This Breakup Is Brought to You by Milli Vanilli

This piece was also from my writing class last year. Other appropriate titles were “This Breakup Is Brought to You by Tonya Harding’s Triple Axels Played on Loop,” “This Breakup Is Brought to You by Annie Lennox’s No More I Love You’s, TLC’s Creep, and Sara Mclachlan’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy with a Heavy Dosage of Milli Vanilli,” and 1st runner up: “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart? Milli Vanilli.” Also, I actually did blog about this at the time it was happening, but I mentioned only the data entry I was doing at work because my deadly sin is pride.  

Listening to music is always hard after a breakup, especially if the foundations of that relationship were largely facilitated by music. There was the classic rock we traded on burned CDs back when computers had disc drives. And the late 90’s pop that provided the soundtrack to our late night drives.

It became clear to me just how far we had fallen since he played Smokey Robinson on vinyl for me in his dorm room when post-breakup I started binge-listening to Milli Vanilli. And if you have ever binge-listened to Milli Vanilli—though I’m fairly confident that I am the first person to complete this task since 1990—you know that this truly consists of listening to the same eight songs on repeat for about a week.

But maybe this was the most appropriate bookend to our relationship for me–a naive young adult who signed up for the deal of a lifetime only to find out that it was all a sham.

Underneath all of the charm and empty promises, he was the guy who went with me to hear my favorite band from high school play in Nashville and knew all the words perfectly. But it wasn’t his music. He had learned it like he had learned me.

I have deleted his number from my phone, given away of the gifts his family gave to me, and thrown out our old pictures. But I will keep Jenny Lewis’s guitar pick. The one he caught at the concert and casually slipped into my coat pocket.

Me & Billy Dee

“He was in Lady Sings the Blues.”

“What’s that?” I said as my mother listed yet another piece of television or film that I had never heard of.

“He did a lot of commercials…but I guess you wouldn’t have seen those either,” she said.

It was an unusually cold February day in Florida, and I was glad that I had worn my purple corduroy jacket as my mom and I waited in line at Disney World. But this line was not for something cool like a Princess meet-and-greet or a chance to ride the teacups. This was one of the longest lines I had ever been in and it was all for a signed photograph of Billy Dee Williams—a name that meant absolutely nothing to me.

Like most things Disney, the process was incredibly efficient. Billy Dee Williams would sign a photo of himself, smile for a picture with his fans, and then a handler would politely and firmly tell everyone to move along. At seven years old, I was too short to see past the people ahead of me in line, so without recognizing his name or any of his movies, I was totally and completely bored.

Finally, we were the penultimate pair in line:

“He was in Star Wars,” she said.

“Oh. Who was he in Star Wars?”

“Lando Calrissian.”

“Who’s that?”

“Han Solo’s friend.”

“Luke Skywalker is Han Solo’s friend,” I said, trying to think of any other possible friends. This wasn’t the guy who wore the Wookie suit, was it?

“Lando Calrissian is Han’s friend from Cloud City.”

“I remember Cloud City but I don’t remember Lando,” I said. Who the heck was this guy? I’d seen all of the Star Wars movies but I could not remember “Lando” at all.

“He’s the one who had Han frozen in carbonite.”

Much like Han Solo, I was suddenly suspended in motion. Any ounce of boredom suddenly drained from my body and I was left with only one feeling: self-righteous indignation. As I realized that we were in line to see the Star Wars equivalent of Benedict Arnold, the handler swiftly whisked away the couple in front of us.

Wearing a grey sports coat with a brown striped scarf and round, wire-rimmed glasses, Billy Dee Williams smiled down at me, looking like a nice man who might work at the library. If I had not known who he was, I might have quite enjoyed chatting with him. But I knew his backstory and I was suspicious.

Halfway through the second-grade, I was no dummy. I knew intellectually that actors played characters and that they were not actually those people in real life. But how could anyone possibly play such a horrible role and not share at least some of the characteristics as the fictional person he played?

Had seven year old me been offered the part, I may have said something along the lines of, “Listen, Mr. Lucas, it is an honor to be considered for this role, but I could NEVER do that to Han Solo.” Billy Dee Williams, on the other hand, had no problem portraying an intergalactic swindler. No, I thought, it is definitely not safe to trust this guy. And I was not going to be nice to him.

