Shifting perceptions: “Show some class”


My feeling that Norway is living eternally in the second half of the 1980s is not going to change, even if all the rest of my perceptions shift constantly. Evidence to prove this: every time I get in my car and drive somewhere, Norwegian radio is playing Michael Jackson. Never the same song, but it’s Michael all the time. And when it’s not Michael, it’s Richard Marx, it’s Bryan Adams, it’s Berlin, it’s Billy Ocean or some other thing I don’t want to hear – in the 80s or now.

As a corollary to this everlasting musical 80s timewarp, I have become known as the harbinger of death because I seem to trip over news of celebrity deaths accidentally (am watching or listening to news almost constantly) or just know about past celeb deaths.

I was in the car the other day, and got immediate proof positive of this 1980s assertion: Jermaine Stewart‘s one-hit wonder, “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”, blasted from the radio. I listened to the lyrics as if for the first time and could not really figure our why a song like this would exist. And who the bloody hell would drink cherry wine?

My firewall and I spent the whole evening singing it and reveling in the cheesy nostalgia.

But then, being me, I just had to know: what became of Jermaine Stewart? One hit and then gone… well, DEAD is what he is. Apparently he died in 1997 of AIDS-related liver cancer. What? Maybe because he was not really that famous, his death came and went without much fanfare. Or I was just not paying attention.

Whether or not Stewart knew his infection status in 1986 when the song was a hit, knowing this information, I hear the song filtered through that mid-80s terror of AIDS. It is more a safe-sex anthem than anything else (like many songs of the era) but it had never once occurred to me that that song fit such a bill. But listening to it armed with this information, it’s like a completely different song.

But there are new filters and lenses for everything, really. I was listening to Jim Croce the other day, remembering listening to him and looking at an album cover (a close-up of his distinctive face) when I was 4 years old. My mom explained that Croce had died a few years earlier in a plane crash. He was 30. I recall even today what I was thinking when she gave me this background information, “So what? He was old. He did everything he needed to do.” The level of a 4-year-old kid’s reasoning: 30 seemed like a good, full life. Looking at it now, of course, I am taken aback reflecting on his youth, the promising career cut short, the 2-year-old son he left behind.

I admit it. I am feeling nostalgic, contemplative about the shifting filters and perceptions that come with age and time. I am feeling mortal.

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