In the winter of 1989, my father regularly took me to the Hommocks Park Ice Rink in Mamaroneck, New York. It was a chance to tear me away from the TV and work some cardio into my weekend schedule. When I first stepped foot onto the ice, my chubby 9-year-old legs wobbled. The brown leather rental skates pinched my wide feet, laced-up torture devices for little boys who just wanted to sit on the couch and watch a few reruns of The A-Team. But after a few laps around the rink (and several trips and falls), I got the hang of it. "Don't look down at your feet," my father would tell me. "Just look ahead and go." His advice helped.
What also helped was the mix of pop music they would pump through the speakers inside the rink. One song that seemed to have played on heavy rotation was Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is A Place On Earth." Soon enough, I couldn't get it out of my head. The empowering chorus got me pumped. I skated faster and faster around the rink, my eyes focused on what was ahead of me, my ears absorbing the rockin' vocals of the former Go-Go. My feet stopped throbbing with pain. I soared across the ice, determined, inspired, invincible. In my mind, I envisioned a line of skaters moving in a lively, choreographed rhythm behind me, everyone waving their hands in the air and singing along: "Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth? Ooh heaven is a place on earth!"
*Sidenote: Since the age of 6 (as far back as I can remember), whenever I heard a particular tune, I've always had a tendency to daydream about music videos in which I, or friends of mine, would take center stage. You know, like when Renee Zellwegger's Roxie Hart fantasized about singing "All That Jazz"...or when Christina Aguilera's Ali pictured herself covered in diamonds in Burlesque.
Needless to say, whenever I hear Carlisle's fantastic contribution to 80s pop, I can't help but think of that ice rink, lacing up those skates, and drinking hot chocolate while watching the Zamboni machine refresh the ice.
Songs have a way of taking us back to particular moments in time - weddings, first dates, high school dances, the first time you rode in your mom's new car...and I have plenty mentally filed away that come out every so often when I hear a certain melody, beat, or lyric. For instance...
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana - Riding the Mind Scrambler at Playland Park. The ride operator of this indoor attraction also acted as a DJ (which, I had thought, was such a cool gig), and he must have had a thing for Kurt Cobain, because every time my friends and I got on, it felt as if we were in a psychedelic mosh pit. Riders loved it. We would spin around while everyone screamed out the chorus and thrashed their heads. If you had asked me back then, I would've preferred something by La Bouche or The Real McCoy.
Amy Grant's "Every Heartbeat" takes me back to the summer of 1993 during which I spent two weeks at Campus Kids, an overnight summer camp based on a small college campus somewhere in Pennsylvania (hence the name). Armed with an ancient tape cassette player and a snazzier-looking Aiwa portable player, I replayed the song over and over - on the bus ride there, in my room (which I adorned with a Jurassic Park poster) and anywhere else I could. My roommates included a socially awkward 13-year-old who violently tossed and turned in his sleep and a chubby Hispanic kid who made the mistake of swallowing a cup full of mouthwash and burning his esophagus one morning. Fun times.
"My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion - Four 17-year-old boys. In my father's Toyota Camry. Lip syncing for their lives.
"All That She Wants" by Ace of Base - Eighth grade. Jeanette Tanner's birthday party. I first heard this song with the rest of my classmates at Westchester, the nightclub Jeanette's family had rented out for the occasion. My obsession grew shortly thereafter. "Don't Turn Around" became a prominent track on the first mixtape I ever made later that summer.
"Self Control" by Laura Branigan - My mother's friend once owned a house with a pool next door to a cemetery. One night, in the summer of 1984, a bat had flown into the enclosed backyard, sending everyone running for cover. As a little boy, I kept picturing fangs ripping into my neck and claws scratching my eyes out. I remember scraping my knee on the concrete deck while trying to scramble out of the pool. Laura Branigan must have been playing on a nearby radio at the time, because whenever I hear this song, I'm transported back to that creepy night. Luckily, back then, I never saw the equally creepy music video, directed by The Exorcist's William Friedkin; my pre-school ass would've had nightmares for days (don't even get me started on Michael Jackson's "Thriller").
I'm sure there are countless other songs with which I have vivid associations (and I'm sure I'll write them down when the time comes). It's amazing how far one little ditty can make you flashback. Looking back at the last twenty years of my life, so many of my memories have been trademarked by music, so many personal milestones and trivial moments accompanied by one song or another.
But until I dig up more memories, I leave you with this: