I was around 11 or 12 when I fell in love with the British synthesizer 80’s band, Depeche Mode. The first song I heard was, “People are People” but my first favorite of theirs was “Shake this Disease“. I went through puberty and my teen years, all the way to college listening to their harmonic ballads. I loved their immersive modern sound, full of atmospheric additions: trains, industrial noise, natural waterfalls and manmade soundscapes that enhanced their songs on a stereophonic level.
I was sexually naive, I didn’t know what a condom was at that age, but everyone else seemed to know and they wouldn’t tell me. So I learned about sexuality through films, media and music, (in retrospect it wasn’t a good way to learn about sex). Depeche Mode sang coming of age songs about first time sex, sexual angst, ambiguity, the trap of religion/Christianity, and later themes about sadomasochism, lust and power games. It made me think that mainstream sex included bondage as a norm. Now I realize those themes were inappropriate for me at that age but when we’re younger, we tend to think we can understand and handle complexities that are way above our heads.
The first hit song “People are People” was politically inclusive and the music was addictive. My childhood best friend, June and I sang it during Sunday School vacation/camp…”People are people, so why should it be, that you and I get along so awfully?” Dave Gahan sang and we swooned in our preteen way, giggling over Martin Gore’s S&M inspired attire, (he was often shirtless, with industrial silver metal chains or black leather straps crossed across his bare chest), he was the vulnerable-looking, sensitive one in the group who sang ballads with near soprano vocals. We both adored him as much as we worshipped Gahan. All the band members wore makeup at the time, mostly eyeliner. June joked that she didn’t want her (potential, future) boyfriends to wear eyeliner because if they cried, their eyeliner would run and they’d have raccoon eyes! She was being completely serious.
I wasn’t allowed to buy music, and didn’t receive an allowance anyway so I had to record the songs I liked through the radio. I had to wait patiently for my song to play and the annoying DJ would usually talk over the music with an intro, but that was in the days of making old school mix tapes. When I entered high school, I started working after school jobs at the public library, summer internships and at a video store. I finally had the money to buy music, so I bought all the classic Depeche Mode albums, “Some Great Reward”, “Construction Time Again”, “A Broken Frame” and “Black Celebration” were my early favorites. I still couldn’t go to their live concerts though because my parents were very strict, first generation immigrants that didn’t understand the typical North American teenager’s rituals.
My friend June told me an urban myth story when we were in high school or early college, about our favorite band, DM. The story was, a young female fan went to a Depeche Mode concert. She was lucky enough to get invited backstage and later to the band’s after party. She had the night of her life, partying with the band and mingling with celebrities. Afterwards, probably while drunk, she stumbled down the steps leading down to the subway. She cut her legs bloody from falling on the steps and her stockings were ripped open, (she was wearing a skirt). When she finally got home, her roommate was horrified to see her, she thought she’d been mugged or worse, raped but her response to her roommate’s concern was an ecstatic, “I just met Depeche Mode!!!”
A decade or so later, I was living in a musically and culturally hip household with housemates in a San Francisco Victorian, with rich, jewel painted walls and immensely high ceilings. The space had a piano in the living room, chandeliers and one of the housemates, the master tenant, Arturo had a DJ level of music knowledge, especially of Depeche Mode and 80s bands. He sang their songs quite beautifully down the hallway in perfect a cappella and I couldn’t help but join in. I love singing and harmonizing. Arturo and Kirk, (another housemate) and I often sat in the kitchen table talking about music and art; it was an endless drunken party living in that house. Arturo had gone to several DM after parties and it was perfectly believable for him to be invited. He had a powerfully charismatic personality and presence. He looked like a European aristocrat to me, with pale, piercing eyes and a big-boned body frame. Kirk and Arturo had a friend in common, Nicole who came to visit them in SF and ended up temporarily living in our house.
I’ll admit I was initially jealous of Nicole. She was stylish with a jet black, punky angled haircut that reminded me of the animation character, Aeon Flux from MTV. She wore several sparkling Indian bangle bracelets, had rows of safety pins pierced into both of the earlobes at the top of her ears, (which looked very painful but cool), and she predominantly wore all black clothes that she artfully altered. She had an edgy, art school, creative look and was a musician and photographer that both Arturo and Kirk had met at Burning Man, a surreal Art and Electronic Music festival in the Nevada desert.
I was friends with many burners, but had regrettably never gone to the spectacular event. It’s now very commercialized and full of wealthy elite techies from Silicon Valley which is a shame. It was originally intended as an alternative community, a temporary city that didn’t use money, everything was purposefully created to be traded. There was a radical liberal art scene, new age spirituality and ecology theme at BM along with amazingly mammoth art sculptures, art cars, fire dancers, and DJs remixing house and trance music. Popularity of a unique concept, so often gets ruined, the original purpose gets lost in copy cat mimicry devoid of meaning, I think that’s sadly what happened to BM.
I was dating my housemate, Kirk at the time and I sensed that he and Nicole had hooked up years ago at Burning Man or that they’d wanted to, so my jealousy of her stemmed mostly from their possible romantic connection. Kirk told me stories about their adventures at BM along with another story; according to him, Nicole once partied with Depeche Mode when she was in college. She was the same fan that fell on the subway stairwell that my friend, June told me about a decade ago! What are the chances for me to hear the original urban myth, then to meet the actual person? At first, it was so incredible to me, that I suggested to Kirk that Nicole heard the urban myth and made herself the main character, but after I got to know her better, I realized that she wasn’t lying, it really happened to her.
I’m no longer a Depeche Mode fan; their music is too machismo and S & M (now that I understand what that really is), for my taste. I guess middle age has made me more conservative but I do still sing along to their old songs every once in awhile when I’m feeling nostalgic. Synchronicity has a strong presence in my life, I have many unusual experiences of coincidence and it makes me wonder about the nature of reality. Life is such a strange and beautiful mystery isn’t it?