Armagideon Time

It has been a while since I’ve done one these posts. What began as a Halloween Countdown hiatus ended up being a five month derailment of whatever momentum this feature possessed.

Part of the problem was that I let myself get locked into my original parameters for the project — every record in my collection covered in chronological order. It was a neat concept, but one conceived without taking into account the ungodly number of interchangeable Oi compilations I purchased between the summers of 1991 and 1992. So much Oi. Too much Oi, according to my wife who recently unearthed the lot of them while straightening out the mounds of accumulated crap in our attic.

There are only so many variations of “I was young, trying too hard to be aggro, and fond of terrace chants set to punk riffs” one can write before succumbing to a fatal sense of auto-plagiarizing deja vu. Also, the day job has been keeping me too busy over the past few months to even contemplate the logistics of maintaining a weekly non-image feature.

But now I’m back and feel the urge to pick up where I left off…by skipping over the billion-plus titular punny takes on “Oi” and spotlighting a record with an actual story to tell.

By the closing weeks of my (actual, as opposed to the three years I somehow extended it to) sophomore year, Maura and I had been dating for six months and begun to realize this was going to be a lifetime commitment.

It wasn’t entirely smooth sailing. I still had a good deal of maturing to do and the shyness we both possessed tended to turn petty quarrels into simmering bouts of quiet resentment. It was nothing major in hindsight, but at the time it could feel absolutely catastrophic when the walls of reticence crumbled and the pent-up bile gushed forth. That guarded-on-guarded nature of the early phase of our relationship might have become fatal hurdle, but we were lucky enough to have Leech.

Leech was my one true punk rock pal. He was the wannabe Sid Vicious to my wannabe Johnny Rotten. His outgoing and goofy persona complemented my quiet surliness, and we shared a number of childhood cultural touchstones. (He was the only other dude I knew who could recite this verbatim.) We were almost inseparable in those days, and he proved to be a handy buffer element during my not-quite-dates with Maura where he’d fill any awkward silences with his affected buffoonery.

I’d hang out with Leech during the day, then the two of us would meet up with Maura after her classes ended and the three of us would get a pizza and watch cable in her parents’ den. Those were some pretty good times, full of great memories, but it wasn’t something that could last indefinitely. By the time the spring of 1992 rolled around, Maura and I had started getting serious about each other, and Leech had started to become a third wheel. I did feel bad for him, but I would’ve felt worse if he didn’t sense what was going on and doubled down on his already clingy tendencies. It also didn’t help that he had a constant need to be “on,” an utter unwillingness to shelve a public persona that was hard to take over prolonged periods.

Every kid who embraces punk rock reinvents his or herself as a character, but Leech chased that aspirational concept into the real of full blown caricature. I knew where “Otto Erotic” ended and “Andrew Otis Weiss” began. I don’t think Leech has ever been able to make a similar distinction within his own psychic space, mainly because he was so media-damaged that he could never escape the appropriated scripts of his fantasy world.

Leech’s media damage is what brought things to a head, thanks to Pretty in Pink

…both the movie and the soundtrack.

The tensions between Leech and me had been on an upswing, thanks to a weird level of interest in Maura he’d begun to express. It irked me, but it didn’t really bother me because I knew where I stood with her and I couldn’t conceive of Leech being stupid enough to cross me. It was just another reason I felt justified in distancing ourselves from him, though not to the point to cutting ties altogether.

So there were were, right before finals, hanging out at Maura’s place and watching a basic cable edit of the most obnoxious love triangle in 80s teen moviedom.

Two things came to mind as I watched it:

1. I ought to pick up a copy of the soundtrack.

2. How much Leech modeled his public persona on Ducky, the quirky-yet-cute “nice guy” creeper trapped in what later assholes would later call the “friendzone.”

I acted on #1 the following afternoon at Second Coming Records in Harvard Square. I should’ve acted on #2 when I got to Alewife to catch my bus back to Woburn and found Leech already there.

“I was hoping to meet you here!” he stammered sans conviction, knowing as well as I did that Maura also passed through Alewife on the walk home from her job at a hotel up the road. I should’ve laid him out on the station’s grimy brick floor then and there, but I still couldn’t believe he had the stones to do more than be wistful as a distance.

The following week was finals, and I was too distracted with putting in the minimal effort to maintain my scholarship that I didn’t notice Leech’s curious abscence. Maura was also oddly quiet during that time, but I was used to her having the occasional bout of moodiness. When my last exam was over, I went up to the Sci-Fi Club to crash.

Maura was already there, and Leech turned up in the doorway shortly afterward. “I need to talk with you,” he said as Maura suddenly bolted from the club room.

Leech and I went with to a stairwell across the hall. “The other night..” he sobbed, “I went to Maura’s house and…told her I loved her.”

I kind of remember grabbing him by the lapels of his leather jacket and slamming him against the wall and telling him I would kill him. But what I mostly remember is how he weeped uncontrollably while begging for my forgiveness.

“Just go,” was all I could say, and he did.

(My father said I should’ve beaten the shit out of him. “Even when was crying like a baby?” “Yes, because that’s when the message will really take.”)

After locating Maura (who took refuge with some pals in the Queer Student Center), I got the rest of the story. Leech had turned up at her doorstep at ten o’clock a few nights back and boldly and weepily professed his love, which Maura bluntly rebuffed. Then she and her sister gave him a lift back to the subway station because he was so damn pathetic. On the ride there, the local oldies station joined in on the irony and played — of all fucking songs — “Cherish” by The Association. It was all Maura and her sister could do not to crack up with laughter.

Maura held back on telling me this because she didn’t want to drop a psychic nuke that could’ve derailed my finals prep. Even back then, she understood me all too well.

As for the LP itself? It’s the quintessential 80s teen movie soundtrack — not just for its excellent selection of tracks selected for maximum hormonal angst appeal, but also because it was the first one of these efforts to take a vertically integrated approach instead of an incidental one. While music played a huge part in earlier films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Valley Girl, the soundtracks tended to be obligatory afterthoughts padded out with session rock filler or given a cursory release. Soundtracks’ potential to be part of the holistic teen movie merchandising package was hinted at by the success of The Breakfast Club OST, but Pretty in Pink was the one where the formula was perfected.

There’s a brief, slam-bookish note on the back of the album sleeve stating how the songs and the film are inseparable components of a greater experience, which is sensitive teen-speak for “Our marketing division has targeted you twee little shits with laser-like precision, so buy this and then go write some crappy poems in your dimly lit bedroom.”

While I still like a number of songs on the Pretty and Pink soundtrack, I can’t listen to it — or watch the movie — without feeling like someone is walking over my grave, someone in dire need of getting his ass kicked.

Recommended listening:

Related posts:

  1. Every Record Tells a Story #46: Now I will find you
  2. Every Record Tells a Story #59: Got it while it was cool
  3. Every Record Tells a Story #53: I shall be telling this with a sigh

6 Responses to “Every Record Tells a Story #50: But the joke’s the same”

  1. Jack Feerick

    The Rave-Ups got robbed, man.

  2. SJB

    So the real question is “where is Leech these days?”

  3. Freeman Williams

    See, posts like this are why I’m glad you’re keeping Armagideon Time going.

  4. Chris Gumprich

    What he said.

  5. bitterandrew

    SJB: Probably reading this and composing a pass-agg whine on Facebook that I will ignore.

  6. Sir A1!

    Your dad was right, you know.

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