Stupid Tuesday questions, L-A-T-E-R edition

You know that song “Steal My Sunshine” by 1999’s one-hit wonder Len?  I love that song.

Wait… where are you going?  Come back!  I can explain.

I know that song sucks.  Really.  It’s trite and treacly and repetitive, with a simplistic and unappealing melody.  The man can’t sing and the woman sounds twee.  I don’t even know what it’s about.

The song sucks, and I know it.  But I love it anyway.  Here’s why:

In 1999, I was living in New York City.  I didn’t get great radio reception in the bedroom of my apartment, and one of the stations that came in best was the epitome of horrid corporate radio at its worst.  Because I have developed an intensely negative Pavlovian reaction to the noise an alarm makes, I set my clock radio to that station so at least there would be some variation in the sound that roused me from slumber.  [Fun fact, kids.  Back in the Olden Days, people had machines in their homes that were a combination of clocks and radios so as to have both music and a marker of time’s passage in one convenient device.  Now that we all carry supercomputers in our pockets, these devices are rapidly going the way of the Victrola.]  But since the station that came in best was one that had a preset playlist that didn’t vary for about two weeks at a stretch, I would wake to the same song over and over again.  Kind of like in “Groundhog Day,” except without having to deal with Andie MacDowell.  When the song was awesome (like Macy Gray’s “I Try”) it was fine.  When the song was horrible (like “Blue” by Eiffel 65), it made waking that much more dreadful.  And for a couple of weeks that song was “Steal My Sunshine.”

The other relevant factor is why I was in New York City in the first place.  In 1999, I was in the process of being ground into a fine powder during my intern year of residency.  Now, residency is not famous for being something doctors enjoy.  But I happen to think mine had a particularly bad scut/faculty support ratio.  (Sorry, [redacted] Department of Pediatrics!)  And every morning I would wake to face another day of drawing an endless number of blood tests or inserting an endless number of IVs, often into tiny, tiny little people.  While surrounded by the most fabulous city in the world, as far as I am concerned (and likely always will be).

[Aside — there was an almost admirable lack of pretense about making us draw all these blood tests and insert all those IVs.  Nobody pretended we were learning, and everyone pretty much knew we were there because the hospitals were unwilling to spring for efficient phlebotomy and IV teams.  And it’s not like we didn’t get good at it.  As one friend put it, I could have gotten an IV into a stone by the end.  But it took a toll on my mental health.  Sitting in the subway and looking at other passengers, the first thing I would notice about them is how easy it would be to find a good vein.  Seriously.]

So every day I was schlepping in to spend hours and hours jabbing small people with sharp things.  And then schlepping home totally depleted.  All while living in a city full of awesomeness I was too tired and broke to enjoy.  (Thankfully, I lived a few blocks from World’s Best Best Friend, and had the indescribable pleasure of many hours on her couch eating carry-out Chinese food and watching television shows of varying quality.)  So when Twee Lady sang the line “I missed a million miles of fun” into my sleep-deprived ear, something resonated in my soul.  “Yes,” my groggy self thought.  “Yes.  I am missing a million miles of fun.  Right here, right now.  Thank you for singing my story, Twee Lady!

And then I would drag my ass into the shower.

So that’s why I will generally listen to that song if it comes onto my Sirius radio “90s on 9” station (which does seem to play it an awful lot).  It may not be good, but it seemed to describe how I was feeling at a particular moment in my life.  And that’s this week’s question — what song (or book or movie or television show) do you like primarily because it spoke to how you were feeling at the time in your life when you first encountered it?  Which of your likes is informed entirely by the context in which you first liked it?  Bonus points if you know it’s horrible, but you like it anyway.

[Having written all of the above, I died a little bit inside when I found the album cover art I included with this post.]

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. I’m so pleased to have an answer to this post! Selfishly, I will hoard it to myself and use it on Wednesday.

    But it involves roller skating.

  2. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books (and, to a lesser extent, her son Todd’s additions to the oeuvre, though there’s a caveat there).

    As pieces of writerly craft, they range from “all right” to “ehh,” with one or two bright high points in the sea of tell-don’t-show and questionable gender assumptions.

    How-EVER. If you hit them at the right age and in the right frame of mind, they are not only power-fantasy wish-fulfillment on a grand scale, they are seriously intense emotional porn. A lot of her characters rise from horrible, self-loathing (or actively abused) backgrounds to health, power, strength, and friends, and when you’re in your most powerless middle-school lows living that cycle over and over again is transformative. Like your song’s lines, they sing your life back to you (only amped to 11, with dragons, and a happy ending). Or they did mine, anyhow.

