44 Songs/44 Years
(You can watch the entire 44-song playlist on youtube.)
Year 0 (1973)
Country Roads by John Denver was my mother's Lamaze song—technically not my choice, but John Denver's cool. If I had to pick a favorite song today from the Billboard charts in 1973, it would probably be Killing Me Softly by Roberta Flack—although I prefer the Fugees version. I also recognize that neither one would make a very good Lamaze song.
Year 1 (1974)
Jumpin' Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones (My dad says I learned to "dance" to this song.)
Year 2 (1975)
Had I been in charge of our home stereo, I like to think my favorite song of '75 would've been Fame by David Bowie, but really it was probably "The Isty-Bitsy Spider" (from Mars, maybe).
Year 3 (1976)
Sadly, or rather mercifully, I can remember nothing about the year I turned three, so let's just go with the most Canadian song of that year (possibly of any year), The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot.
Year 4 (1977)
Blue Bayou by Linda Ronstadt was my first favorite song that I remember being my favorite.
Year 5 (1978)
One Way or Another by Blondie was the first song I loved that my mother hated. We would fight for control of the radio dial when it came on, but then she usually let me listen to it... and sing.
Year 6 (1979)
The Devil Went Down to Georgia by Charlie Daniels Band played every night at the same time on the radio for a while when we lived in Ocean City, MD. It was an epic bluegrass bedtime story, and I liked it when he said, "you son of a bitch." ;)
Year 7 (1980)
Keep on Loving You by REO Speedwagon
I heard this song on the bus every day on the way home from school, but I never knew who it was, and I couldn't ask because the music came from the back of the bus where the big, scary 8th graders sat. But I loved it, and I probably didn't identify it until 15 years later.
Year 8 (1981)
Tainted Love by Soft Cell
Year 9 (1982)
Billie Jean by Michael Jackson
I'd like to pretend it was something else but in 1982, Billie Jean was everybody's favorite song.
Year 10 (1983)
Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics
Year 11 (1984)
Purple Rain by Prince
I still remember the night I saw "Purple Rain" with my two best friends in 6th grade. It was the 80s so of course there were no parents in sight. After the movie we went back to one girl's house and stayed up half the night listening to the radio. None of us owned the soundtrack yet, so we called the radio station and requested "Purple Rain" over and over and over and over. They would play "When Doves Cry" at least once every hour, and we loved that too, but what we were desperate to hear was the film's title track. The seeringly emotional ballad with its massive, swooning opening chords and hypnotically seductive chorus had exploded like alien spores in the packed theater, taking root in our fertile 11-year old brains and pollinating all kinds of thoughts and visions. We sat cross-legged on the floor in my friend's bedroom and took turns re-dialling the radio station. Every 10 or 20 times, we would actually get through to the DJ and we'd breathlessly repeat our request, trying to alter our voices slightly each time to give the impression of a groundswell of popular opinion. (This was pre-Caller ID—or pre our knowing about it anyway.)
It was well after midnight—and perhaps a dozen requests later—when the DJ finally acquiesced and we screamed in unison as we heard those first unmistakable notes. We all lay back and listened with every cell in our bodies. (You couldn't pay me enough to be 11 years old again, but I don't think there's a grown-up alive who listens to music the way an 11-year old does when there is no Youtube or iTunes, and you can't go out and buy the tape because it's the middle of the night and you don't know how to drive.) Sprawled on the floor with our eyes closed, feeling the music vibrate every molecule in the room around us, it was like we were trying to absorb it through our skin and into our veins, knowing if we could somehow incorporate its magic into our being, we would be that much closer to whatever this overwhelming, maddening feeling was that we had when we listened to it.
Year 12 (1985)
Crazy For You by Madonna
Year 13 (1986)
Take My Breath Away by Berlin
Ever wish you could get a peek at your life's ledger, that great cosmic spreadsheet on which all the grand totals are kept? You know, the number of plastic forks used in your lifetime, your total late fees paid, minutes spent waiting on hold, that kind of thing? I wonder how many times I played this song, first on the radio before I owned the soundtrack, when I would lunge every time I heard the first few notes (I could name that tune in one note), trying to hit play and record on the tape deck in time to capture the beginning—and it never worked because it was those first few ridiculously, deliciously 1980s-power-ballad notes that just seized your heart and made you want to cry—and then, after I had the soundtrack on vinyl as they say, when I could play just that one song over and over (because who really needs to hear "Dangerzone"?), usually when my parents weren't home and I could sing along at the top of my terrible teenage lungs.