He tried to strike up a conversation with me. I responded with an icy stare. Mortified, my mother admitted that I had not know who he was until she reminded me that he had frozen Han Solo—a revelation that she was beginning to feel may have been a mistake.

In what seemed like an act of genuine kindness, he laughed lightly and tried once again to talk with me. He told me that it was okay that I did not like him because that meant he had done a good job in the movie. I refused to speak to him, choosing instead to respond with a skeptical look.

Incidentally, my little rebellion had begun to put the efficiency of the meet-and-greet line into jeopardy. We had spent several seconds with Billy Dee while his Disney-issued Sharpie languished on the podium. As it turns out, I was also making it very awkward for my mother to ask him for a favor.

The rules of the Disney line were very strict. Billy Dee Williams was supposed to give out one-signed photograph per visiting group. But our dear friend Eloise was a life-long fan of his and was at home recovering from Hepatitis B, which she had contracted during a blood transfusion for an enzyme deficiency. According to his handler, Billy Dee most certainly did not have any time for an additional autograph. I offered to give Eloise mine (which was not personalized and which I clearly did not want). But he insisted on signing an autograph for Eloise.

Actually, Billy Dee didn’t want to just give her an autograph; he wanted to know how she was doing. He recognized her enzyme deficiency, which is more prevalent in the Black community and with which he was more familiar with than my mother and I. Then, in another clear violation of Disney rules, we took a photo of the two of us for Eloise. This was purely a labor of love on my part, as I would never deny Eloise something that was clearly, and so unfathomably important to her.

But you can tell I would rather be anywhere else than in that picture. I am very purposefully not smiling, but the corners of my mouth are slightly upturned in a smirk as my eyes pierce the camera’s lens—a historical documentation that I did this under protest. Billy Dee Williams is smiling, but it is not the charming smile that made him famous. It’s an “I know this kid hates me, but I think this might be funny one day” kind of smile.

I remember skipping away from the tent that day claiming a small victory for myself. I was just a kid and I had taken a stand against that guy from Star Wars!

I also remember Eloise keeping a framed copy of that autographed photo in her home until she passed away a couple of years later.

I’m not much on celebrity autographs and though I’ve gotten and lost a few over the years, I still have the one I got from Billy Dee Williams.

As I’ve gotten older, Lando Calrissian has become one of my favorite characters in the Star Wars franchise. But that is not why I kept the autograph. I keep it as a memory of someone who took extra time to send love and kindness to a stranger. I keep it as a reminder of someone who so gracefully and genuinely understood exactly where my seven year-old brain was coming from and who probably, hopefully, did not think I was a total jerk.


All I Wanna Do is Chat Pop Culture with You!

Listen team, I’m going to put something out there and ask you all to hold me accountable. I have a tendency to decide to make MAJOR life decisions right around the New Year. So come December when I get the urge to shake up my life again, I’m going to write a blog post and you’re going to tell me to cool my jets. I’ll explain more later, but basically I’m not free on Saturdays right now. 

Saturdays are frequently when I queue up my posts. (So you know all of those times where I say “Today, I decided to…” well that “today” was usually like a Saturday or basically any other time than when I actually scheduled the post. Yes, sorry, I have been LYING to you about time for years. But time is a flat circle anyway, right?

I promise more very special episodes are on the horizon, but for now I thought I’d offer you a few more options from deep within the files of my laptop. I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not talking about a slideshow depicting the history of Joey Lawrence’s hair. Let me explain. 

A year ago, I took a writing class from the lovely Lisa Jakub. It was a memoir writing class, and I somehow decided that taking the class would inspire me to write a memoir. (This was an incorrect assumption.)

Instead, I  learned a very expensive lesson and discovered once and for all that nothing makes my heart flutter like writing about Pop Culture. Suffice it to say that this does NOT create an adequate through-line for a book. As it turns out, the many incarnations of Prince’s public persona is not what one might refer to as an “organizing principle.” 

