Hold On for One More Day
I was flipping through CDs at the library the other night, about to give up on finding anything I actually recognized -- I am so out of touch with current music, and by current I mean "released in the last 15 years" -- when a familiar cover caught my eye. It was the self-titled debut album by Wilson Phillips, an all-girl singing trio consisting of Beach Boy Brian Wilson's two daughters and their childhood friend, the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips from The Mamas and the Papas. You may remember their monster hit from the summer of 1990, "Hold On." I remember it very well, because, for a couple months that year, the Wilson Phillips CD played constantly over the PA system of the movie theater where I worked. The theater had only a single-disc player, and the management was too busy (or too indifferent) to bother changing out the CDs once in a while. Which meant all us poor buggers down on the floor got incredibly sick of whatever the current music was, usually in a real big hurry. I remember several of those CDs meeting with rather ignominious ends. A couple of them sailed out across the parking lot like silvery frisbees. One was dashed into pieces with a mallet, reassembled with splicing tape, and hung on the inside of a circuit-breaker panel, to serve as a warning to other sugary middle-of-the-road pop albums that might wear out their welcomes. My personal favorite, though, was the incident in which a CD just happened to find itself on the floor of the projection booth, on which somebody -- I'm not saying who -- had sprinkled a little of the sand we used to fill the lobby ashcans. (Yes, it was a very different world a couple decades ago, what with socially acceptable smoking and single-disc CD players.) Did you know if you do The Twist on a CD laying in a sprinkling of sand atop a linoleum floor, that CD won't ever play right again? Sure looked pretty when the light hit it, though... all those concentric circular scratches...
Anyhow, I don't recall that Wilson Phillips got destroyed, and as endlessly looping lobby music went, it really wasn't bad. I retained enough good will toward it that when I saw this copy at the library, I got all nostalgic and checked it out. I thought it might be kind of nice to hear it again.
What it was, though, was weird.
You see, aside from "Hold On" and a couple other tracks, I found I didn't remember any of the music on this album. None of it. At all. Usually with old albums I haven't heard in years, I only think I don't remember the music until I actually start playing it, and then it comes back to me and I start unconsciously mouthing the words and anticipating the opening notes of the next track and such. Not with this album, though. And considering that I must've heard this silly thing 10 times a day, five days a week, for two months, that strikes me as very strange indeed. As I said, I don't remember finding this music especially objectionable, but for some reason, my brain chose to self-edit this stuff right out of the permanent files. I wanted to shoot myself after a couple months of listening to Chicago's Greatest Hits, yet I can still remember every horrific note of that self-pitying twaddle. My spin of Wilson Phillips last night, however, was like listening for the very first time.
In all seriousness, the music on this album isn't especially memorable. It's a blend of pleasant vocal harmonies and upbeat yet dated pop instrumentals that fairly scream out the year in which they were recorded. Like the New Agey audio wallpaper you hear in certain bookstores, it's innocuous and kinda-sorta likable and completely disposable. It's really no surprise that it hasn't stayed with me over the past two decades.
However, while I didn't remember the music itself, it seems to be an excellent trigger for memories of other things from that time. Not specific events, not even much in the way of sensory memories like I wrote about a couple months ago, but more just a general mood of the summer of 1990. The emotional ambiance, if you will.
While listening to Wilson Phillips, I remembered in shocking clarity how I felt for much of that summer. It wasn't long after my first big love affair had gone down in atomic flames, so I felt hurt and angry, and also inadequate and deeply lonely and -- I'm not too proud or prudish to admit it -- really horny. I remember feeling like I was on a quest of some kind, for knowledge, for love, for a return to the way things had been the previous summer. I was drowning in uncertainty and vaguely defined yearning. And yet, I recall a sense of increasing lightness, too, like I was becoming aware that the worst of the storm had passed. I was beginning to feel something close to normal again. And I felt like had a place to be, a place where I belonged, a family of sorts... my job at the movie theater. It was just a minimum-wage joe-job, as Mike Myers would say in Wayne's World, but it suited me in a way nothing since really has. It was the right place for me to be at that time in my life, certainly.
And I do have one sense memory, now that I think about it, a visual thing... the way the late afternoon sunlight streaming through the theater's front windows would bounce off the tile floor in the lobby and turn the air into a sort of golden haze. That's kind of a perfect image for a time and place I feel so much nostalgia for, wouldn't you say?