We’re a bunch of sappy romantics over here at Loser City, but not in the usual chocolate anuses and clone-a-willy way. Where others take part in sensual delights and candelit dinners, we bathe ourselves in the soothing atmosphere of pop culture, and this year we figured we’d kick Valentine’s off properly with a look back at our first pop culture loves, from ’80s flicks to pretty superstars to avant garde ’60s albums about heroin. We gathered the Loser City team together to get all misty eyed and fondly remember what started us down this path of highly profitable culture writing, and we hope you’ll be inspired to think back on your own pop culture first loves in the process.
In 1998, when I was seven, my family moved across the country to Boulder, Colorado. Being a new kid is always hard, and I embellished my freak status with buck teeth, a lisp, glasses, a rather portly belly for a small child and a weird-ass personality. I was a third grader with my own subscription to Women’s Day magazine…my squad did not roll deep. In the real world, that is. In TV world, where I resided most evenings and weekends, I had a massive crew: everyone on the Food Network. The late nineties were really a golden era for the network, and I devoured every piece of programming they offered. Emeril, Bobby Flay, Sara Moulton, Gayle Gand, Ming Tsai…these were my people, and I liked them way more than anyone at school.
Even so, there was one show, one guy, that stood out above all the rest: Alton Brown and his Good Eats. That was the first television show that truly mattered to me. He created a world and a narrative that was more entertaining than anything on Disney. He was a nerd like me (he tossed out fun facts a mile minute!) and he loved food like me (even if I was snacking on a bowl of Top Ramen as I watched).To this day, Good Eats stands out as one of the most potent forms of edutainment I’ve ever encountered. With every kooky stunt Alton put himself through in the name of a good lesson, my hope grew that I had finally found the key to convincing my mom and dad to cook with recipes and ingredients, rather than instructions on cardboard boxes. Cooking became an adventure, food became a subject of study, and Alton Brown kinda sorta became my best imaginary friend.
Like just about every other person born in or around 1986 with easy access to cable television, I loved The Adventures of Pete & Pete. And just like any other child who has a favorite thing, that meant every other related thing had to be my favorite. Artie was my favorite superhero, Michelle Trachtenberg was my childhood crush and Polaris was my de facto favorite band. One day a nine-year old me was eating the inarguably disappointing Frosted Mini-Wheats and saw an offer on the back to endure yet another box of it to get a “free” Polaris tape.
A month later the tape arrived and much to the chagrin of my whole family, every time Pete and Pete would come on I would queue up “Hey Sandy” in the hopes of it syncing up with the show (it never did because like every other show, the intro is like 30 seconds instead of a full three minutes). And then “She is Staggering” came on and I was convinced it was written about the childhood crush that was slightly more attainable, but still impossible—Allison Brown. And then there was “Coronado II.” Maybe it was the guitar, maybe it’s because I was trying to place when exactly it showed up in the show, but that song would pretty much be the example every other song had to follow. I loved that tape with all my heart and eventually I’d even learn to love Frosted Mini-Wheats too.
I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but the moment that Dream Academy’s cover of “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” started playing as Cameron, Ferris, and Sloane ran toward one of the most iconic museums in the world, I experienced frisson for the first time. This scene was the first time I fell in love with both a painting and a song, as the most iconic bit oscillates between Cameron and Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” But we also have the trio staring at three Picasso paintings and one of these almost-adults holding hands in a chain of kids weaving through the museum. This is very much a scene about identity, and it’s all Cameron’s.
While not necessarily true, it’s how the boys both interact with the world: Ferris lives his life and accepts the consequences of his actions whereas Cameron sits idle out of fear of consequences. The Cameron at the start of the film would not likely have taken the blame for his father’s trashed car, and it’s that scene in the art museum where we see Cameron start growing into a person who takes an active role in his life, rather than simply letting others guide him.
Gather ‘round, children, and I’ll tell you about the first time I fell in love with a cartoon character. I was 11. She was like 13. I was real; she was made of paper, computers, and my undying affection. Her name was Rika, and she was one of the stars of season 3 of the (way better than Pokemon) anime Digimon.
Rika was sullen and cocky. She wore a trenchcoat, and her Digimon partner, Renamon, was a badass fox lady. Rika was the sort of hero who would save your life and then tell you to fuck off if you asked to buy her coffee afterwards. Or asked her anything, really. (She was quiet, but I knew how to read her.) I was a gawky, overly enthusiastic middle schooler. She never would have given me a second thought. I loved her so much.
