2. Sure, I loved “Y.M.C.A.” Who didn’t? Oh, you didn’t? The difference is that I loved it so much that I had to own the Village People’s complete, album-length statement. I went to Peaches and there was the display: “If you think “Macho Man” is hot, wait till you start Cruisin’.”
2a. Cruisin’ was enjoyed by your narrator unironically, all 38 minutes of it, accompanied by dance routines in the confined space of my bedroom. I regarded their image asexually: it never occurred to me, for example, that the Construction Worker on the cover sprawled atop a digger truck, with his shirt unbuttoned all the way to his thrusted-out crotch, for any other reason than to be more comfortable. Or that the Motorcycle Man wore black leather chaps for any other reason than protection from road burn riding his hog in the desert.
2b. The Village People were smiling and having fun. They were a representation of society.
3. A wise person once said that you don’t have to justify the music you loved at 11 or 12.
3a. That wise person was me. I just wrote it just now.
4. And I will just list the music I recorded onto 60-minute Normal TDKs tapes three decades ago, with a finger pressed on the pause button of our Emerson system, poised to record off the radio, sounds like innocence to me. I can make fun of myself but I cannot sully the memory of my mixes of Christopher Cross, Donna Summer, Pablo Cruise, Chicago, James Taylor and Carly Simon, Climax Blues Band, George Benson, Air Supply, and the Commodores.
5. These were sincerely made tapes, ones with names like “The Blue Mix” or “Antidisestablishmentarianism,” with rock and disco sides, hard and soft sides.
6. We drag out our childhoods these days. It started with my Gen X peers, I think, with our Planet of the Apes action figures and adult-sized Underoos. And so I feel partly to blame for this. Once a childhood is over, it’s over, but it’s also the prologue to the shadow childhood, an echo that, for me at least, sits in the back of my neck, where it shudders awake when I listen to old records or hear old voices.
7. I might be saying all this to justify my love for repeated listenings of Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child in the City.” But when I play old mixtapes, I surrender to what I once was: an innocent boy. Like the books and records I’ve collected and dragged from every apartment and house I’ve ever lived in, mixtapes remind me that my past was a physical fact, a tactile thing, not just soft nostalgia.
8. There exists a live video of the band performing another Cruisin’ track, “Hot Cop.” At around the three-minute mark, there’s a freestyle dance section so homoerotic it would make Thomas Eakins and Robert Mapplethorpe blush. Maybe if I saw that clip at 11, I’d either stop my multiple Cruisin’ listenings, or just be a gay man living in the East Village.
9. Just as I claim two memories as my first, one that involved my mom and dad, I used to claim I had two first albums. For years, I thought I bought Cruisin’ the same day as Billy Joel’s 1980 album, Glass Houses during the same afternoon at the Moonie-owned Peaches. But these records came into the world almost two years apart, and so I’ve had to de-couple this memory.
10. Here, clearly, is an instance where I’ve tried to make myself look better to the outside world. I’d thought one would cancel out the other, as if the Piano Man’s “Still Rock and Roll To Me” would get me off the hook somehow.
11. When did I grow tired of disco and guitar solos spliced out of power ballads? I think it started when I got my boombox in Christmas 1981. I then go to my room and use headphones, blast out songs that matched my confusion about my future. I somehow jimmy-rigged the boombox to a turntable, using it as an amplifier as well, and taped albums by putting a microphone in front of each speaker.
12. And then there was Sound Odyssey, the record store in the Cherry Hill Mall, only a bike ride and a chain lock away. Its interior, covered with black light posters and red shag carpet, made it resemble a custom van or a maybe a haunted house. The clerks stood in place like ghouls in flannel shirts.
12a. It was heaven.
13. To flip through stacks distracted me from the chronic worries of our household. The first LPs I bought on my own were cut-outs, low-sellers with a hole or line sliced at the spine, re-sold at bargain prices, anything to add to the collection and blast my ears out.
14. I brought these has-beens home and absorbed distinct parts of each song.
14a. Guitar fills in Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”
14b. The left-channel egg shaker in the second verse of Foreigner’s “Double Vision.”
15. If these examples sound lame and unhip, please keep in mind it’s 1982 and the CBGB’s scene wasn’t exactly knocking down doors in The Shade. Taste moves in increments when you’re a Catholic boy in the burbs.
16. And again those K-Tel compilations, which led to quantum leaps. A Canadian company with commercials that ruled the UHF dial during Bewitched! and Brady Bunch re-runs, K-Tel cranked out themed collections with titles you can only say with a jive radio DJ voice, each syllable accented equally.
20 Original Rock Revivals! A Touch of Country! Super Black! 24 Great Tear-Jerkers. Full Tilt. Turbo Trax. High Energy. Blast Off!
21. One night I was hanging out in the West Village at one of those walk-down piano bars with a former composition instructor from college who had become a friend. His name is Paul Taylor, and I worshipped him, not so much because he was gay, although that was part of what gave him a mystique or me some street credential for some reason. What I really loved about Paul is that he thought I was smart, and he laughed at my jokes. I can’t find Paul Taylor now because his name is so common. Anyway, on this particular evening, after the piano bar sing section ended, a song was piped though the system.
22. It sounded familiar, and I started singing. At the top of my lungs. I knew every word of this song, but through the fog-effect of several rounds of Heinekens and vodka-based drinks, I couldn’t place what song I was singing.
23. That song was by the Village People, and the track was “Cruisin’.”
“Cruisin’ everybody who’s passing by my way/Cruisin’ everybody, I’m cruisin’ you today.”