Love’s Baby Soft perfume. My attic bedroom at 5724 Colfax Ave S. A shitty little tape deck and the very first tape I ever owned, New Kids on the Block. I don't remember a lot from childhood, but these things I do. I remember dancing and singing in that tiny bedroom for a rapt band of stuffed animals perched on the bed and imagining singing backup for the New Kids on the Block. I remember spending hours doing this stopping only to rewind the tape and hit play again, both on the play and the daydream.
I remember begging, pleading and generally annoying the hell out of my parents in an attempt to get tickets to their show at the Minnesota State Fair the summer of 1989 when I was eight years old. They struck a deal with me—if I could teach my six year old brother to tie his shoes over the course of the summer, they’d take me to the concert. They (along with the rest of adults in America, I’m sure) didn’t anticipate that the scrappy band of Boston teens would light up the pop scene and become the original “boy band” (fight me on this—you’ll lose) rendering tickets impossible to get. My aunt, with corporate connections, stepped in, and before I knew it—my dad and I were sitting in the last row of the Minnesota State Fair grandstand one summer night in 1989.
Here’s what I remember from this concert that I wanted so badly to get to: the girl sitting directly in front of us burned the hell out of her hand waving her lighter around during what could have only been the power ballad, “I’ll Be Lovin’ You Forever” and had to be escorted out by paramedics. A year later at their Target Center concert, where the only tickets to be had were directly behind the stage I remember the gaggle of prepubescent girls, especially that one bitch, Sara who claimed that Donnie kissed her as he exited the stage after their final encore. I denied her that claim for many years but after seeing the New Kids on The Block a week ago at their Coney Island: One Night Only Show, I’ve decided she can have that claim.
I can NOT tell you how excited I was for this concert. I can NOT tell you how much I paid for these tickets to take a little jaunt back to a time in my life where everything was simple and straightforward and so much seemed possible. I can NOT tell you how bummed I was to leave halfway through the concert. But they left me (and my sweet, patient, concert-going friend Nikki) no choice.
Pre-teen Lindsay fought her way into 35 year-old Lindsay’s reality this summer and all of the sudden I desperately wanted nothing more than a clip of their music video “Please Don’t Go Girl” shot at Coney Island in 1988 to be followed by the quintets homage to their original hit, replete with Joey’s “balls-still-haven’t-descended” voice. I wanted to hear “Step By Step” and “Cover Girl” and “Hangin’ Tought” and watch them jam out with that fantastic early 90’s choreography. Because, pelvic thrusts. I wanted black vests and white t-shirts, leather jackets with smiley faces on the back, ducktails and Donnie’s hats. I wanted to shut my eyes and remember being eight years old in my attic bedroom at 5724 Colfax Street in Minneapolis, choking on Baby Soft perform as I sang and danced and anxiously awaited what I was sure was going to be an amazing future. I wanted to remember what it felt like to be so full of hope and eagerness and ready for whatever was next. I wanted to believe again in that kind of innocent love that comes with crushes and youth.
Instead, I watched five middle-aged boy-banders try their damnedest to prove to us they’re still worthy of adoration and ear-piercing screams. I watched as five guys scrambled around the stage pea-cocking their admittedly still buff bodies and look-what-your-fandom-has-bought-us-expensive outfits but neglecting their voices and showmanship, and for that matter—a live band to back them up. I watched as they fumbled with microphones, forgot lyrics, choreography and messily futzed around the stage. I watched and waited for a curtain to lift and reveal a band behind their pyrotechnics and fancy lights. I looked to the wings for a guy named Steve operating the sound board and the canned musical accompaniment because it was so off, so offensively loud that I’m fairly certain I lost 3% of my hearing at a boy band concert. I watched people around me cover their ears, or flat out leave and look around in befuddlement when Naughty By Nature showed up midway through because that was confusing. And as I watched, I saw not the group of relatively innocent kids who found their way to fame but a group of middle-aged men eager to bask momentary in youthful adulation at skills they’ve long since lost. It was abundantly clear that either they should have stopped performing ten years ago or spent ten minutes practicing before the show and all of the sudden I was really, undeniably sad.
