1990: Depeche Mode, VIOLATOR

The friend I mentioned yesterday, the one who gave me most of his Cure tapes, sat behind me in Social Studies my sophomore year. We were passing notes.

What? Okay, right. Gather round again, kids. You know how when you want to talk to somebody but you can’t do it out loud, you text them on your cell phone? Well, we didn’t have cell phones. Nobody had cell phones. I didn’t get my first cell phone until at least 7 or 8 years later, and even then it was the size of a banana.


No, if you wanted to send someone a text message back then, you had to take a piece of paper, write down the words you wanted to send, draw your own emoticons by hand, fold it up in any one of several standard configurations to keep it sealed, and then physically hand it to the recipient of the message. As you can imagine, like many electronic communications today, this method was inherently insecure and vulnerable to interception. So if you had something sensitive to send, it really helped if you could avoid third-party intermediaries and just hand it directly, say, to someone sitting behind you.


I had, and I could, and I did. The note was a conversation about the personal lives of bands we liked. I’m sure Erasure was one of them, and probably Pet Shop Boys. This led me to ask the following question, which of course I’ve condensed into the tersest possible form to make a long story short. The question was:

Depeche Mode: AC or DC?

We were, obviously, talking in code. The code was this: “AC” meant “straight,” and “DC” meant “gay.” It was not a code we invented. We were using it because this was not a topic people discussed casually in 1990 in my high school. Sure, people talked about other people being gay, but 9 times out of 10 they meant either “extremely disappointing” or “disgustingly strange,” and the rest of the time they meant it as the acme of insults. To the best of my recollection, this was literally the first conversation I had ever had with any other human being in which being gay was not an almost unthinkably negative quality.

My friend, my oracle in these matters, replied. Again, I’m summarizing:

I think Martin Gore might be AC/DC.

“AC/DC” was in fact the term from which our uses of “AC” and “DC” separately had derived. As it’s used in the 1974 song by Sweet (later covered spectacularly by Joan Jett on her 2006 album Sinner), it means “bisexual.”

I don’t know if Martin Gore is bisexual. He’s had two wives and three children, but as Oscar Wilde’s example shows, this is not conclusive proof. Certainly many AC/DC men, perhaps most, live outward lives which look indistinguishable from those of purely AC men. But while I had a mild interest in the answer to the question, my real purpose in posing it was to segue to my next message. It was this:

I think I might be AC/DC.

Read back just a bit and you’ll see why this had to be stated in code, and why it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I didn’t think I was AC/DC, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, and I had never even hinted to a living soul. The only reason I dared to say it at this point was the person I was saying it to. He was the only other person I knew that I even remotely suspected might possibly be even a little bit gay, and the only reason I suspected it was that — and I hope if he’s reading this he’ll take it for the compliment it is — he remains the gayest person I have thus far met in my entire life. Not to put too fine a point on it, I’m not even 100% certain he would want me to use masculine pronouns to refer to him in 2014. Even a completely clueless idiot like me couldn’t fail to register some glimmer of the truth.

But that’s not the reason I told him. As I said, I only suspected. The reason I told him was that I could tell something more important about him, which was that he was a good friend, and someone I felt absolutely sure wouldn’t judge me. And I was right.

So I have Depeche Mode to thank for making that conversation possible. And, even though I don’t listen to it nearly as much as I used to, for putting out some pretty freaking fantastic records.


I’ve already mentioned how much I loved 101, so I was on full alert when Violator came out. The first single, “Personal Jesus,” was a little corny, not quite what I was waiting for, but it was still pretty good, and the rest of the songs on the album were even better, billowing in big dark metallic waves from the speakers. It’s some of the best production I’ve ever heard, which is not something I understood that I cared about back then, but something I subconsciously responded to anyway. Most of the earlier Depeche Mode albums just had songs on them, but Violator had a life of its own, a biomechanoid structure, something that seemed grown rather than sequenced.

“Sweetest Perfection” was sexy, big, and dark, its music outshining its clumsy lyrics; “Halo” was moody and driving; “Waiting for the Night” just a few twinkling lights in space. “Enjoy the Silence” was my favorite single from the album, and of course pretty much everyone else’s, and while I was slightly less fond of the last three songs individually, they functioned perfectly together and easily stood up to the rest of the album. I’m quite sure I listened to the album in complete darkness every chance I got. I highly recommend it. It’s not about moping or being goth-lite; it’s more like planetarium music, if planetariums were about decadent sex and abject guilt.

I wanted to go see these guys in concert so badly. They played in the nearest larger city to the small town where I lived. It was maybe 30 minutes’ drive and all my friends were going, but my parents said no. So I stayed home while my friends saw one of (at the time) my favorite bands, on tour for their biggest album if not their best, at the peak of their powers. My note-passing friend brought me back a tour program full of Anton Corbijn photos, including one of Martin Gore I used to show to my hairdresser because I wanted his haircut. That’s when I wasn’t describing my friend’s haircut, because on some subconscious level I wanted to be at least a little like him. Someone with great taste in and intimate knowledge of music, fashion, and direct current, in a school where pretty much no one else seemed to have any of those things? How could I not have idolized him?

