Middle Age

Dear NKOTB: Thanks for Last Night

Dear Danny, Donnie, Joey, Jonathan and Jordan (written in alphabetical order to emphasize I am a happily married woman past the age of having a “favorite”) (unless I HAD to choose in some inexplicable “your life depends on choosing” kind of scenario) (which would never happen, but okay FINE, it’s Jordan, but only because you made me choose),

Last night, you literally rocked my world. It’s been more than 25 years since I’ve seen you perform live, and if memory (and a quick Wikipedia search) serve me right, I was 12-years-old during your Hangin’ Tough tour.

Let me tell you what I was like at 12. I was just discovering boys, drowning in crushes and falling in and out of love with someone new every day. I was obsessed with pop culture. In what continues today, if I liked something, I was infatuated with it. These days it’s an all-consuming deep dive into Hamilton or the Serial podcast.

But in 1989, it was all about you. And last night, during your Total Package tour stop in Dallas with Boyz II Men and Paula Abdul, it was all about 1989.

Of course the evening wasn’t without its heaviness. The night before, a terrorist took the lives of 22 Ariana Grande concert-goers in Manchester, England, as they were leaving her show — many of them young girls. In fact, the crowd probably looked pretty similar to what your concert crowds looked like back in the day. I never once worried a bomb (strapped to someone’s chest, no less) would go off when I rushed out, euphoric and awe-struck, to meet my parents for my ride home. Why would I? But the world has changed.

And last week, another icon from the music I moved on to once I outgrew yours (for the time being!), Chris Cornell, passed away. His death was ruled a suicide, like so many of his fellow grunge legends before him. In that way, the world has stayed the same.

But last night, for a few hours at least, the outside world didn’t exist. Inside the sports stadium in downtown Dallas that flipped many of its men’s restrooms to women’s to accommodate the almost entirely female crowd, we were a community of former fan girls, donning denim jackets and concert t-shirts, impressing each other with our intricate knowledge of your choreography and lyrics. And I thank you for that.

Thank you for making it so easy to reconnect with the innocence and purity of adolescence (relatively speaking) through music and dance and camaraderie. Like I imagine most women there, my friends and I spend these days of middle age balancing our homes, our children, our marriages, our careers. We rarely have time to plan for the future, much less reflect on our past. But last night was about one thing — fun. We sang like we were holding our hair brushes in our childhood rooms and grabbed hands and screamed when one of you lifted your shirt. The word we landed on to describe the experience was liberating.

Thank you for confirming for me that the brain definitely processes short-term and long-term memory in different ways. I can’t remember if I’ve already put shampoo in my hair when I shower, but you better believe I knew every word to “This One’s For the Children” off your 1989 Christmas album.

Thank you to your social media manager for “liking” my tweet today about the show. I took screen shots of it and sent it around to friends and family. If Twitter existed in 1989 (and thank goodness it didn’t) and this happened, I probably would have slipped into a coma.

And most of all, thank you for the conversations it sparked with my friends the day after — conversations about the young girls we once were and the women we are now. And how most of the time they feel mutually exclusive of each other, but last night felt like one.

Today our current lives picked up where we left them before the concert. Back to work, back to bribing a child to use the potty, back to passing out on the couch from exhaustion. Your latest EP is called Thankful and as the Manchester event reminded us, I’m thankful for this mundane life. And despite nostalgia’s best efforts, I’m even thankful that my confusing, messy adolescence is behind me.

But every now and then, it’s exciting to journey back in time. Thank you for one hell of a trip last night.

Love,

Caryn (your No. 1 fan who will be loving all of you forever) (because if I don’t work in a cheesy song title reference, then what’s the point of it all?)

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10 thoughts on “Dear NKOTB: Thanks for Last Night

  1. Caryn, the back to back of what life used to be like in the 80’s and the harsh reality of what it’s like today was wonderfully juxtaposed in this post. How I wish we didn’t have the bad aspect of life to compare to the beauty of yesteryear. That said, it was wonderful to take a step back in time and think of all the nights I used to buy teen magazines just so I could rip out pictures of pop stars to tape on my wall. Sigh.

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    1. Bella, thank you so much for reading! My wall was a shrine to my idols/crushes back in the day, too! It was a simpler time, though it didn’t feel that way at the time of course. I often think about the expression “the young is wasted on the youth.” I sometimes wish I could have the simplicity of youth with the perspective of age. Don’t we all?!

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  2. I think we’re kindred spirits. I also work in higher ed (for now!) and I also adore NKOTB. My childhood bestie and I do at least one show each tour together. She now lives in OH and I in FL, but for one night the jobs/men/bills don’t matter and we morph into 13 year olds again. I’ve met some of the most amazing women at NK shows. We love those guys, but more importantly we love each other and stand together when life throws one of us a curve ball. Thank you for sharing. I feel the exact same way!

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    1. Hi Robin, thank you so much for reading and commenting. It sounds like we approach this experience very similarly. And I agree, we met some great people at the show as well because it really is a collective experience. I love how y’all meet each other for a show — how special! Thanks again for reading.

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  3. Funny timing about your post and the power of music to transport us. On Tuesday evening after dinner and before bath time. I found myself on the floor of my once music room, now music/play room coloring with my oldest daughter. We usually have music playing in the background and tonight we were listening to The Cure’s Standing on a Beach/Staring at the Sea. When Boys Don’t Cry came on I was in 6th grade again. And then I was wondering how in the world will our children be able to get through their pubescent years with out the help of this music. And I then tried to imagine B & R reeling in their pre-teen angst and finding comfort in this song. Will they have their own 2026 Cure or is it up to us to casually play it when we think they’ll need it most.

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    1. Thank you friend for reading and sharing your thoughts/experience! I know you can relate to the transformative power of music. And you know all it takes is a mention of The Cure to transport me too — especially Staring at the Sea. I think we definitely owe it to our children to keep the music of our time alive for them… but I hope they have their own “Cure” that one day in their middle age takes them back in time. As a side note, if they are anything like they are now, B&R will definitely not have a problem crying! 🙂

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