25 Years of SUBSTANCE



            August 16, 1987. It’s summertime and you can’t remember when you didn’t smell like a McDonalds fry. Working breakfast to lunch behind the grill at the good ole McDonalds on Tunnel Road in Asheville can do that to you. That fifty-minute commute from the mountain top cabin to this job where you make eggs for McMuffins and patties for Big Macs sure doesn’t seem worth it, but it’s a job and it’s something. It’s one of the only things going for you at this point in life.
            Last year, sophomore year, seems like a decade ago. Ben Lippen High School seems like some feverish dream, one you woke up from after you got expelled sneaking in the girl’s dorm with a buddy. You weren’t the only one expelled—there were several others—but now you feel like the only one in the entire state of North Carolina who ever got in trouble.
            Last summer was spent working in the kitchen at the school and bonding with guys and dating girls. It was like a summer vacation. This is like a summer hell. Occasionally, you can look out from behind the grill and past the counter to the hotel across the road where kids and families wade around in the pool. That pool looks like the life you could have had before getting the boot from your old school and ending up at Madison High where you stick out like a sickly sore thumb.
            You have four friends that you can think of. There are the three girls who came up to you the first day of school, the only friendly faces at Madison it seems. You fell for one until she had to move away. Then you fell for her closest friend. You can’t help it. You’re a guy, right? But it’s created some interesting drama.
            The other friend you have is a guy named Scott who knows all about music you’ve never heard of. In the past year, you’ve been introduced to The Smiths, The Cure, Kate Bush, Cocteau Twins, and New Order. Depeche Mode is already one of your favorites, but at Scott’s place, you’ve been able to watch MTV and see videos like the black-and-white version for “Strange Love” (which to a teenage boy looks absolutely mesmerizing).
            You have no idea that in less than a year, all of this will be a distant memory. You have no idea that you’ll soon be telling this place and these people goodbye as you head up to the Windy City of Chicago. You don’t know anything except your life is going nowhere and you find solace in the music. The sweet sounds of something different, something that sounds a little more appealing than Bon Jovi or AC DC.
            Twenty-five years later, you find yourself on a Friday night thinking about those days. The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was played often that summer. On this particular day way back then, a rather influential New Order album was released: Substance. You know some of the songs from John Hughes films but this album and band prove to be one of the primary soundtracks to your youth.
            You don’t feel that old. The music still means something to you. Those albums still are special. Coincidentally, one of your closest friends is a guy named Scott. It’s not the same Scott, but you still sometimes head down to his place in Chicago and sit on his rooftop to listen to music. To that same music. Twenty-five years later, you still love doing simple things like that.
            In some strange way, you’ve managed to take some of those times long ago and put them into a story. A series, actually. But this isn’t an advertisement for them (THE SOLITARY TALES—BUY THEM NOW—JOIN THE BANDWAGON—THEY’RE AWESOME). Okay, it wasn’t going to be an ad, but you have almost as much money in your bank account as that kid twenty-five years ago.
            Twenty-five years passing, and you still tend to exaggerate a bit. The melancholy & dramatic bones in you can’t help themselves.
            The summer of 1987. So much changed in the coming year.
            So much has changed, yet the music remains the same.
            Cheers to Substance turning 25 today. 

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