Thursday, December 22, 2005

I hate to ask -- But Are 'Friends' Electric?

Last night I was playing around on the iTunes music store. I don’t recall just how, but suddenly I fumbled upon a song and artist that transported me to the 80’s with the efficacy of Proust’s Madeline. The artist was Gary Numan, the song was “Are ‘Friends’ Electric,” (anyone out there remember Gary?) and with the reminder flooded back memories of the movement of synthesized pop, Goth, and techno of the 80s and 90s. Stephanie brought the album “Replicas” back with her from England when she returned to California in 1979. She used to sing it, imitating the heavy British accent that characterized Gary Numan. Back then in our crowd we shunned big hair and any vestiges of the big stadium rock of the 70s; we were all about Kate Bush and Gary Numan and Ultravox and X—anything new and stated differently. We liked to think we were forging some new sensibility, but were a bit uneasy about fully investing in punk.

I remembered the dance that Lia and I did to “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” in front of the whole High School, and how it bought us some purchase with the more progressive, artistic students at Walnut High (all 5 of them—Walnut was way out of sync back then). We thought we were pretty cool, dressing and copping attitude in the suburbs like we had some knowledge of a metro pulse or Gothic sensibilities.

More importantly, stumbling across the yearning synthesizer, post-modern, referential lyrics, and echoing pain of the song, reminded me of how much music meant to us back then, how it would flood your consciousness like the water from a bath, how songs could make you laugh or cry or ache. I was stunned at how I could recall nearly every word of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric”—a song I haven’t heard in probably 20 years, even while I’ve tried five dozen times to memorize the lyrics from Green Day’s recent “Holiday” with next to no success. Why is that, why do the songs we learn young stick with us forever? Is it because emotionally we are still impressionable in the midst of those early favorites? Is young music like young skin, taking on the wear we give it with each heartbreak, each bad decision, or profound indecision that costs us adventure, in the same way as sun-exposed skin does--eventually unable to maintain it's elasticity?

I love music still, and for a 40-something broad I stay reasonably hip. But the passion is somewhat dulled until I stumble upon that almost-forgotten favorite. Then I'm surprised by the way I can drum up feeling, the sensation of still being that newer person. When I flew around my living room last night, trying to remember the dance steps that Lia and I choreographed all those years ago, I didn't feel a day over 17. This is why life can be beautiful and why music is such an intangible enhancement to living.

“Now the light fades out
And I wonder what I'm doing
In a room like this
There's a knock on the door
And just for a second I thought I remembered you”

p.s. Check Gary’s newer stuff out, it’s very moody and has definitely evolved from what he was doing in the 80s


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