by Bradley Bazzle
Recently I was in Oxford for four months, living in an apartment without internet access. Living in Oxford was interesting, but living without home internet was perhaps even more interesting. Many of the effects were positive. Not being bombarded by the news, for instance, helped me concentrate on my writing. And the absence of social media helped me pretend I wasn’t missing out on anything. Other effects were less predictable, however.
After about two months, I realized I hadn’t listened to music—I mean deliberately listened to it, as opposed to heardit in a grocery store or wherever—since leaving home. And on the few occasions I did listen to music, I was powerfully affected by it. One afternoon, while trying to work at an empty bar called the Jericho Tavern, I found myself unduly distracted by the music they were playing, and then, after listening closely, a little moved by it. And this wasn’t music I would have listened to on purpose, like the Pointer Sisters. The singer sounded more like the UK version of Jason Mraz, only with electronic beeps and whirrs that I supposed had become de rigueurin the two months since I listened to music.
Another side-effect of living without music was that songs never got stuck in my head. Before, I would get songs stuck in my head for days, even weeks. Onetime I had “Neutron Dance” by the Pointer Sisters stuck in my head for over a month. The song colors my memory of that entire period of my life, which included a breakup and its grizzly aftermath. It started (the “Neutron Dance” period, I mean) because I was listening to the song on Youtube deliberately, though it’s hard to imagine that now. I believed it was an among the greatest songs ever recorded, even better than “He’s So Shy.” How wrong I was. By the end, I would have paid hundreds of dollars to replace it in my head with “He’s So Shy” or even “Betcha Got a Chick on the Side.”
Another interesting thing about Oxford is that people there aren’t into the Pointer Sisters. One evening, while I was trying to make friends at the same bar, a well-dressed man sat down on the barstool next to mine. He was older than I, which was unusual in that neighborhood. After a polite interval, he asked what I was thinking about.
“Pardon?” I said.
“You look pensive,” he said.
“Well, honestly, I’m listening closely to the music.” I explained my situation: how I was living without the internet and found myself affected more powerfully by music for that reason, even music I didn’t particularly like.
“What music do you like?” he asked.
“The Pointer Sisters,” I said.
He smiled, which in retrospect I interpret as surprise—he probably hadn’t thought about the Pointer Sisters since their peak in 1984 with “Automatic” and “Jump (for My Love)”—but at the time I took the smile to mean that he too liked the Pointer Sisters. So I asked him who was his favorite Pointer Sister, and what did he think of The Pointer Sisters Live in Billings? Live in Billingswas the first album to feature Issa, who was, as Ruth’s daughter, the first second-generation Pointer Sister and not actually a sister. Later, Sadako, a third-generation Pointer Sister, would be added to the lineup. I was explaining all this when I saw that the man’s eyes had wandered. In desperation, I began to offer the names of other bands, hoping to re-spark his interest.
“Do you like Sister Sledge?” I asked. “What about Chic? DeBarge? The Staple Singers?”
But the man was gone.
For a time—before getting perspective, months later, by writing this—I thought the man had detected the inauthenticity with which I offered those other names and been repulsed by it, or at least had thought me a low character who would say anything to prop up conversation. Sister Sledge was great, don’t get me wrong, but they didn’t write their own music and were hemmed in by their tiresome “nice girl” act. The Pointer Sisters weren’tnice girls. Really, they weren’t even girls. Ruth was thirty-two when their breakout single, a cover of the Bruce Springsteen song “Fire,” hit the charts in 1978. Ten years later, in their classic rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” for the Very Special Christmas charity album, all three sisters sound a few egg nogs deep into their evening. One always gets the sense from the Sisters, even during their most insouciant songs like “Slow Hand,” that their soulful voices and not-so-young bodies have history. The Pointer Sisters are women. Confident women. And if the English don’t understand that, what can I say?
That my own favorite sister is June, may she rest in peace, should come as no surprise. One of the joys of the Pointer Sisters is that there’s a Sister for everyone. Yes, it was Ruth who sang their best songs, in that deep sultry voice of hers, and who of course donned their most iconic outfit, the fabulous oversized white skirt-suit from the “Automatic” video. And it was Anita, the prettiest, who sang their early hits and penned their first, the country song (!) “Fairytale.” But it was skinny, seemingly carefree June who won my heart: “That sweet little boy who caught my eye—he’s so shy!”
For some, knowing that June’s bubbly exterior disguised addiction, even anguish, adds a tinge of sadness to her exuberant singing. Not for me. When I hear June today I sense more than ever that she sings to me directly, and from an abyss even lonelier than any I can imagine.
Bradley Bazzle’s first novel, Trash Mountain, won the Red Hen Press Fiction Award, judged by Steve Almond. His short stories can be found in The Missouri Review, The Iowa Review, New England Review, Epoch, Third Coast, Web Conjunctions, Bad Penny Review (as Dirk Morgus), and online at bradleybazzle.com. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his wife and daughter.