The Right Stuff

Sometimes you look back on your childhood obsessions and you cringe. This past weekend, as families nationwide gathered to give thanks, I decided to give thanks for boy bands. I ordered up New Kids on the Block's Greatest Hits video collection (thank you Netflix, the gift that keeps giving).

Jessica and I sat down to watch. Immediately my mind jumped back to 1990. I was in junior high. I was wearing ridiculously ugly big puffy reversible sweaters. I had a NKOTB button roughly the size of my head (so big that it had a stand at the back, so you could set it out as a picture frame. I chose to wear it.) I was loving Jordan Knight forever (bonus points if you caught the reference). I didn't care that he had extensively long canines and a falsetto to make plastic cups shatter. That rat tail was all I needed to get by in life. (his, not mine)

The videos began, and let me tell you, they did not disappoint. These guys could actually dance. Clearly Justin Timberlake was just an NKOTB fan back in the day, because he is rocking those same moves. Perhaps their lyrics weren't the best ("we ain't gonna give anybody any slack/ if you put us down we're gonna come right back"), but hey, they were from the cushy burbs of Boston. The music was really good, easily taken from the same pile that New Edition picked from (and in fact, was), and they had great voices. Their excessive use of cavarricis and smiley-face-wearing-do-rag tee shirts was a misdemeanor really. And Donnie Wahlberg made it ok for white kids to wear Public Enemy shirts...

I could write about das New Kids for a long long time. I could tell you how I've looked them up to find out where they are now, I could tell you that i just ordered Jordan Knight's last 2 albums from Amazon, I could tell you that I've rewatched the video THRICE.

I mean, I always loved Jordan. For those of you not in the know, every girl had a favorite New Kid. Jordan had a great smile and a pompador to die for (and only the 30 year old me now realizes, the great abs). I love love loved him. Susie loved Jonathan, Jordan's socially awkward brother (who we've since decided was the hot one. But before she gloats too much let me point out that he dated Tiffany). My friend Kathy loved Donnie, the dirty one with the mullet. I may have written fan mail to Jordan (in fact, I'm relatively sure I did). The difference between this and, say, going back to your high school reunion is that they WERE as great as I remember them.

While there is so much to regret about my younger years (including but not limited to my dalliance with brightly colored flannels, pegged jeans, and army boots -- simultaneously), it was reassuring to see that, hey, I was right about New Kids. They WERE good.

But what was even more interesting as I was watching was getting some perspective on what my childhood was like relative to others'. NKOTB was my first concert, it was a BIG deal. If I concentrate I can remember exactly what I wore to school that day and how it felt counting down to go to Rosemont Horizon. Going to that show was perhaps the turning point where I was allowed to be one with music, and I was allowed to be one with my age group. (Yes, I had the one puffy reversable sweaters but more commonly my mom dressed me -- yes, dressed me -- in earthy tones, and sometimes cashmere sweaters directly from her closet. No one is as comfortable with burgundy, mustard yellow, army green, and silk blouses as I was at that age.) When mom stepped into the elevator with her pack of cigarettes and pulled the emergency stop to hide from the shrieking adolescents (true story), it was me and the Kids. Just us. I was allowed to be a shrieking teenager (sorry Susie!- she was sitting next to me). I felt a shade of normal.

At one point in the BEST OF videos, Donnie comes out in barely-there jeans. I mean, they were so shredded that it looked as if he had fastened them on his legs (before donning aformentioned Public Enemy shirt). Jessica, who was watching with me, started reminiscing about how she got bleach everywhere when she and her friend were making their own ripped, acid-washed jeans.

"I wasn't allowed to wear ripped jeans."

Silence. It was like my comment went unheard, and perhaps it did (or perhaps she was enthralled with Jordan's body rolls, which rivaled Ricky Martin's). In that one second I realized that, no matter how close I am with some people, it's hard to explain how differently I grew up. Once my friend came over with ripped jeans and went into my room and my dad heard an earful from my grandmother about how he should be ashamed of himself for not giving her the money to buy a new pair, poor thing!

Music was the one place where I escaped from a confusingly bicultural world. I couldn't wear the same stuff those girls were wearing, but I could know the lyrics just as well and I definitely had those moves down (giving me a slight edge, I might add). When I listened to NKOTB or any of the other music phases I went through, I was the same as everyone else.

Perhaps this made me a bit nostalgic for the 80s. Granted, I was too young to fully enjoy the eighties (i wasn't a teenager yet), but no on really gets nostalgic for the 90s. So the 80s it was -- I was nostalgic for what I might have missed out on. There was no way I was allowed to crimp my hair or wear tons of makeup or talk like a valley girl on the regular. My 8th birthday was a punk rock theme, so I got to dress like Cyndi Lauper for a day, but I wanted to be like that ALL the time!

So, never one to rest on my bubble skirt, Jessica and I began planning. I guess just another step in reclaiming my youth (kegstands on my 30th birthday already happened, and a return to school is underway). The circle of life really. Eighties Prom (our New Year's Eve party theme, you're invited) is underway.

And if you guessed that NKOTB videos will be playing in the background for your visual enjoyment, you were totally right.


Anonymous said...

joey looks like a young version of this. what's on danny's head in that photo? whatever it is, it's inflating.
i watched those youtube videos and i have to disagree completely. NKOTB were absurd and horrible. their 'right stuff' dance reminded me of that particularly hilarious part of the 'stacey/star wars/trumpet' youtube video. and it's as boy band sounding as any boy band, which is to say, may be good if you like boy bands but i don't, so i don't. my ears and eyes bled a little.
and they're all hideous except for 'brian' (aka donnie) who could pass as his (brother? cousin?) marky mark who is actually kinda hot.

Anonymous said...

i was a jealous 13 year old. so my girlfriend and i used to get in arguments all the time about new kids on the block videos and johnny depp on 21 jump street. but mostly when i watch things from that time period i think about how poor the production value is.

And unlike you I get nostalgic for the 90s. For flannel shirts and shaved heads and nose rings. For dock marten boots and crowd surfing. For hardcore shows on Sunday afternoon at the Stone Pony because listening to deafening music and kicking each other was so much more fun than going to church.

Michelle Kemper Brownlow said...

I loved this post!
I loved boy bands, too!

I have to laugh at the pin-the-size-of-a-picture-frame because I would SO have worn it, too!!

Loved this time travel - thanks!!