    Just this year, (I am 36) I went through a trough where I seriously did NOT feel like reading ONE more dark/scary/Emotionally Challenging sort of book. I just couldn’t face it. So I thought, “Huh. What do I reeeally want?” and what I really wanted, was more Pern. So I got the Todd McCaffrey Pern sequels out from the library.

    The first few are very, very severely first-novelly (though he’s getting better at writing novels at a cracking pace; the fourth and fifth are worlds better than the first), but what he gets very, very right is their Pernyness. They still drag the (prepared and willing) reader up the same emotional roller-coaster, with the same cuddle of triumph at the end.

    It’s like a Krispy Kreme donut: I have to be in just the right mood for it, and I never make the mistake of thinking it is actually FOOD, but sometimes it’s exactly what you want.

    • Dragonlance did the same for me. Books about DnD.

      I tried to reread them as an adult and went “Cough, ick”

      • In one friend-group of mine, we refer to this as “a visit from the suck fairy,” as in, “Oh, no, sweetie, don’t reread (series), the suck fairy has visited since you were eight.”

        Sometimes it’s much better to remember the version you read, not the version still on the page. :-> I’m discovering some picture books and such that I read when I was small have some horrific sexism or unexamined assumptions in them, now that I’m reading them aloud to my daughter.

  3. Okay, this is horribly cliche. It’s so horribly cliche that the song is stained by the cliche so it’s not nearly as awesome as it would be if it wasn’t so horribly cliche. But “In Your Eyes” holds a very specific emotional content, for horribly cliche reasons.

    • The horrible clicheness makes it extra awesome. I wonder if there’s a male born between 1971 and 1979 for whom that isn’t true.

      • There’s a topic for women bloggers: what was your experience being the subject of some male’s horribly cliched relationship with “In Your Eyes”.

  4. When “Steal My Sunshine” came out, I was both a full-time college student and a full-time employee. Despite the job, I didn’t have much in the way of money. I tended to get my entertainment from… shared sources. This was just prior to Napster (or my introduction thereto). Anyhow, selection was very limited. But “Steal My Sunshine” was one of the songs I had! I worked the overnight shift and it was a staple of my nightly listening… pleasure. I will always have a soft spot for that song for that reason.

    To justify my appreciation for the song, I came up with an alternate interpretation that involved a sidelined superhero licking his wounds, hoping his powers come back. I don’t know if that makes the story more pathetic or less pathetic.

  5. As to the question itself, I will have to think on it and see if anything comes to mind.

    “Small Wonder” is a possibility. Except that I did not realize it was crap at the time. And VICI was cute.

    I have the opposite thing, though. There are certain songs that I artistically love… or would love, but for the very specific memories and emotions it evokes due to what was going on at the time. Time has mostly healed those wounds, though. But I’ll never be able to enjoy the songs in quite the same way.

  6. Help is one of my favorite Beatles songs, and would have been under any circumstances, I think. But my first year of college, we played the Red and Blue albums so much that it’s the version with the silly James Bondish intro that makes me smile.

  7. Thinking about it, I tend to associate things more with people and places rather than time periods.

    But I’m going to go with “Right Here, Right Now” by Jesus Jones, even though I don’t really care for the song. It’s really a time that’s a lot better looking back, but there’s an old friend that I lost touch with that it reminds me of hearing it.
    The odd thing is we grew up about 75 away from each other, but we were about 800 miles from that place when we met. One of the coolest people I’ve ever known.

    • I own two albums by Jesus Jones and “Right Here, Right Now” is the only song on those two albums that sounds like that song.

  8. “Groove is in the Heart” will always remind me of going away to college and parties and nightclubs with beer for the first time. It always seems so fun and free and independent.

    Of songs I like independently of the evocativeness, “Waiting Room” by Fugazi, for similar reasons. Also “West End Girls,” which was the first song I ever roller-skated (!) to while holding with a boy, and “How Deep Is Your Love,” which was the first song I slow-danced with a boy to (NB: this did not happen when that song first came out! We were listening ironically in high school!)

    Steel drums drive me insane because when I used to work in Times Square, a steel drummer would park himself directly under my office window and play the same 10 songs over and over for tourists. All day. Every day.