I am an unashamed, unironic defender of Keanu Reeves. While my biggest celebrity crush as a youth was definitely the dreamboat known as Leonardo DiCaprio, my heart has always truly belonged to Keanu. Truthfully, Leo was always a little too pretty boy. And, while incredibly talented he seems to have developed that fat fame face due to a steady diet of models and bottle service. But, I digress.
I have always felt a kinship to Keanu. We both have English mothers. We both are ambiguously ethnic. I remember reading about his long-term stay at the Chateau Marmont and thinking how badass that was. Living in a famous California hotel sounded so glamorous, like a rock n’ roll Eloise. Keanu embodies the kind of easy, unstudied cool I wish I could be.
Many of his “bad” movies hold a special place in my heart. From Constantine to that weird-ass movie where Charlize Theron is a dying Manic Pixie Dream Girl, if Keanu is in it I will watch it. Even The Lake House makes me tear up.
Even now, if I had a choice of the one celebrity to hang out with I would definitely pick him. He’s an action star that doesn’t seem like an enormous douchebag bro. Instead, Keanu is your chill, low-maintenance guy friend. He’s the kind of guy you’d want to teach you how to surf and then go get tacos with. He’s a freaking bassist. He’s Canadian. He’s Keanu.
The first time I remember recognizing an artist’s name, let alone falling in love with them, was Roald Dahl. I was a voracious reader almost the instant I was born, but it wasn’t until second grade when I bonded with my friend Rachel Ridout over our shared interest in James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The BFG that it really dawned on me that all these books were by the same person, and that he had written countless others I hadn’t even discovered yet.
My fixation on Dahl became even more obvious thanks to our third grade class reading assignment, The Witches, and a theory that Rachel and I had that our teacher Ms. Pletcher was a witch herself. All the signs were there: she had short hair like the wigs the witches wore in the movie version of the book, she was tall and thin and always had on heels and she liked to dress all in black and grey. But we liked Ms. Pletcher and decided she must be one of those rare good witches, so we swore not to blow her cover. I was also already obsessed with Spider-Man at this time but hadn’t yet parsed out how comic credits worked (if there were any), but Roald Dahl’s writing struck such a nerve with me that I couldn’t help but fall into his world and attempt to move it into my far more boring reality. I recognized his writerly tics and started obsessing over his obsessions, and even gained my first art love in the form of Quentin Blake’s sly, whimsical illustrations. And like any good first love, I’ve absorbed a lot of what fascinated me about Dahl and shaped my own personality from it, from his morbid humor on down to a natural distrust of all authority figures.
Sometimes your first love completely changes your life. There you are, an awkward and bespectacled suburban teen with a head full of superheroes and a soundtrack dominated by Geddy Lee when your friend David Berman [yes, Daniel means that David Berman – ed.] hands you an album with a big yellow dick banana on the cover and says to you, “Listen to this, the Velvets, Nico, you might like it.” So you put it on and at first you don’t know what to make of this dreamy sort of longing song called “Sunday Morning” but then that drifts off into a churning guitar backed thud about some white boy uptown waiting for his man which then flattens into this Teutonic thick tongued admonition that everybody knows about the things she does to please. I see the way she walks, I hear the way she talks. Then it’s so much Shiny Shiny Shiny boots of leather and the whiplash girl child in the dark and I no longer can remember who I was just then because once again I found myself clicking along this guitar thing while I had to run run run Gypsy Death and You then back up into the build of All Tomorrow’s Parties until I flat lined once more driven by a hard bass drum kick as I made a very big decision to nullify my life then there she goes again and all my friends she’s gunna meet so I gotta hit her knowing that she’ll be my mirror, the light on my door to show me I’m home.
But all this was kind of a tease, a tickle at what was to come, the brush of soft lips on the nape of my neck. My first love consummated finally in the myriad choices of my fate set themselves out upon a plate for me to chose what had I to lose… “Black Angel’s Death Song” on 1967’s The Velvet Underground and Nico embraced me with the full arms of a wet lover and within that clutch I was reborn anew – and she made the wallpapers green and I wanted to make love to the scene, because that boy, that European Son I thought I was, that fucker was long dead now and hey, hey, bye bye bye.
