synthpop-loving geek of a butterfly. And I’m going to write whatever the hell I feel like, because even if I write something that doesn’t totally resonate, that’s still way better than writing nothing at all.

And just so this post isn’t devoid of nostalgic fun, here’s a photo of me as a baby, with my parents in their hilarious 80s getups. I promise my father is not as creepy as he looks in this picture.