This Used To Be My Playground, Part 21: Take A Bow

OK, it’s time to put a button on this whole thing and shove it out to pasture. I’ll be researching a massive blogging project through much of 2017 (it probably won’t see the light of day until very late in the year), and I can’t have this series hanging over my head anymore.

The semi-subconscious impetus to begin writing this look back at a rapidly fading decade, along with my emotions during that decade, and the music that provided the soundtrack, came in early 2009 when I was very single, very lonely, and wondering where it all went wrong. Now I’m very married, very happy, and this whole series is growing hair and mold in my mind

But I can’t abandon it entirely, because that’s not my style. I must see it through. There’s still 135 songs left on my Ultimate 1990s Playlist, along with half of the decade itself, and still a few interesting events to make note of. So we’re going to do a quick wrap-up of the list over a mere four more entries…where a lot of stuff…when it’s not directly connected to a song…will be in italics…with a lot of ellipses…all impressionistic…and space-saving…

If you want to jump in at the beginning (and bless your heart if you do), there’s Part 1. If you want to climb aboard late, Part 15 or Part 18 work as passable entry points.

#166. “Zombie” — The Cranberries

The Cranberries and their Irish-y Irishness were starting to get on everyone’s nerves around this time. Dolores O’Riordan’s wordless vocalizations on this song, akin to a howler monkey in estrus, gave a new meaning to the word “grating.”

December ‘94/January ‘95…

For Christmas, I got a multi-disc CD player and 33_23680a_lga massive speaker cabinet for my Bronco II…

I was dating a girl who was practically bristling with red flags, but she was my type (short & curvy, blonde, nice rack)…she had been kicked out of her mom’s apartment…she had been taken in by her friend’s family on the condition that she convert to Mormonism…she took to it zealously (except when she didn’t)…in addition to the Book of Mormon, she owned Madonna’s “Sex” book…she refused to listen to Tom Petty because she found him physically unattractive…she was a huge Ace Of Base fan…

#167. “The Sign” — Ace Of Base

#168. “You Don’t Know How It Feels” — Tom Pettyuswb19902766_640x480_01

“Turn the radio loud/I’m too alone to be proud” is maybe one of my favorite lyrical couplets ever. So much summed up in ten words. It’s a little like Hemingway.

#169. “Take A Bow” — Madonna

Red-Flag Girl was obsessed with Madonna…I must have heard this song a thousand times during the few weeks I was with her.

When I visited Red-Flag Girl at her friend’s house where she had taken up residence, I feared for my life…it was in one of the more squalid parts of Linda, the scuzzy little meth town that surrounded my community college…all parts of Linda were varying degrees of squalid…the house was more of a shack, squatting in a lot full of plastic bags, car parts, weeds, and dead, skeletal trees…it looked on the verge of being condemned…the roof sagged, the walls listed, the front porch was missing entirely, and access to the warped, peeling front door was provided by some cinder block steps…


I never visited the kitchen or bathroom, thank goodness, so I never got to gauge to quality of the plumbing, but there was no heat…it was a particularly cold, wet winter…when I visited, we huddled around a tiny space heater in Red Flag Girl’s friend’s room, listening to the “Take A Bow” cassette single over and over…so yes, there was electricity (barely), because the friend’s morbidly-obese parents wouldn’t want to miss a moment of their favorite religious programming, at ear-splitting volume…Two Mormon missionaries were always around every time I was there, and one of them so clearly had the screaming hots for the friend that watching their interactions was by turns hilarious and uncomfortable…and being missionaries, they could not cross the threshold into her bedroom, so they stood shivering in the hall, sometimes for an hour or more…


#170. “Come On” — The Jesus and Mary Chain

#171. “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” — Elton John

Red-Flag Girl was a devout Mormon, at least until her sinful urges occasionally kicked in, and her two-job working mom inadvertently left us an apartment that was empty for hours on end, and an unlocked sliding glass door. Believe me, no one has more potential for illicit fun than a guilty, furtive Mormon. 

I went to some kind of Christmas banquet at the Linda LDS Church assembly hall with her and her friend, who had volunteered to serve beverages…I looked around for the coffee urn for ten minutes before it dawned on me that I would not find one…one of the organizers bringing the chafing dishes was late, having locked her keys in her car…she actually, legitimately, not-making-it-up blamed Satan… “Satan did not want our get-together to be successful this evening, but we beat him this time…”


Proudly rocking the community college sweatshirt, Dec. 94

#172. “Run-Around” — Blues Traveler

I began to suspect I was getting the run-around myself, as Red-Flag Girl (lacking a driver’s license) only began calling when she needed sex, or a more traditional ride. The latter very quickly outnumbered the former. (“Run-Around” is also one of about two dozen songs around this time that made me think of Emily, who I was nowhere near over, despite me dating anyone who could fog a mirror at this point. I’ve actually only mentioned a small percentage of them here.)

