1994: The Most Important Year of the Nineties

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 31 — The 1994 Grab Bag!

man reaching into grab bagWhat do Beverly Hills, 90210, the 1994 Baseball Strike, and Zima all have in common?  They’re all covered in the latest episode of Pop Culture Affidavit!  As part of my series of posts and episodes called 1994: The Most Important Year of the Nineties, I take a look at ten completely random things from 1994.  It’s movies, television, music, and current events all in one convenient episode!

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

(more…)

Leave Yourself Behind

Tom Paris 1994A quick note:  This piece originally appeared on an old blog of mine in July 2004.  I’ve edited and updated it.

My only regret is that I did not stay longer. I would have loved to experience more, go deeper into some countries and learn more about other cultures. However, being a Student Ambassador has opened my mind even further, as I am forced to think on a global scale about my life, and the lives around me.

That is the final paragraph of the journal I kept during the summer of 1994, after I had spent 23 days touring France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain as a People to People Student Ambassador. Written on a flight back from Paris after my fellow “ambassadors” and I had exhausted the plane’s supply of coffee and soda and had annoyed all of the other passengers, it’s a statement typical of a 17-year-old. At the time, I thought that the program changed my life. Of course, at 17, it had. Being on the verge of my senior year of high school, I was making earnest statements like that on a regular basis. Still, I cannot discount that those three weeks were a turning point in my adolescence, the result of a program whose educational experience was more well-rounded than intended.

Can You Really Get There From Here?

The mission of People to People International and its Student Ambassador program is: “to bridge cultural and political borders through education and exchange, creating global citizens and making the world a better place for future generations.” I received their brochure in the fall of my junior year, right around the time my guidance counselor was drilling into my head that I was in the most important year of my academic career, perhaps even my life. As a result, I went looking for the type of opportunities that would look good on what eventually became a rejected application to Dartmouth — Anchor Club historian, student journalist, and mock trial lawyer. “Student Ambassador to Europe” was something that college admissions officers were impressed with. Europe was where great art was born; where history took place; and where entire generations of disaffected young Americans fled to find themselves.

I convinced my parents that not only would I make it into the program, I would somehow come up with $1200 of the trip’s cost. Not that I knew how I was going to pull that off — this wasn’t exactly like the time I hoarded my $25/week from JillMatt Cards & Gifts so that I could save enough money to visit my friend Chris in Fort Lauderdale. But after some creative publicity, including a story in The Suffolk County News and a talk with the Kiwanis Club (where I made a never-fulfilled promise to come back and speak to them), I had my tuition. On June 24, I set off for Kennedy airport, where I met up with the rest of the Long Island delegation. We had our flight to Washington, D.C. canceled and were forced to cab it to LaGuardia where, in a move reminiscent of a bad Amazing Race moment, two of our group members were dropped off at the Delta terminal and not the Delta Shuttle terminal.

Don’t Smurf an International Incident

Ultimately, my People to People delegation arrived in Washington intact. The entire group of 28 hailed from Long Island, Connecticut, Virginia, Tennessee, and California, and was lorded over by three advisors — the LaMers of Connecticut and Mary Nolan, who had run the Long Island pre-trip meetings. They were all nearing senior citizenship (if they weren’t there already), and I have to admit that I admire anyone that age who is willing to travel for three weeks with a group of unruly teenagers. They had some help during those first few days while we stayed at George Washington University, where People to People’s representatives laid down all of the rules.  Essentially, they wanted to avoid three things: the “ugly American” syndrome, an international incident, and a babysit-the-rich-kids summer camp. I mean, that’s why the Student Ambassador program director stood on the stage in a university lecture hall and told us that we weren’t allowed to drink, smoke, do drugs, have sex, or even form cliques.

I honestly thought that last one was insane. Not that I wanted cliques to form, but it seemed that with 28 teenagers in close quarters, cliquing up was inevitable. In fact, small groups of friends formed on the very first day and would get even more defined as the trip went on. But when up against Papa & Mrs. Smurf (named so for Mr. LaMers’ beard) and Punky (Mary Nolan wore a spiked femullet), we were a single group of 28 students who annoyed everyone on the National Mall, the Metro and in the Crystal Underground. I guess all the things that annoyed me about D.C. when I was living and working there, then, were come-uppance for my acting like an asshat at 17. But anyway, I wrote about our initial camaraderie: “We started as … two groups of people from different states. We left as a group of Americans wearing stupid shirts and name tags.” (more…)

June 17, 1994: The Most Important Day of the Nineties

The cover to the 1994 Regents exam in English.