Year 14 (1987)
Alone by Heart
I was already in love with Heart by then, but I completely lost my mind the first time I saw the video for "Alone" (because that's how we were exposed to new songs in the 80s—sometimes on the radio, but mostly on MTV). My best friend and I entered several lip-sync contests as Heart that year—I was Nancy, complete with inflatable guitar (and, ahem, cleavage). Despite their Seattle show falling on my birthday that year, tickets were sold out more or less the day they went on sale. It took me 30 years to remedy that historical oversight, but they came to Vancouver this year (with Joan Fucking Jett! ) and yes, they are still amazing.
Year 15 (1988)
Devil Inside by INXS
Sigh... Michael Hutchence. The previous year, they attained worldwide fame with "Need You Tonight" and by 1988 everyone was calling him the Jim Morrison of the '80s. Did anyone think, hey, maybe that's kind of a mixed bag to throw at someone who's newly famous and trying to come to terms with the entire world wanting to fuck him? Either way, he was as much of a Jim Morrison as the 80s deserved—a bouncier, shallower, leather-clad Dionysus for the era of (supposedly) safe sex and just saying no to drugs. A lesser Lizard King with considerably less on his mind, but at least all that "clean living" bought him an extra decade because he died at 37 instead of 27. But back in 1988, he was our Jim Morrison and he was good enough for us... Boy, was he ever.
I was 14 for the first half of 1988 and when I think back to the person I was, and the thoughts in my head, I gotta say, they don't bear a lot of resemblance to these memes women of my generation are posting under the hashtag #MeAt14 this past week, in response to the Roy Moore scandal in Alabama. Alyssa Milano, e.g., says, "I had Big hair. I was happy. I was innocent." Others talk about their love of horses, dogs, singing in the choir and eating chocolate chip cookie dough.
I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I don't think my obsessive feelings about Michael Hutchence made me an outlier at 14. I didn't want him to, like, take me to the prom, if you know what I mean, and it's not like I was fantasizing about some age-appropriate facsimile of him, either. I used to read romance novels at that age, too—you know, the kind with the Fabio lookalikes on the cover? They were basically Penthouse Forum, but with a lot more adjectives and a thin veneer of super un-PC history thrown in, mostly to justify the costumes and why none of the characters had to go to work. At 14, honestly, what I wanted most was to be 18.
Don't get me wrong—I think Roy Moore is a piece of shit who's unfit for public office. But I wouldn't describe myself—or most of my classmates at that age—as "innocent" (and statistically speaking, half of us weren't). I just think there's a lot of denial about what goes on in the minds of 14-year -olds, especially girls. But I get it—if I was a parent, that would be the last thing I'd want to think about. Gross! But I think there's something unfair and dangerous about refusing to acknowledge what we were really like at that age, even if we never acted on it. It puts the entire burden of denying biology on the males of our species, who are generally less good at it than we are. Anyway...
Year 16 (1989)
Lovesong by The Cure
I finally saw them in concert for the first time in 2015 and they sounded exactly, awesomely the same. Who'da thought goths would age so well compared to the other high school tribes?
Year 17 (1990)
Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O'Conner
Year 18 (1991)
Wave of Mutilation by The Pixies
Year 19 (1992)
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
Year 20 (1993)
All Apologies by Nirvana
I've already written at length about how I failed to see Nirvana in concert in 1993, despite living in Seattle and working just a few blocks away from the site of their last live appearance.
Year 21 (1994)
Rooster by Alice in Chains
Year 22 (1995)
Groove is in the Heart by Deee-Lite
Year 23 (1996)
Time Bomb by Rancid
Year 24 (1997)
Karma Police by Radiohead
Year 25 (1998)
Ray of Light by Madonna, who I also finally saw in concert in 2015. It's hard to pick one favorite song from 1998, kind of like picking one favorite movie from 1999. And then there's the whole music-you-danced-to vs. music-you-bought dichotomy, which would cease to be an issue for totally different reasons a couple of years later... and then, a few years after that, for reasons somewhat related to the other thing (Napster, iTunes/iPods/iPhones), it would be like, hey, remember the last CD you ever bought...?
Year 26 (1999)
Ænema by Tool
Year 27 (2000)
6 Underground by Sneaker Pimps
Year 28 (2001)
Otherside by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Year 29 (2002)
The Grudge by Tool
Year 30 (2003)
Drive by Rodger Aaron Toews
Year 31 (2004)
Killing in the Name Of by Rage Against the Machine
Although it was released in 1996, this song seemed to see a resurgence in airplay and relevance as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ramped up and spun out of control.
