The watershed moments in your life rarely come with a script.  Oh sure, you have your major milestones and accomplishments but the moments of true epiphany are the most random, often happening when you least expect it.  One such moment in my life came before a club meeting during my senior year of high school.  I was helping pass out agendas and had left my backpack on my seat.  A friend of mine, Jim, was a fellow officer in the club happened to see my Walkman and out of curiosity, pulled it out of my bag and gave it a listen.  I returned to the table in time to see a look of complete confusion make its way across his face.

“Give me that,” I said, snatching the Walkman out of his hand.  Jim didn’t respond, and I put my headphones on to hear what had prompted such a strange look.  Playing near full blast was “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”

Luckily, the meeting soon began and Jim didn’t care enough to mention it again or to anyone else, and needless to say that had me relieved because while I brushed the incident off, I felt the same sort of weird guilt you’d feel as if you’d been caught masturbating.  This was music I had been listening to when nobody was around, an act of musical self-pleasure that I kept hidden from the guys I talked heavy metal with at the lunch table where for all they knew, I was genuinely impressed that Jeff tracked down a Megadeth bootleg or that Brian finally acquired the studio version of “Breadfan” when he bought the Japanese import single for “One.” Had he mentioned it to the group of people we hung out with, I would have been mercilessly ridiculed, like the time they found my copy of Born in the U.S.A. and wrote “Nice ass!” on the cover.

I probably shouldn’t have cared, to be honest.  What’s wrong with having your own tastes?  Who cares what other people think, right?  But I was an individual with serious self-esteem problems and a need for approval that meant not only did I really want to seem like I was cool, but I was quite possibly the easiest target for ridicule.  I will spare you the vulgar nicknames, the perfume sprayings, and other jokes in my honor and say that though Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield’s glory years were a good thirty years behind them at that point, my listening to the Righteous Brothers tape I’d borrowed from my mother, especially “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” had a perfectly reasonable explanation:  Top Gun.

Anyone who grew up in the 1980s, no matter what they listen to now, knows the titles of at least two Righteous Brothers songs.  One is “Unchained Melody,” which had a resurgence in 1990 by way of the Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore pottery wheel scene in Ghost–a scene so iconic that you didn’t need to see the movie to know it (though, for what it’s worth, I prefer the Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley parody in The Naked Gun 2-1/2: The Smell of Fear) …

… and the other is “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” (a third, “You’re My Soul and Inspiration” may have also been familiar if you saw enough Time-Life Records commercials).  In what has to be one of the most famous, non-action, non-volleyball scenes in the 1986 Tom Cruise blockbuster Top Gun, Goose (Anthony Edwards) challenges Maverick (Tom Cruise) to pick up and proceed to nail a woman in a bar.  The intended victim winds up being Kelly McGillis’s character, and the pick-up?  Well, she’s lost that lovin’ feelin’.

She’s lo … no she hasn’t.

Yes, she has.

She has not lost that lo–

Goose, she’s lost it, man.

Come on!  Aw sh … I hate it when she does that.

Now, as popular as this scene is, the song was not included on the original version of the Top Gun soundtrack (it is on the copy I now own, the late-1990s “Special Expanded Edition” re-release).  I don’t know if there were right issues or what, but when I was nine years old and listening to the cassette over and over while playing Top Gun in my basement with my G.I. Joe figures (well, the dogfighting scenes — I never had Snake Eyes try to pick up Scarlet in a bar), I didn’t care about that.  I spent most of my time with the tape blasting the “Top Gun Anthem” or Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” anyway (and on a side note, along with those two Righteous Brothers songs, if you’re my age you know at least two and maybe as many as five Kenny Loggins songs, no matter what your taste in music), and the one oldie from Top Gun that I really loved–Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire”–was on the Stand By Me soundtrack (a spectacular album that may one day get its own entry).  So The Righteous Brothers were relegated to repeated barroom scene watchings and the small stack of cassettes my mother kept in the stereo cabinet until the G.I. Joe figures went away and my VHS copy of Top Gun began collecting dust in the video cabinet.

Fast forward to the summer of 1994 and for the first time in my life, I spent a solid chunk of time away from home–away from my family, away from my friends, and away from the country–as part of the People to People Student Ambassador Program.  This trip to France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain was one that really changed my perspective when it came to who I was and made me realize that I didn’t have to always play the sort of doormat role that I’d been playing since about the beginning of junior high school.  Granted, that’s probably because I finally found a girl willing to kiss me, but I’d like to think it was more than that.  Anyway, I’d brought a ton of music with me in the form of a pile of mix tapes (I took full advantage of sale on 120-minute Maxell blank cassettes at the local record store) and as the trip wound its way through its closing weeks, I found myself trading tapes with a lot of other people and began to realize that very few girls seemed to like pounding, screaming heavy metal and preferred my tapes with 10,000 Maniacs’ MTV Unplugged and the Say Anything … soundtrack.  Furthermore, I discovered that their tapes with The Doors, Steve Miller Band, Simon & Garfunkel, REM, and James were actually really good.  It was like I was figuring out an equation or getting a formula to work:  there were people out there who hadn’t known me since elementary school and liked music I liked and my friends thought was shit.  My reputation didn’t precede me.  In fact, I had a shot at being perceived as … normal.  It was an odd feeling, but I went with it.

Somewhere during the last couple of weeks of that trip, a couple of the guys in our group got the idea to loudly lead all 25 of us in sing-alongs.  One favorite was Snoop Dogg’s “Lodi Dodi” (it was 1994, after all) and another–and our absolute favorite–was “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”  Now, I am sure that the people who were subjected to us singing this just about everywhere we went didn’t appreciate the eardrum-splitting effect of a group of American teenagers trying to hit Bobby Hatfield’s “Baby please!” in the bridge, but we thought we were awesome and even gave ourselves an enormous round of applause the last time we sang it, which was right before we cleared customs at Kennedy Airport.

When I got home from the trip, I swiped my mom’s Righteous Brothers tape and went on with what was both a fulfilling and frustrating senior year of high school.  I struggled with a newfound sense of confidence and my old role of being the butt of the joke, and unfortunately wound up being the latter too many times.  But when Jim found that tape and his reaction never went beyond that initial “wtf” look, I began to realize that my fixation on what a particular group of guys listened to and emulating them was completely misguided.  I’d, for years, been showing signs of enjoying music by artists like Elton John, Carole King, Paul Simon, and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, so why not embrace it?  Oh sure, going to a Hootie and the Blowfish concert wasn’t exactly scoring me any cool points, but by the time I was committing that particular musical sin I had one foot out the door for college anyway.

Not to say that college was some sort of paradise or anything.  Quite honestly, a lot of the bullshit that happened to me in high school also happened to me in college, but when it came to things like popular culture, what was awesome was that from day one what you listened to, watched, or read was less of a status symbol and more of a conversation piece.  I could have a girl in my dorm room and we’d talk about the CDs we owned (and that was about it — my inability to make a first move was so epic that sometimes it’s a wonder I’m married), or I could be hanging out or at a party in another room and instead of judging that late 1980s Mellencamp album in a CD rack, could safely ask if it was worth tracking down.  This all seems so simple in retrospect, but when you’re around the same people for so long, simple things like this never occur to you.

Toward the end of college, before I left my hometown for good, I had a second epiphany of sorts.  I was hanging out with my friend Brian and he was espousing the awesomeness of The Clash, whom he “discovered” when he bought a tribute album because the BossTones had covered “Rudie Can’t Fail.”  Not to be a dick, I went with it, although I was secretly laughing because I remembered a summer’s day a few years earlier when I caught shit for bringing over the band’s first album (along with The Replacements’ Stink).  It was confirmation that I shouldn’t have struggled with thinking that these people from high school were the judge, jury, and executioner of “cool” and I finally got to have my own “wtf” moment.

My taste in music these days is still suspect (ask anyone, especially my wife), but sometimes something has heart, it has soul, and it has a quality that you just cannot refuse to deny no matter how much you may get ridiculed for liking it.  And moments when you discover that are truly awesome.

*note: names in this were changed.

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