NPR recently released its Songs of the Summer, which invokes memories of summers past by conjuring up (or dredging up, in some cases) songs you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing. Songs like “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley (2006), or “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira (also 2006). Or the bane of 1991, the unforgettable “Summertime” by the equally unforgettable DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince.
In 1997, one of the songs of the summer was “MMMBop” by boy-band Hanson. And mercifully, I avoided hearing it. I remember the summer of 1997. While everyone else was listening to that, I was listening to aging bands like The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen, and that habit saved me. I managed to make it until 2004 without hearing that boy-band staple. It’s an achievement I’m proud of.
And let’s not minimize the achievement. Starting in the late summer of 1997, I dated a girl who liked that song. She wasn’t the least bit crazy about my Cure habit, and she liked Joy Division even less. Mostly she listened to contemporary Christian music–to this day I can’t listen to Newsboys without it reminding me of her, so I won’t–but there were a few pop artists she’d tolerate and a few more she liked. Hanson was one she approved of, and if I’m not mistaken, she even owned the CD.
We were on the rocks by late fall, but somehow she never played the Hanson CD in my presence. Even when she was going out of her way to be annoying. Maybe she knew that was a battle she couldn’t win. I wouldn’t necessarily have immediately countered with Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, but she didn’t know what was going on inside my head.
Metal Machine Music, if you’ve never heard of it, is what happens when you combine two oddly tuned guitars, two really big amplifiers, and a lot of drugs. After consuming said drugs, Lou Reed turned his amps up to 11, placed the guitars in front of them so that the feedback caused the guitars to play, then recorded the resulting chaos. A whole hour and six minutes of it. Then, for reasons I’ll never understand, his record company published it. Although it somehow sold 100,000 copies, Metal Machine Music wasn’t one of the songs of the summer of 1975. Normal people were too busy listening to “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain and Tennille.
But back to my story. A few years later, I dated the boy-band queen. But Hanson was a little young for her–she was more into Backstreet Boys and N*Sync–so she never subjected me to Mmm-Bop either. I don’t think a Metal Machine Music retaliation would have freaked her out as badly as the first girl, though looking back, it would have been entertaining to find out. There’s a reason God doesn’t let me have a time machine.
In 2003, I met my future wife. And one day–I’m pretty sure it must have been early in 2004–the topic of Mmm-Bop came up. I have no idea why, but I guess once you spend enough time together, you talk about everything. I bragged that I’d survived and thrived the previous seven years without ever hearing the song. Ever. She was surprised, though almost certainly not as impressed as I was proud.
And then it happened. The next day, we were at the late, great Crestwood Plaza, walking between stores, when she elbowed me. “Listen!” she said, and pointed to the PA system, which was pumping out generic mall muzak that I’d been happily ignoring.
And there it was:
Mmmbop, ba duba dop
Ba du bop, Ba du dop
Ba du bop, Ba du dop
I gave her a questioning look. “It’s Mmm-Bop!” she said with a devious look. “It’s so catchy, it drives you nuts!”
And so ended my streak. And I think it took about three days to get the blasted thing back out of my head. But I did. And I’m happy to say I had to copy and paste that snippet (I hesitate to call it lyrical) off a music lyrics site, because there was no way I could repeat it from memory.
Let’s not mention that was 2004, and now it’s 2012. So I’m working on another streak, this one longer than the first, and I’d rather not jinx it.