#173. “Don’t Turn Around — Ace Of Base

The aforementioned Sinful Urges caused a crisis of conscience with Red-Flag Girl, who rededicated herself to her faith, and kicked me to the curb because, in her words, I “obviously had no love for the Church.” I can hear those exact words in my head to this day. I certainly couldn’t argue with her statement, and I resisted the temptation to point out that at times she breathlessly encouraged certain activities that were nowhere to be found in the Book of Mormon. Ultimately, I was relieved never to have to visit that filthy hovel ever again. (It’s since been torn down, or perhaps it finally just disintegrated into muck.)

I actually hung out with Red-Flag Girl once or twice about a year later…she had reconciled with her mom…she ditched Mormonism to become a Wiccan…she still has my Reservoir Dogs VHS…

#174. “You Gotta Be” — Des’ree

No, I don’t.

#175. “Lone Star Song” — Grant Lee Buffalo

#176. “Delia’s Gone” — Johnny Cashjohnny-cash-rfg4_o_tn

I circled the country genre warily. Whatever was on the radio or CMT was obviously garbage, but the more respectable “alt-country” music scene was beginning to really blossom, and the old-school guys like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard were being rediscovered and revered. I was intrigued, but it was all so damn twangy and corny. I had just acquired the Byrds’ epic box set, and around disc three they hit their Sweetheart of the Rodeo era with Gram Parsons, and I just couldn’t relate anymore. Grant Lee Buffalo was a good gateway…not really country but “Americana.” And few could resist the Man in Black’s timeless cool. Slowly but surely, I was seduced by it, until by 1998 or so, I regarded Gram Parsons as a minor deity, Sweetheart of the Rodeo as superior to Sgt. Pepper, and there was very little in my car CD changer that didn’t have a fiddle and/or pedal steel somewhere on it.

#177. “Creep” — TLC

I like the Afghan Whigs’ cover of this one.


May ’95

Spring 1995…I began feeling increasingly lost and alone…like I needed new friends…Caspar, Audrey, and McKinney were OK, but we were living in each others’ pockets in that tiny apartment…they were always there, and at the same time distant…there was no real bond or comradery anymore…they had become annoying siblings…the walls of our little apartment felt like they were closing in on me…I missed Emily, and constantly wondered if she would walk into the video store one night…

I managed to string together three or four days off in a row around Easter, when my parents took a trip…I left my apartment…installed myself in my old bedroom in my parents’ temporarily vacated house…had something of a mini-breakdown…

I had a huge stack of old movies borrowed from work…I crawled into my bed for the next few days…repeatedly dosed myself with allergy pills and couple of dusty old Vicodin I had acquired from a co-worker (I was hardcore)…alternately slept, cried, and stared hazily at The Treasure of the Sierra Madre among about a dozen others…

It worked…when I washed off and re-emerged, I decided it was time to start anew…I would forget Emily…expand my social circle beyond my roommates…open myself to new experiences…(I had also given myself a solid little film education over those days…that Billy Wilder guy was pretty sharp)…

First bold step…switch coffee shops! Out with Mahler’s on D Street in Marysville, in with Java Retreat on Plumas Street in neighboring Yuba City…

#178. “Missing” — Everything But The Girl

#179. “Wild Night” — John Mellencamp

Not long after my epiphany and new determination to suck the marrow out of life, I found myself in a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend’s hot tub forty-five miles from home with a girl I really liked. I have since forgotten her name.

I had seen her around both coffee shops, and she was friends with Audrey’s friend Eddy the Masseuse (see Part 19). Eddy had a friend with a pretty stylish townhouse down by the state university in Sacramento. Somehow (the details are lost), Eddy separately invited me and Girl Whose Name I Forgot down to hang out there one night. Turns out, Eddy’s pal’s townhouse had a hot tub (and a great CD collection, including the B.B. King box set, which I drooled over.) I know naked hot-tubbing was a thing in the 70s if you had forgotten your bathing suit, but this was the much more straitlaced 90s. We all got in the hot tub fully clothed, because we thought it would be funny, I guess. Neither marrow nor anything else was sucked that evening. At the end of a very late night, I had to peel off my soaking clothes in my car, and had the pleasure of driving myself almost an hour back home completely nude with the heater blasting (you’re welcome for the mental image). I was racing the clock, because I had to beat the sunrise. I did a hopefully audience-free streak from my car up the stairs to the apartment just as the eastern sky was going pink.