Year 32 (2005)
Mad World by Gary Jules (Ditto.)
Year 33 (2006)
The Pot by Tool
Who we saw in concert in 2002 and 2017, although the last album they released was in 2006 (coincidentally, it was the aforementioned "last CD I ever bought").
Year 34 (2007)
Paper Planes by M.I.A.
Year 35 (2008)
L.E.S Artistes by Santogold
Year 36 (2009)
Bad Romance by Lady Gaga
Year 37 (2010)
Washington Square by The Correspondents
Year 38 (2011)
Rolling in the Deep by Adele
Year 39 (2012)
I Love It by Icona Pop
Year 40 (2013)
G.M.F. by John Grant
Year 41 (2014)
Thrift Shop by Macklemore
Year 42 (2015)
Gold by Kiiara (Who we saw in Vancouver on election night 2016.)
Year 43 (2016)
Nobody Speak by DJ Shadow featuring Run the Jewels
Year 44 (2017)
Cool Girl by Tove Lo
Well, this has been a fun, weird exercise in nostalgia and memory... undertaken perhaps perfectly appropriately when I was suffering at home with a cold and sleeping too much, while it poured rain outside and got dark by 4:30 pm... And that's all I have to say about that!
There is No Darkness But Ignorance
Rose appears in the doorway, a tiny girl with a big stage presence. Her straight brown hair is pulled back in a ponytail and she's wearing black pants and a black short-sleeved shirt. She speaks with animated gestures, like an improv artist, but this is the first and last time I'll notice it. She shakes our hands and repeats our names. Then she says, "My name is Rose. If you need anything at all, I don't want you to be polite. I want you to call my name like you're Jack and the Titanic is sinking! Is this your first time here? Cool! Are you nervous?! Are you excited? I'm excited! Put your hands on my shoulders and follow me!"
(Is it weird that I can remember everything except for her eyes? Or is it actually perfectly normal... I feel like I could draw a convincing likeness of her from cheekbones to toes, but for some reason, when my mind tries to reconstruct a composite from memory just over a week old, I can't see her eyes—or remember if I ever saw them. Was she wearing Stevie Wonder blackout shades? It could have been yellow Fright Night contact lenses for all I know. Could it be that I never make eye contact with anyone and this is the first time I'm realizing it? Or is there something about looking at someone who can't see you, that makes you instinctively avoid looking them in the eye?)
Anyway, we enter the restaurant and the door closes behind us. I can no longer see Rose or anything else. I have my hands on her shoulders and Mr. Pink's hands are on mine. He asks if it's going to be absolutely pitch black like this in the restaurant and Rose teases back, "That's why we call it blind dining... It's not dim dining!" Dim dining! Rose is funny. She's fucking delightful.
"You don't have to worry about any steps or doors," she says as we follow closely behind her. "Nothing is going to trip you or hit you in the face. There's a curtain coming up on your left, and just past that we're going to make a 90 degree left turn."
We've been given simple instructions: follow behind her in single file as she leads us first to the restrooms and then to our table. The restrooms are dimly lit and separated from the dining room by two sharp turns and a hallway. There are heavy fabric drapes over what I assume are the structural doorways. Later, Rose will tell us if we could see the room in full daylight, we'd see a lot of curtains and a shit ton of duct tape.
I'm trying not to step on her heels, but periodically our little "train" comes to a jolting halt as Mr. Pink pulls back on my shoulders and we all crash into each other. He laughs and apologizes and then picks up the rhythm again. Every time it happens, Rose says, "Oopsy!" as if she'd been going too fast and I say, "Sorry, it's not me! Babe, are you okay?" and Mr. Pink says it's fine, "it's just really dark."
When we get to our table, Rose carefully deposits us next to each of our chairs, then describes the layout of the table. We're seated across from each other at a two-top with open space on either side. I move my hands along the sides of the table, getting a feel for its boundaries. I would guess it's roughly 24 to 28 inches square. Is that a standard table size? I'm probably bad at 3D modeling, but if you've been to any cafe, you've sat at this table. There are napkins and placemats, no table cloth—if you think about it for a minute, this is no doubt a safety imperative. We each have a fork and a spoon but no glasswear (which is perfect for me—I hate being given water at restaurants. I don't drink it and they just get in the way). There is no centerpiece but my brain will go ahead and construct one anyway, a fuzzy sort of dividing line that bisects the table halfway between us.
