David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 18: INXS (What You Need)

May 14, 2020

It's 1986.  "What You Need" by INXS starts. What does Dave need?

A table to dance on. Trust me, I was a lot skinnier then, and the table was much sturdier than what I had in my own apartment.

In Fall, Spring and Summer, 1985 and 1986, I am in my second year of my Master's program at WVU. I am the president of the graduate student association and, despite having a great group of high school friends, for the first time in my life, I feel a sense of intellectual and aesthetic belonging with the fellow graduate students. They are the people with whom I will always associate "What You Need." Lee Ann, Sati, Sean, Jean, Jeff and I were the main core of the English Department graduate students at West Virginia University. We talked a lot about literature, drank a lot of alcohol, and ruminated a lot about life.  Crap, isn't that what grad school is supposed to be about?

At one party at Sati's apartment early in the winter, "What You Need" came on, still in its early days of getting airplay on American radio, but with a groove so infectious and lyrics so appropriate, I had  to climb up on Sati's table and start dancing. I forget if anyone joined me. I don't really remember a whole lot more about that evening.There are a lot parties from this time where my memories are pretty sketchy.

Recognize that I have always been a very shy person, and when younger extremely self-conscious on top of that. Getting me to dance in a nite club or a wedding reception was almost unheard of.  Only after marriage did someone, my wife, inform me that I am actually a decent dancer (a lot of good that did me at THAT point). I am sure my tabletop dance was hardly a thing of beauty, but the moment felt like a scene from a bad 80's Brat Pack movie, so I gave into it.

By succumbing to the hook of "What You Need," I was living the lyric: "here's the story/forget about the troubles in life." I certainly "needed a change from what [I] do all day" (sitting in graduate classes discussing great stories is hard work, trust me, but add on top of that the part-time job with Lowe's). The "rhythm" really was "where I need to be." With every smash by Jon Farris on his drum kit, I wanted to explode on Sati's surprisingly stable table (if I had done this at a party at my apartment, the cheap table would have disintegrated the second I got one leg up).

That 1985-1986 year meant everything to me, and "What You Need" was one small piece of it. There were other bands I/we loved more than INXS (The Smiths, The Cure, Midnight Oil, Talking Heads) but perhaps because "What You Need" was the one INXS song, it will always take me back to the associations from that year:

  • Parties in fields, bonfires crackling, alcohol sloshing, joints firing, and yet me racing to stop Jeanne from trying to drive home drunk (who knows what obnoxious thing one of us had said to hurt her);
  • Friday afternoons in Maxwell's, holding court in the corner table for hours on end, much of the department, sometimes the faculty, coming and going, the last to leave throwing down the final few dollars needed to cover the tab and tip (I quickly desired to be the last person, because he or she almost always paid the least because the others threw more than they ever needed on the table when leaving);
  • Other random parties all over Morgantown, where-ever one of us, or someone we knew, had an apartment and was willing to host the gang, knowing that we'd all drink too much, that Sean's deadpan humor would fly over half of the attendees' heads, and that the comings and goings of different arrays of couples was too hard to track week by week.
  • Closing down the Foxfire, empty shot glasses lined along the bar, ears ringing from the music, bartenders extended members of the posse;
  • And poetry. A lot of poetry that I was writing. 1986 was the summer of my first real love. I fell hard and struggled to eventually get back up when it wasn't to be. Everything about that year coalesced into pithy couplets: "The lady is a continent/the bartender told me so."  But I digress.

Overall it was a hell of a year. Then I graduated, said goodbye, and packed a U-haul to head to Bloomington for my Ph.D., dropping Jeff off of in Columbus on the way.  Surely we would stay connected: after all, wouldn't we claim connection is "what you need?"

Within a few years, I had lost track of all of those people, and outside of a few brief connections with a couple of them, there is no contact.  Graduate school occupies the one gap in my FaceBook timeline.  Was it because it was less than 2 years? Was it because we were all suppressing emotions and feelings about each other as if we were characters in a Tana French novel? Were we embarrassed by our unwillingness to transition to full adulthood? "What You Need," despite its contagious hook, is lyrically a shallow song. It seems ironically appropriate that it still links that time to me more than other songs we listened to.

I just know that now when "What You Need" comes on, as it did the other night, I still want to get on a table to dance. However, it is no longer easy to obey Hutchence when he sings "Don't get sad and lonely."

"What You Need." INXS. Listen Like Thieves. 1985. Link here.

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Day 19: John Mellencamp "Rain On The Scarecrow." ->

See full unfinished list here.