Rebel Without A Pause- s1c3: You Can Lead A Club To Culture, AND You Can Make Them Think (A Costanza’s Goodbye)

by BrotherDarkness AKA Butch Rosser

Dear Planet Earth,
If you’re reading this, I hope somebody has had the decency to cut me down from the ceiling fan this note was placed under.  It should be noted per previous discourse that everyone get their crying out at the wake and that Christine has her choice of who to sleep with at the afterparty.
But after years and years of debating what was the point of it all, I just couldn’t see one after the following appeared in my timeline:
1) Train, “Hey Soul Sister”
2) Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg, “California Gurls”
It was just too hard living in a world that seemed not only to disagree with me, but take up ridiculous positions just to be in opposition to mine (see also: Beck, popularity of Glenn, Uggs, Glee, Avatar, no reruns of NewsRadio, etc.).  I mean, it was bad enough the Klan sent Waka Flocka Flame to destroy the fragmenting Black culture such as it was, but that 1-2 punch was like coming home from early to find your house beginning to catch fire only to find out the reason that it was catching fire was that your fiancee was too busy getting double-teamed by your father and grandfather for them to notice that flames were beginning to erupt.
When that came up as the most popular 1-2 punch for the year 2010, I knew my time on this earth was short.  I suppose at the end of the day it simply comes down to this: trying to slog through top 40 radio for me the past few years is like trying to swim in the Gulf Of Mexico — at this point, the difference between that and swallowing 47 pills or doing a chin check with a loaded .45 or taunting the police and making threatening motions towards them with a harpoon is just all aesthetic.
I suppose that I am the one to blame here, as like with one of the oldest axioms in my history a cynic is really a romantic that’s just gotten burned too many times.  My friend Daniel had an awesome term to describe a Grumpy Young Man — a Costanza.  And before, where the radio was one of my best friends and a gateway into a more in-depth and nuanced world it had just bogged down into indescipherable lexicon and posturing.  This isn’t to say that those things are bad, but as with an all fried-food diet if that’s all your body is taking in at some point it will revolt by doing something whimsical like exploding your heart or the blood deciding staying in place is better than running to your cererbral cortex.
I became a Costanza gradually, of course.  But the thing of it was, I didn’t want to become one, and I sure as shit couldn’t imagine a future where it was who I was as a human being.  (I also didn’t imagine a future with auto-tune, so I suppose in a way this is all Cher’s fault.)
In reading a series of reviews of classic #1 hits of the late seventies and into the eighties, I remembered vividly listening to the top 40 songs.  It went farther beyond a catchy chorus for me, and it definitely had something to do with my youth.  It made me think.  I started extrapolating wildly, as kids do.  But I think what seperated me from a lot of my contemporaries was that hearing these same songs as an adult didn’t give me a sheepish grin at the bar or a headshake over my former wayward ways; I not only felt even more enmeshed with the songs in question but looked back on young me surprised that for an absolute lack of context (relatively speaking, as per direct inverted proposition to life experience) that while I’d only been able to form sentences for a few short years then I still somehow found the “soul” of a song, or at least one possible soul.
It’s in this moment I’m thinking of one of my first radio friends, George, and hoping he’s not too disappointed in me for not hanging in there (what a horribly bad choice of words).  George was the first British guy I ever met, and even for a kid I could see he was dealing with Adult Problems.  The first words he ever said to me were questions–
Do you really want to hurt me?
Do you really want to make me cry?
It turned out George was also the first gay British man I’d ever met (in a really bitter irony, by the time I got done with the elementary school we’d first made acquaintance in he wouldn’t even be my favorite gay British George who sang about his problems on the radio all day), and his relationship–jeez!  No wonder people around me were divorcing left, right, and center.  While I merely worried about where the next cupcake was coming from this girlfriend or wife of his was clearly driving him to a breaking point in every depth of his being.
(Sidenote: I did realize after the fact he was a gay man but that was quite a few years away.  At the outset, there was no such thing as gay, not even as an insult–hell, I wasn’t even allowed to play with the “big kids” in the other six grades same as the rest of my class, so I drew my own context based around what was around me and what I’d seen on TV.)
