So no one told you life was gonna be this way

I just started participating in a Facebook “challenge” (meme?) called the “30 Day Song Challenge.”  For the next month, I have to post one song per day to my wall and each day has a different caveat.  For instance, Day One was “Your Favorite Song” (for the record: “Summer, Highland Falls” by Billy Joel) and Day Twenty-Seven is “Song You Wish You Could Play on an Instrument” (I have yet to share this one).  I got bored one night and wrote a list down in a notebook, although I’m sure those songs will change somewhat when I go to post them.  Day Seven’s song is “Song That Reminds You of an Event.”  Now, I would have used my wedding song but that is already being used for Day Twenty-Three, “Song For Your Wedding,” so I wound up being stuck trying to think about something else.  Strangely enough, the first song that popped into my head was “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts.

If you are unfamiliar with the song’s title, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say, it’s the theme from FriendsFriends premiered in the fall of 1994, back when NBC’s Must See TV lineup consisted of Mad About You at 8:00, Seinfeld at 9:00, and ER at 10:00.  Friends took the 8:30 slot and a very short-lived and largely forgotten Dabney Coleman sitcom called Madman of the People premiered at 9:30.  The night for NBC was a powerhouse because CBS was premiering Due South and Chicago Hope and ABC had Matlock along with the culturally significant but ratings anemic My So-Called Life.  But the time winter and spring rolled around, Friends was the breakout hit and everything that had been new and in direct competition was basically scorched earth (I love MSCL but even the most ardent of fans will admit that Angela Chase and company got their asses handed to them).  Friends was one of the few Generation X-oriented shows/films that actually connected, so much so that by the time Ross got off of a plane at Kennedy Airport with Julie on his arm while Rachel waited unknowingly with flowers and new feelings, you couldn’t escape the show.  There were posters, T-shirts, magazines covers, a hairstyle, and that theme song.

It’s somehow ironic that “I’ll Be There For You” because so popular because at the previous fall’s Emmy Awards, Jason Alexander had done a song and dance number about TV theme songs because they were considered to be a dying breed, and kind of still are.  After all, the last TV theme song written specifically for television that charted I think was this very song.  In fact, I think this took most people by surprise because by the spring of 1995 when Friends-mania began gaining serious traction, the entire version of the song had yet to be released or even recorded.  The Rembrandts had recorded a one-minute TV version of “I’ll Be There For You” for the show’s opening credits and wound up rushing the full three-minute version of the song onto their album because there was serious demand by people for its radio airplay.

I was still listening to WBAB in the evenings while I did homework and the station had been receiving requests for the song.  Now, radio stations weren’t going to just play a one-minute television theme song, so some deejay decided to just loop it three times to create a three-minute song (according to Wikipedia, said deejay was in Nashville).  WBAB began playing this as a way to placate the listeners, even though I’m sure there were plenty of real rock and roll fans who wound up being disgusted.  As I sat in my bedroom doing my homework that May, I managed to catch a playing of the song and hit record on my stereo (having a tape in the cassette deck ready to record stuff was still a common practice of mine at the time).  Then I played it over and over and over, to the point where I nearly wore the tape out.  This, of course, was in the days before I would go and find out via the Internet who sang the song and could download it for about a buck, so I had to wait for the opportunity to take a weekend trip to the mall to see if it was on CD.

I’d get that chance, but wound up graduating high school first.  Our last day of classes as seniors was June 11, 1995.  I had never been a yearbook staffer but my working on the student newspaper and friendships with the staff members made me an honorary member of sorts.  Okay, I was not so much an honorary member as I was that annoying guy who hangs around until his friends get off shift and knows so much about the place that he might as well work there.  The morning of that day I showed up for school early (I may have cut first period calculus, but probably didn’t) and headed to the yearbook office where most of my friends had gathered to sign yearbooks and hang out.  There were two tapes being played in the yearbook office:  Weezer (the blue album), which had just come out; and a tape that my friend Melissa had made of both the slow and fast versions of Alphaville’s “Forever Young,” which we were listening to as “prom research.”

I had “Tom’s Crap–Volume 10,” which closed with the Friends theme, in my Walkman and put it in the cassette player.  We cranked the volume and danced.  No, really.  I don’t know what dance moves we were doing except that my friend Tom (that’s not bullshit, btw … I had three friends named Tom in high school) did his best David Schwimmer impersonation; and I don’t know how many times we played it but had you peeked in the office, you would have seen a somewhat dorky celebration that was a nice end to the year.