After we made the decision to leave (before “Please Don’t Go Girl and busted eardrums) we
walked along the beach and talked about the experience—each of us at once eager to spin this in a positive light but falling short as reality sunk it—and it occurred to me that maybe this is one of the realities of life. We can remember but never go back. We can smile in memory of but not recreate in the present moment. We tread a dangerous path if we decide that the things we remember, and the way we choose to remember them are the way they’d exist in the present moment. Because they’re not. And they can’t be. And my memories of the New Kids on the Block singing “Cover Girl” from a shitty Panasonic tape deck in my Baby Soft perfume-filled attic bedroom at 5724 Colfax Street stay locked away in my memory.
My reality in that moment, and for a few days after was that of sadness. Big sadness. Like mid-life crisis, oh-fuck-I’m-35-and-just-now-realizing-it kind of sad. So I sat down to write. I put Spotify on and queued up New Kids on The block, pressing shuffle as I opened a new word document. As I mournfully, melancholically wrote about my lost youth and the absolute tragedy that was having my eight-year old idols tumble off their pedestals I stopped and really listened to the music. And then, in a strange turn of events I felt REALLY old again—but not in a bad way. In a “HOLY SHIT ARE YOU HEARING THIS, WHAT THE FUCK WAS EIGHT YEAR OLD ME THINKING?”
Because this is what I heard:
“Popsicle” (1986, debut album)
Lyrics: You’re my popsicle! From the very first time I met you girl, you captured me. You’re my popsicle! All I know is that you make me fancy free. (Repeat X Infinity)
Thoughts: I think this is the first song I fell in love with. Which makes sense. Because I was EIGHT. And what self-respecting eight-year old DOES NOT LOVE POPSICLES AND WHAT GIRL DOES NOT WANT TO BE SOMEONE’S POPSICLE?
“I Wanna Be Loved By You” (1986)
Lyrics: Yeah, I know, I know—I’m young. I might be young but I’m not too young to let you know how I feel. I’m Joey and I’m a Capricorn and if you can relate to that, then check this out. Oooooh girl, I wanna be loved. Loved by you baby.
Thoughts: WHAT IN THE SWEET FUCKING HELL. IN 1986 JOEY WOULD HAVE BEEN 14 AND THAT IS NOT OKAY BECAUSE HOW THE HELL DOES HE KNOW THAT HE WANTS TO BE LOVED BY ME BABY WHEN A GROWN ASS 39 YEAR OLD MAN DOES NOT EVEN KNOW HOW TO EXPRESS THOSE SAME FEELINGS. Also, Donnie the “lovable Leo?” Yeah Donnie, we all know Leos' and we all know not to date them let alone love them.
New Kids on the Block (1986)
Lyrics: We know you’ve heard this beat many many times/but we bet you’ve never heard it with such a vicious rhyme/A rhyme with class and plenty of clout. To show you sucker M.C’s what it’s about/We hear the same stories everywhere we go, Hey it’s Nynuk who stole the show/so for all you party people who are in a state of shock/we’re the new kids on the block.
Thoughts: 1) Are they rapping? 2) What’s a sucher? 3) What’s a Nyuk? 4) They are introducing themselves to the world in this song And WE ALL FELL FOR IT.
Hangin’ Tough (1988)
Lyrics: Listen up everybody if you wanna take a chance/ just get on the floor and do the New Kids dance/Don’t worry bout nothin’ cause it won’t take long/ We’re gonna put you in a trance with a funky song.
Thoughts: I can’t get too down on this song. I mean, their call to action is undeniably persuasive and besides—THERE IS A WHISTLE THROUGHOUT THIS ENTIRE SONG. A WHISTLE.
Please Don’t Go Girl (1988)
Lyrics: I love you/ (whisper: I love you)/ I guess I always will/ GUUUURRRRRLLLLL/ You’re my best friend/ You’re my love within/ I just want you to know that I will always love you.
Thoughts: Also a hard song to hate. I mean, I can’t hear it without seeing the classic Coney Island video and that just, that brings me back. However—the whisper lyric portion paired with Joey’s earnest talk/sing “love you girl!” at the end grounds my musical melancholy a bit with it’s almost creepiness.
