basementsongs

One of my brother’s infamous parties was going on downstairs in the basement.  He didn’t have to return tobig chill Columbus for a couple weeks, so I guess he felt one more bash was justified before he left for college. In the past, I had sat upstairs and watched a video while the music thumped through the basement door, but this year was different. I was a freshman in high school and I knew some of the people downstairs. Furthermore, I was deemed old enough (not “cool enough,” mind you) to join the older kids in the basement.

I may have been the youngest person in the room, and I didn’t care. Sitting on the second-hand, musty green couch, located right next to the stereo, I stared as the few girls I knew  (just a year ahead of me) made out with guys two or three years older than them. I studied the techniques of concealing alcohol in plastic cups in case my parents decided to make an unexpected visit. Mostly, though, I just listened to music and got to play DJ. I was spinning The Big Chill soundtrack, that collection of ’60s hits that started the Hollywood trend of marketing movies to the sound of nostalgia and oldies. I hadn’t seen the movie yet; it wasn’t on my list of must-see videos — it didn’t have blood and guts or lowbrow humor. But I loved the songs compiled by writer/director Lawrence Kasdan. While I tapped my foot and did some dorky air drumming to Marvin Gaye and The Rascals, I felt the couch shift as someone sat down next to me.

“Hi,” she said, “you’re Budd’s little brother, right?”

Holy shit, she was talking to me.

I adjusted my glasses, wide framed monstrosities that took up half of my face, and smiled. I tugged on my purple Huey Lewis and the News tour shirt and flexed my tiny biceps, trying to make myself look bigger.

“Yeah, that’s me.”

I recognized her as a girl from the marching band; I knew all of the kids in band because my father was the band director. She had graduated the past spring and was getting ready to leave for college.

“So, you’re in high school now?”

“Yep.”

“You play an instrument, too?”

“Drums. Yeah.”

“Just like your brother. That’s cute.”

Cute. She called me cute. Well, okay, she said what I did was cute, but close enough, huh?

“This is The Big Chill soundtrack, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I got it last week.”

It was true; my copy of The Big Chill soundtrack LP had recently arrived in the mail from the Columbia House Record Club.

“That’s so cool. I have it, too. Do you like this kind of music?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. There’s so much on the radio that sounds the same and it’s kind of cool to hear these old songs. They’re all pretty cool… and awesome.”

I had a limited vocabulary in 1984.

She and I sat for the next five minutes talking about music. I can’t tell you exactly what we said because being 14, all I could think about was how hot she looked in her skintight Button-Fly 501’s, and how much I would like to put my hand in her feathered hair parted down the middle, and how much I’d like to glimpse between the buttons on her Polo shirt with the collar turned up. At one point I made her laugh. How about that?

In that brief moment I started to realize that music and women had something in common, that I could actually use music and my knowledge to impress girls and, dare I say (dare, dare) maybe get lucky. This girl was, well, she was kind of flirting with me. She was digging me, even in my dorky half-face glasses. And why? Because we liked the same music. This wasn’t like in 7th grade when I passed notes with a girl and she mentioned that she really liked Greg Kihn’s “Jeopardy” and I happened to think the song was cool and I got all mushy inside whenever I heard the song because it made me think of the girl and I thought maybe, just maybe she would like me enough to hold my hand. No, I was sitting on the couch with a pretty girl in brand new Reeboks who thought I was cute, while in every corner of the basement people were kissing.

I thought I might get a chance to finally French kiss a girl.

Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” faded out and I knew that the record needed to be turned over.

“End of side one,” I said, jumping up to handle my DJ chores. I turned my back to her and carefully lifted the record needle, flipped the record and placed side two on the turntable. When I looked back, the girl was gone. Glancing around the room, I saw her silhouette in a corner by my dad’s workbench, her arm around some beefy guy and his hand deep in her hip pocket.

Damn.

The opening drum fill from the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” came through the speakers. I plopped down on the couch as quickly as my heart was sinking. I felt like a loser; I felt like I’d always be the dorky little brother of the cool guy from the band.  I would have sat there wallowing in disappointment, until I suddenly realized:

An… older… GIRL…was just talking to me!

I sat there on the couch with my back against the wall under the St. Pauli Girl poster hanging on the wall. I didn’t have to speak to anyone the rest of the night; my evening was complete. Soon thereafter I went upstairs to watch TV with my folks.

It would be a couple of years before I finally saw The Big Chill. Being familiar with the music from the film actually informed my experience. As much as the characters had memories they recalled from the music in the movie, so did I. My favorite sequence occurs when the characters are cleaning up after dinner and Harold (Kevin Kline) slaps on the Temptations’ Anthology. As “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” accompanies the scene, I always want to leap up and dance with them. I think back to that night when I wasn’t just the little brother and someone took interest in me.

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