I ask Mr. Pink, "Where is you at?" reaching out and groping around, but definitely not flailing."Okay," I say, "I'm reaching out with my hand. My left hand..." I slowly sweep my hand across the table over the invisible barrier, then I realize... "Oh shit, of course I mean my right hand, your left... Aha—there you are!" And we're finally holding hands.
Rose bounces back into our nonexistent periphery like a slimmer, less visible, female Tigger. She asks if we're doing okay, if we're comfortable. If we think we'd like to stick around for the whole experience? "Absolutely," we say, of course! Mr. Pink asks, half-joking, if anyone ever gets up and leaves at this point, and Rose tells us that at least once or twice a week someone does leave just a few minutes after sitting down. "Seriously?" I'm shocked and slightly offended. Why would anyone go to all the trouble of coming here, knowing what the deal is, only to leave a few minutes later?
Rose says, "Well... It's never the women. Haha, it's always men. I think they start out thinking they'll be able to handle it, but then once they're sitting in the dark they realize they don't have any control, and they just can't do it. They say, "I'm sorry, but this just isn't for me."
"Huh. Well, we're doing great," I say enthusiastically. "You might even have to throw us out eventually when you get tired of us and you're ready to go home!"
We pre-ordered our meals and drinks out in the foyer when we first arrived (steak for Mr. Pink and lamb rigatoni for me). We have glasses of sangria to go with our "surprise" appetizers and two different glasses of wine with dinner. We're looking forward to "blind taste testing" to see (or whatever) if we can tell the difference between his Malbec and my Shiraz without being told which is which. When the first course arrives, Rose tells us only that "it isn't soup," and then scampers off... at least that's how I imagine her moving through the inky blackness—an energetic, echo-locating superhuman in a room full of the disoriented and newly blind.
I cautiously feel around the dish in front of me, which is either a shallow bowl or a very high-rimmed plate. I pat towards the center of it, trying to get a sense of shape while avoiding the risk of putting my fingers into something I don't want to end up digging out from under my nails. I can feel several randomly organic-shaped things on a bed of something vaguely leafy. Nothing wet or gooey, which is first of all, good, but also rules out salad, which would have been my first guess. Still picturing a super-dry salad, I gently stab at it with my fork, hoping to spear a selection of things without sending any of them flying off my plate.
I can see absolutely nothing, but I have a mental map of the dining room around me. Mr. Pink is straight in front of me, and there's maybe a wall or partition behind him. If Rose's entries and exits are anything to go by, the kitchen is somewhere behind me and to the right. Behind me to the left is the curtain/doorway where we came in. Beyond the curtain and to the left are the bathrooms; beyond the curtain to the right is a hallway and a left turn and then the front entrance. I think.
I've carefully placed my sangria on my left, since Rose always approaches from my right. We both manage to navigate the whole plate-silverware-glasses setup rather well, neither of us audibly losing any silverware or knocking over any glasses. I even successfully rummage around in my purse for a scrap of paper, on which I'd scribbled the restaurant's address, which I fold up very tightly and lean all the way down to the floor, then I slide the paper under the leg of the table, which is just a fraction of an inch too short, and this effectively stops it from its slight but annoying wobble. (Awesome—I'm winning at blind dining!)
And yet... Three bites into the appetizer, I still can't identify it... It tastes good, whatever it is. But it's not salad... Its not any kind of meat... It has finely grated cheese on top, like Parmesan or Asiago...
"Mushroom caps," says Mr. Pink suddenly. He's beaten me to it. I say, "Omg, totally."
Our entrees are very good; my pasta is bite-sized and the sauce is the perfect consistency. Mr. Pink's steak is sliced neatly into bite-sized pieces but still manages to be reasonably "rare," a noteworthy culinary achievement all its own. At first, we had planned on circumventing the whole bite-sharing/stabbing-hazard process by getting up and switching seats, but in the end we manage to reach across the table and share bites just like normal, civilized, sight-impaired people. We trade sips of wine, and I guess that mine is the Shiraz (which I like better—fortunately, he prefers his own too), so we're both right and we're both happy.
Even though the first thing Rose told us was, "there are no steps or doors," when my brain mapped out the room, it created a second level in the floor plan. I can tell there are at least three or four other occupied tables in the room by the sound of their voices and the apparent direction they're coming from. It seems like there were voices coming from behind Mr. Pink, but since I had already imagined his back against a wall, I think my mind tried to compromise by envisioning two steps up to a sort of mezzanine.
