For Christmas 1987, my family gave me several gift certificates to the mall thrity miles from the town where I lived. They knew I loved the chance to spend all afternoon going in and out of various stores picking up random shirts or books or whatever caught my eye. At the record store, I picked up a few cassettes, including The Smiths' "Strangeways, Here We Come" and Depeche Mode's "Music for the Masses." Over the next few months, I wore those things out in my car and on my Walkman.
I remember listening to Depeche Mode on bus trips to area speech and drama tournaments and Biology II field trips. On a Saturday ride to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, I badgered the art teacher (best friend of the biology teacher) into listening to "Sacred," telling her how much I loved it. On rides alone around the town's outskirts, I would listen to "Never Let Me Down Again" over and over, singing loudly and nearly bursting my car's speakers. The darkness of the album's images and the heaviness of its tones fit easily with the fears that were welling inside me with increasing intensity.
It was my senior year of high school. Before long, it would be over, and I would be off to college. I craved the chance to go out into the world, but it terrified me, too. I tried to imagine my future, but getting there started feeling more and more impossible. Who was I, some country bumpkin, thinking I was going to make it in college? And how could someone like me survive in the fourth largest city in the nation? The emotion that ruled my life more than any other that year was fear, and my music choices fit along with that.
Last night, I had a seat in the last row of the top mezzanine at Madison Square Garden to see Depeche Mode in concert. It was a sold out show, and it looked like every seat was filled. I was far, far away from the stage, but I could see it all clearly. I was surrounded by fans, screaming and dancing and cheering for a band most of us have been listening to for decades.
By the time they started playing "A Question of Time" and "Precious," I was standing in the aisle behind my seat where I could bounce around easily, signing at the top of my lungs. Through "Walking in My Shoes" and "I Feel You," I moved my hips, feet, shoulders, and lips. I screamed the chorus to those songs as loud as possible every time Dave Gahan held the microphone to the crowd, wanting us to show him that we knew these songs almost as well as he does.
As they made the segue from "Enjoy the Silence" to "Never Let Me Down Again," I started to cry, truly to cry. I well up and shed a tear or two at just about anything, but the strength of these tears surprised even me. I clasped my hands together and held them up to my face, closing my eyes and squeezing out more tears.
At that moment, I sent a message to my adolescent self, living somewhere back in my mind or my heart or my memory or my soul. Pressing my eyes shut even tighter, I thought, You did it, kid. You got out. You grew up. You did everything you wanted to do. And more. Dave Gahan started singing the opening lines, and I quickly joined in, drenched in sweat and tears on face. You did it, kid, just like I knew you could.
That kid and I danced together until the whole show was over, at which point we walked from the Garden to Times Square, the words and images of those songs still chanting in my head well into this morning.