The cover to the 1994 Regents exam in English.

Had the events of the evening of June 17, 1994 not proceeded the way they did, i am sure that I would have remembered the day anyway.  It wouldn’t have had the national significance that it does; still, it’s not every year that the Rangers get a ticker tape parade because they won the Stanley Cup.  In fact, that day wound up marking the end of two significant periods of my life hours before O.J. and A.C. managed to take the Los Angeles Police Department and every television station in the country up the 405 for 50 miles and a few hours.

At 8:30 that morning in the Sayville High School gymnasium, I sat down to take my English Regents.  This was both the culmination of three years of novels, plays, literary essays, and compositions at the hands of my English teachers as well as the very last Regents I would have to take.  That may not seem like much, especially to people who did not grow up and attend public school in New York State, but those who did know exactly what I mean when I say that I considered the end of my Regents-taking career to be a cause for celebration, if however minor.

Regents were what kept us in school until late in June (well, that an starting after Labor Day and having a week off in February) and were a ritual for high school students since the New York State Department of Education started them way back in the 1930s (a quick look at the archives, shows tests on homemaking in the 1950s and 1960s).  Coming sealed in plastic and bearing titles like “The University of the State of New York Regents High School Examination Comprehensive Examination in English,” the tests were more than a rite of passage–they were one of the most important rituals of our academic careers.  Starting after Easter, our book bags were further weighed down with Red Barron’s books full of old tests, which we’d take and then pore over to see what we were doing right and what needed improvement.

A Barron's Regents review book, courtesy of Amazon.com

A Barron’s Regents review book, courtesy of Amazon.com

And English wasn’t particularly hard, although I’m sure my students would blanch at the sight of it.  Whereas current students in Virginia take SOL exams in reading and writing that are passage-based and have one simple five-paragraph prompt-based persuasive essay, my generation had to endure spelling,  definitions, two essays (a literary analysis piece and a composition), and a listening section.  That’s right–a portion of our test required us to sit and listen while our teachers read a passage and we had to answer multiple-choice questions based on what we heard.  I’m sure that such a concept would send today’s average anti-testing advocate/expert into a blood-vomiting rage.  Personally, I never thought twice about it, but then again I was one of those students they’d accuse of having Stockholm Syndrome or something because I dutifully took my Regents exams and did well in school.

Anyway, I remember chugging through the multiple choice, choosing one of the two literary essay prompts (which have both made their way onto my 10th grade advanced English final in recent years) and writing a composition that I think I titled “Notes From a Rest Stop on the Information Highway.”  It was my attempt at wit, I guess, and it seemed to work because I did well enough to continue on my path to graduating with honors a year later.

A page from the spelling section of the 1994 Regents English exam.

A page from the spelling section of the 1994 Regents English exam.

I wasn’t thinking of any of that while taking the test, of course, because the Rangers parade was going to be on television and the Regents exam was the only reason I hadn’t asked my parents if I could take the train to the city that morning (same could be said for my friends as well because we all had to take the Regents).  So like everyone else, I watched it on television.  To this day, the Rangers hoisting the Cup as they drove through the Canyon of Heroes followed by the presentations at City Hall seem surreal.  I wasn’t wearing my jersey–I had finally thrown that in the laundry after superstitiously refusing to wash it throughout the playoffs–but I was glued to my television set the way I was eight years earlier when my dad taped the 1986 Mets parade for me.

The Rangers hoist the cup on Broadway.

The Rangers hoist the cup on Broadway.

Of course, the television would be more important later that night.  But I didn’t know that; did anyone?

Stone Temple Pilots were supposed to appear on Letterman.  I don’t think that’s why I stayed home, but at some point in the afternoon, I made a mental note to stay up late and turn on The Late Show after I was done with whatever Friday night plans I had made–which, knowing my life in 1994 was probably renting videos and watching them in the basement–so I could see one of my favorite bands.  But of course, that didn’t happen.  Well, the STP performance actually did because Letterman taped his show in the afternoon, but it never aired.

At some point–I don’t remember when–I turned on the television and saw live footage of a white Ford Bronco speeding down a Los Angeles freeway followed by police.  The news reporters said that driving the Bronco was Al Cowlings and his passenger was O.J. Simpson. (more…)

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 29 — Now I Can Die in Peace

Episode 29 CoverTwenty years ago, the New York Rangers won their first Stanley Cup since 1940.  Join me as I reminisce about that amazing run and talk about my life as a Rangers fan as well as share the memories of some of my friends.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

And in case you’d like to relive the entire season, here is “OH BABY!” the Rangers highlight video from 1994:

 

 

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 28 — Nothing is Trivial

Episode 28 Cover1994: The Most Important Year of the Nineties continues with a look at The Crow.  Over the course of this episode, I take a look at the comic book by James O’Barr as well as the 1994 film starring Brandon Lee.  Does this film hold up after twenty years?  Tune in and find out!

