Middle school is a strange time for music. You don’t have tastes, not really, just hormones and the hangover of your parents’ ideas.
And, of course, your friends.
My best friend at the time—and still one of my closest, although I never see him—was Jason Elzy. He was a dynamo in the pop music world. He started reading Variety when he was 12. He tracked singles. He knew pop musical trends at 13. He bought comedy tapes; he bought Chris Rock’s comedy tape years before his first HBO special. He was a boy ahead of his time.
Jason would tape singles off the radio. He made these into a series he called “assorted singles.” He made it somewhere near Assorted Singles 20.
At my house we had kids’ praise, Michael W. Smith, Baptist hymns and Amy Grant. In the car with my dad we had golden oldies. I had one conduit to pop music, the frenetic soundtrack and backbeat in my heart and head, and that was Jason.
Like me, secular music was banned in Jason’s house. By his dad. His mom let him listen to as much as he could stomach. I benefited immensely.
This was in the glory days of MTV. Before the reality shows, before the grind. Just music videos, all the time. We didn’t just watch it, we absorbed it. We percolated it. We marinated in it.
Jason had wider tastes than I did; he introduced me to Big Daddy Kane, Young MC, LL Cool J, and, regrettably, the Fat Boys. His tastes ran to hair metal, though, and in Pensacola he was the king. Unlike everyone else, he would go backwards into a band’s back catalog, buying their earlier tapes and studying the music. He would make arguments for earlier glory, although I rarely bought it. (He insisted that Def Leppard had good records before Hysteria. I thought he was crazy.)
He also bought singles. I would listen to his tapes, either with headphones or through the speakers when his dad wasn’t around. We were around each other so much that we had tons of time to do this sort of thing and I took advantage of the freedom by imbibing as much secular music as I could. (We also played with M.A.S.K., Muscles, G.I. Joe, and basketball.) Not my finest hour, musically. I loved “Last Train,” by Cinderella, “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” by Def Leppard, “Deeper Shade of Soul,” by Urban Dance Squad, and “Sometimes She Cries,” by Warrant.
But my absolute favorite was, oddly, Kenny Loggins’s “Nobody’s Fool.”
This was the title song to Caddyshack II, not that I knew it at the time. I spend two or three months listening to this four or five times in a row, every time I went to Jason’s house. It was a compulsive, pathological attachment; the song crowded out other music.
(Sadly, this puts the song in the pantheon of most listened to songs in my life, alongside “Home Sweet Home,” by Motley Crue, “Whipping Boy,” by Lagwagon, “Don’t Know What You Got,” by Whiskeytown, “Nantes,” by Beirut, and “The Seed,” by the Roots.)
Re-listening to it, it’s a strange song. The verses are dated, cheesy and vaguely sexual; I didn’t like this style of music, even then. The guitar lines are cheap, derivative and cloying. You can’t hear the other instruments at all. There’s a drummer, but what’s he doing?
And yet, the chorus simply rocks. It’s the type of fist-pumping arena anthem that feels timeless, irresistible, like a piece of cheap birthday cake crusted over with confectioner’s sugar. Even now, it gets me.
I moved on, eventually, into other, equally lame areas of pop music. But I kept this power ballad near and dear to my heart.
Jason moved to Kentucky in eighth grade. We stayed friends. He attended the University of Kentucky after graduating. We drifted apart. Then he began visiting me in the summers. He became more relaxed as I grew introverted and uptight. He outgrew the detritus of our childhood faster than I did. Yet, the essential balance remained. Our friendship was rekindled. He moved to L.A., got into the music business, became a hotshot publicist. I fell into movie junket work, and visited him twice. We stayed in posh hotels. We ordered room service. Our childhood friendship blossomed into something richer, and stranger, as we had an immense foundation of shared stories, jokes and references that no one else knew. We can fall into this comfort zone with just a few second’s worth of conversation, even after months and months of no contact.
Fifteen years after I spent those weekend nights blasting “Nobody’s Fool” into my ears, he got married.
I was in the wedding party. We spent the day in the hotel room, listening to music while Jason paced a little bit, worrying over the details. His computer had some 12,000 songs, and we each tried to pick the perfect song for the occasion, sipping on cans of beer. We played quality stuff for a while, before the mood of the room turned nostalgic and we made our way to the power ballads of our youth.
The wedding was amazing. The weather was perfect. At the reception, Jason picked theme music for each member. We waited in the hallway until our name was announced. I was fourth in line. The doors opened, and Kenny Loggins’s feathery voice welcomed me to the party. He hadn’t forgotten.
 He still has them.