    There now seems something sweet and almost innocent about the sound of a dial-up modem connecting.

    • That is such a shame about the steel drums, Rose. I know how much you loved that job, and it sucks that that one small thing marred an otherwise glowing experience for you.

      • That job taught me so much about how office can work. The way everyone rises above pettiness to pull for the greater good, the sheer competence shown by all in leadership positions, the devotion of all the assistants to a job well done.

  9. Not that you would enjoy reading it, but there’s a good horror novel (or even short story) to be written about the intern who slowly goes insane and begins picking people off the street to test his skills on their veins.

  10. It is not a specific song as much as it is an entire genre/period of time in music history.

    I am WAY too into 90’s R&B. Let me explain…

    I grew up in a middle-class exurb of Manhattan that had a large African-American population. Because of an equally large Orthodox Jewish population, most of which sent their kids to private schools, the public school system I attended was predominantly black and middle-class. I didn’t realize that this was NOT the norm for most folks growing up in America in the 90’s. So, with the soundtrack to my middle school career consisting of mostly 90’s R&B, this became the formative music for my upbringing. And, again, I thought this was totally the norm.

    As a result, I also thought it was normal to stand up with three other friends in the middle of class in 6th grade and announce that we had something to share… at which point we broke into BoyzIIMen’s “I’ll Make Love To You.” NOBODY TOLD ME THAT’S SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE DON’T DO!

    I didn’t know it was sort of weird to flip out and storm out of an Adam’s Morgan bar because at 9PM they stopped playing 90’s hip-hop and R&B and switched to Top 40. I HAD NO IDEA I WAS STAGING A ONE MAN PROTEST!

    And I certainly had no idea that you don’t walk into a punk music bar in Dorchester at 1AM and knowingly say to the DJ, “I know you want to play Blackstreet right now,” before returning to your friends with a shit eating grin. The best part? He DID want to play Blackstreet. No one had requested that band… well, EVER, there. And the DJ was impressed. Unfortunately, no one else was and we had to make a hasty exit. HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW THAT WASN’T NORMAL?

    So, nowadays, when any 90’s R&B song comes on, or if I should meet anyone who shares this affliction… my entire life is just that much more affirmed (which is probably a bad thing… given that my wife spent 15 minutes yesterday explaining to me what it meant to doubt one’s self, since this was a completely foreign feeling to me… the best I could muster was a face that she described as “looking like a baby who has to fart”).

    It also makes this scene/episode of “Parks & Rec” very special…

    • …my wife spent 15 minutes yesterday explaining to me what it meant to doubt one’s self, since this was a completely foreign feeling to me…

      This amazes me. I literally have no idea how what you describe feels. Self-doubt is as central to my existence as oxygen. This isn’t to say that I never feel confident or self-assured, but I can’t imagine feeling that way all the time.

      I’m going to stop now, before the comment thread becomes “Russell gets analysis from the Internet.”

      • I should say that there was some hyperbole in there, but I do indeed generally default to assuming I can do whatever it is I need to do until a point where I learn that I just might be unable to do it. I can’t imagine what it is like to be any other way. Hubris is something I should invest in.

  11. Back in the day, when the gods of romance deemed to bless/curse me with nothing but unrequited love, I took cold comfort in Billy Joel’s “She’s Got a Way,” a song I could listen to endlessly then, now remember fondly, but get bored with when I listen to it these days.

  12. “Right Here, Right Now” by Jesus Jones and “Fly” by Sugar Ray. Neither may be particularly great songs but they did capture the mood of exuberant and happy moments of my life. Times I enjoyed a confluence of professional and romantics successes and diminishment in stresses.

  13. I could sit and listen to The Cure’s “Love Song” for hours when I was younger. Thankfully, I have a husband who is just as interested in keeping the romance in our marriage as I am.

  14. Len played on the radio as I drove into work today. That, apparently, gave me the inspiration I needed to come up with an answer.

    “Lightning Crashes” by Live! came out and hit it big while I was in college and working at the restaurant. As you may recall, it got quite a bit of airplay. A lot a lot. In the back, in the bakery, we had quite a few Mexican workers who did the bread and pastry prep… these guys weren’t terribly fluent in English. Anyway, Lightning Crashes got SO MUCH airplay that these guys in the back were able to sing along.

    So when that song comes on, I’m immediately transported back to a bakery where four or five Mexican non-English speakers are phonetically singing Lightning Crashes.

