Lara Levitan ~ Preteen Hair Metal Love

I met Lara shortly after I moved to Chicago through my good friend Colby Starck (see his Guest List here). I've never thought it through before, but I think she and I share some of the same dry wit. In person she has a way of lulling you into complacency in a conversation and then laying you flat with a razor sharp deadpan karate chop. I actually asked her to do a Guest List over a year ago, but her stupid baby went and got in the way. It was worth the wait. I love the wackiness of this list and the story that goes with it. I hope to get more out of her. As of this writing I've already been called out by a friend for listening to Def Leppard on Spotify. Get prepared to freak out anyone spying on your listening. Lara is a freelance writer and editor, live lit performer, and sometime StoryCorps facilitator, and she lives in Chicago. 

"I paint a picture of the days gone by
When love went blind and you would make me see
I'd stare a lifetime into your eyes
So that I knew you were there for me
Time after time you were there for me"

-"I Remember You", Skid Row

Oh how I yearned to feel what Sebastian Bach sings in "I Remember You" on 1989's Skid Row. Sleepless nights, endless days, love letters in the sand. I was 11 years old and had never been in love. To what cruel fate had God sentenced me?

The only love I knew was my longing for dudes in hair metal bands. Duff McKagan, Nikki Sixx, Sebastian Bach— they were my dreamboats in leather pants, hair flowing like the dolls I hadn't yet quit, their heroin needles and STDs invisible to my eyes. Preteen lust is most potent, having never been expressed. It is lust in concentrate— pre-menstruation lust, pre-first kiss lust, the kind of passion that drives you to french your teddy bear.

My best friend and fellow metal-head Liz and I were constantly on the hunt for "CHs", aka Cute Headbangers. We searched for them everywhere we went—my house, Liz's house, restaurants with our families. We hoped our ripped jeans, Gn'R t-shirts, and fake-leather motorcycle caps would attract them, a visual mating call, but Harlem Avenue on the Northwest side of Chicago was no Sunset Strip.

When my family took a two-week camping trip to the Southwest, I spent most of the trip moping and complaining, missing Liz, wishing my family would run off the road and die, leaving me to be picked up by Def Leppard's touring van. My only salvation was RIP magazine, my Walkman, and Justin.

I learned his name one morning because his mom was screaming for him, "Justiiiin!" booming over the campground. He appeared: my age, skinny, tanned, longish blonde hair. Not Sebastian Bach long, but enough to qualify as a CH, whether he was a headbanger or not. Enough to qualify as thee crush of that summer, that fall, the rest of my sixth grade year.

For three days of our stay in Durango, Colorado, I watched Justin's comings and goings, my nose pressed to the zippered screens of our pop-up trailer. He didn't look at me once, but boy did I look at him. I watched him walk in and out of his RV, the campground store, the pool. I never wanted to actually speak to Justin or try to make him my boyfriend, I wasn't ready for all that. I just needed his image to fuel the fire of my imagination.

When he and his family were gone for the day, my heart broke, leaked acid all over my attitude. I'm sure my parents hated me for my bitchiness, but what did they know about love? They were old married people, unaware of the delicious desire raging inside of me. I would listen to "I Remember You" and yearn to see Justin walk by. "I said I'd give my life for just one kiss," Sebastian sang, and I'd be feeling it so hard tears would spring in ecstasy. In those moments I finally knew love.

I loved power ballads without knowing they were called power ballads. I Remember You is earnest, longing, and romantic, just like I was. To me, singers of power ballads were power ballads personified.

Sure they also sang about women who were junkies, prostitutes, and strippers, and I loved those songs too, but they had nothing to do with me. The dudes in those band sang about those women because that's what they did. But their hearts, their truest heart of hearts—I knew— could always be found in the love song, the slow jam, the power ballad.

Twenty-seven years later, I still think of Justin when I hear "I Remember You." And what I imagine is this: a bare-chested boy standing outside of his family's RV in the Colorado sun. A strange little girl is assigning his likes and characteristics; she is pinning his picture to the wall of her heart. He never knows. She doesn't want him to know. And she doesn’t want to know him. Because what if, in reality, he listened to New Kids on the Block?  

I listen to any of the songs on this playlist, and I think of myself, the passionate, moody little shithead I was. I still feel that 10 year old inside, sunburnt and eager, directing her love at clueless little boys and famous grown men, a cupid who never released her bow. She was too young and in love with her arrow.