The new coffee shop was working out well…I became friends with a few of the servers and regular patrons, just as I had hoped…I reconnected with my high school acquaintance Allen (see Part 10), who was roommates with WH…WH was about four years older than Allen and I, and was looked up to by everyone…he worked as an assistant manager at the Sutter Theater, one block down from Java Retreat…I already knew WH a little from me being a regular theater customer, from him being a regular video store customer, and from a creative writing class at community college…the three of us began making regular trips down to Sacramento to go record shopping…


This Used To Be Java Retreat (since this photo was taken, it has become “Cupcake Magic”)

#180. “Red Right Hand” — Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

#181. “Here And Now” — Letters To Cleo

#182. “Supersonic” — Oasis

#183. “Live Forever” — Oasis

I was first knocked out by Nick Cave when I heard this playing over the speakers during a shopping trip to K Street Records in Sacramento, a store semi-famous for being on the cover of DJ Shadow’s groundbreaking all-samples album Endtroducing…

“Here And Now” was a 1993 song that didn’t get popular until it was included on the Melrose Place soundtrack well over a year later. I had heard it on the radio, thought the lead singer was cute, and the song was pretty catchy. On one of our record shopping excursions, I picked up the Letters To Cleo CD and carried it around for a little bit, trying to decide if I wanted to buy it. I asked WH his opinion.

“Yeah, get it, it’s really good.”

Done deal. As we were leaving the store, I pulled it out of the bag.

“What are the other good songs on here besides the single?” I asked WH.

“What?! I have no idea. I was kidding. I never thought in a million years you would actually buy that shit.”

On a more positive note, WH did (legitimately) encourage me to buy Definitely Maybe by Oasis on one of these excursions. He had seen them at a tiny Sacramento club on their first U.S. tour the previous summer. It quickly became my new favorite album by my new favorite band.


#184. “I Wish” — Skee-Lo

For reasons I still cannot fathom, one-hit wonder rapper Skee-Lo performed on campus at my old high school during lunch break. Us alumni only heard about the wondrous event after the fact, but we were glad Music Fridays (usually amateur bands or a DJ) were still happening. One Friday that spring, one of Allen’s younger friends’ band was playing, so we wandered on to campus. This was back when you could still do that. But we felt really weird and kind of pathetic, like a bunch of Woodersons from Dazed and Confused, and left before it even started. You can’t go home again.

Caspar and Audrey surprised me by saying they were moving to Colorado at the end of May…the apartment days were over…I had to move back in with the parents until another set of roommates could be acquired…I didn’t know it yet, but the next roommate would be a wife (foreshadowing)…

My attempt to get a new group of friends was a rousing success…my attempt to forget Emily was less so…

#185. “Sick Of Myself” — Matthew Sweet

#186. “You Oughta Know” — Alanis Morisette

Matthew Sweet’s lovelorn masterpiece 100% Fun may be the last of my Pining For The Ex albums, joining Soundgarden’s Superunknown, Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York, 3f7b1c56d7698ffa6325936cb7eacc27and Clapton’s blues album From The Cradle, all from the previous year. Oh, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours from 1977. No, wait, the actual last album of that very personal genre was Chris Isaak’s Forever Blue (see below.)

And I certainly still felt Morisette’s hurt, blunt anger, when I thought of Em and her (not so) new boyfriend. It had been almost a year since I’d seen her…

Remember when I said a little bit ago that my heart’s desire was to have Emily walk into the video store where I worked? In early June of 1995…she did…

#187. “Blue” — The Jayhawks

It was awkward at first. Then, after a coffee date, it wasn’t. It felt comfortable and right. She had broken up with the boyfriend (who had recently joined the Air Force), and moved on her own up north to Chico. She didn’t know what, if anything, she was offering me at this point. Maybe just friendship. Maybe more. Take It Slow. Wait And See.

I had really begun to embrace the alt-country genre by now, egged on by WH, who was a huge fan. The wistful/hopeful “Blue” summed up everything happening to me at this moment so well.

v1#188. “Kiss From A Rose” — Seal

One of our first “phase II” dates? Seeing Joel Schumacher’s steaming turd of a movie called Batman Forever, prominently featuring this song. I didn’t think the Batman franchise could sink any lower until Schumacher grabbed a shovel and gave us 1997’s Batman And Robin.

