A trip down memory lane, in the US
31 years ago, my life changed forever. Four months ago, it unexpectedly changed again. This is a reflection on how a love of music forever altered my life.
Let me start off this walk down memory lane by stepping into my Internet time machine and traveling all the way back to April 1989. April 8, 1989, to be exact. That was the day that a little-known pop duo from Sweden scored an unlikely #1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It was a song that went viral long before the days of “going viral.” That song, of course, was “The Look.” Since I’m writing an article on The Daily Roxette, you’ve already figured out that I’m a Roxette fan – and it also probably goes without saying that I… hated the song. Hated. With a capital “H.”
Wait. What? No, social distancing and self-isolation hasn’t made me lose my mind. Let me explain. In 1989, I wasn’t really into popular music. I grew up, as most kids do, listening to whatever music my parents were listening to. My parents were divorced, and they had very different musical tastes. My dad favored Neil Diamond, Joe Cocker, and Bobby Goldsboro. My mom’s tastes were much broader. There was a lot of Motown, disco, Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, Wham!, and Lionel Richie. Possibly Peaches and Herb, but definitely no Per. “The Look” didn’t sound like a Barbra Streisand tune, and it definitely wasn’t anything you’d hear in Bobby Goldsboro’s catalog.
Even today, “The Look” doesn’t really sound like any other song. The music video for the song was also… very different. Remember the random toilet? It’s probably a combination of all of those things that helped propel “The Look” to the top of pop music charts around the globe. But how can you be a Roxette fan and not like “The Look”? That’s criminal! As I started to listen to more pop music on my own and could compare the song to other hits of the day, I realized just how special the song was. How much I loved everything about it. I needed to know more about the ground and the spikey blonde-haired woman belting out the “She’s got the look” and “na-na-na-na-na”s in the song. The Look Sharp! album was the very first album that I bought with my own money. It’s a good thing it was a compact disc and not vinyl because I’d have worn the record down to dust, considering how many times I played the album. It was love at first listen. Since there was no Internet way back then, I couldn’t hop on Wikipedia and check out Roxette’s discography. I didn’t know there was an album that came before Look Sharp! I hadn’t yet known the pain from a love that falls apart or the yearning that comes with sleeping single. What I did know was that this was the music I wanted to hear. Oh, and that I wanted to see that really long bridge from the “Listen To Your Heart” and “Silver Blue” videos in person.
A couple of years later, Roxette embarked on a world tour that had them playing a show at the Tower Theater just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. I had just turned 17 a couple of days earlier. Rather than have a party, I asked everyone to give me cash because I wanted, no needed to see Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson perform live. I had been to other concerts, but this was going to be the first concert that I went to without a parent – and it was out of town. I bought two tickets, and a friend and I hit the road outta nowh… sorry, we hopped in the back of a big, black Cadillac limousine and headed to Philly. On the drive, we listened to every Roxette song that was available to me. I had taken my Sony Discman and used an adapter that allowed me to play CDs through the cassette player in the back of the limo. That probably sounds awfully MacGyver, but it was quite normal back in the early ’90s when most cars didn’t have CD players in them. Oddly enough, 30 years later, and CD players are once again not in most new cars. But back to the concert.
It was magical. Per and Marie performed every song that I would have wanted to hear. The crowd was fully engaged – singing along, whistling when necessary, and playing volleyball with the wonderful balloons that had been tossed out into the audience. When I got back to school, I decided that I wanted to write an article about the concert for my high school newspaper. I’d never really wanted to write before, but I felt like I needed to tell everyone about the perfect day I’d had. In and around 1992, the U.S. market had already begun to change. Sugary pop music was slowly fading away, giving rise to grunge and hip hop. “Church Of Your Heart” eeked to #36, and it would be the last time that Roxette would have a top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. It was no longer “cool” to like Roxette, but I’m not sure if it ever really was. It didn’t matter to me. Good music was good music. “Do You Love Me” by the Contours was 30 years old by that time and it was still better than a lot of so-called popular music of 1992.
I knew that there had to be other people that loved Roxette. I just had to find them. I remembered that there were a lot of online fan forums on a computer service called Prodigy. In a matter of minutes, I found other Roxette fans. I wasn’t alone. I was fortunate enough to have a 14.4k modem in my computer, so it meant that I could log on to Prodigy and check it out. Back in those days, it also meant that while I was online, no one could use the phone – or call us. Just to put things into perspective, it would have taken nearly two weeks of a 24/7 connection to download a two-hour movie on one of those old modems. Yeah, kids. We old-timers had it rough back then.