After all, senior years end so anticlimacticly.  You are so focused on getting out that the idea of having a moment on your last days in the building doesn’t really occur.  Sure, there’s prom and graduation but they are both so detached.  There’s nothing about either of those days that gives you that last true feeling of “normal” high school.  I remember vividly the look of resignation on my principal’s face as he walked the hallways after the eighth period bell because the place looked as if a bomb had gone off.  All he could do was shrug and wish me good luck on finals as I walked out the door with my girlfriend.  And our dancing around and hugging and taking pictures was more spontaneous and felt more real of an ending that the sort of forced climax that graduation provided.  it was somewhere in there, or maybe in an email months later that Melissa told me, “High school is immortal … even more so are the friends who survive it with us.”

That may or may not be exactly what she said, but the sentiment was such and I snarked at it when I first read that email, but whenever I see the pictures from that day or flip through the yearbook I get the sense that it was one of those odd moments that you cannot help get sentimental and nostalgic about.  I had spent so much of those past four years being awkward and trying to find my way through the quagmire of high school, I was ready to see where else I could go–even if I was still a bit too immature to handle it.  I mean, I never exactly triumphed over my adolescent awkwardness, but I think that those who claim to were never really that awkward to begin with.

The song proved just as tough to shake.  In fact, it followed me–nay, kind of guided my way–to college the following fall.  When I got the chance to go to Record World in the Sun Vet Mall a couple of weeks after graduation with my friend Jeremy, I asked the clerk about “I’ll Be There For You” as a single.  she explained that it was an album only track and later that summer a Friends soundtrack would be out.  Not wanting to pay $18.99 or whatever exorbitant price they were charging for a new CD at the time, I thanked her and dropped my money on New Teen Titans back issues down at Sun Vet Coin and Stamp, then went home and listened to the radio until I could tape the song.  A few weeks later, it hit number one and the video got a ton of play on both MTV and VH-1.

Until I wrote this post, I had actually only seen the video a couple of times and the first was at my friend Tom’s historic fact of a graduation party (different Tom, btw).  He had waited until the July 4th holiday to throw a party, which meant that most of the people in our group of friends could actually make the party without having to hop to another one (this became a tradition of sorts for a few years, actually) and much like many other high school graduation parties over the years, there was a keg.  So, being in a celebratory mood and deciding that it was finally time to start drinking (I’d had my very first beer the previous summer), I proceeded to drink.  And drink.  And drink.  And drink.  And eat very little.  The result was a blur of a night which included my getting pantsed at one point, making at least one drunken “I love you” call to my girlfriend, and passing out in his living room sometime after midnight.

The next morning, however, I remember vividly.  Because I hadn’t eaten very much, I didn’t have very much to throw up and this meant two words:  dry heaves.  For hours.  I’d rush to the bathroom, heave what I could, then crawl back to the couch cushion I’d been using as a pillow.  For some reason, too, I refused to eat breakfast, probably because I’d never been drunk or had a hangover before and didn’t know what to do.  Anyway, between bathroom trips, I caught sight of Jennifer Aniston playing the tambourine in what is definitely one of the cheesiest music videos ever made (even the band looks bored):

Throughout the summer, I would listen to the song, often pairing it with “Time” by Hootie and the Blowfish, as if they were the perfect themes for my moving on from the confines of my little sheltered world of Sayville High School to a much larger world, though I’m sure that Loyola College in Maryland wasn’t exactly considered the “big bad world” at the time.  I packed my tapes away and headed to college, not really giving the song much thought after leaving Long Island.  That is, until I was in Sam Goody one day and saw that “I’ll Be There For You” was on the B-side of The Rembrandts’ “This House is Not a Home” single.  And it was only 99 cents.  I brought the cassingle to the counter and made a comment about how they “snuck the song onto this single.”

The girl behind the counter seemed a little too enthusiastic about the song as well as the Friends soundtrack.  “That’s a fun album,” she kept saying.  I figured I’d take her word for it and simply left with the cassette.  I’m sure she was right, but I was never interested in finding out.

I watched Friends all the way up until the end and honestly find unwatchable these days.  I don’t know if it’s really that bad or if I burned out on it following its lackluster last seasons, but I haven’t sat through an episode in quite a number of years.  Still, the song isn’t too terrible and sixteen years on, I can definitely appreciate its being a frozen moment.

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