“Dude. You can’t play that song. You’ll get fired.”
I was nervous. A wet-your-pants kind of nervous. My best friend Brandon was holding a Def Leppard record in his hand. On one side was the song “Ring of Fire,” a throw-away hack job. But the flip side was brandished with “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” an 80’s hair band masterpiece. Like a Beethoven symphony drenched in Aqua Net and eye liner.
Brandon turned to me with his sly grin and addressed me with the universal greeting as meaningless as flossing yet as essential as oxygen.
“Dude. Let’s just do it.”
But this was a racy song, and our town’s skating rink was owned by a Christian couple who valued family-friendly, white bread entertainment. The most exotic food at the concession stand was a Spanish-inspired churro, but they called it a “groover” to make it seem less controversial.
You can bet there was a strict playlist.
Like everyone before me, I had to work my way up to the DJ booth. I started out in skate rental surrounded by the stench of stale feet. The only redeeming part of the job was dispensing justice to unsuspecting bullies in what we called the “power outage.” Here's how it worked:
If Brandon noticed one of the ne’er-do-wells pumping coins into Frogger or Galaga, he would alert me from the DJ booth. On his signal, I would walk to the back room and trip the breaker. The poor kid would then rush the booth and demand his money back, and I would reply by silently pointing to the sign that read, “No Refunds.”
Playing God one quarter at a time.
Soon, I put on the neon orange vest and became a floor guard. I quickly learned how to roll backwards and built up a powerful stride. I could skate faster than all but the creepy thirty-year-old guy who came every night by himself. I used the power of the whistle sparingly, preferring to earn respect on the floor through experience and influence, much like Michael Jordan did with the Bulls, only far dorkier.
After six months on the job, I finally reached the pinnacle.
CEO of rock.
Brandon and I traded shifts every Friday and Saturday night, alternating between the floor and the booth. When it was my turn, I would bathe myself in Drakkar Noir, spray a gallon of Binaca in my mouth, and ascend the seven steps to my lofty perch above the rink, spinning records and calling out to the assembled masses in my best radio voice,
“Alright! Let’s get ready for an All Skate. Please skate slowly and carefully in the normal direction.”
Though no female over the age of twelve wished to be the Whitney Houston to my Bobby Brown, I was definitely every fourth grader's dream.
A lot of the late 80’s classics were banned, so I had to orchestrate a party with limited resources. Journey and REO Speedwagon were in heavy rotation for the All Skate. But Motley Crue? They were off-limits given that drummer Tommy Lee regularly trashed hotel rooms. And couple skates? Debbie Gibson and Tiffany were solid locks, since Madonna was solely responsible for the increase in the teen pregnancy rate at my high school. At least that's what our parents told us.
I knew at the time that it was the best job I would ever have. (Incidentally, I was correct.) Now I found myself standing at a crossroads at the entrance to the DJ booth. Brandon was hovering over the turn table with a gleam in his eye, ready to jeopardize my dream job. He was my best friend.
And he was right.
We couldn’t let our elders dictate morality. This was our Woodstock. Youth demanded that we sacrifice ourselves for the good of hair bands everywhere. And for our music. This was art that needed to be heard. Starting with the snot-nosed grade schoolers and that one creepy adult circling the rink. The very survival of our generation depended on it.
“Do it, dude. I’ll play it during my shift, too.”
I skated away to police the floor, effortlessly weaving in and out of traffic. Asia’s “The Heat of The Moment” was fading away in the speakers. Then there was a brief moment of silence, that awkward pause between songs. Time enough to change my mind. I was about to turn back when I heard Joe Elliott’s signature voice echoed over the rink.
“Love is like a bomb buh bomb buh bomb bomb…”
That’s when all H-E-double-hockey-sticks broke loose.
The older kids knew instantly what was happening. The forbidden melody reverberated off the carpeted walls. Their eyes got big. They looked at me. Then at Brandon. The unthinkable had become reality.
