The part of me that wishes I was cool doesn’t want to feel any resonance with this particular artist. But tonight I must grudgingly admit that a few of his songs have played a role in my life.
It started innocently enough tonight as I logged into iTunes. A few shameful music purchases have caused the good people at Apple to believe that I want a lot of cheesy 80s music in my life. So there in the “recommended” list was “Faith” by George Michael. My mind was cast back to my late teens when my older sister owned this album and we gleefully danced to “I Want Your Sex” with the idea that it would shock our parents. (I have no idea of this was successful or not, but if it was my parents lever let on.)
So, just for old time’s sake, I click on the link. But the song I decide to preview isn’t the one of the popular songs. Instead, I click on is the rather sappy and overwrought ballad, “One More Try.” In the 90 seconds you can get for free, I am immediately transported to an exact moment in my teenage life.
I’m on a United Airlines 727 headed from Salt Lake City to Chicago, O’Hare. In Chicago, I’ll change planes and continue my journey home to Rochester. But now, I’m just burrowing into my seat and putting a cassette into my Walkman to help me pass the time.
As I listen to music and look out the window, I think about the past four months. I was away at school in Idaho. My first time living away from home. While Southeastern Idaho didn’t agree with me at all, it did have one thing going for it: an astounding male to female ratio… something like 1:4. As a result, even a socially inept person like me could have a pretty thriving dating life. And, improbable as it was, I actually had a girlfriend; my first ever.
Her name was Barbara and we kissed amid giant snowflakes as they slowly fell on a cold Rexburg night. It was my first kiss and, corny as it might sound, it was kinda magical. She was from Boulder City, Nevada, the daughter of a florist, and 21. That’s right, an older woman. For whatever reason, she took a liking to a terrifyingly skinny guy from upstate New York. So we started going out. It wasn’t the most mature relationship in the world, consisting mostly of making out and going to movies, but for teenage first-love*, it was pretty good. (*Or whatever it is when you’re a teenager. I think “love” in the sense adults know it is maybe a bit too strong, but “like” isn’t strong enough, and “lust” doesn’t really work either as it neglects the fact that there was a genuine and rather sweet affection to be found in the relationship.)
But the semester ended and we prepared to go our separate ways. I was a few weeks shy of 19, meaning I would soon leave for a 2 year Mormon mission. Barbara would head home for the summer, and then back to school in Idaho in the fall. It’s custom for girlfriends to say they’ll wait for their boyfriend to return from serving a mission. It’s also custom for that vow to be broken after about a year or so. I suggested that we not even go through that charade and just leave things on good terms and commit to look each other up in two years if she hadn’t gotten involved with anyone else. I remember that rather practical and realistic suggestion was not greeted with much enthusiasm.
So, without any real game plan for the future, she got into a car and headed back to Nevada. Someone standing with me asked, “so, is your little heart just a’ breakin’?” (She was from Oklahoma.) I was actually a bit annoyed at the suggestion. After all, I was striving to be an unemotional person boldly looking to the future, not the past.
A few hours later, my grandfather picks me up and drives me to down to Salt Lake, where I board a flight for home. And the tape I’ve got in my Walkman is a copy of “Faith” I copied off my sister. I go through the first three tracks which include the infamous, “I Want Your Sex” and am confronted with “One More Try.”
I’m not paying that much attention to the song, so I don’t really know what it’s about, but it’s slow and kind of sad sounding and affects me in a way I’m not quite prepared for. After a minute or so, I notice I’m starting to tear up a bit, so I reach into my pocket and throw on a pair of Ray Bans and look out the window.
This is all new to me and I don’t know what to make of it. But it quickly becomes apparent that my first real romantic relationship is over. What I don’t know then is that we’d actually bump into each other about a year later when I’m a missionary. It will be an awkward encounter where we shake hands (missionaries are forbidden to hug members of the opposite sex) and it’s apparent that whatever spark there was between us is now gone and her mountain of a father will look at me with eyes that say, “my daughter dated this putz? “ Sitting in that plane, I also don’t know that Barbara will be married 18 months later.
I don’t know any of these things, but as the final synthesized string chord hits on “One More Try” I know it’s over, and I know I’m sad about it. As much as I protested, my Oklahoma friend was right, my little heart was a’ breakin’.
I stop listening to George Michael and instead turn on “Rock the House” by this new group called “DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince” so I’d have a more positive outlook when I arrive home several hours later.
Back in 2011, I decide to purchase “One More Try.” It’s going to ruin my “suggestions” on iTunes forever, but if George Michael can evoke such a vivid memory, I figure he deserves $1.29. It’s the least I can do.