My friends, there’s the person you were before you first fell in love with The Velvet Underground and Nico and then there is the person you became in that instant of embrace. Who you were before you met doesn’t matter anymore. You are complete, the halves have become one. Love does that to you. It can make you better.
As I’ve gotten older Valentine’s Day is increasingly filled with reflections of the past. I take the time to remember old loves and commiserate the worn scars that grace my heart with a few drinks of whiskey. This year is no different; my bottle of Jameson is in the cupboard waiting to anoint my heart in its cleansing fire. Only this year I’ve been tasked with remembering a first love that didn’t leave me broken and drinking from a bottle of brandy while sitting on a pile of cardboard. Instead of weaving drunkenly through these broken fragments of relationships past I’m going to remember something far more pleasant; my first anime love, Cowboy Bebop.
I first stumbled across the crew of the Bebop one day after school on Toonami of all things. I had seen other animes on Toonami; specifically Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing, but none of these caught my interest quite like Cowboy Bebop. Looking back, if you had to ask me what hooked me from the start, I would have to say it is a relatively grounded anime when compared to the likes of Dragon Ball Z and it avoided the overly soap opera antics of Gundam Wing. Combine those two with great storytelling and blend it with some of the best action scenes and music of any thing ever and you’ve hooked a 12 year old Dylan.
Cowboy Bebop was at times perverse, enlightened, philosophical, full tilt action, moving, and hilarious. As I sit on the couch watching the episode Mushroom Samba, I can’t help but be grateful for finding this series. It led me down the rabbit hole to a point where i could appreciate shows like Dragon Ball Z, Bleach, Samurai Champloo, Naruto, and Full Metal Alchemist. This injection of anime ultimately led me, indirectly, back into comics as a whole as I got older. I never saw Cowboy Bebop all the way through until I was 18 and in college, but even before that I watched every episode I could. Even the ones that would air at 2 am. Of all my first loves, Bebop is the most pure.
Fuck it. I love Fall Out Boy. More importantly they were my first true love. Sure, most of their music is an ugly exercise in pandering to as many tastes as humanly possible while simultaneously claiming they NEVER SOLD OUT MAN—but goddamit I ate that shit up. I cataloged their entire discography, I hunted down rare live tracks on Limewire, and I even got to see them live (I also bought a concert shirt from a guy hawking them illegally on the street outside as he shouted “GET YOUR FALLDOUTBOH SHIRTS HERE”).
Growing up I didn’t really have a lot of my own music to listen to, just my parents’. Car rides with my mother typically featured performances by J-Lo, Gloria Estefan, and the king of almost-mambo himself—Lou Bega. My dad owned but one CD: a NEW WAVE’S GREATEST HITS album that featured the likes of Tears for Fears and Thomas Dolby’s perennial hit “Blinded Me with Science” (I have since inherited this CD, leaving my father with nothing to listen to but sports radio). I liked a lot of this music incidentally but mostly because it all did a decent job of sound-tracking Pokémon: Silver. The years dragged on and I picked up a taste for Weird Al in middle school—not because I knew the songs he was parodying but because he sang them in a funny voice and because they were about things like constipation and Star Wars. Then followed a very desperate and short lived attempt to get into Classic Rock, but obviously things could not go on as they had; I needed a favorite band and fast as I had nothing to auto-play on my Myspace profile. I test drove some of the music that I knew the kool kids (i.e.: skaterz) listened to, but nothing seemed to click. Not until I heard Fall Out Boy’s smash single “Dance, Dance” on the radio one night did I begin to appreciate the future ahead of me.
Really, the best thing about Fall Out Boy is how knowingly awful they are. From Patrick Stump’s (née Stumph) grotesquely affected vocals to Pete Wentz’s nauseatingly witty lyrics and song titles (“Champagne for My Real Friends, Real Pain for my Sham Friends” and “I Slept With Someone in Fall Out Boy and All I Got Was This Stupid Song Written About Me” are two perfect examples), there’s a level of self-conscious camp to their whole shtick that is incredibly infectious and fun—not to mention a truckload of shamefully catchy hooks and melodies to be found on almost all their albums. But if you’re interested in giving the boys of FOB a chance, check out their first full-length, Take This to Your Grave. It’s a dense slice of honest-to-goodness pop-punk complete with more than a few snotty kiss-offs and plenty of smirking self-deprecation.