While Lisa was a lovely and encouraging coach, I would not recommend taking a memoir writing class unless you have already figured out some kind of legitimate idea for a memoir. But that brings me back to my current point. I’ve written a lot of personal essays about life and Pop Culture. SO if you’re pumped to hear about the time I snubbed Billy Dee Williams, a poignant recollection on nostalgia through the lens of Andy Gibb’s hair, and my breakup mixtape then stay tuned!

If you’re bummed that you will have to wait several weeks to get additional pro-tips on how to avoid drug dealers who look like backup singers for The Jacksons*, then here is a handy list of some of my favorites to tide you over until I can binge watch television again:


*this guy.


Today I am thankful for you!

Happy Thanksgiving, Very Special Readers! I slacked off this year and I didn’t post any Thanksgiving episodes. But it is still my very favorite holiday! 

It’s a holiday with troubling origins (to say the least) but I am thankful for the modern version of the day, which I think of as a moment to pause and reflect on the year with gratitude. 

This year has been difficult for many of us, personally and globally. But today I am thankful for the delicious home cooked meal that I didn’t have to prepare. (This is a win-win for people who also don’t want to eat anything I’ve cooked.) 

I am thankful that Thanksgiving is always on a work day and always makes us take a break in the middle of 24/7 digital chaos. 

I am thankful for the Murder, She Wrote marathon that I’m watching in my pjs with a mug full of hot tea that my mom prepared. (I have the best mom. Oh, you thought you had the best mom? Nope, sorry.) 

I am thankful for the rescue dog sitting next to me and thankful that he hasn’t bitten me. (I will continue to narrate all of my actions so I don’t scare him. This means that the dog has a lot of knowledge of my bathroom habits now that I tell him every time I have to get up to pee.) 

And I am thankful for YOU! I’m thankful that other people have watched as much crap tv as I have and like it enough to want to chat about it on the internet. I am thankful that you let me tell you about all of then silly pop culture things that I think are the best things ever OMG (stay tuned for some stuff on beer and puppets, by the way). And I am thankful that every time I feel swamped, bored, or bummed out, I get to read your comments. I hope I make you laugh and I hope you know you make me laugh too! 

I’m A Late Adopter: Please Follow Me on Twitter

So there’s this thing called Social Media. I got Facebook when all the cool kids were doing it and then after that I basically just found everything else super intimidating. But I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately and they’re all on Twitter and I want to follow all of them and finally the FOMO became too much.

Also, I haven’t actually tweeted anything yet…but I’m working on it!

So please help a girl out and follow me @veryspecialblog (there was no room for the “the.” I’m very upset about it) and I will tweet things at you or retweet your things. Basically, I’ll do whatever one does on this thing just as soon as I figure out what that is. (Please send help in the comment box below.)


#help #amigoingtobekickedoutofthemillennialgeneration

My New/Old Passion Project

Some of you may recall, that I valiantly vowed to review every episode of Murder, She Wrote to prove that Jessica Fletcher is truly the world’s most prolific albeit fictional serial killer. And while I still believe it’s an important mantle to assume, and am truly humbled to be able to share it with all of you, I have to admit that I’ve discovered that Murder, She Wrote  is actually well, um, boring. I know, I know, plenty of people on the internet would disagree with me. And listen, I’m the first to admit that Angela Lansbury is a QUEEN. Seeing her in Blythe Spirit a few years ago is seriously one of the highlights of my LIFE. But I’m just not the kind of person who can watch every single episode of Murder, She Wrote. I am a person who can watch every episode of every sitcom that ever featured cocaine as a one-off episode plot point, but it’s important to know your limits and these are mine.
jlmurdershewroteSo, what now? Well don’t expect JB Fletcher to disappear from this blog entirely. I am of course under an ethical obligation to review “A Murderous Muse,” featuring patron saint of The Very Special Blog, Jenny Lewis. And I’m pretty curious to see the infamous oculus rift episode. But really I’d like to be able to cherry pick the episodes I review just like I do everything else on this blog. Okay, now that I’ve effectively assuaged my guilt of having willfully not completed a project I set out before myself (omg are you even still reading or have you switched to posts about Brad and Angelina?), I am replacing the “Murder, She Wrote” page with “Save the BSC!”Baby-Sitters Club parody musical that I wrote a few years ago while temping.