  15. In a move equally as cliched as Patrick’s, the song that most fits this trope for me is the Indigo Girl’s Closer to Fine. There was a girl, see, and she had a guitar…

    And then a couple years later, that was the song I listened to incessantly as I was (subconsciously) bracing myself to drop out of college and move down here to marry Jaybird. Best stupid decision I will ever make.

    I couldn’t tell you if the song is good, bad, or indifferent, at this point. It’s The Song That Helped Me Quit School. (Also the song that made me feel better about going back the first time, strangely enough. Songs tend to work that way for me. “You’re still that person even if you reverse course,” sort of thing.)

    Another one that I care for too much to know if it’s any good is the Fleetwood Mac song Landslide. My mum used to sing that one (and a few others) before we napped together when I was really tiny, and then once I was past the lullaby stage, it was one of only about 3 songs I could get her to sing with me at all, because she was so shy about her voice. So for me, that song isn’t about life’s ups and downs or whatever (I have to struggle to remember what it’s about, honestly), but rather, “You’re safe and comfortable, the world is a marvelous place, and it’s time for a nap soon.”

  16. Early example: Back in the mid 80s during Showtime, the NBA had this ad campaign where they’d show highlights of great plays and then end with the tagline, “The NBA! It’s Faaaaaaaaantastic!”. The song they showed highlights to was I’m So Excited by the Pointer Sisters. I don’t really care for the Pointer Sisters, and I really dislike that era of 80s pop music where all the instrumentation is various synthesizers, even down to pho-drums. But I still get… well, excited whenever I here that song.

    Future example: Recently I have been trying to figure out some Big Things. For a long while there have been important decisions that I think I knew I had to make, but kept telling myself didn’t exist because they were Big Things, which can be scary. And then one day I was driving to Eugene, a two hour drive, and was using the windshield time to try to sort through things in my head. I put my iPod on shuffle, and about midway through a Jonathan Coulton song that I don’t thing I’d ever heard before came on. The song was A Talk With George, and it about midway through the song I started to pay attention to the lyrics, and they caught me short. So I listened to it again. And then again. I think I listened to it, over and over, for about a half an hour. And it made me make the decision I’d been putting off for a year.

    In 20 years I will look back and think of that song as life altering, and I bet I get a little misty when I hear it.

    • A Talk With George is a wonderful song – this story made me a little misty just thinking about it.

    • How can you “not care” for the Pointer Sisters?

  17. The vampires at the Red Cross practically drool every time I go in to donate. It’s a little disturbing.

  18. Thanks Elliot for the reminder about the Pern books, and “a visit from the suck fairy.”

    My childhood neighbors were English and had a wonderful library of children’s books. I think I read the Narnia chronicles a number of times. Then when I re-read them as an adult, looking for books for my stepsons, I was horrified by the racism and sexism (and to a lesser extent, the theology).

    • This reminds me. I want to start a library for my son, but I’m not sure what children’s books to include. I have everything I need until he turns five. Then what? What I have the full set of Harry Potter already in my collection. Any suggestions?

  19. There was a weird affection for the Spice Girls and especially the movie in the wardroom (i.e. among the junior officers) in the military unit I served in the late 90’s. Whenever I hear a song of theirs, or Ode to my Family by the Cranberries, it reminds me of certain bar in Hong Kong near Stanley Market.

    BTW, I hate you forever and ever for getting Steal Y Sunshine stuck in my head all day.

  20. Hanson’s “Mmmmmm….Bop.” It may be the worst song in history, and yet I can’t turn it off when it comes on (usually on that cursed ’90s on 9 you reference). The first time I heard it was when it was blasting out of some freshman’s dorm room on the magical first nice day of spring. For whatever reason, that song instantly came to be synonymous with Spring at college.

    “Barbie Girl” by Aqua is another one. The explanation on that one, however, requires multiple rounds of shots before it can be divulged.

  21. I apologize in advance for this.
    Sent a month in Florence (yes as great as it sounds) during graduate school. stayed in small apartment one of the only channels I could get on TV (still with clunky turn knob in 2002) was a music channel that played horrible Euro trash pop music. Alcazar’s Sexual Guarantee was in heavy rotation. My brother and his wife came over for a week and it became a thing

    • This answers a question I’ve long wondered: What happens to male ice-skating costumes after the Olympics are over? The apparently go to Sweden and find work in Eurodance videos.

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