New releases in New Zealand, 18 June 1989
I Drove All Night – Cyndi Lauper
It’s a matter of perspective.
At primary school he used to go on to the back field at lunch and play on a hill that ran up one side of those fields. It was a high, steep hill riddled with tree roots, clumps of grass and dug out hollows where generations of kids had played their war games, or built their forts, or dug for treasure. He played there for the first couple of years at that school, and then he graduated to playing cricket or ball tag on the field itself.
That school was a private boys’ school. They sang songs about Scotland, hymns about the God who had recently killed his father, wore a uniform that was stipulated down to garters and underpants, and learned the back to basics in class: sit still, shut your mouth, and do what you’re told. It was an institution run on fear, it bullied anyone who didn’t fit, and it aspired to make everyone conform to a 19th century imperial version of what a boy should be (obedient cannon fodder).
That’s why he loved Cyndi Lauper in 1984.
Everyday he would go with his mother to her work, and then get the bus from Wellington Station to school. After school he would come back to the station and then walk to his mother’s work and wait for her to finish up. Sometimes he waited in the car: the little brown Mitsubishi Mirage which was sometimes parked on a back street in Thorndon.
That’s where he sang Girls Just Wanna Have Fun one time as loud as he could.
Some people think that song is an anthem for girls, but it isn’t necessarily. If you were him, an 11 year old boy after a day at a school that ran on fear, and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun came on the radio, then it was a song that seemed to be speaking directly to him: to the possibility of escape and joy.
Some boys take a beautiful girl
And hide her away from the rest of the world
I want to be the one to walk in the sun
Pursuing the metaphor and thinking about who was the girl, who was the boy and what the sun was didn’t really work when you tried to cross it directly into his 11 year old life, but that didn’t matter. It was the feeling of it.
A few years later, when he was at secondary school, he recorded a Cyndi Lauper concert in Paris off the TV. She was in her True Colors period then. Still riding pretty high: Goonies had been good. Change of Heart. The old songs were still the best. He had noticed by then that Money Changes Everything was a really sad song. Like Time After Time. It was also potentially the point that he noticed what She Bop was actually about.
But after I Drove All Night the jig was up. In the imaginary contest of who was better between Madonna and Cyndi that had started in 1984 the winner was definitively declared in 1989 as Madonna released Like A Prayer and Express Yourself, and Cyndi vanished.
It didn’t matter though. If asked to pick between She’s So Unusual and any of Madonna’s first albums he would always pick She’s So Unusual. On Cyndi’s debut album it sounded like there was a more rounded person there. Not a clever set of costume changes, but someone who felt joy, and sadness, and could show it in her voice. Live To Tell is a great song but it’s not a patch on Time After Time.
Feeling. It came down to that, and the feeling of Money Changes Everything was sadder and tougher than any desperately-seeking-Susan.
So you want the feeling to last. That’s why he was disappointed when the person who sang the songs that made him swoon lost her knack. You can will the spark to ignite the kindling, but will is not enough. It will never be like that again: alone in the car at the end of the school day singing Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Probably school wasn’t that bad. Probably he exaggerates in hindsight looking to understand his life by creating more contrasting shade and light in the past than there really was.
Like the time he went back to the field he used to play on and saw the hill where he had mucked around with his mates again. It wasn’t a hill. Or steep. It was a slight rise – perhaps two metres at the most – and there seemed only to be a stubble of grass and some small holes in it. The difference in his memory and the reality in front of him was disorientating. It made him distrust his memory. But then he remembered about feeling. The feeling was right about the hill; it was giant, and riddled with roots, and scattered with forts. Just as the feeling was right about the school, about the squirty fear of the teachers, and the bright illumination of the pop songs.
It is a matter of perspective, of reevaluating, but it is also about remembering how it felt. Songs are the most direct way he knows back to a feeling and the truth of a feeling. If you see him dancing to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun nowadays don’t think he is singing along ironically. He’s not. A part of him is back in that car, aged 11, finding joy and light at the end of dull day.
New releases in New Zealand, 18 June 1989
- Madonna – Express Yourself
- Texas – I Don’t Want a Lover
- Michael Jackson – Leave Me Alone
- Inner City – Good Life
- Cyndi Lauper – I Drove All Night
- Alyson Williams – Sleep Talk
- Samantha Fox – I Only Want To Be With You
- Bill Withers – Lovely Day