Is That Carly Rae?….A Late 80s History Lesson

Ahhhh, the late 80s and pop music, there isn’t much that brings greater joy for me to think about than those days. Life was easy back then. I ranged in age from 10-13. 1986-1989 were the years that some of our pop divas made huge marks on popular music and me. The American Music Awards held in January 1987 saw Whitney, Janet, and Madonna all take home awards AND they were all there to accept.

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All of these late 80s music memories came rushing back recently when I was sitting at my desk pretty much jamming to the new Carly Rae Jepsen album, Emotion, and a student of mine entered my office, sat down, and said, “Is that Carly Rae?”

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“Why yes it is,” I responded. We proceeded to briefly talk about the hot lead single, Run Away With Me and why it isn’t a bigger hit. This song opens with a sax solo straight out of 1987 and a steamy fire escape set video staring Richard Marx. But what ensued, much to my delight and probably much to the dismay of my student, was a late 80s diva history.

First and foremost, The Queen of Pop, Whitney’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me). It is pop perfection. What I didn’t tell my student in our history lesson was how I used to act it out leaning up against the house like Whitney did when she had the leather jacket on and leopard print scarf in her hair. IWDWS is quintessential late 80s. The horns, the pop beats, the bright colors in the video, the make-up on Whitney. It all goes down in history as one of my favorite songs and definitely a late 80s favorite. It is interesting to note that IWDWS was written by the same duo who wrote How Will I Know, which was originally intended for Janet Jackson, but helped cement Whitney as a pop icon in the making. The duo of George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, of the group Boy Meets Girl fame (another favorite song of mine, Waiting For A Star To Fall) wrote both pop hits for Whitney and actually intended Waiting For A Star To Fall for her but Arista declined so they made a hit out of the song. Whitney received song writing credits for coming up with the ending, “Don’t you wanna dance, say you wanna dance, don’t you wanna dance (dance)”.  She won Best Pop Female Vocal at the 30th Annual Grammy Awards for I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).

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My student of course had heard of Whitney, but really only knew her in reference to the recent tragic loss of Bobbi Kristina and the song I Will Always Love You. I couldn’t help myself but to show her a bit of the video and expound upon her the importance of knowing Whitney Houston and I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me). Honestly, when students happen into my office and let’s say Whitney is playing, I try to make sure they know who she is and why she is important, for real.

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The second song that really defines the late 80s for me, and if we are keeping to the three top divas of the time, is Madonna’s Open Your Heart. I have heard that Madonna is performing this song on her current Rebel Heart Tour, which makes me happy. There were very few things that my parents forbid my brother and I to do, to watch or to listen to, but Madonna, especially Papa Don’t Preach was on that short list. Somehow Open Your Heart was not on that list and I remember over and over watching that video on MTV. My dad owned a fedora, though it was more of a beach hat, I wore that and danced like Madonna and the little boy all over my house. I do remember thinking less about Madonna’s spiky bustier leotard and way more about how I thought that boy was cute. Remember I was all of 11 at the time. Another thing I never noticed then, or didn’t think about, is that in the opening of the peep show there are two sailors sitting arm and arm together.  Madonna pushing the limits of equality even in 1988!! When Madonna would hang her head way back over the chair and slide off that black wig to reveal her short blonde cut, I died every time!  Still do! Finally, when the boy and Madonna dance shoulder to shoulder at the end of the video, I was so jealous and would fantasize that that was me dancing with Madonna, for real! What a fantastic, fantastic late 80s song that had such a big impact on me and my love of music. It truly is, maybe besides Borderline the first Madonna song that I absolutely loved, oh and Material Girl too. But anyway, it really set a tone for the type of music I would gravitate toward throughout my life. “Open your heart with the key. One is such a lonely number.” Yup, longing, loving, schmaltzy, can’t live without him songs. All of that, and a gay reference in 1988, Way to go Madonna!

Finishing up three of my defining late 80s diva pop hits history, The Pleasure Principle by Janet, “Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.”

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This was a 1987 hit and seventh single from her Control album which was a pretty big success for Janet, but nothing like her next two albums would prove to be. The Pleasure Principle was Janet’s first real dance video that I remember. It reminded me so much of Ren McCormick in Footloose dancing in the grain elevator. Don’t get me started on the importance of that movie in my life. HA! Anyway, TPP as you can now imagine, was acted out, many, many times in my basement and in my garage as I would try to recreate Janet’s passion. I’m not much of a technical dancer, so I would go more for the passionate hand to forehead move and throwing my body up against the wall. Oh and the taking off of the jean jacket and swinging that about. That was good too. I loved the part where she danced in front of the wood slats with light shining through and in front of the mirrors. This was a perfect dance hit.

So getting back to the late 80s pop history for my student. It really only included the Whitney portion, but brought back many memories of these other two hits as well. I’m sure my student was thankful for the lesson. We then talked about Carly Rae and her super cool pop album that really should be a much bigger hit.

Stop! Stop right now what you are doing and go listen to these songs from Carly Rae Jepsen’s album Emotion.

Run Away With Me

                                                                             Boy Problems

                           Favourite Colour                   

                                                                                                      Making the Most of the Night

Lets Get Lost

                                                                  Your Type

                                         All That

                                                                                                             LA Hallucinations

                                                                                I Really Like You

Seriously, listen to this album now! It is just as good, if not BETTER than Swizzle’s 1989, also a great pop album, but CRJ can ACTUALLY hold a tune!

