John Waite - “Missing You”
A few days ago I decided to bust the chops of a buddy who was bragging about how little he missed watching Girls since he stopped doing so, and by way of doth-protest-too-muching him I tweeted him a link to this video. Before very long I realized that here was a song that I’d liked, consistently, since it came out in the summer of 1984 when I was six years old. Not that it was a prominent part of my inner aural landscape or anything — like a lot of ’80s music it got a big bump in the early ’00s when I dropped my anti-pop snobbery for good and, not coincidentally, the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City soundtracks came out — but it was always lovely to encounter in the wild.
I feel very strongly about a lot of high-gloss crystalline-production ’80s pop-rock: "Taken In" by Mike & the Mechanics, "The Promise" by When in Rome, the preposterously evocative "Boys of Summer" by Don Henley, "Hands to Heaven" by Breathe…even the less disreputable "Every Breath You Take" can be slotted in here, as can one of the sound’s big landmark progenitors, Avalon by Roxy Music. Put a gun to my head and I guess I’d tell you the appeal comes from the way the naked, even saccharine emotion of the lyrics and vocals, usually pertaining to lost love, is coupled with that neurotically self-possessed sound. That contrast is…kinky, almost? Decadent, for sure: These guys—and it’s all guys, though it’d be no stretch to rope in Fleetwood Mac on "Dreams" or "Everywhere"—these guys sound like they can afford to bury those emotions, so exposing them is an act of exhibitionism. To quote another favorite, this is the sound of my soul. (No wonder I loved Kaputt so much.)
"Missing You" soundtracked summer visits to my Aunt and Uncle in Delaware, who would watch us for a week during the dog days every year while my mom and dad vacationed in the Caribbean somewhere. We would drive a couple hours to Rehoboth Beach in my uncle’s unairconditioned car and listen to the soft rock stations on which this song was a staple. I was very young, and this song felt cool to me in a truly primordial way, because in a very primordial way I was still learning how to be a human being. I was little enough that the simple act of hearing adults use adult vocabulary and phrasing was both fascinating and a vector for growth. In some cases this meant nothing more than literally not understanding the lyrics and trying to patch in my own—I thought "heartbreak overload" was "heartbreak hot balloon," and I could never quite figure out how that metaphor made sense. But beyond that, I remember being compelled by the images conjured by "I hear your name in certain circles, and it always makes me smile." What circles? What on earth could that mean? He sounds sad, so why is he smiling? I was also such a goody-goody about speaking without slang that I genuinely did not understand how to use the word "ain’t," so the entire thrust of the song was a bit opaque to me. I think I wound up taking his denial of missing her as sincere and convincing. It all felt mysterious, a mystery only a grown-up could solve. I wanted in.