17 March 2015


Talking to You about The New Kids on the Block
(Part of my series on Rob Sheffield's Taking to Girls about Duran Duran)

One day Caroline was telling me Joey Mac stories and she mentioned that his nickname in high school was "Wedgie." It only made her love him more fiercely. There was always something enjoyable and lovable about those New Kids. They never had the disastrous post-teen-pop crash. After the hits dried up, they got on with their lives. My friend Desiree even went on a New Kids cruise last winter, where you'd call room service and Donnie or Jordan would show up at your cabin with your food.

Rob Sheffield's book came out in 2010, but this chapter on the New Kids on the Block has no mention of their 2008 reunion, which makes it feel eerily AU. You'd think it would have featured in his NKOTB-crazy sister Caroline's life somehow. Then again, he does say that this boy band have become a part of her past that she wants to hide from her own children. =P So what we have instead for closure is the story of the time she stood in line to get an autographed album by one of his musical idols, who was as far from the New Kids as he could draw her. 

But never mind the proper historical context, for that's not what this chapter is about. What Sheffield is writing about here is the inescapable influence of the music our siblings like.

Caz and I always traded tapes, trying to turn each other on to the music we loved. I taped her the Replacements and the Ramones; she taped me Bon Jovi and Tiffany. I taped her Let It Be for her birthday. (Conscientious big brother that I am, I omitted "Gary's Got a Boner".) We liked each other's music way more than we would admit. Bon Jovi's "Wild in the Streets" stopped me dead in my tracks, a stupid-rock mall anthem to end all mall anthems, to end all anthems, to end all malls. Meanwhile, Caroline was putting "Sixteen Blue" on her answering machine. Whenever we confessed how much we loved each other's music, we each felt both flattered and disappointed at the same time.

My youngest brother, Cue-card Boy, was the only one I ever went back and forth with about music--the only one of whom I could say, "We still argue about music, because we love the argument too much to give it up. It's always going to be one of our ways of talking to each other" . . . except that I'd have to take out the adverb "still."

He had a great time pretending to be disgusted by McFly--almost as great a time as I had disparaging Justin Bieber. We met in the middle when I played him my favourite Bressie song and he taught me all the words to an Owl City single that I admitted I was charmed by. What we didn't struggle to have in common were Taylor Swift (though we loved her for different reasons) and Green Day (though I was more of a Dookie girl and he a 21st Century Breakdown boy). But it was he who turned my simple enjoyment of "Weird" Al Yankovic into serious appreciation, and he whom you all have to thank for the "Weird" Al Yankovic Song Smackdown. (He would have been all over the Children's Programme Fake Band Smackdown like snakes on a plane.)

Well, Cue-card Boy and I never quite entered the mixed tape stage of our relationship . . . partly because his generation doesn't do mixes any more than it does cassettes and CDs (Do messages need their special media or what?) and partly because he died a few years ago. (I still love you, baby! Here's your favourite McFly song! Bwahahahahahahahahahaha!) I will never stop wishing that he were still here, for me to sing to . . . and to sing with. Even if he insisted on Bieber.

Your Turn at the Jukebox: Is there a musician or group that you are fond of, not necessarily because you care for their music, but because you care about someone who does?


Entropy said...

Today is the anniversary if my mom's death and I remember she would put old country records on and do the dishes or make dinner. One I like be ause of her but not on its own is One Day at a Time by Cristy Lane. Although listening to it now gives it new meaning...maybe my brother and I were just driving her crazy and she didn't really love this song; she just needed a push to make it through. Wow.

Angie Tusa said...

There are a lot of 70s bands that I think of exclusively as my dad's music - Supertramp, Bread, America, Kansas, Boston, and even more bands named after places - that are a little too cheesy for me to enjoy on my own (except Boston, they're incredible most of the time) but it makes me smile hearing them every time because I remember him listening to those albums when I was a kid.

My brother and I also bonded over Green Day and Weird Al, and he's the one that made me go from a casual listener of They Might Be Giants into a full blown fan. Since we were teens in the CD era, we didn't do mix tapes as much as give each other CDs that we had purchased and then changed our minds on - he was the one that bought Alanis' Jagged Little Pill and Oasis' Morning Glory, but I'm the one who listened to them over and over and over. Strangely I can't think of CDs I bought that I gave him - maybe I was always a little more choosy with my purchases.

Enbrethiliel said...


Entropy -- In honour of your mother, I listened to One Day at a Time. And I can understand why you like it because of her but not on its own merits! ;-)

You've also got me wondering about my own mother's music. Apart from 80s pop music that form the soundtrack of her happiest years, she really likes smooth jazz. But she doesn't use it the way Sheffield and his sister do, as a way to talk to others. So I doubt that I'll be finding new meaning in it after her death.

Angie -- My father's music is that of a Filipino singing group called the Apo Hiking Society. Quite literally so, because he worked on many of their songs! I listen to the group's hit compilations when I miss my father.

If you put on Jagged Little Pill and What's the Story, Morning Glory?, I'd probably be able to sing every word! I'll bet that if you asked your brother, he'd remember all the CDs that he was able to get off you. We often don't know how much we've influenced others unless they tell us! =)

DMS said...

I am part of the mix tape generation for sure. I still listen to some in my car. I don't like country, but one of my best friend has introduced me to some and there are songs I like because she loves them so much. As Good As I Once Was by Toby Keith and Zac Brown's songs have grown on me because of my love for my friend.

Thanks for sharing your story with us. I think music is a great way to pay tribute to a loved one, especially one that has passed.

Enbrethiliel said...


Cue-card Boy and I experienced my Country music phase together. We both loved Chicken Fried by the Zac Brown Band. =)

Sheila said...

Oh, you hit a nerve here...

When I went to boarding school, I didn't miss my parents ... I missed my brother. I hadn't expected that, because we were sort of on and off being close. He just isn't expressive at all. But the summer before, he and I had spent a ton of time listening to old records and hanging out. We have very little in common besides music, but being the only two kids at the time, we really *wanted* to be together, so music was what we did.

He didn't talk on the phone with me really at all, or send any letters, because communication isn't really his thing. (He might be autistic ... back then it wasn't so often diagnosed as now.) But one time he sent me a letter ... which was nothing other than the entire lyrics for one of our favorite albums. (Rush's 2112.) He handwrote the entire thing, from memory, so I could have it. I wasn't allowed any music, but I would sort of play it in my head all day long. One of the reasons I didn't go crazy, I guess!

He and I were never that close again, because we haven't lived in the same house since and he still isn't good at communicating. But every time I listen to Rush, I think of him.

If that gave you the sniffles, you and I are even ... because you totally gave them to me. Brother-sister relationships are special.

Enbrethiliel said...


That "letter" was a labour of love! And it is the sort of "tape" that you'd get if you were in a place that didn't allow music.

We both need to stop making each other tear up now. =P But I'm afraid the next music post is probably not going to help . . .