I imagine it’s a bit like what happens at the start of the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Every pre-pubescent male in the place began skating at breakneck speeds. I blew my whistle, but no one paid attention. They were worked into a frenzy, and my “good cop” routine wasn’t doing the job. I tried yelling, but it was no use either. Kids were flying around the rink, pelvic thrusting, leaving only flapping leg bandanas in their wake.
It wasn’t long before the crashes started. Wobbly kids lost control and slammed into each other. It was like the mirror ball was a giant bug zapper, with bodies sprawled underneath trying to regain footing or simply flopping around on their backs. I cleared the carnage as fast as I could and suspended a couple of skaters from the rink for three songs, which was a pretty stout punishment.
When the song ended, I wheeled over to Brandon where he was waiting with a high five. We both glanced over to the rink office, and no one was coming out to chastise us.
My buddy looked at me and said,
“Dude. That was awesome.”
An hour later, I got the chance to hold up my end of the bargain. After a Reverse Skate, I played it again. This time, Brandon had to deal with the aftermath. I turned up the volume, feeling powerful watching the mayhem I had created. As powerful as a guy can feel with an 11pm curfew, that is.
Because we kept playing the song.
And I never knew why.
At the risk of losing all credibility, I confess that “Pour Some Sugar On Me” has been at the top of my iPod playlist since I bought the device. Recently, while “pouring some sugar” on the treadmill and trying not to make eye contact with the parade of yoga pants in front of me, I listened intently to the words.
And it was shocking.
Love is like a bomb, baby, c'mon get it on Livin' like a lover with a radar phone
What the heck is a radar phone? Is this something NASA is working on?
Mirror queen, mannequin, rhythm of love Sweet dream, saccharine, loosen up!”
Huh? What in God’s name are those guys singing about?
The worthless words hit my ears in a depressing avalanche. One after the other. And I felt betrayed. By Def Leppard. Then it occurred to me that owners of the skating rink probably knew the truth all along, and that’s why they allowed our little revolt. They knew the song probably wasn’t written by any of the Leppards, but instead was penned by a toddler who got his hands on some safety scissors, started randomly cutting words out of a dictionary, and pasted them onto a sheet of construction paper. Pure nonsense (see for yourself). The lyrics were only sexually suggestive to people who had absolutely no clue what sex entails.
Like sixteen-year-old skating rink DJ’s.
Now, the children of the 80’s are the parents of today. And our kids are growing up much faster than we ever did. They are surrounded by screens 24/7. The internet is feeding them mature content at an early age. They are virtually incapable of interacting face-to-face. Being a kid is somehow different now, and we lament the end of innocence.
But you wanna’ know a secret?
We’ve lost perspective. Our complaints sound identical to our own parents’ rants, only the names have changed. Madonna is now Miley. Arcades are now the internet. Cable TV is now You Tube. And the same can be said of the generations long gone. Ever since the first cave parent complained that portable fire on a stick would ruin us all.
And we all turned out OK.
The guy who sang along to “Shout At The Devil” became a school teacher.
The girl who donned a lace glove and danced in front of a mirror to “Like A Virgin” became an accountant.
And the kid who purposefully preyed on fifth grade bullies and rebelled against the oppressive regime at the skating rink?
He’s a harmless blogger.
So don’t believe the hysteria. Don’t buy in to the fear. The end of the world is just the beginning. Innocence never left. Relax and have faith that God is bigger than anything our culture can throw at our kids. They are just as naïve as we were. Just as resilient. And twice as strong. They will fall and get back up. They will rebel and return. Cure diseases. Explore new worlds. And teach us about things we never knew existed.
And if we’re lucky.
They’ll finally invent that radar phone.
* Postscript: In researching this post, I found an awesome video on You Tube with lyrics to prove I wasn't the only one who was duped. The guy actually printed "Living like a lover with a red hot thong" on screen instead of "radar phone." And a woman commented, "I always thought it was 'Lucifer', not 'Loosen Up." Sad face.
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