We're nearing the end of our entrees when Rose comes over to ask how we're doing. She says my name. "I'm hearing a lot of stabbing going on over here." I laugh and explain that I think I'm finished but just wanted to make sure I hadn't missed anything. "Oh," she says. "You know, nobody's looking! I would just pick up the plate and..." [she makes slurping noises]
(I admit, even in the dark, the idea of messing up my lipstick in this manner never occurred to me!)
Our mystery dessert (lemon cheesecake with blueberries) is much more easily identified than the appetizers, which still haunt me every time I tell someone about the experience. They inevitably give me this look (or I imagine they do) that says, "If I were eating mushrooms, I'd be able to tell."
I know you'd like to think so. But all that stuff they say about the other senses being heightened? It's not instantaneous. You don't just close your eyes and suddenly find that you can hear and feel everything so much better. For the average sighted person, between 30 and 60 percent of the brain's pathways are involved in processing visual data—and when a person loses their sight, much of that is gradually remapped to other senses. That's a true, documented phenomenon, but it's anything but immediate. The first stage of losing your sight (for an evening, anyway, which is the only extent to which I'm qualified to report on such things), is realizing how much of your experience of eating is actually influenced by sight.
After dessert, Rose clears our table and Mr. Pink asks if it was a busy night. I can tell we're the only guests left in the dining room. She tells us that she had been the only server working that evening, and at the 6 o'clock seating, she had ten tables. We arrived at 8:30 for the second seating, which was only five tables. "Holy crap," I say, "Ten tables is a lot." I quickly add, "I'm not just saying that to suck up... I was a waiter a long time ago!"
(Then I wonder if that sounded weird—in the pitch dark, you find yourself thinking the strangest thoughts—as self-conscious as ever, but in totally novel ways you never thought of before. Without the visual cues of body language and facial expression, you wonder, do I sound more or less genuine—friendly—interested—interesting?)
Rose asks if we have any plans after dinner, and Mr. Pink says, "we were thinking of kidnapping you—haha..." Rose laughs and says thanks but she has a boyfriend, so of course I retort, "Is he here right now?" And we all laugh. (Oh, what? Like you don't flirt with your servers?) A few topics later, I mention that it's Mr. Pink's birthday, and she asks him how old he is—and then, without a second's hesitation—turns and asks me the same question (which is why I'm inclined to believe that her reaction is genuine when we tell her the truth (blah blah-40s-blah blah-can't remember-whatever) and she is (or seems to be or who really knows) genuinely surprised. She says she would have guessed that we were her age (which is 23—aw, can we keep her?). "Do you guys get that a lot?" I say I think it's probably because we don't have kids.
(That and we're drop-dead gorgeous. <grin>)
And now it's time for the portion of the evening where we get to ask her all the random questions we've never had a visually impaired person around to ask, and she answers them all like a motherfucking boss.
Have you been blind since birth? (No, she started losing her sight when she was eight and by 16, she was legally blind.)
Is it like being in a pitch dark room? (Not exactly. For some people it is, but she still sees variations in light and some colors, but no shapes or anything.)
If you were outside on a sunny day, would you know it was sunny—aside from the heat, like would you have a sense of the sun shining on your face or would it be just like being in a dark room? (She thinks she would have a sense of the light, but she isn't completely sure and for some blind people there's definitely no difference at all.)
Something that sticks in my mind is when she tells us that she has perfectly preserved visual memories from when she was a child, so she still "sees" her parents in her mind's eye as they were back then. While her sister experiences them getting older every year, in Rose's 3D simulation, they are eternally youthful. Their voices might gradually alter with age, but to her, their hair will always be free of grey and their faces will remain unlined, forever. That's kind of wonderful.
As she's talking about being able to see variations in light and color, Mr. Pink and I have the exact same thought at the same time—remember that documentary about the guy? "Oh my god, totally... Rose, have you seen—Um geez, I mean have you, uh... So, there's this documentary...?
We tell her all about the 2005 documentary Black Sun (which I wrote about back in 2008) and she agrees that it sounds amazing and she will definitely try to download it tonight (I think she may even mention the Pirate Bay—truly a girl after our own hearts). She walks us out to the foyer and we have a big group hug, and then we open the front door and head out into the bright, cacophonous light of the October night.
Mr. and Ms. Pink highly recommend Dark Table:
From their website: "Upon arrival, take your time and choose from a first-class menu...
When you're ready, you'll be led to your table in the dark dining room by a blind, or visually impaired server... With an unemployment rate of 70%, the blind face obvious challenges in a society that is preoccupied with visual communication, but in a dark dining environment, the tables are turned—the non-sighted servers guide the sighted."