Nineteen years ago, my friend Barney called me to say he had a great record by a new band called Erasure. He put it on a cassette tape for me and we listened to it all the way to Fort Lauderdale. Then we spent the weekend lying by the hotel pool and dancing in our room to fantastic songs like "Who Needs Love Like That?" and our favorite song on the album, "Oh, L'Amour". When the DJ at The Copa played "Oh, L'Amour" as the final song of the evening, Barney and I sang it out loud, very loudly, and I think we scared people.
Broke my heart
Now I'm aching for you
What's a boy in love
Supposed to do?
Eighteen years ago, Barney and I saw Erasure in concert for the first time, as the opening act for Duran Duran. We found a small knot of other homos near the huge stage and went crazy with them for the songs I've already mentioned, and the new hits "The Circus" and our favorite song for that year, "Sometimes".
Been thinking about you
I just couldn't wait to see
Fling my arms around you
As we fall in ecstasy
Seventeen years ago, with a large group of friends, Barney and I attended the Hotlanta River Expo, a 3-day bachannal of gay dance parties centered around an exhuberant rafting trip down the muddy, icy Chattahoochee River. Erasure was continuing to dominate the gay scene, with their hit singles "Ship Of Fools", "A Little Respect", and their biggest hit to date, "Chains Of Love."
On the closing night of the weekend, the DJ at Backstreet played "A Little Respect", turning down the music at the right moments so that hundreds of gay men, Barney and I included, could sing the lyrics at top of our lungs, which remains one of the most moving experiences of my life.
I hear you calling
Oh baby please
Give a little respect to me
I'm so in love with you
I’ll be forever blue
Sixteen years ago, Barney and I returned to the Hotlanta event with our friends. We could not believe our luck when we learned that Erasure happened to be in town, touring to support their new album, "Wild". We blew off the Miss Hotlanta drag pageant, the opening event of the weekend, and took our group to the show, which was held in a natural amphitheatre, built into the side of a hill.
The show was fantastic, with a huge elaborate set. When lead singer Andy Bell took the stage in a blue sequined miniskirt, he asked the crowd, "Whaddya think of the NEW Miss Hotlanta?" We roared with approval. The band performed all the songs I mentioned before, plus singles from the new album, "Brother, Sister", "Drama", and "Blue Savannah." That night, after the show, we saw Andy Bell sitting at the end of bar in The Armory and made fawning fools of ourselves, despite of which, he was very sweet to us.
The next day, at a smolderingly hot t-dance at Velvet, when the DJ played "Blue Savannah", Barney pulled me up onto the speakers, high above the dance floor, to dance with him. I had never done that before and I never have since. Again, the DJ turned the record down during the chorus of the song and Barney and I joined the happy hundreds of men below us in singing, with our arms outstretched to each other.
Somewhere 'cross the desert
Sometime in the early hour
To the orange side
Through the clouds and thunder
My home is where the heart is
Sweet to surrender to you only
I send my love to you
Fourteen years ago, Barney and I were eagerly awaiting the release of the new Erasure album, "Chorus." The single of the same name, and the impossibly catchy "I Love To Hate You" had already been purchased as import singles and we took "I Love To Hate You" as a catch-phrase between us, when one was misbehaving. On my birthday, four days before the scheduled release of "Chorus", Barney arriving at my house, giggling with anticipation, because he'd manage to convince a record store friend of his to sell him the album early.
Barney couldn't bear to wait for me to open the wrapping and tore the package open himself. We sat on the empty living room floor of my new house and listened in bliss. After one listening, we agreed that "Breath Of Life" might be our new favorite Erasure song.
Oh I want life
Life wants me
To breathe in its love
Take me I'm yours
Now I'm comin' up for air
I'm gonna live my time
For the rest of my life
Then I'll be comin' back for more
Thirteen years ago, Barney and I spent the summer grooving to "Abba-Esque", Erasure's EP of ABBA covers. Barney and I hadn't been doing much together, ever since he got together with his boyfriend Jimmy, a couple of years earlier, but we always had our Erasure moments.
For Chrismas, I got Barney a very rare Japanese import version of "Abba-Esque." I was so excited to see his face when he opened it, but Barney never saw it. He died very unexpectedly of AIDS-related pneumonia that weekend. When I arrived at his house to console his boyfriend, I saw my gift under their tree, still wrapped.
I've never been able to listen to that album again. Even the super-dopey ABBA lyrics have a resonance I would never have allowed.
When you're gone
How can I even try to go on
When you're gone
Though I try how can I carry on
Last night, I went to see Erasure at Irving Plaza, here in New York City, on the final night of their 9-show sold out stand. They are touring to support their new album "Nightbird", which has already yielded a modest hit, "Breathe". While I've continued to be an avid fan of Erasure, I was worried about seeing them in person. To me, their music is irrevocably entwined with my memories of Barney. Each song, a milepost of our lives and our loves and our adventures.
The band opened with "No Doubt" from the new album. Andy Bell looked great, despite his near decade-long struggle with HIV. The band did all the songs I've mentioned in this story, plus some great new stuff like "I Bet You're Mad At Me" and "Don't Say You Love Me." The set was fun, the background singers were all smiles and gorgeous harmony. And Vince Clarke even did the rap part, when they covered Blondie's "Rapture", which blew the crowd away because Vince is famous for his impassive stage presence.
And overall I did pretty well, holding myself together. Of course, as the opening notes of each song rang out, I instantly flashed to a scene of Barney and me somewhere, laughing...dancing...singing.
The crowd was the usual curious mix of Erasure fans, white gay men and Asian women (which I've never understood). Each hit was greeted with a roar of recognition, following by enthusiastic singing along. I bounced a bit, and smiled a lot, and took a few pictures, but overall, it was the most reserved I've ever felt at an Erasure show, including the several I've been to since Barney died.
Then, taking the stage for the encore, Andy Bell appeared naked, save for a silver sequined bikini and two huge blue-feathered fans, with which he coyly covered himself. At that moment, with that vision, I was overwhelmed with sadness. Because, oh my fucking god, Barney would have loved it.
And for the first time last night, I sang along, loudly, smiling, unembarrassed by my wet cheeks.
And thanks, Barney.
The truth is harder
Than the pain inside
It's the broken heart