#189. “Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing” — Chris Isaak

For those few weeks in June, when I wasn’t working, I was with Emily up in Chico. Her new apartment was sparsely furnished. The living room had only a futon, a tiny stereo, and her collection of thirty or so CDs, including lots of Cure and Depeche Mode, the Pretenders’ Last of the Independents, and the newly-acquired Tales From The Punchbowl by Primus. A framed print of the cherubs from Raphael’s Sistine Madonna leaned against a far wall.


We usually spent our time walking in Bidwell Park, exploring book stores, and guzzling liters of coffee. (She was already 21 to my 20, but mostly disdained alcohol.) We would retire to her little crash pad after a fast-food dinner. Weird the details one remembers…she would change into short pajamas that were a pin-striped facsimile of a baseball uniform. Despite the Take It Slow, Wait And See philosophy, one night we…well…broke a sweat.

The next morning, she was wracked with guilt. She felt she had betrayed her boyfriend. Wait, don’t I mean ex-boyfriend? Evidently not. She had told him her move to Chico was merely a temporary separation while she got her head together. I had, literally overnight, become a Complication.

I didn’t have to work that day…she did…I killed time in Chico until she got off…I spent another night…she made it clear there would be no repeat of the night before…I was banished to the futon…after she fell asleep I crept into her room…I just knelt at the foot of her bed…as if in prayer or penance…I stayed that way the rest of the night…I knew she was slipping away again…in the morning I was stiff and exhausted…

#190. “Somebody’s Crying” — Chris Isaak3fc40d8775a1da9ad9db5ed37402d7b6

“I’m very confused right now. I don’t what to do, or how I feel,” she said the next morning. She had to leave for a work conference in Sacramento. I had to drag my drained husk home to bed after being up all night, willing her to choose me. We would be driving separately, but in the same direction.

The last thing she said to me before she left was “Don’t call me…I’ll call you.”

She drove off several minutes before I did. Due to the vagaries of morning traffic, a few miles out of town, I actually spotted her car far ahead of me. When Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down A Dream” came up on the CD shuffle, a feeling came over me that if I could just keep her in view on the long highway back to Yuba City, everything would work out. But at some point during “Somebody’s Crying,” I lost sight of her.

I respected her request…but she never called…

#191. “I Got A Girl” — Tripping Daisy

Speak for yourself, Tripping Daisy. (Former members of Tripping Daisy went on to form The Polyphonic Spree, but we won’t hold that against them.)

#192. “Windfall”– Son Volt

wilco3#193. “Box Full Of Letters” — Wilco

The literate, sepia-toned laments of alt-country did salve my hurt feelings somewhat. One of the main originators of the genre, Uncle Tupelo, had split into two separate bands by 1995. The two splinter groups, Wilco and Son Volt, joined the Brit rockers Oasis in my must-listen-every-day club.

Summer ‘95!

Allen’s parents had already moved to a new house before they sold the old one…Allen had free use of the old domicile until it sold, in exchange for keeping the lawn trimmed and the pool clean…it didn’t sell until the following spring…the Hazel Avenue Clubhouse was home base for many adventures over the coming months…for a regular crew of around eight or ten guys with too much time on their hands…I was not really a core member…I was on the periphery a little…if this crew was like the Rat Pack, then I was Joey Bishop…but I was there for a lot of it…

#194. “I’ll Stick Around” — Foo Fighters

We decided that Dave Grohl’s post-Nirvana band was better than Nirvana. (The opinion didn’t last past the summer. We were just being contrarian.)

#195. “Let Her Cry” — Hootie & The Blowfish

Never liked these guys. But “hootie” did become our code for “inebriated.”

#196. “Alright” — Supergrass

#197. “Boombastic” — Shaggy

At the Hazel Avenue Clubhouse, there were often illicit substances of the herbal variety. I did not partake. I admit, I was a little scared of “street” drugs. Nancy Reagan did a hell of a job on me back in the 80s. (But I sure as shit wasn’t scared of booze or downers.)