And by musical, I mean I didn’t actually write any music. But I wrote some lyrics that rhyme at the level of a 5th grade language arts student’s pastiche to Shel Silverstein. It’s a short play, loosely based on Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls and largely based on my own strange brain. Anyway, it’s been chilling on my computer for a while doing nothing, so I thought I might as well let you all read it.

How Do You Talk to An Angel?

enhanced-buzz-12613-1363814355-7I have “How Do You Talk to An Angel” stuck in my head, but only the chorus part because I don’t actually know the rest of the song. I’ve been singing it on loop in the bathroom and my living room and in that fake-husky 90’s indie-rock voice. This is a song I have always known and never remember hearing for the first time.

As a kid in the early 90’s, I heard this song literally everywhere: At the mall. At the grocery store with the good candy section. At the McDonald’s where I got my coveted Happy Meal but with the boy’s toy because I had a bowl cut UGH THANKS GENDER NORMS. But I didn’t realize until more recenlty that this song is actually from a TV Show called The Heights.

As some of you may know, I write a blog about TV shows. Thus, I decided to turn this earworm into something productive. If only so I could say, “Oh it’s okay that I almost got evicted from my apartment for singing four lines of a song incessantly for several days because I reviewed this episode of The Heights for The VSB.”

Snark Pencil available on Etsy. Disclaimer: I don’t really have a snark pencil.
I turned to frequent VSB resource YouTube and found the full length transferred-from VHS pilot episode, which is also conveniently the episode that features the song in question. Things were really falling into place and I was sharpening my snark pencil, all ready to go. But I vastly underestimated how bad the show could be.

Watching The Heights made me hate “How Do You Talk to An Angel” with a fiery passion. I would like for the universe to return to me the seven minutes I wasted watching this junk. Yes, that’s right. The show was so boring that I only lasted seven minutes. Since I obviously cannot review the episode, I bring you instead: The Heights – An Autopsy.

In short, The Heights is a show about a band called “The Heights” that lives in a neighborhood called, you guessed it, “The Heights”. They’re twenty-somethings and they’re “eclectic.” It’s like The Breakfast Club grew up and started a band, but instead of finding commonalities in their disparate social circles, they all crowded around in a rehearsal space and whined about whether they should sing hair metal or folk music.

419517496_mFor this piece, I did a lot of heavy research: I read a wikipedia page and googled “‘How Do You Talk to An Angel’ + ‘Touched by an Angel'” [There appears to be no overlap between the two shows.] I also vaguely reflected upon an episode of something that I saw on VH1 roughly ten years ago that briefly talked about this song and how lead singer, Jamie Walters, went on to play an abusive boyfriend of Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) on 90210, which the show seemed to suggest killed his career. (Like apparently he got type cast as a deadbeat, which is kind of a bummer).

According to Wikipedia, The Heights was canceled one week after Whitney Houston’s iconic “I Will Always Love You” knocked “How Do You Talk To An Angel” out of the number one spot on Billboard’s Top 100. This leads me to believe that the only reason this show wasn’t cancelled after three episodes was that the song fooled America into thinking that we might actually want to watch The Heights.

So what actually happens in this 44 minute episode? This band of Gen-Xers is just “keeping it real” and living day-to-day in “The Heights,” while they try to figure out their band’s “sound.” No one likes the conventional “establishment” looking dude with the Jason Priestly haircut. But when some other dude in the band doesn’t show up to practice, they let him sit in. In the span of thirty seconds he elevates their sound, nay he IS their sound. And they decide that what they really need to be is neither a past-its-expiration-date hair metal group nor a neo-folk band, but rather a vanilla pop ensemble that produces this schmaltzy song.

And this leaves me really with more questions than answers:
-Why are there so many people playing guitars?
-Is this the same studio saxophonist who gave Rob Lowe his “musical talents” in St. Elmo’s Fire?
-Why are there so many people in this band?
-Why does it turn into a music video in the end? Am I to believe that this song is SO good that it immediately made them music video famous? Oh wait. That’s what actually happened in real life, isn’t it?

Oh hey, I found the VH1 video. #ThanksYouTube

Oh well, at least these guys had fun for a few weeks in 1992. Also, any LA people ever call the paramedics and have Jamie Walters show up? I’d LOVE to hear about that.