Lyrics: Remember when we said girl please don’t go/And how I’d be loving you foreeeevvveeeerr/ we taught you bout hangin’ tough/ as long as you got the right stuff/ didn’t we girl?/ oohhhhhhh/ didn’t we girl/ahhhhh/well I guess it’s a brand new day after all/every time we hear the curtain call/ see the girls with the curls in their hair/the buttons and the pins and the loud fanfares/
Thoughts: The trumpet in this song, along with the mixture of a million genres of music is enough for me to bob my head to this narcissistic tune, but good God almighty they didn’t even come up with new lyrics! They just recycle the names of their old songs into a ridiculous homage to themselves before they were really even anything to write home about! Man, the balls on these guys.
Stay With Me Baby (1990)
Lyrics:Yeah, man, oh, we're going to have some fun with this one, man/ and I don't know where it's gonna take us/but it's a long way from Boston, man, here we go/Stay with me baby, stay with me baby/ me whole life long/we be jammin’
Thoughts: The following is happening and I don’t know what to do with it: There is a steel drum. Donnie is rasta-rapping. They’re saying “we be jammin’” without a trace of irony. Donnie’s rasta-rapping makes the lyrics sound like “Steal with me baby” which is not, I imagine the image they wanted portrayed.
Baby I Believe In You (1990)
Lyrics: No lyrics. Just please, please watch this.
Thoughts: Can my mother go to jail for letting her eight year old listen to music that was clearly inspired by porn soundtracks? Was my love for this song a harbinger for the future of my love life? What does that even mean? Where do I get an industrial sized fan to blow my hair like that?
Okay, I thought, pressing pause on 1980’s New Kids on the Block and scrolling through their catalog of newer works. Maybe we can chalk all that up to 1980’s and early 90’s. I mean, for God’s sake I was definitely wearing Multiples, rolling my socks and generally looking like a nerdy reject from the “Saved By The Bell” extras casting pool.
So I clicked on the 2008 album, “The Block” (really thinking outside the box, guys aren't ya?) with my fingers crossed. Come on boys, don’t let me down, I thought as I pressed play again.
Sexify My Love:
Lyrics: Hey, baby I feel it, can't conceal it, gotta reveal it/Cause I'm in the mood to give it to ya/ Really gotta concentrate and now we're gonna consummate/So, lets conversate
Thoughts: Huh. So. Almost twenty years later these guys are really in the market of just making up words to “sing” and have vaulted from cheeky innocence to that creepy guy standing in the corner of the club at 1:45am desperately hoping that his blatant overtures will score.
I skipped ahead. You’ve got one more shot guys. Don’t mess this up. I’ll admit, I “heard” the next song at the concert. And by heard I mean I’m *pretty* sure this is the song they were screaming but I pressed play and looked up the lyrics just to make sure.
Lyrics: Pretty pretty lips and her big 'ol hips/ It's getting hotter when she touches me with her fingertips/ And her sexy eyes and them big 'ol thighs/ It's getting hotter like the block up in the summertime
Thoughts: You know what? Nobody puts baby in the corner BUT GOD DAMN IT ALL FIVE OF YOU GET IN THE CORNER RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THIS IS DISGUSTING AND I NEED A SHOWER AND HOW DARE YOU TARNISH THE NAME OF THE BELOVED CHICK FLICK, “DIRTY DANCING.”
I returned to their early songs in a last ditch attempt to salvage my love for my childhood pop stars.
“Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” (1990)
Lyrics: Never gonna fall in love again/ never gonna fall in love/Never gonna fall in love again/Never gonna fall in love/Never gonna fall in love again/Never gonna fall in love/Never gonna fall in love again
Thoughts: I heard “Never gonna fall in love again” 43 times in the course of a 5 minute song. Not only am I never gonna get this song out of my head but I’m clearly never gonna fall in love again so ruined am I by this boy band from Boston.
Also, it’s clear to me now. An evening with New Kids on the Block on Coney Island followed by a perusal of their discography has taught me that sometimes the best thing you can do is let go of the past. I’m not gonna lie—I’m still a little sad that I didn’t get to hear the 1989 version of “Please Don’t Go Girl,” but sometimes girl, you just have to go.