The Holy Bee spoke of adventures that summer…besides driving around listening to the Foo Fighters’ debut album and cooling our heels at Java Retreat, there was…trying to find someone who had LSD (mission accomplished, but, again, I did not partake)…crashing a party up at Chico State University (I was the designated driver on the way home…someone vomited chow mein out the passenger window, which remained streaked down the side of the Bronco II until I got around to washing it later in the week)…crashing a local party while wearing sailor hats (I forgot where we got them) just before the cops came (I hopped a lot of fences that summer)…a member of the Hazel Avenue Clubhouse crew coming out to all of us as gay when we were on our way to see Crimson Tide…shaving off another guy’s impressive white-man Afro and leaving the bag of hair on the doorstep of a girl who had dumped him…getting hootie on gin and juice (just like Snoop Dogg!) and riding our bikes to the county fair (can’t get busted for underage DUI on a bike, right?)…bringing girls of possibly low moral character who we met at the fair back to Hazel Avenue for some late-night underwear swimming (a step up from fully-clothed hot-tubbing)…discovering the next morning that the county fair girls had emptied our wallets which had been sitting on the kitchen counter…WH was never part of the Hazel Avenue crew, being older and already engaged to be married and completely uninterested in our shenanigans…


#198. “Gangsta’s Paradise” — Coolio

When there wasn’t an adventure, there was sprawling on the massive sectional sofa that dominated the Hazel Avenue living room, watching old ’80s action movies and weird indie stuff (often featuring Allen’s idol Crispin Glover). Or MTV, where this track from the Dangerous Minds soundtrack was in constant rotation.

#199. “Counting Blue Cars” — Dishwalla

Almost every song released by white dudes from 1995 to 1999 sounded like this.

Man, I thought I was done with Mormon girls…

#200. “Connection” — Elastica

It turns out she was no longer personally Mormon, but she was raised that way. I vaguely knew her as the younger sister of a high school classmate. She knew a lot of the guys in the Hazel Avenue crew. She had a huge crush on Allen, and rode her ten-speed past the place a few times a day during the summer. Mahler’s coffee shop was presenting some live music every so often — not normal live coffee shop music, but cool music. Bands came all the way from the Bay Area (sometimes). It was at one of these shows that I met her… (In May? September? Can’t recall now.) She was my type (short & curvy, blonde, nice rack), but I thought she looked vaguely skater-ish, with her baggy thrift-store t-shirt and baggy corduroy pants. I mentioned that to her and she wrinkled her nose and said she hated skaters. A good start. We made vague small talk before the band started, idly kicking a Frisbee on the ground back and forth between us. Then the show began, and I forgot all about her for several months.

I had just met the Future Ex-Wife.

#201. “Supernova” — Liz Phair

I learned a little further down the road that Future Ex-Wife’s twin musical muses were Liz Phair and Tori Amos. I’ll go ahead and put another Phair song right here. I already owned and liked Phair’s records, but was never all that aware of Amos, apart from seeing her “Silent All These Years” video a few times, and once I heard her — meh. Not a fan. I don’t have to like everything on the list, but Amos didn’t register enough for me independently of Future Ex-Wife to merit inclusion (yet there’s room for Right Said Fred.)

#202. “Hey Man, Nice Shot” — Filter

The Hazel Avenue Clubhouse was a social hub, but Allen still officially lived in an apartment with WH, and it was about two blocks from Emily’s parents’ house. One night in August I was on my way there, and noticed Emily’s car parked in front (there were many other cars there, as well, but that didn’t register yet.) I had not called. She had not called. I hadn’t seen her since that morning in mid-June. I was conflicted. I almost drove past. I did drive past. Then, as will sometimes happen with me, a passage from Michael Shaara’s novel of the Battle of Gettysburg, The Killer Angels, ran through my head: General Longstreet was trying to convince General Lee not to attack the Union forces, who had the superior ground.

“The enemy is there,” protested Lee. “And I am going to fight them there.”

Not that this was a battle, nor was she an enemy, but you get the idea. I was going to deal with this now. I slammed the Bronco II into a u-turn, went back, and boldly rang the doorbell. When her sister opened the door and saw it was me, her eyes popped and her jaw dropped open.

I had just crashed Emily’s wedding reception.


Filed under Music -- 1990s, This Used To Be My Playground

2 responses to “This Used To Be My Playground, Part 21: Take A Bow

  1. Kitty Jung

    Love it! I was born on Beale AFB and raised in Linda – the development right next to Yuba College. So many familiar places! Please let me know your other blogs, since you mention you’ll be putting this one to bed? Thanks.

    • There’s three more entries scheduled through April to conclude this series, so stay tuned, especially if you like the old movie theaters we used to have…the State in Marysville and the Sutter in Y.C…”Holy Bee of Ephesus” is the only blog I have, but there’s more than enough here to keep a reader occupied…

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