When I was almost 15, I fell in love with the band Depeche Mode. This happened after my Lake-Powell friend Carrie's older sister introduced me to Alphaville (one of my life's seminal moments); Alphaville lead me to my local alternative radio station (KJQ), which lead me to the larger DM oeuvre. (Because who, in 1986, hadn't heard "People are People"?) I became a Depeche Mode junkie: I saved all my spare money to spend on buying cassettes, which I listened to over and over again. "Dressed in Black" became my personal anthem and understanding "Stripped" became a litmus test for boys. Lucky for me, my dad enabled my music addiction; his big stereo downstairs was wired so we could also play music on the upstairs speakers. I could listen to music while hanging out downstairs (probably reading) and while forced into upstairs slave labor (cleaning the kitchen). I'm certain this drove my family, who didn't quite share my taste in music, insane, and probably prompted my Big Gift that Christmas: my own stereo. I never had to be music-less again.
Much as I loved the music, perhaps what I obsessed about more was the lead singer, Dave Gahan. It didn't hurt that he looked vaguely similar to my eternal adolescent crush. I admired everything about him: his dark, velvety voice; his penchant with words (I assumed, of course, that since he sang the songs, he also wrote them, an assumption that left out the real lyricist, Martin Gore); the mysterious, brooding aura he assumed in the videos. I scoured magazines for articles about him (luckily my library took Rolling Stone). I accumulated a sparse but highly valued collection of magazine images of him that I grouped together on my bedroom wall.
Since "normal" wasn't ever one of my qualities, this adolescent obsession of mine didn't enter the realms of your average adolescent obsession. In other words, I didn't spend hours imagining what it would be like to make out with Dave Gahan. I never kissed my posters of him. I hardly ever thought of him in a physical way. (Well...not very much. Really.) Instead, my fantasies involved hanging out with him in an English pub, where we'd drink soda (I might have even known what his favorite beverage was at that point in my life) and just, you know, talk. About his song lyrics—where in his soul they came from, and how he wrote them, and how true they were. I thought "Here in this House" was the most romantic song in existence and "Strangelove" the only real love song ever written, and I wanted to tell him that.
Poor Martin Gore!
And while Petra, the protagonist in Allison Pearson's novel I Think I Love Youhas a quite different obsession—David Cassidy, obviously—I think she'd relate to my experiences. Petra is head-over-heels in groupiefandomness with David Cassidy. She and her friend Sharon spend hours assembling magazine pictures and posters of David Cassidy, kissing said posters, and reading Tiger Beat, which Sharon's aunt gets her from America, and The Essential David Cassidy Magazine, which comes to their small town in Wales via its London publishing office. Sharon and Petra have just, finally, made it into the "in" crowd at their junior high, so when they're not obsessing over David they're a little bit anxious about keeping on queen-bee Gillian's good side. Petra especially. She should be practicing her cello more often, since she's going to be performing for Princess Margaret soon, but instead she panders to Gillian and dreams about conversations with David. "I never revealed my favorite song to the other girls," she explains. "If I told them, then they could copy my idea. . . he was going to be so impressed I hadn't chosen one of his obvious hits, wasn't he? 'Gee, that's amazing, Petra. You dig "I am a Clown"? Wow. No one else ever noticed that song and it means so much to me.'"
See, Petra and I are soul mates.
If this was only a book about a teenage girl obsessing over a musician, I don't think I would have liked it. I enjoyed it because it captured a bit of what it's like, in the beginning of your teenage years, when every decision and conversation and action seem to have unexpected results; sometimes a surprise good ending but more often they shove you off a cliff into the icy puddle of your own despairing, lonely existence. Petra is caught up in all sorts of little anguishes: the bit with Gillian, but there's also her mother who's highly disappointed in her husband and never loses an opportunity to tell Petra about it, and the tug between wanting to be a better musician and just hanging out with her friends, and that unsettled, distrustful feeling of being the last girl to need a bra. (I feel your pain, Petra. I'm still waiting to need one.) It also tells the story of Bill, who writes for The Essential David Cassidy Magazine, and Petra and Sharon's story twenty-five years post-David obsession.
And even though I was skeptical about this book—it seemed to have a high potential for cheesiness—I ended up really, really liking it. I can't say I loved it, mostly because the adolescent Petra sometimes comes across with that wiser-than-her-age thing that often happens with teens in novels. What bugged me about this was how much I liked what she was saying, balanced with knowing she couldn't know this at 13. An example:
You chose the kind of friends you wanted because you hoped you could be like them and not like you. To improve your image, you made yourself more stupid and less kind . . . The hierarchy of girls was so much more brutal than that of boys. The boys battled for supremacy out on the pitch and, after, they showered away the harm. The girls played dirtier. For girls, it was never just a game.
It's exactly true, but thirteen-year-olds don't realize any of that. They just know their friends make them miserable sometimes, or that they make their friends miserable.
That aside, though, I highly recommend this one, mostly for its redemptive qualities. Even some of my very own friends didn't understand my Dave Gahan obsession. They all knew I loved Depeche Mode, and even liked the band as well, but they didn't share my mania preoccupation affection and thought I was slightly odd for it. Even now that I'm grown up, and even though it's more than a little bit embarrassing, I confess: I still listen to quite a bit of DM. This garners more than a little bit of familial mockery from both Kendell and Haley, but I hardly care; the music still reminds me of how it felt to feel like that. I could explain what I mean, but I love how Petra, grown up now, puts the musical reunion: it's a sort of "emotion recollected in tranquility, of all the women like her in this auditorium who are looking back on their thirteen-year-old selves, on the pressure of all that yearning. Wanting to be loved so badly. That was the great engine of life, revving up back then, if only they'd known it." Now that my engine has already revved and is starting to sputter, revisiting that version of myself reminds me of emotions and experience that shaped me, even though sometimes I've forgotten how.
Especially if you, too, suffered through your own bout of adolescent obsession (Didn't we all? Wait...did we all? Or are Petra and I on our own here? Which musical personality did youobsess over?), I think you should read this. Or, go listen to some Depeche Mode just so you can hear what I mean.