Music / Nostalgia / Personal History

There are a lot of absolutely bummers about having a February birthday. For one thing, February is solidly in the running for worst month of the year, despite having at least one–Groundhog Day–and occasionally two–Mardi Gras of my favorite holidays. Sometimes my birthday and Mardi Gras end up being the same day. That can be a lot of fun. On the other hand, if Mardi Gras hits before your birthday, that can also come with its own unique set of challenges. Like you end up with OMG YOUTH GROUP friends who decide to give up birthday cake for Lent, or possibly tell you they’ve given up birthday cake for Lent so they can skip your party and  go to one of those famously raucous, coed lock-ins at First Pres and try to make out with Andy M in the choir room after guitar vespers (note: I was never invited to a lock-in, this is merely conjecture based on 7th grade homeroom conversation).

The bigger issue is the weather, which, by and large, sucks in February. You have to be prepared at all times for the fact that your party may, at any times, be snowed out, sometimes after it has started, when the manager of the Pizza Hut regrets to inform you that they are sending staff home because the roads are getting so bad. And if they are not cancelled, parties are indoor affairs. This probably would have been okay if I were the kind of kid that could get figure out Galaga or manage to stop on rollerskates by any means other than slamming  myself at peak velocity into the Carolina-blue painted cinderblock wall at Skate-A-Round USA.

As it was, all I really wanted was a pool party. Being in or on or even near the water has been pretty much peak achievement for me since I was born. It was hard for me to imagine anything better than a swimming pool.  And so, when I was about to turn nine, my mother hosted my birthday party at downtown YMCA.

I still think about this as one of Mom’s great parental achievements. A pool party in February? Who has that in a temperate climate in the Northern Hemisphere? Nobody! We devised a list. Coed! We’d invite my whole class. Mom sent out invitations to everyone including the cutest boy, the girls in my class had such  a crush on we’d invented secret code, via Speak and Spell, to discuss him. I didn’t think there was any chance in the world he would come, but on the day of, he walked into the YMCA lobby bathed in what I remember as a golden light, with swagger I imagine you can’t really muster as an otherwise clueless nine year old boy unless it’s through the gaze of a dozen or so infatuated nine year old girls.

I don’t remember that much about the party itself. As a venue, the YMCA did little to impress. We had an hour to splash in the overwarm, heavily chlorinated tile and glass chamber where most of us had endured some flavor of swim lessons in years past. Then the space was surrendered back  to old ladies in rubber flower swim caps and Dads in uncomfortably short swim trunks trying to repress their emotions via aggressive freestyle laps.  We retreated to the awkward tiled “café” area outside the locker room to enjoy a Cookie Cake and presents.

I hadn’t had much opportunity to hang out with Crush, because quite frankly, I was incapable to speaking to him and making words happen. He brought me a present though, and when he slid it across the table, we all silenced.

He said, “I really hope my Mom didn’t buy you a Tina Turner Tape.”

I looked at the wrapped packed. It was manifestly a cassette tape.

He sighed. “Jeez. If that is a Tina Turner tape, I’m going to kill my Mom.”

I slid the paper off. It was “Private Dancer,” a Tina Turner Tape.

Crush groaned. “I can’t believe my Mom bought you a Tina Turner tape,” he said, and stormed off furious through the crowd.

I thanked him, confused. I didn’t understand the problem. I had been brought to believe that Tina Turner was something akin to a God.  And I thought “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” was a pretty great song. I thought the leather dress Tina Turner wore in the “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” video was kind of everything. And I’d recently taken Tina Turner’s “What Love Go To Do With It?” hair as clear evidence that my mother was on the wrong side of fashion in her insistence that I brush my own. Wouldn’t it be blasphemous to deny style inspiration from an  actual deity?

We didn’t get any clarification. We ate some cake. We went home. I listened to my new “Tina Turner” tape and thought about Crush, who, whether he realized it or not, would continue to be the first person I thought of whenever I heard “Private Dancer,” even after the crush subsided and “Beyond Thunderdome” and  years went by and we ended up friends in high school. Even after, Angela Bassett and the other “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” and watching a former best friend squirm across my living room floor in what may be one of the greatest karaoke performances of “Proud Mary” you’ve never seen and all the other records and songs and the (seemingly true) folk wisdom that “Private Dancer” is to removing a stubborn earworm what white vinegar is to obliterating kitchen smells.

It’s a bit tacky, at least, if not full-on bad manners to make a big deal out of grieving for celebrities these. I guess it’s seen as another of those social-media-enabled parasocial tics that comes off as being both embarrassingly earnest and crassly disingenuous at the same time. That’s fine. I don’t mind if you roll your eyes, but I also don’t mind telling you that Tina Turner’s death hit harder than I expected yesterday. Maybe because this has been a season of loss. The people I’ve always taken for granted as always being there are no longer there or may won’t be for much longer. I am aware that this is not an anomaly; this is my age. This is the human condition. Sometimes I think we grieve publicly for celebrities at a distance because it’s less complicated for grieving for people we know up close. It’s a lot cleaner to get all sic transit gloria whatever when you’re talking about a rock god than a family member. It’s a lot  easier to link a music video than to actually reach out and real deal tell someone how sorry you are and does it even help, at this point, to hear it from you after all this time?

I mean, who needs a heart when a heart can be broken, right?

About that link: most of my favorite Tina Turner songs date from a famously awful (for her) era in her life/career. I don’t really feel like giving any air right now, even by extension, to her monstrous ex, so I’ll leave it here with my nine year old self, still damp from her pool party, sitting on her bed,  listening to a brand new birthday present with her dorky Fisher Price headphones, trying to riddle out the mystery of why boys, especially the cute ones, were so weird.  

It’s a good memory. It’s easy and uncomplicated. Less bitter. More sweet. I’m not going to mess with it.


The Author

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