I never got into Depeche Mode, except for their occasional radio hit. Ditto Erasure. The band that Vince Clarke started in between those two projects, though, which was known as Yaz in the US (Yazoo elsewhere), did capture my imagination for one bright moment.
Here are my memories of “Upstairs at Eric’s,” their debut album, still on frequent rotation in the radio station that is my mind:
I was 15 in 1980. My queeny best friend Marc was 13. He had come out early (I learned later that he had been molested by one of his cousins at the age of 8). We had met at Wilson Park in Florence Alabama, a gay cruising spot at the time. We were the two youngest guys around. Mostly our cruising consisted of driving around ignoring ugly old people and listening to music on my cassette player.
The very first time I met Marc, he had been walking along the sidewalk at the park. I picked him up and quickly decided he was too sissified for my tastes. But he liked my music (I had been listening to The Police at that particular moment). So we became friends. He introduced me to “Upstairs at Eric’s” that same night, I think. We drove squares around the park and bounced up and down car-dancing to “Situation.” I had heard synth music before, but never paired with such a joyous and muscular human voice as Alison Moyet’s. Even Annie Lennox, frankly, paled in comparison.
One time, we were sitting parked at the post office across the street from Wilson Park when a snooty old lady parked next to us and got out of her car. She started walking up to the post office. “Stop, stop upon me,” we shouted out the window of our car, in unison with “I Before E Except After C,” one of the more “experimental” tracks on the album. The vocal is very desperate and eerie, like an old witch on her death bed. “Yes, I’m all right … ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”
The snooty old lady was unimpressed with us. I imagine she was about the age that I am now. I imagine that she was about as snooty as I am now.
Another time, I was by myself at a different gay park in a different town — Rushton Park in Birmingham, Alabama. I went down there sometimes. The bitches down there treated me like rough trade, just because I was from a rural town, I guess, and had not yet lost my accent. There was this one very elegant guy who owned a fashion store in Five Points, who never gave me the time of day. He was sitting on a bench listening to his Walkman. I asked him what he was listening to.
“You wouldn’t know it,” he said. “It’s Yaz.”
“‘Upstairs at Eric’s,’ or ‘You and Me Both’?” I said.
“Oh never mind.” He took the headphones out of his ears and walked away. I imagine he never listened to Yaz again.
My boyfriend in college also liked “Upstairs at Eric’s.” One time we marched around the Quad at the University of Alabama chanting “Midnight,” except that we had changed it to be in 4/4 time — quite a feat. At about the same time I was in college, Alison Moyet, the lead singer of Yaz, released her solo album, but we had zero interest in it.
My favorite overly melodramatic lyric in any song ever is from “Winter Kills.” It goes like so:
Pain / in your eyes / makes me crawl / makes me spiteful
Those are my memories of “Upstairs at Eric’s.” What are yours?