Pet+Shop+Boys+-+Behavior+(Album) Pet Shop Boys, Behaviour
“Being Boring” was the pre-show music for a play our English class went to see one year called The Sum of Us. It’s a play about an Australian guy (played by Russell Crowe in the movie version) coming out to his father. By that time I was secure enough with myself to buy the T-shirt. On the days when Introspective isn’t my favorite Pet Shop Boys album, Behavior is.

1398370963heaven-or-las-vegas Cocteau Twins, Heaven or Las Vegas
My favorite Cocteau Twins album and some of the most beautiful nonsense I’ve ever heard. I used to listen to it and Blue Bell Knoll a lot while reading the comic Elfquest, which is the most embarrassing thing I’ve admitted in this entire post. I still listen to “Iceblink Luck” pretty much every Christmas.

thumb The Charlatans UK, Some Friendly
This is the kind of music I associate with the early 90s. I was too young and too sheltered for raves, but thanks to 120 Minutes I was all over the whole “Madchester” thing. There were several of these bands that I got into, but the Charlatans were probably my favorite, and not just because Tim Burgess used to be such a babe.


  • Dead Can Dance, Aion
  • Concrete Blonde, Bloodletting
  • The Pixies, Bossanova
  • Suzanne Vega, Days of Open Hand
  • Robyn Hitchcock, Eye
  • They Might Be Giants, Flood
  • The Church, Gold Afternoon Fix
  • Nick Cave, The Good Son
  • Sinead O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
  • Paul Simon, The Rhythm of the Saints
  • Bel Canto, Birds of Passage
  • Morrissey, Bona Drag
  • Lush, Gala
  • Madonna, The Immaculate Collection

Image sources:

  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_BP9UcINeA-4/S-NcT6oz90I/AAAAAAAAAMg/gRoXBHD8V-U/s1600/Depeche-Mode-Violator-Delantera.jpg
  • http://image-7.verycd.com/aeddd9ced22e8e03da6ec3f7c3ad35b2125053/thumb.jpg
  • http://static.rookiemag.com/2014/04/1398370963heaven-or-las-vegas.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_9nKbRW8wVKk/TF3Qlg_MMFI/AAAAAAAAAXc/olEZBW5SB0o/s1600/Pet+Shop+Boys+-+Behavior+%28Album%29.jpg
  • https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-BBUuUBbHjEY/UQhsq2v2g5I/AAAAAAAAHk0/Za5JMOaemKQ/s612/Corrected-35.jpg
  • http://www.imperfectenjoyment.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/old-cellphone.jpg


  1. Sean · October 2, 2014

    I’m practically crying, Drew. Seriously. I wanted so much not to think about boys during this time. I wanted to not wonder what kind of underwear they wore. If they masturbated. I had the “would it matter” discussions with friends. Always a no from them, but not knowing if they were serious. Enjoy The Silence! There’s a stripped down Tori Amos cover of it out there. Such a gorgeous song. I often wonder if I’d have been honest back then what it would have been like. Three years from this post, I’ll kiss my first guy, and the stubble of his face against mine…against my neck…oh my. If that was wrong, I’d never want to be right.

    • drew · October 2, 2014

      What’s the “would it matter” discussion? Is it “would we still be friends if I were gay?” If so, that’s pretty brave — it doesn’t get much closer to an admission than that, surely. For me, at least, I know I didn’t really miss out much in high school. I told the rest of my circle of friends and while I did find out there were a few more guys at school who were gay, there weren’t many. I’m glad I came out back then, but pretty much all of us were just hanging on till college so that we could get out of town to someplace bigger and better.

      • Sean · October 2, 2014

        Yeah, so in the summer of 1988, I moved with my parents from my blue collar Lowell, MA to a more suburban Nashua, NH. I lived out in the boonies of the town. I didn’t have any new friends really. It took a while and there wasn’t a real public transportation system to get me to where I needed to go. I spent a lot of time by myself really. When I got to high school, I met some new friends, started in on drama club, singing in chorus. I tried to “break up” with my old friends in Lowell. The 15-20 minute drive for kids with no Facebook or driver’s license were tough sometimes. I didn’t get down as often to visit because my parents hated doing the drive and wanted me to make new friends. So I wrote in this letter, “I have new interests and I’m not sure you’d understand.” When they called to confront me, nearly every one of them asked if I was gay. At that time (1990ish) I knew it, but wasn’t ready to say yes. So it developed into a “Would it matter to you if I was?” kind of conversation. Oddly enough, at the time, 2 of my friends in that circle were also dealing with the same question, and we’d come out to each other many years later. Because they all said no, and that was big coming from some rough and tumble blue collar European-decent Catholic kids in Lowell, MA (where the movie The Fighter was filmed), I knew I’d be fine later in life when I told them. But this period of my life was so filled with I need to like this girl, but her brother is who totally gets my blood boiling type moments. My last couple of years of teaching, I had a few openly gay or bi students, and while I was so happy for them, I couldn’t deny just a twinge of jealousy at how different life was for them. They still didn’t have it easy, but that they were out and proud was just amazing to me.

  2. Jerome · October 2, 2014

    Loving both the personal story and music for all of these.

    My first gay friend (that I knew of) and I bonded a lot over music, too. I met him on a local BBS. He was really into Dead or Alive, and Army of Lovers, and Sisters of Mercy, and some Erasure and Pet Shop Boys as well. I snuck out of my room and spent a lot of late nights at his place listening to music and the VHS music video collections he had. It was a big time for figuring life out.