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Nostalgia and nausea: Putting together the perfect '80s mix

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You've had the experience. You're driving in the car or Pandora-ing or even - gasp! - listening to the radio when that song comes on - the one you can't believe you forgot all about. Instantly, you're transported in time and space - back to that kegger during your freshman year when you got so drunk that you lost your shoes. Or to that high school dance where you got dumped by the vending machines. Or to your wedding, the birth of your child, your divorce. I've written before about the Proustian power of music -- and so has Dave Herrera -- but over the past week or so, I've been overwhelmed by it. Nostalgia isn't quite the word for it. That word connotes positive - even idealized - longing for the past. This is something entirely different.

My twentieth high school reunion is coming up next weekend. In a moment of weakness - of misguided generosity and idealism -- I volunteered to assemble the soundtrack for the big party, so for the past week or so, I've put aside all the fascinating new music that shows up in my mailbox on a daily basis and immersed myself in the songs that were released during my school years. Any normal person would simply grab a few existing soundtracks -- Pretty in Pink or Repo Man, or even Grosse Point Blank or the Wedding Singer. At most, said normal person might simply track down his (or her) favorite tunes from that era, slap them onto a CD-R, and call it good.

But I'm not normal, and that's why they asked me to do it. I dug deep. I looked at Billboard charts. I surveyed friends. I placed myself on the dance floor at prom and tried to hear what was playing. I built up a huge library of possibilities, and then began culling through for the highlights. As I began to beat-match and cross-fade, more songs came to mind. A deluge of metal, pop, New Wave, rock and schlock swept over me. As I blended the Beach Boys' "Kokomo" into Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" and Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" into the Escape Club's "Wild Wild West," something inside me snapped. I mashed up Ice T's "Colors" with Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" and George Michael's "Faith." 

I found myself astounded by how bad Moon Unit and Frank Zappa's "Valley Girl" is, and by how good Sly Fox's "Let's Go All the Way" was. I included songs that I absolutely couldn't stand in high school, like Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" and Elton John's "I'm Still Standing." And even though I've come to appreciate Bon Jovi as an adult, the negative associations from my teen years were so powerful that I couldn't include those songs as is. Instead, I dug up tracks that mashed "Wanted Dead or Alive" with M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" (which is, after all, built on a great 80s sample from the Clash) and "You Give Love a Bad Name" with "Enjoy the Silence" by Depeche Mode (barely under the '80s wire). Forcing Dave Gahan and Richie Sambora together in an unholy union made the memory of getting jumped in the high school parking lot a little less sour.

Still, after living with all this music for the past week and putting together seven hours' worth of mixes that I'm pretty proud of, the prevailing feeling I'm left with is - nausea. Maybe it's memories of feeling hopelessly awkward in the high school social system. Maybe it's being teased for my haircuts (most of them were pretty awful - and still are). Maybe it's dredging up those fumbling backseat moments. Or maybe I'm just sick of '80s music.

 

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