I became fast friends with a woman named Micheline, who lived in the desert area of Southern California. At some point during this online friendship, she had suggested that I fly out to California to spend some time with her and her family. Before anyone sounds the Stranger Danger alarm, the 1990s were a much more innocent time. At least that’s what I tell myself when I think about how I would never do now what I did back then. Flying thousands of miles alone to meet a stranger? Spoiler alert: everything turned out okay, but don’t try this at home. Instead of a huge graduation party, I decided that I wanted to go to Los Angeles. Again, I asked everyone for cash instead of gifts. Looking back, I was my own little GoFundMe service decades before online crowdsourcing was even a thing. The trip was great. It was my first time being on the other side of the United States. It was my first time flying alone. As I sit here and think back, I’m kind of surprised that my family went along with the idea.
Micheline, her family, and I drove through the desert to try to find some of the places where the “Joyride” music video had been filmed. I took a lot of photographs. At least one of them has to be the right spot. When I got back home, I went to a local record shop in my hometown called Toones because they had every CD that you could ever want in life. And they had the holy grail of music for diehard fans: import CDs. I’d asked one of the workers if there were any new Roxette albums out. “What kind of rock set CDs are you looking for?” he asked. In my head I thought, “This dummy clearly doesn’t understand music. Not ‘rock set!’ ROXETTE!” I repeated “Roxette,” saying it slowly to differentiate it from “rock set” but it didn’t help. I knew that I wasn’t going to get anywhere with him, so I went on a hunting and gathering mission to see what I could come up with on my own. Sure enough, in the “R” section (and out of alphabetical order) was an album called Uncensored and Uncut. It was $30. I had to have it – even if it meant I’d have to spend all the money I’d saved up. I ran back home to pop the CD in the stereo so I could give the album its first listen. I would later find out that the Uncensored & Uncut album was a bootleg of Roxette’s MTV Unplugged performance. I was psyched to have something that I knew no one else had. I had not seen the Unplugged performance (and I don’t really believe it was shown in the U.S., but I could be wrong).
The concert marked the first time that I’d ever heard Roxette cover another artist’s material. I’m kind of a sucker for cover songs that are done as tributes to performers that an artist admires. It was clear from Marie’s introduction to “I’ve Never Loved A Man” that she was a fan of Aretha Franklin. The same goes for Per talking about Neil Young’s Harvest and the song “Heart of Gold.” While I was reveling in its awesomeness, I remember my mom saying, “They should stick to singing their own songs.” Et tu, Mom? As most fans know, Roxette followed my mom’s advice and through the course of their career very rarely invited anyone from outside the Roxette universe to participate in their musicmaking process.
There is a version of Roxette covering Blondie’s “Hanging On The Telephone” that exists somewhere in the universe that I’ve only been able to find a really poor quality version of. It’s my mission to find a better copy. Rewinding a few years, around the same time as my online Roxette-bonding, I also began writing about my love of the American daytime soap opera All My Children. One of my classmates from high school landed a role on the show, so I wanted to tune in to support her. She wasn’t on the show for long, but I ended up getting hooked. So in between writing about Roxette, I’d be posting summaries of each episode of All My Children.
That love of American soap operas led to me creating the Soap Central web site. Now, 25 years and more than a billion pageviews later, the business is still going strong. I’ve traveled far and wide, and I’ve gotten to meet some amazing people. But the story doesn’t end there. On September 27, 2000, thanks to a new record deal in the U.S., Roxette was scheduled to perform a mini concert at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square in New York City. There was never any question about whether or not I’d be going. I made the trip to the Big Apple and waited patiently to get a wristband so that I could be part of the audience and get a chance to meet Per and Marie in person. What was even more amazing was that some of the people I’d been chatting with on the Daily Roxette site were also going to be at the concert. It was a chance to meet other fans that I’d only known online.
I remember one fan who was there was trying to outdo everyone with his knowledge. “Have you heard ‘Blue Umbrella’?” he asked. “I have a copy of Dance Passion” he bragged to several other fans. I wasn’t letting that ruin the mood. I was just a few short hours from meeting Per and Marie. What would I say? What would I do? Finally, I decided that the perfect ice breaker was one of the few Swedish words that seemed to make sense in the moment: Äntligen. In English, “Finally!” I’m sure I pronounced it wrong, but I was so proud of myself. It seemed to take Marie by surprise, too. She said something to me in Swedish, but I just stood there with my eyes wide open. When she realized that I didn’t actually speak Swedish, she said softly, “We are very happy to be here!” I got my greatest hits (U.S. version) compilation CD signed and went on my way. Like any Roxette diehard, it’s just one of many greatest hits albums that I have.