WIthin 3 minutes of meeting me, a kid and complete stranger, George was just fed up to his eyebrows with the whole damn thing.  IF it was love that was wanted from him, then take it away!  I would’ve thought that was simple enough, but in the next breath he sternly intoned that everything wasn’t what it seemed.
Why would he do this to himself?, I would think, occassionally getting lost in my own head while snacking on Fun Dip.  He doesn’t like this person, he can’t possibly.  Either they want to hurt him and/or make him cry.  He was offering his love, which they seemed to be lukewarm on at best — whoever this skirt was that was putting him through the Double Dare of Love, she was no Clair Huxtable.  And yet everything wasn’t what it seemed.
George gave me a lot to think about in those four minutes.
And when I heard him again, it seemed weird.  He was still in the relationship with this woman, but not only did she come and go, she strung along (something I’d suspected but was good to hear come out of George’s own mouth).
So here’s what it’s like being a sandbox genius: not knowing that the leader of Culture Club is gay despite video evidence to the contrary, but at the same time has enough mental synapses firing to assume that in this relationship the karma chameleon is some sort of pet barometer that points to the entire relationship at large, since you are too young to have heard the word metaphor yet.
Loving WOULD be easy, warned George, except the scenario he had painted for himself in his head wasn’t reflecting what was actually happening.  You know, you bump it forward 25 years and scrap George and toss Regina in instead, find a couple of affable-looking brunettes, and you have arguably the best scene in (500) Days Of Summer.
And every day is like survival.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is some inescapable shit about life.  It doesn’t recede into the background like wanting to be an astronaut or a Big Wheel or Growing Pains, it merely gets stronger and comes into life with more focus and clarity the older you get–it’s kind of the way the likes of Miss Bliss and Minkus fall prey to the Zack Morrisses and Corey Matthewses (Matthewsi?) over days and months.  At one moment you can be off the show like that.  Of course you can!  What is it — and for that matter — what is all art except an exploration of everyday interaction in human relationships?
And sometimes your lover IS your rival.
When I went back to look at top 40 radio’s biggest hits of my nascent youth when I was still a cherubic golden boy, I thought maybe I’d just blown George out of proportion.  He was the Outlier, the anamoly, and while his pop confection had stuck to my teeth about two decades longer than it did in the mouth of a normal human being, there was some sort of top secret Culture Club blind spot that I’d festered and the cavity had nobody to blame but its wayward owner.
Within 45 seconds, I could see that that wasn’t the case at all.
I am astounded the Human League didn’t win Nobel Prizes for the three of them in 1981, as they seemed to describe accurately every failing relationship in the history of mankind, which was most of them: people meet, fall in love together, sure, that much is true.  But then there’s a power inequity and the person with the upper hand looks around and in their next fell swoop moves for the exit, out the door, and it’s not even a moment of victory or ultimate joy if the alleged singing in the second verse was any indication.  I guess I never really got over the fact that the female aspect of the League didn’t have a rejoinder to my rejoinder of “If you love me so much, then why are you leaving?”  Even as an adult, sometimes that question was too much to bear in the situation where I had to be the girls!  But when women are right, they’re right: sometimes it’s just something that you must do.
HA!  Tell that to the roughly 585 kazillion people who’ve sung this ever since!  It’s like all this heartache and pain and self-doubt never even happened, because they can sing the chorus.  They built something for five years and now it’s all going down the shitter, and people are treating it like it’s freaking Piano Man or something!  They’re all singing along!
I guess I shouldn’t be amazed by people’s willingness to sing along to something that was really a gigantic cry of pain, though.  Sting was stalking his ex-wife, and despite the fact that I didn’t know the words stalk, ex-wife, or for that matter Sting the first hundred times I heard Every Breath You Take I nominated it for Creepiest Song I’ve Ever Heard In My Life.  And to be honest, it’d probably still be in the discussion.   He can’t sleep at night, he can only see her face, so he watches every move she wakes?  And they let this man TEACH!?  It sounded to me like the reverse of my parent’s marriage, which it was–but what was crazy was in the depth of this despair, the complete totality of this guy’s crazy mind being distilled into a 240-second essence, I knew he was going through a divorce.  If the opposite of light is dark, then the opposite of love and marriage is apparently Follow Somebody All The Time and Divorce, right?