I don’t remember where I read or heard this recently, online or NPR, but whatever it was, it said that after the age of 33 we really don’t choose to listen to music that is much different than the music we have always listened to. Thinking about this idea, it really is true for me. I don’t listen to much new music and if I do it really is pop stuff, like Carly Rae’s new album. My music interests and the artists I most listen to now are those from the late 80s and early 90s, for the most part. These were all pivotal influences on my life, especially my life in music. Dick Clark famously said, “Music is the storybook of our lives.” What a true statement. When you think about it, music can take you back to good times, sad times, happy times, bitter times, fun times, really the storybook of our lives. Go enjoy some music from your past and take a walk down memory lane, then listen to Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen!

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Equal Dignity — June 26, 2015

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It’s been 25 days since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of equal rights and equal dignity for all Americans. Call it Gay Marriage, call it Marriage, call it what it is, a Human Right that is afforded to Americans based on our Constitution. I’ve been meaning to write about this momentous day for a few weeks, but just haven’t had a chance. I also wanted it to settle in and I wanted to feel it. On June 26, 2015 LOVE did win.

We should never let anyone into our hearts if they don’t enter with love. With all the hatred around the SCOTUS decision and the fight over equal rights, “Love Wins” is one of the truest messages. As the late, great Whitney Houston once sang, “Your love is my love and my love is your love.”  We all love. We all want to love. We all want to feel love. If two men or two women find love, let it be, please! Who’s to say that your love is more right than my love or my love is more right than your love? Life, this journey, is hard enough, why make it harder by fighting over love? Let love be. Let us move forward allowing everyone to love.

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So here’s my perspective as a non-religious gay man, it’s a separation of church and state.  Our forefathers wrote that into the constitution for a reason.  For so many years I have been arguing the point that I’m not asking to get married in your church. I’m not religious, so I would never get married in a church. If you want to that is wonderful, for you. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” is part of the Constitution(state, “government”), and if my happiness means marrying a man, then I get to do that. Marriage comes in two forms.  There is a ceremony(the church if you choose) and there is the license. With the legal part of a marriage license come rights that heterosexual couples have always had. These are the law, not the Bible. These are the state, not the church. No matter what you believe marriage is, one man, one woman…two men or two women…everyone should be given the same legal rights of marriage because we live in America and we all should be afforded the same rights.  Now, because SCOTUS ruled in favor, it is the Law of the Land, as it should be, as it always should have been, as it now will be forever more.

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Ever since President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage, I felt things would pick up speed, and they sure did. People have differing opinions on when and how Obama “evolved” into believing in the right for gay men and women to marry. He is a politician and our country is so divided that of course he didn’t come out and fully support gay marriage until after he successfully won his second term. Say what you choose, but what matters to me is that he did and I always felt he would, once he was a second term President. When President Obama took office two states recognized gay marriage, seven years later, all 50 states recognize it. I believe that when the leader of the free world came out and supported equal rights, the slope slipped in the right direction. Call it political posturing, or whatever, Obama had to do it the right way and he did. Thank you Mr. President!

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Several years ago, my friend’s son wrote a letter to President Obama. He asked the President to pass a law so that I can get married. How wonderful, right? E has known me since the time he was born. He and his sister have grown up in a time that gay men and women have just been part of social media and their personal life. In my opinion, he’s been lucky enough to have several “Guncles” in his life, and we are lucky enough to have him in our lives.  This now middle school boy just accepts love as love, couples as couples, people as people.  My hope is that his generation is growing up knowing that “love is love”. They are going to be the first generation that doesn’t quite remember the time of marriage vs. gay marriage. He and his generation will know only, MARRIAGE.

Speaking of the younger generation, did you see this 7 year-old girl stand up to a homophobic preacher?

It’s quite wonderful that I was home in Michigan visiting my family the day of the SCOTUS decision. My five and six-year-old nieces’ take on the day’s events, “Can we be your flower girls and wear pretty dresses?” Again, this young generation will not remember a time when marriage was talked about separately. They will only know marriage as a celebration of love. How wonderful is that?

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The sidewalk in Bronson Park, Kalamazoo, Michigan-June 26, 2015

So what does this all mean? I think Frank Bruni writes about it best in his article “Our Weddings, Our Worth” from the New York Times. It’s about worth. It’s about EVERY American feeling worthy and feeling noticed and feeling dignified. This blows my mind because it is exactly how I feel when Bruni writes, “And that’s because the Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t simply about weddings. It was about worth. From the highest of this nation’s perches, in the most authoritative of this nation’s voices, a majority of justices told a minority of Americans that they’re normal and that they belong — fully, joyously and with cake.”  So what it means is that our young gay men and women can grow up in a time knowing that they belong and that they are normal and that they matter. And for me it means that I can get married and have cake!!

As all of this settles in, there are still haters, some of whom want to lead our country like Ted Cruz who is calling for states not to follow the law. Um, Ted, it’s the law. You have to follow it. Sorry dude! We must push that nonsense away(and not vote these bigots into office)and forge our path to love!!  LOVE! While we do that, I would like to share some of my favorite moments and images of June 26th, 2015 and the days following via social media.

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The White House

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Our President 🙂

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Our Next President–Please?

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Police raising the Pride flag at City Hall in Chicago

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Niagara Falls

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What a week in US history

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A lot of work yet to accomplish

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This Instagram post from Bey

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That’s right, what makes being American and living in America so wonderful is that we can all have different opinions and we don’t have to agree on any of them. But, we should always be kind to one another and we all deserve the same rights. In the end, it’s about every American knowing that he matters, that she is worthy, and that we are all dignified. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the most beautiful final paragraph in his majority opinion ruling.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

Now we move forward. Let’s call it marriage. Let’s call it celebrations of love. We’re all equal and we’re all deserving of human rights. We are all deserving of the rights afforded to all Americans. So go ahead, you can just call it MARRIAGE now.