Two years later, the world learned that Marie Fredriksson had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. No one knew what that would mean for her future. It felt selfish to wonder if it meant the end of Roxette when a woman was fighting for her life. Amazingly, after a few years, Marie returned with new music. Perhaps even more shocking was that the new music was in English. At the same time, Marie had turned to art to help express her feelings. It wasn’t until much later that we learned the toll the cancer had taken on Marie. Things would never be the same. While recording a music-related podcast with a friend many years later, my love for Roxette obviously found its way into the discussion. “You know she’s dead, right?” the friend said of Marie.
I was quick to correct her, but citing a music insider who supposedly knew everything, she had been told that Marie had passed away and that a Marie look-alike had taken her place. Her insistence started to make me question everything I knew. Someone might be able to pass off a clone as “Marie,” but there is no one that could replicate her voice. No one.
On September 2, 2012 — more than a decade after their last U.S. tour – Roxette returned to New York City with a date at the Beacon Theater. It was part of what was later called the “Neverending Tour.” There was no way I was going to miss out on the tour. I got up much earlier than normal and had five computers and two cell phones ready to try to snag tickets. I watched the second hand on my computers click near the start of ticket sales. 57 seconds. 58 seconds. This was your moment to shine, refresh button. 59 seconds. My fingers moved into some sort of Matrix or Kill Bill fight scene motions to make sure that at least one of my devices secured tickets. And then it happened. Two tickets, front row center. There are often moments in relationships that can define the relationship as a whole. In 2000, when I went to see Roxette in New York, I had been involved in an unhealthy, abusive relationship. I was told that if I wanted to go to the Virgin Megastore concert, it would be on my own. I was later ordered not to go.
When you have the luxury to look back at your life, there are moments when you question how you allowed certain things to happen. How can you allow someone else to take your joy… your happiness? 12 years later and six years into a new relationship, I had gotten two front row tickets to again see Roxette in New York. But this time, I wasn’t alone at the concert. I wasn’t alone in singing along. I wasn’t alone in posting videos and photographs on social media. I wasn’t alone. In the years that followed, there was new Roxette music to listen to. Marie released a couple of singles in English. I even wrote some articles for the Daily Roxette site. December 9, 2019, started like any other day. I woke up and opened the curtains in my bedroom. I brushed my teeth. I sat down at my computer to begin my 9000th workday.
Roxette was trending on Twitter. But why? Did Drake sample a Roxette tune for a new song? Did Ariana Grande do a remake of “It Must Have Been Love?” My heart sank when I found out the real reason. I cried. I cried a lot. I didn’t know why. I had always rolled my eyes when concert footage of Michael Jackson concerts aired and people were shown crying because they were near him. But a part of my life that had been with me for more than 30 years was gone. Ugh. Was I really making this all about me? My heart broke for Marie’s children and her husband. My heart broke for other fans that were feeling the same loss. My heart broke because there would be no new music and because an amazing voice had been silenced way too soon. Over the next few days, “The Look, “Dangerous,” “Listen To Your Heart,” “It Must Have Been Love,” “Joyride,” “Fading Like A Flower,” and “Spending My Time” were all among the most-listened to tracks on Apple Music, iTunes, and Amazon Music.
My Facebook friends were posting their favorite Roxette music videos and sharing how much they loved Roxette music. Celebrities were taking to Twitter to mourn Marie’s passing. Marie was part of the Grammy Awards’ “In Memoriam” tribute. I wasn’t alone. I am thankful for the ten studio albums and dozens of music videos that will live on forever. I’m grateful for the hundreds of songs that can fill any mood – the ones played at full-volume when the weather is warm, the windows are open, and I’m zooming down the highway in my car, the ones that can help heal a broken heart, the ones that are attached to memories and milestones in my life, and the ones that are in another language that I sing along with knowing that I’m not pronouncing any of the words correctly. 31 years ago today, “The Look” hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. I don’t know how my life would have been different had I not gotten hooked by a perfectly pop-rocky hook. Would I have eventually discovered Roxette’s music, anyway? Would I have discovered that I had a passion for writing? Would I have started my own business? Would I have found a truly loving relationship?
I’ll never get answers to those questions, and I don’t know that I need them. I just know that my life is infinitely better for having Roxette’s music in it.