The kids in New Edition looked the most like me and were responsible for my first cassette purchase, but it only took about 10 minutes for their lives to get ruined the same way George’s was: they take a taste of the Candy Girl, all their friends tell them to Cool It Now, except they’re waylaid by the awesome feeling of that first taste and in their desperate attempts to recapture it they’re left complaining–alone–to Mr. Telephone Man.  It suddenly occurs to me that that sort of thing happened in the urban community in the eighties a lot and it explains crack exploding.  One minute you have a girl who’s your own personal peanut butter cup and the next the guy from AT&T can’t even get back to you to tell you he got your message?  I’d throw it all away for a piece of rock, too, boys.  Those girls are poison.
But there were all sorts of these tiny lessons to be learned and thought over, and it was tragically all the relationshippy ones that went through.  I mean, it was nice that this Olivia woman wanted me to get a certificate from the President for physical fitness and the Men at Work had formed some sort of Australian Board of Tourism singing group, but at the end of the day (around 9, maybe 8:30 if I was tuckered out) it wasn’t their words that I was worried over–all I saw was a world of maneaters with Bette Davis Eyes, a bunch of Billie Jeans after you just because some little kid had eyes like yours.  It was a real head scratcher to put next to how to remember to seperate out primary colors from secondary.
I felt bad for all involved, obviously.  But I was only a kid!  I couldn’t help them.  That said, they gave me something to think about.  And the something they gave me to think about became the axis around which not only my world revolved but seemingly the planet at large.  When Foreigner or Nu Shooz would talk about the joy they’d found, the Winwoodian Higher Love, I always wondered in the back of my head if it was going to end up worth it.  I ended up sharing Tina’s distaste of love, and it didn’t take Ike swinging at me for 15 years to get there.  I was still trying to figure out the hows and whys, but the big stuff I got down: you could end up like Sting, or even worse, in a relationship where you were always kinda-sorta halfway out the door–say this for the estrogen soaked second verse of Don’t You Want Me, but when they broke they BROKE.  How were you supposed to see your way through growing up under these clouds of stuff like blue and orange and purple when in your heart you kept seeing red, gold, and green?  Who could put those in their proper places of primary and secondary when your brainstem was getting worn down like that?
The radio was giving me life homework, and truth be told I was always a fan of thinking about things.  I was learning more, which could only be good.  The More You Know, y’know.  But over time that sort of sensation of being mentally challenged by the words I was allowing in my ears went from almost total in scope to almost obsolete.  I couldn’t even get out of the nineties without a hailstorm of ballistics cutting down the two men who had challenged me with their worldviews the most.  Holes opened up in the universe of popular music, and Chris and Kurt made way for Ja and Issac and Taylor and Zachary (my apologies to the latter three).   I supposed once that sort of thing began to happen, spiritually I was already set to pull a Hutchense; Katy & the boys were just kind enough to hold the chair for me.  In this brave new world, success has been so easy for them.
I understand that listening to Tears In Heaven, Blue Monday, Nothing Compares 2 U, or the Boys Of Summer (especially considering my relationship with that last track, which has passed its silver anniversary and yet is the only song I can find that changes feeling based on my own) doesn’t put one in the mindframe of recovering three seconds later to reflect on what purchases will improve their life, but once the radio got in the one set of hands they pretty much managed to anesthesize the way that we feel.  Which is totally their right as a corporation, and I suppose my wish for them to provide a playlist that reflects a majority of my sensibilities is akin to 1984 me wondering if the girl hurting George so bad was somebody famous or just somebody local to him.  I suppose this is just another story of another failed relationship, only top 40 has broken up with me in my mind.  It’s let me down, given me up, and I no longer have any faith in the sound, so the amount of good things that I’ve got is now none.
Makes sense to me.
I do not do this for the purposes of martyrdom; I do this simply because once a man opened up the world for me with a mere two questions, and I fell in love with the world as a result.  And that world and this world might as well be Earth-1 and Earth-2.  I can answer the questions, George: I didn’t, to you.
But the radio did to me.
And this is something I must do.
You want this world of Grey Anatomy background music, of faux-soul and misspelled girls, you all are more than welcome to it.
It suddenly occurs to me that all you precious people might tell me that this is a step too far.
And yet.