The Power of Song

Whenever I hear "In Your Eyes" I'm reminded of my first high school girlfriend and how much I hate that fucking song.

I’ve always been fascinated in how hearing a certain song can bring out such a flood of emotions and memories in people. How that song can take you back to that specific time and place. Whenever I hear Prince’s “When Doves Cry”, I immediately think of swimming at the lake the summer before my eighth grade year. Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” always takes me back to when I was a freshman in college, doing the “running man” at frat parties. And whenever I hear Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”, I’m reminded of my first high school girlfriend, and how much I hate that fucking song.

The year was 1987. I was a junior in high school, and had just found my first girlfriend. Her name was Cathy (not her real name – okay it is, what the hell do I care?) and she was beautiful, smart and one year older than me, which automatically made me cool. We’d been dating all semester, and the end of the school year was coming, which coincided with the start of the summer concert series in and around Cleveland. Cathy was adamant about seeing Peter Gabriel in concert and had already bought the tickets for us to see him at the biggest outdoor venue in Northeastern Ohio, a place called Blossom Music Center.

Now, I was far from a Peter Gabriel fan. I was more into R&B groups like Cameo, Full Force, and Ready For The World (at the time I was convinced I was black and firmly believed that if I tried hard enough, I could grow a jheri curl). But Cathy was my girlfriend; she was giving me sex for the first time in my life, so I had no choice but to go.

Before I continue, let me give you a little back-story for those of you who are too young or just plain stupid. In 1987, Peter Gabriel was God. His album “So” had been released earlier that year and was a huge commercial and critical success. The video for his first single, “Sledgehammer”, was played ad nauseam on MTV, and his next single, “In Your Eyes” was all over the radio. Everyone loved that song. It was law in suburban Cleveland that everyone love it. My friend Beaver said of “In Your Eyes”, “It’s one of the most important songs in music history. If you don’t like it you don’t know music.” This from a guy who later called Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, “A true classic that teaches us what it is to be an American. If you don’t like it you don’t belong in this country.” Mr. Gabriel ruled that summer, and his concert was to be the biggest of the series at Blossom Music Center.

Now, after you’ve driven the sixty minutes plus outside of Cleveland to Blossom, paid for parking, drove down a long dirt road into a huge gravel pit of a parking lot, there was only one thing left to do: drink. Which is what Cathy and I proceeded to do – heavily. Tailgating is a ritual to Midwesterners, sporting event or no sporting event (we’ll tailgate our grandmother’s funeral given half a chance). By the time the concert was just about to start, I had consumed the following: three cans of warm Milwaukee’s Best, a couple of shots of rot-gut tequila, a few chunks of watermelon that had been soaking in one hundred proof vodka for hours, a thermos cup full of Boones Farm “wine”, and half a bottle of Bartles and James Premium Peach Flavored Wine Cooler. I was a mess.

Stumbling into the massive outdoor venue that was Blossom Music Center was like stumbling into Woodstock – minus the whole peace and love vibe and replacing long haired hippies with mullet haired suburbanites. The stage and the concert shell were nothing out of the ordinary – just your everyday outdoor venue. What made Blossom Music Center so special was the incredibly plush, incredibly green rolling lawn that surrounded the concert shell. The grass seemed to never end and was so damned comfortable that you could fall asleep the minute you rested your head on it. Many people came to Blossom and, despite it being their favorite artist, chose to sit on the lawn, even though it was much farther away from the stage, only because the Lawn was so awesome.

It was a beautiful summer night for a concert – clear starry skies, warm with the perfect easy breeze blowing. Out of sheer drunk luck, Cathy and I found the perfect open space on the huge lawn: dead center, so the sight lines were still good but way in the back where it was dark so we could have our privacy. And just as the opening strains of “Red Rain” played, and just as Peter Gabriel walked on stage to thunderous applause, Cathy and I rolled ourselves up tight in a huge comfy quilt and got down to some seriously heavy petting.

It was turning out to be a great night – so great that I wasn’t even aware that I was at a concert that I really had no urge to be at. Suddenly, out of the blue, Cathy stopped kissing me and said, “I’ll be right back”. In a flash she left my arms, crawled out of our little cocoon and was gone.

So I sat there, all by myself, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After what seemed like well over a half an hour (or it could have been five minutes – like I said, I was a mess), Cathy still hadn’t returned. I was pissed. This was supposed to be our time. She was supposed to be giving me outdoor sex. What gives?

I untangled myself from the quilt, forced myself to stand, and began the frantic search for my girlfriend. I stumbled all over the lawn, tripped over people, stepped on their hands, spilt their overpriced beers, screamed out Cathy’s name (with the crowd response being, “Shut up, fag!”), and generally made myself the most unpopular person ever to attend a Peter Gabriel concert.

Finally, just as I was about to give up and pass out right where I was standing, I saw her. My girlfriend, Cathy.

Talking to another guy.

A million drunken thoughts ran through my head, the most coherent one being, ‘That filthy whore!”

I ran up to the two of them and pushed the guy to the ground. Standing over him I yelled, “Hey, asshole, that’s my girlfriend! I love her. Leave her the fuck alone, douchebag!”

Well, that was what I said in my head. Out of my mouth came something to the effect of, “Blah grrh jss fmpt hurrd plng, douchebag!”

The guy, completely freaked out, got up and ran away. Cathy grabbed me by my shoulders, spun me around and said,

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I cleverly retorted. “Your supposed to be my girlfriend and you’re cheating on me. You’re a slut. I always knew you were a slut!”

“I was not cheating on you!” Cathy yelled. “I was trying to score some weed from that guy. It was going to be a surprise. We were going to smoke some pot before we made love tonight. Asshole!”

With tears in her eyes, Cathy turned and ran back to our spot on the lawn.

Stunned, I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, staring off into space. Finally I did the only thing I could think of. I walked over to a lone willow tree by the side of the concert hall and plopped down underneath it.

And promptly sat in a huge pile of someone’s puke.

Just then, as if on cue, Mr. Gabriel started to sing “In Your Eyes”.

“In your eyes/The light the heat”

“In your eyes/I’m complete”

I sat there under the willow tree in that huge pile of puke until the concert ended. After, I found Cathy, we walked to the car and drove back to Cleveland, all in total silence.

We broke up three days later, just as summer vacation began.

To this day, I still can’t hear that song. Unfortunately it’s played everywhere – on radio when they have an eighties flashback weekend, at most of my friends’ wedding receptions, and whenever “Say Anything” is on cable.

I fucking hate “In Your Eyes”.

But “Shock the Monkey” is a jam.


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