Friday, October 10, 2008

upstairs at erik's

Three weeks ago, the song "Only You" by British band Yazoo ended up on my ipod shuffle. Suddenly, "Only You" was the only song I wanted to hear for the first time in a long-long time. I'm in a teenager-in-love-style play and repeat phase. The last time I got stuck on this song was in tenth grade. I had a lot of pining to do for my big time high school crush. A lot of slow dances to imagine. A lot of interactions to over-analyze and ponder. And a lot of hoping to do. This song was made for those moments. "[Sigh.] No one understands how I feel. Except for Yazoo." Only Yazoo.

"Only You" and the album "Upstairs At Eric's" are to my mind, in and of themselves, infatuation-worthy. Especially to young, coming-of-age ears. It certainly stands as a soundtrack of my formative years. It is the sound of sharing a room with my very patient older sister Kristin when I was seven and she was sixteen. At that time "Bad Connection" was my jam. It replaced The Police's "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" as my peppy, feel good anthem to demand. I had no idea it was actually a song about Alison Moyet feeling frustrated she can't get through to her Baby on the phone. I also had no idea a woman sang the song. I thought someone named "Yaz" (as we know them here in the US) sang the song. And in my mind, Yaz was a genderless, numinous being. I mean, look at the album cover. It's confusing who's behind the music. To me it looked like *no one* was upstairs at Eric's. Just some scary mannequins in a post-apocalyptic apartment.

All I knew was I just wanted to hear "Bad Connection" so many times—which was potentially annoying to my teenage sister who was mostly interested in solitary activities. I'm pretty sure she just wanted to draw or scrapbook and listen to "Only You" seventeen hundred times. But she is a terrific sport, and a doting sister, and so she patiently honored all my requests.

It was also the soundtrack of impatiently loitering outside my fourteen-year-old brother Erik's room, hoping he'd unhitch the velvet rope and "please lemme in.....I mean, can I?"

These are the things I understood about Upstairs at Eric's in 1982: "Only You" was pretty but boring. "I Before E Except After C" was terrifying and the sound of insanity. "Bad Connection" was the greatest song of all time.

"In My Room" was a league of its own. "In My Room" was the song Erik used to terrorize me on our walks to school. Our ten minute walk would proceed as follows:

[Half a block walked in silence]

And then:

Erik: [In a deliberately affected, forced singing voice] "The WALLS are WHITE and IN the NIGHT the room is lit by ELECTRIC LIGHT"
Me: What is that? Stop.
Erik: "The WALLS are WHITE and IN the NIGHT the room is lit by ELECTRIC LIGHT"
Me: [already losing it] Erik stop. I mean it.
Erik: I'll think about it. "The WALLS are WHITE and IN the NIGHT the room is lit by ELECTRIC LIGHT"
Me: [Desperate] Shut UP! Why aren't you listening to me?!
Erik: Shut up? That's a badwordthe..WALLS are WHITE and IN....
Julia: SHUT UP.
Erik: [Stops and turns to look at me] Maybe if you asked me to stop NICELY, I would consider stopping.

[we keep walking]

Erik: [humming quietly] "do DO do DO..."
Me: [muttering politely] Please don't sing.
Erik: la-LA la-LA...
Me: Please don't sing
Erik: la la la la-la la la LA!

It was a particularly effective torture tactic because the lyrics made no sense to me. They were confusing and unsettling. And he was persistent. And so good at mind games.

[Note: A few weeks later the chorus to "Loverboy" by Billy Ocean replaced "the walls are white..." as the Verse to Curse:

Erik: "Wannabeyo LU-vah, LUvah, LUvahbooyyy..."
Me: ERIK.]

I finally got my revenge the summer before going to college. Erik was well out of college and I had all-access access to his room. While freely trolling around for new music for a new mix, and a tape I could tape over I found an unlabeled BASF cassette. I put it in my boom box for review. Initially there was nothing but the sound of muffled shuffling around. Maybe one of his fake radio programs recorded with best friend Chris? Suddenly I hear Erik clearing his throat. And then: A miracle. Fourteen-year-old Erik Rydholm begins to sing, very, very earnestly, very, very, very, awkwardly, a capella, and pretty loudly:

Lookin' from a window above
it's like a story of love

can you he-ear me?
Came back only yesterday but moving farther away

wantcha nee-her me

[starting over, many, many many octaves higher, and REALLY loudly]


It really was a Christmas miracle. It was glorious. I stared at the middle distance, glowing, drunk with power, just imagining the possibilities and, suddenly, knew what I had to do. I had to put it on a "Flashback!" mix for my friend Fatima. As the opening to Side B. Followed by "Automatic" by the Pointer Sisters.

And it was done. A masterpiece.

Fatima and I listened to it in her Renault jalopy all summer long and *wept* with laughter. She made copies for her sister Bibi and our friend Nicole. I made one for my friend Leigh. We always played it in the car. And each time it came on: Laughter. Eventually we just started singing along, perfecting each perfect part.

Today Erik recalled the moment the turntables finally turned and I played the recording back to him. It sounds not unlike the horrible realization that "the call is coming from inside the house." But more like the horrible realization that the song is coming from your private teenage home studio:

"It wasn't just that you found it. It's how you decided to reveal that you found it: on a mix tape being played inside the car during a family visit to Bowdoin [College]. As I remember, I was in the backseat. I don't think we were a second into the song when I realized what was going on. Something lurched in my stomach and I lunged over the front seat for the eject button. While you cackled."

He explained he was probably singing out his feelings for his teenage crush Marcy.

If I were a real wise guy I would make an mp3 out of the recording. I'm not that mean. Unless Erik says I have permission to be that mean.

In college, "Bad Connection" was nearly summarily ruined for me by seeing a college women's a capella group doing a completely overblown rendition of the song. 8000 harmonies. Pantomimed hanging-on-the-telephone choreography. Huge, crazy smiles. You get the idea.

For years I couldn't listen to "Only You" because I only heard it in Erik's voice. It was confusing. And made me feel a little guilty. Recovering from that, I shelved the song as "cheesy." Several years ago, however, the BBC program "The Office" made brilliant use of it in their Christmas special during a seminal slow dance between star-crossed lovers. I wept. A song was reborn.

And reborn again three weeks ago when it sneaked into rotation on my ipod shuffle and I couldn't stop listening to it. It's pretty heartbreaking, and yes, pretty cheesy. At the beginning of this week I decided to fill my ipod with my Yaz favorites and listen to them ad nauseam. My interests this week? Goats and Yaz.

The playlist:

Too Pieces
Mr. Blue (from the album "You and Me Both")
Only You
Bad Connection

The selection does not disappoint.

While riding my bike home over the Brooklyn Bridge Wednesday night at midnight, the song "Midnight" came on just as it started to drizzle.

And now it’s midnight it’s raining outside
And I’m soaking wet,
still looking for that man of mine

And I ain’t found him yet
Well all of this rain can wash away my tears
But nothing can replace all of those wasted years

In all of this I tell you I have learnt

Playing with fire gets you burnt
And I’m still burning

You and me both, Yaz! It *was* midnight! And I was *also* starting to get drenched! Alison Moyet no longer sounds paranormal to me, she sounds like a woman experiencing some serious feelings. I can relate to that, too. Just like Erik, upstairs at my parents' house singing for Marcy and meaning it.

I'm sorry I made fun of your serious feelings, Erik.
But I'm glad Yazoo understood you. Only Yazoo.


Tommy said...

if you promise never to tell anyone, here's the song i like to crank up loud on the car stereo and sing along to:

iced coffee & bagel with tofu cream cheese lover said...

funniest. blog. post. ever.

Pixel said...

oh Yazoo! They played at Sonar just gone, it would have been the most beautiful thing ever.