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

Binge and Purge

Live ShitI am pretty sure that if you asked him, the greatest moment of my friend Brendan’s adolescence was his first Metallica concert.  He and his friend were both members of the official fan club and were able to get front row center seats for the band’s concert at Jones Beach in May 1994.  I admit that’s pretty impressive.  The closest I ever got to any performance like that was second-row seats to Les Miserables that same spring; otherwise, my concert-going life has been relegated to what’s available or what I can afford–usually bleeders.

Anyway, this wound up being the culmination of a few years of Metallica fandom but also in a huge year for the band.  In 1991, they had released Metallica (otherwise known as “The Black Album”) and toured nearly non-stop up until they recorded and released Load in 1996, an album that is so divisive, it’s probably worth its own entry.  In the middle of all of this touring, the band released something that most bands do when they put out a successful record–a live album.

But it wasn’t just a live album; when you are the biggest band in the world, you release the biggest live boxed set the world has ever seen.  Released at the tail end of 1993 and called Live Shit: Binge and Purge, Metallica’s album came in a small trunk and included three CDs, three VHS tapes, a T-shirt, a booklet, stickers, and a fake backstage pass (there was another version released with cassettes instead of CDs and subsequent rereleases have replaced the VHS tapes with DVDs).  It retailed for $89.95, which was a lot of money then and actually still is a lot of money for a boxed set.  You’d have to be a crazy hardcore fan to want to spend that much money.

Which, to be honest, is the nature of boxed sets.  In fact, Barenaked Ladies even wrote a song called “Box Set” (on Gordon) wherein they satirize the product’s bloated nature:

Disc One
It’s where we’ve begun, it’s all of greatest hits,
and if you are a fan then you know that you’ve already got ’em.

Disc Two
It was all brand new, an album’s worth of songs,
but we had to leave the whole disc blank ’cause
some other label bought ’em.

Disc Three
This is really me in a grade school play;
I had about a hundred thousand lines but of course I forgot ’em. …

Disc Four
Never released before, and you can tell why.
it’s just some demos I recorded in my basement.

Disc Five
I was barely alive, I was coughing up a lung,
so they had to use a special computer as my replacement.

Disc Six
A dance remix, so I can catch the latest trend
and it’ll make you scratch your head and wonder
where my taste went.

And they can definitely be hit or miss.  The two Springsteen boxed sets that I have–Tracks and Live 1975-1985–are well worth their price tags.  But for the most part, the average boxed set is an overdone affair with a good $20 less than its price tag.  Live Shit: Binge & Purge didn’t suffer its price, eventually selling 15 million copies.

For my friends who were into the band (and to a lesser extent, myself) one of us obtaining this monster was a cause for celebration.  I’d heard live albums beofre, but a band we so favorited had never done anything like this, so putting an entire Metallica concert into the CD player and blasting it like we had tickets was awesome.  Plus, the band was playing music we hadn’t heard before or that we had heard of but had found hard to obtain.  I personally taped “Last Caress,” “Am I Evil,” and “Stone Cold Crazy,” and would go onto crib whatever I could from Brendan’s various bootlegs, imports, and singles (well, until Garage, Inc. came out in 1998 and replaced my need for the worn-out tapes in my car’s glove compartment).  And between that and “Breadfan,” I was good to go.  Brendan wasn’t and proceeded to collect any import or bootleg he could get his hands on.

If anything, like the nights they capture for posterity, live albums are time capsules and Live Shit: Binge and Purge is no exception.  It’s Metallica’s last gasp before they reinvented themselves as a Nineties band.  If I listened to it now, I’d probably be able to picture sitting in my friend’s room reading magazines and talking about hockey while James Hetfield grunted and roared away.

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 27: 1994 — The Year in Comics, Part Two

Episode 27 CoverIt’s It’s the big conclusion of my conversation with Michael Bailey about 1994 in comics.  Whereas we spent last episode talking about the comics industry, we spend most of this episode talking about what we thought were the most important comics of the year.the big conclusion of my conversation with Michael Bailey about 1994 in comics.  Whereas we spent last episode talking about the comics industry, we spend most of this episode talking about what we thought were the most important comics of the year.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

And for your viewing pleasure, here is the Zero Hour/Zero Month promo video that Mike mentions in the episode: