Remember the song 99 red balloons? Aged eight, I would secretly hum the melody I had heard somewhere on the radio. It was unthinkable to tune away from Classic FM at home, let alone ask to be bought the track. My pianist-turned-music-teacher mother vividly disapproved of contemporary music and condemned everything that wasn’t Grieg or Rachmaninoff as newfangled, proletarian schlock.
Facing the band last night and jumping up and down like a guinea pig on speed, I revelled in what I would call a delayed pre-pubertal rebellion. A mere 26 years after the song was initially released I was finally able to stand up and say: Yes, I think NENA is cool. (By the way, isn’t it funny how memory works – I have never owned a NENA song but was able to sing along to 90% of the lyrics.)
You might ask what kind of self-discovery trip into the past brought me to a North London venue called The Garage on a Monday night. It certainly was a trip into the past, as I hadn’t seen my friend Virginia in seven years. She is a singer herself and toured as a backing singer with NENA during the past two months.
So whilst Ginni was singing on stage, I bathed in the crowd and was almost carried away by an overwhelming sense of feeling at home and belonging. I had a quick chat in German with a girl in the toilets and she hugged me as we said goodbye. Two NENA fans on a NENA concert somewhere in London. Despite me not being an explicit NENA fan. I am not even German.
Maybe I realised how much I miss my girlfriends. Of course, it’s great to meet new people. But sometimes it’s greater to be with the ones who know you long and good enough to give you a hug and a smile that make seven years feel like seven days.
The song that made me re-think my NENA fan status: