I never claim to have good taste in music. I get teased about it regularly.
As I’ve said many times, I grew up overseas with a father who listened exclusively to opera and show tunes. I wasn’t raised with any musical awareness or appreciation.
What I love love love are 80s tunes. Some of it is liking the music, but most of it is nostalgia. I loved high school, loved Delhi, and some of those songs, cheesy as it may sound, are like a childhood blanket. A reminder of safety and fun and amazing friends and having no responsibilities past getting good grades.
What I am leading up to is this. I got the most hilarious, fantastic present from Kelli last week. She’d said she wanted to send me something. It was something I wanted, something that made her laugh, and I couldn’t imagine what it might be.
It was a CD. With several versions of a song called Superstar by Lydia Murdock. Never heard of her? Me either. But once I put it in and started listening, I had to jump up and down and clap my hands.
By the time she got to the chorus I was dancing and singing along.
I haven’t written much about high school in India. We had this very weird social life, in that there was no drinking age, and if you were Western, you could go into any of the bars or discos in the big hotels and nobody batted an eye. Even if you were 14 years old. And looked, oh, 12, at the oldest.
And so, when I was 14, even though I wasn’t allowed to go out and do anything, I started going to the Number One disco at the Taj hotel. The following year everyone started going to the Gunghroo, which we called the Gung. This was where we were at least one night every weekend of my high school life.
Mom and Dad, this is going to make you apoplectic, I know. Since I wasn’t allowed to do anything, I mostly spent the night at the houses of friends with more lenient parents. Or we snuck out.
I drank more in high school than I ever have in my life. We’d get very dressed up – mini skirts, heels, makeup, probably even off the shoulder shirts and a lace glove or two, as it was the 80s, after all. And we’d go out. And grown-up men would buy us drinks.
But the weirdness of the social life is a different story entirely. This is about the music.
So Delhi in the 80s wasn’t exactly on top of the international music scene. We didn’t hear a lot of American music, or what we got was a year or two behind. We heard a lot of Britpop, but even that wasn’t immediate.
Because remember, we still used cassette tapes and sent things through the Post Office and things like that in the 80s.
So we would go to these discos and drink gin and tonics (except that I drank gin and soda – fewer calories, of course) and dance our little teenage asses off. To 80s pop.
Michael Jackson was internationally huge, and Thriller is still one of my all-time favorite albums. I think they probably played every song on the album every weekend. And so we regularly danced to Billy Jean.
And then this response song came out. “I’m Billy Jean and I’m mad as Hell. I’m a woman with a story to tell. Superstar, you know just who you are.” She tells the story from Billy Jean’s perspective. She raps. It was an all around delight.
This, of course, is a song that nobody else that I know has ever, ever heard. If you weren't at the discos in Delhi in the mid-80s, apparently it didn't exist.
I decided at some point I’d made it up. Until Kelli and I were talking about high school when I visited her in Chicago. We were talking about the Gung, about our social lives and how grown up we thought we were. And I asked her if she remembered this one weird song.
“Do you remember an ‘I’m Billy Jean and I’m mad as Hell’ song?”
She absolutely did. And she’d never heard it since. And nobody else had ever heard it, ever.
So after I left, she Googled those precise lyrics, ordered the CD, and sent it to me. It’s not like it’s a quality song. It’s not deep or meaningful. But it is a reminder of experiences (admittedly not deep or meaningful either, except in a teenage angst and Best Friends Forever kind of way) and friends and a particular time in my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
And, also? Proof that I didn’t randomly make it all up.
“And I know you might be a big superstar
And the whole wide world knows who you are
But the next time we meet
If you don't want a scene
Tip your hat with respect
'Cause I am Billie Jean”