When I was a kid, we used to go on school outings to The Skate Palace. It was a big deal, a reward for good grades, and I looked forward to it for weeks. I remember everything about those afternoons of roller-skating – it may seem silly now, but it was probably the biggest excitement of my young life, next to summer vacations and Christmas. But it was exciting in a different way. It was thrilling because… it was a little bit bad.
I got to thinking about this the other day when I heard the news of Whitney Houston’s death. As I contemplated the loss, I was transported back to those days at The Skate Palace when I would skate past a framed poster of Whitney up on the wall, one where she was leaning forward a bit to show her cleavage as she tossed back a massive tangle of teased 1980s hair. I was a little bit scared of Whitney Houston. And I liked it.
Not that my school would allow us to listen to her music! Oh no – our choices were very narrow, and even more so when my skating days were with the homeschool crowd rather than the private school crowd. I can still see the mothers-in-charge, pursing their lips as they sorted through the contributions of tapes and records for the DJ. New Kids On the Block? Definitely no. DC Talk? Nope. Amy Grant? Maybe. Michael W. Smith? Pushing it. Acapella Sings America? That’s more like it.
It was vehemently believed in our small circle that any kind of rock – and God forbid RAP – music, even if under the guise of Christian artists, was downright bad. If you listened to it, you’d end up getting pierced and dyed and living on welfare, or worse, you might turn Democrat.
But I still kind of liked it.
Occasionally, a non-approved song would get played and we would all get a rush as the heathen beats blared through the speakers and we flew around the rink, sweaty and smiling and getting dizzy under the flashing lights and spinning disco ball. If you were me, you were also probably skating the wrong way around, dodging other skaters and crashing into the carpeted walls with glee.
As I grew up, The Skate Palace closed down and I settled into being a pretty good kid. But I still liked, every once in a while, to feel just a little bit bad. My sister, Caroline, brought home a Cranberries CD one day and I will never, ever forget the power I felt coursing through my veins when she and I sat together on the floor, right next to the speakers of her stereo, listening to “Zombie.” We didn’t dance – we just sat there, a little scared and a little in awe of how a rocking hard song could make us feel. That song put us in a trance for the entire summer of 1997.
Throughout my teenage years, I started to crave that primal reaction I had to rock music, particularly anything with loud, thumping bass. Going for a ride with my friend Andy while his little truck blasted out “Barbie Girl” was second to nothing. I felt a bit euphoric in my still-innocent badness by now. It was all fast and loud and thrilling. It made me feel young and alive.
(Incidentally, it’s also funny to consider my Frank as a teenager, living here in Drogheda and disrupting the peaceful town centre with his skateboard and long brown hair. Definitely bad. :))
I mostly outgrew my thirst for sort-of bad activities, and turned out OK in spite of myself. Into the college years and beyond, I still felt a tug of that old thrill here and there, but it was more likely to come from reading a controversial book or finding I really enjoyed an R-rated film than from any sort of pop music. I recall once in my early 20s drinking an entire bottle of wine on my own as I sat in the middle of a full Italian restaurant, singing loudly to Sinatra over dessert and loving every minute of it. That was definitely bad. Then there was that tattoo on my one and only Spring Break…
I don’t seek out the Bad Girl much these days, although she occasionally comes calling when I get invited out to a nightclub with friends. I’m glad to say I can still shake my booty when called. But if I feel in any way “bad” as an adult, it’s not particularly exhilarating… it’s usually just, well, pretty bad. I think the word has taken on another meaning now that I’m nearly 30.
Maybe a little Bad is actually Good. Maybe it balances us when we are at our most human. In actuality, where would I be if I hadn’t indulged my devious cravings once in a while? I certainly wouldn’t be here. And here I am.
I guess when it comes to life, I’ll always be skating the wrong way around the rink… and loving it.