When I was in high school in the late 80s & early 90s, I was introduced to Depeche Mode by 3 girls: Julie, Kristi, and Sonya. For my last 3 years of high school, I attended a private boarding academy in Texas where, instead of proms and dances, we had banquets. Instead of a Prom Queen & a Prom King, we had a Courtesy Queen & a Courtesy King (The school was so small that I was Courtesy King 2 years and my dates those years were the Courtesy Queens. I’m really writing this post so you’ll know that. So shameless.). The poor kids who lived in the dorms were forbidden to have recorded music of any kind, including radios. Fortunately for me, my folks taught at the school, so my brother and I lived with them for two years and could have music at home and run around at will. My last year at the school, my parents moved away for other work and my brother Jay and I stayed and lived in the dorm. Of course, we snuck in our music. Jay cleverly disemboweled an old chemistry book, cutting out the center of the pages, concealing inside a thin radio. That was pretty awesome.
Now, this being Texas, one might expect country music to be more popular with the kids, and I suppose there was some of that, but amongst most of my friends, there was a preference for Hair Metal and New Wave. I liked the New Wave. My first introduction to Depeche Mode came from Julie, a dorm student, who was a year ahead of me in school. We hung around some, went to a banquet together, and once when we were walking out at the football field, she played music for me on her contraband Walkman (For the super young, a Walkman is a small portable device that plays cassette tapes. If you don’t know about cassette tapes, Google it.). The tape she played was “Music For The Masses” by Depeche Mode. It had only been out a year or so. I don’t recall which songs she played, but I knew right away I liked it. I thought the music was well written, largely in minor keys, and had a great synthesized symphonic sound with strong counterpoint and lyrics of longing and darkness. Or something. Kind of gothy. Sweet tunes, anyway. It was fantastic and I needed a copy. Being young, not driving yet, and living in the boonies made it difficult for me to acquire the album in store, so it was suggested that one of the other ‘village’ kids could copy it for me. Kristi lived in town, had the album, and hooked me up. She used purple ink and had really nice handwriting. I still have that tape somewhere in a shoebox. (I should add, for legal purposes, that I’ve purchased a few copies of the album since, so I should be ok, right?) “Music For the Masses” became one of my favorite albums.
The next year, when I was junior, I started hanging out with Sonya, who was a senior. Sonya was beautiful and sweet and graceful and had her own convertible and sometimes we’d drive around the lake and talk. I had a big crush on her and think she kind of liked me, but I was pretty shy, inexperienced, and a little daunted by her, so even if something might have happened between us, it didn’t. On those drives around the lake she’d play music, introducing me to all kinds of good stuff, including older Def Leppard. She also played me “Catching Up With Depeche Mode“. This album was essentially the band’s early greatest hits record, collecting the best tracks off their first few albums. There were silly poppy songs, some normal, followed by weird sexual songs, then sweet love tunes, and a dark one called “Blasphemous Rumours“. Some of the music on the album made me feel a little dirty, like I’d eaten from the bad tree in the garden, but it was just music, right? Sonya would talk about each song and what it meant to her. That was the best. She even made a copy of the album for me. (Honestly, I actually do own copies of CDs, Cassettes, DVDs, and VHS tapes from the band now. The free stuff was like a gateway drug.)
Later that year I got a girlfriend, not Sonya, and Sonya and I didn’t hang out as much. Then Sonya and my girlfriend graduated. Somewhere in the middle of all this, Depeche Mode came out with the album “Violator” and the excellent single “Enjoy The Silence“, which I could sing just like Dave Gahan. This was it. I’d been primed and matched up with the music I liked in real time. At the earliest opportunity, I got my parents to take me to a mall in a town 40 minutes away where I bought my own copy of “Violator“.
I suppose that even if the girls hadn’t introduced me to the band, I still would have found Depeche Mode on my own and become a big fan. I’m not sure what is was with the Texas high school girls and Depeche Mode, but I feel pretty lucky to have been at the right place at the right time. The band is still together after 30some years (with a few lineup changes), sometimes even putting out a decent album, and though it’s been a long time, whenever I hear the song “Somebody”, I think fondly of Sonya sitting behind the wheel of her car, the fading sun on her face, as she sings “I want somebody who cares for me passionately, with every thought and with every breath”…