Listen to an audio version of this piece below, originally aired on Sound & Vision.
As you just heard, KEXP is taking this week to focus on the year 1994 as part of our 50-year anniversary. On Wednesday morning, I was riding my bike listening to Early with Gabriel Teodros when he played “Sumthin’ Wicked This Way Comes” by the girl group TLC. It’s from their second album, “CrazySexyCool,” which came out in 1994.
Hearing this song transported me to when I was 9 years old, and I wanted to share that nostalgia with you.
In the late fall of 1994, I was in fourth grade and didn’t know what awkward meant. What I wouldn’t give to travel back to a time where I could drink soda with a straw through the gaps in my teeth. I used to think that was the coolest—not worried a bit about my appearance.
I thought it was cool that I had grown almost a foot above every other kid in my class. I ~also~ thought it was hilarious to stick my ribs out and pull my bikini top down over them, because they stuck out farther than my so-called “boobs.” It was also a time when I convinced my mom to let me get my bowl cut haircut permed, because I was really feeling it. YEP. (Whereas now, I legit have a whole album on my phone of haircuts that I edit for months before getting a semi-successful cut.)
*Audible sigh* — looking back, I was not cool. I was NOT sexy. But I did feel crazy, in the best way.
One tragedy of my youth in the Texas public school system was that I had to go to a different grade school from my best friend, Lisa Agiewich. So on weekends, we did everything we could to spend time together. I still remember Lisa’s landline phone number — by heart — and, I remember the line that promised a sleepover invite was coming, “My mom wants to talk to your mom.”
One afternoon in December, I showed up at Lisa’s house to find her out on the trampoline, with her Discman on and a bright red CD case nearby. It was TLC’s CrazySexyCool.
We spent the whole afternoon and evening, taking turns listening to the CD on her trampoline. My mom would have NEVER let me listen to this CD. There was too much scandal in there for my mom’s liking. “Red Light Special”? Are you kidding me? This album instantly joined the off-limits ranks other 1994 favorites like Green Day’s “Dookie” and the Beastie Boy’s “Ill Communication.”
Lisa was already a TLC fan by the time I found her on that trampoline, but “Creep” was the track that drew me in immediately. That horn intro and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins saying, “It’s me again. And I’m back”… phew… I felt like I had arrived.
Lisa and I spent the day yelling lyrics at each other and jumping on the trampoline so hard that we made the CD skip. We were in this magic time in between being kids who were just expected to play, but we were old enough to be unsupervised and left to our own devices — with a TLC CD. In 1994, make-believe was still a huge part of our friendship, but at the same time, we were oh-so curious about what really being an adult was about. Man, we were idiots. We should’ve played make-believe forever.
Inevitably, we had to decide which member of TLC each of us would be. There was T-Boz (Cool), Left Eye (Crazy), and Chilli (Sexy). There were only two of us — Lisa and me — but we figured eventually we’d find a third friend.
Being “Sexy” was off the table immediately, because frankly we were scared of being sexy. We were 9 years old. So, we kept flipping through the booklet, looking through pictures of the members of TLC and reading the lyrics. We both decided we wanted to be Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. My friend Lisa thought she had claim to this because her name is also Lisa. I thought *I* had claim because I was crazier. (I mean, come on. You should have SEEN how many sour-straws I could use at one time to drink my Crystal Pepsi.)
In the end, I won. I can only imagine that Lisa subconsciously let me win these battles because she knew that I had to go home. Go back to my MTV-less, TLC-less home.
That night in 1994, I was the L to our TL…C. Lisa took all the T-Boz parts. We started rehearsing with the CD on the boombox in her room by reading lyrics from the pamphlet.
The song where I really shined was in TLC’s runaway hit—”Waterfalls.” Memorizing Lisa Lopes’ rap that night was an investment in street cred. I whipped it out at bus-stops for years to come.
“I seen a rainbow yesterday
But too many storms have come and gone…”
I didn’t really understand the rest of “Waterfalls.” (Like, I legit thought the “three letters [that] took him to his final resting place” were S-E-X, not H-I-V.). Still, I understood and loved most of this rap. At the time, I was blissfully unaware of most of the horrors listed in the song. Drug use hadn’t hit my family in a tragic way — yet. But as a funky, not-yet-cool nine-year-old, I held on to the lines from Lopes telling me to believe in myself.
Lisa Agiewich and I never found a third friend. And the fact that we both wanted to be Lisa Lopes feels sad and symbolic since she’s the only member of TLC who’s no longer with us.
We haven’t had a sleepover in years. Lisa now lives in London with her husband, their young son, and a brand-new baby daughter named Sophie. I also have a family of my own now, here in Seattle. In my make-believe world, my daughter Marcelline looks at me from the landline phone and says, “Sophie’s mom wants to talk to you.” I drop her off and she yells back at me, “Bye Mom! Love you!” and I watch her run to the backyard with Sophie. Then in the rearview mirror, I notice Sophie excitedly hand off a pair of headphones, knowing it’s playing music I would absolutely disapprove of.
KEXP is celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year, and our writers are commemorating a song from that year that resonates with them. This week, KEXP's Dusty Henry looks at Jeff Buckle…
KEXP is celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year, and our writers are commemorating a song from that year that resonates with them. This week, KEXP's Martin Douglas looks back at vis…
KEXP is celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week, KEXP pays homage to a different year. This week, we look back at the tragedy and triumph behind The B-52s smash hit "Love Shack."