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Laura Bond | Longreads | January 2020 | 9 minutes (2,218 words)
I spent the final dregs of a sixth-grade summer in my brother’s room, perched on the perimeter of his waterbed, forced to listen to the weird new music he discovered every day. It was a gloomy parade of bands from England that didn’t register on FM radio in 1987: The Smiths, Soft Cell, Siouxsie and the Banshees. I hated most of this music but, like the Phoenix heat, it was inescapable. I tried to hide from it, but the sound warbled through the sheetrock wall that separated our bedrooms. It permeated my ears and consciousness.
One sweaty August evening, my brother finally played something I liked. The singer’s voice was deep, resonant, with a British twang that was both elegant and cocky, a combination I found hard to resist in music and, years later, boyfriends. The melodies were bright and catchy. On the album cover, four pale young musicians crowded together wearing leather and eyeliner, conspiratorial and cute. Depeche Mode, they were called. As we listened to the entire record, twice, I felt for the first time the whole-body percolation that accompanies the discovery of good new music.
A couple of weeks later, at the start of seventh grade, I did my best middle-school cool, fortified by the love of an exotic new band and a wardrobe that evoked it: black leather sandals, some blonde streaks in my thick, brown hair. Somehow, the posture held. My place in the social order of Madison Meadows School bumped up two or three notches from my usual spot in the middle rank.
Soon I befriended Kristin Knight, a former recess-refusing library hound who was also enjoying a social promotion, having emerged over the summer as a stone fox. We met at a birthday pool party and bonded over our shared love of Saturday Night Live and PeeWee Herman. Soon we spent whispery, giggly nights together. When she came along on a family road trip, we laughed all the way to San Diego and back. Kristin’s father had died when she was 6; maybe this experience, absorbed so young, had infused her with rare depth. Whatever it was that combined in the slender, dark beauty of that 12-year-old girl, she was magic. She thought every single thing I said was funny. She liked my drawings and the little poems I wrote. She compelled and amplified the very best of my nature. And she had cable.
During one of our first sleepovers, we stayed up all night watching back-to-back episodes of “120 Minutes” on MTV. Around midnight, the veejay introduced a new video: “Strangelove,” by Depeche Mode. There were those four young men, in high-contrast black and white. The lead singer wore tight jeans and spun in circles, his head thrown back, artistic and orgasmic. There was something in their look, that music, that was perfectly calibrated to our hatching hormones, our ripening glands. We didn’t know what “Strangelove” was. We just knew we wanted it.
That night, Kristin and I saw a direct, divine line connecting the lives of these four musicians to our own. Every Friday and Saturday night, we crowded on the pull-out couch in Kristin’s family room and studied the band with a rigor that did not extend to our actual studies. We learned the geography of Basildon, England, the working-class suburb where a young Dave had met Martin Gore, the sensitive schoolboy in whom a thousand pop hooks were incubating beneath the dreary British sky. When we read in Teen Beat that Dave liked mushroom pizza, we vowed never to eat anything else again. We ate mushroom pizza and watched MTV and when Depeche Mode came on, we wiggled.
I was so secure in my special bond with Kristin that I didn’t even notice when Marci Bellini changed schools, leaving Nikki Anagnapolous behind. Nikki and Marci had formed a best-friend power duo unrivaled by any other pair. But Marci’s sudden departure had left Nikki available, alone.
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Nikki was petite, hilarious, gymnastic, a preteen Venus de Milo; she might as well have glided around school on a clamshell. Instantly the most eligible and coveted best friend in school, she entertained prospects at the lunch table. She didn’t invite me, but she did summon Kristin.
Kristin, with her glow.
Soon, Nikki was invited to a sleepover at Kristin’s house, where she bonded with everyone over movies and her perfect Church Lady impression. She could make brownies and do a standing backflip. And she was funny. Kristin laughed at all of Nikki’s jokes, maybe even harder than she did at mine. By nine o’clock they had already choreographed an elaborate handshake.
I broke out the primo item I’d stolen from my brother and brought to show off: a real script from the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which was filmed in Phoenix. My brother had a small speaking role, as a lifeguard who pushes Napoleon down a water slide. But when I suggested we perform the whole script, Nikki cast herself as Bill and Kristin as Ted. I was Napoleon.
Kristin didn’t even look at me as she popped a tape into the VCR and “Behind the Wheel,” one of our favorite Depeche Mode videos, came on. Then came that driving bass line, the dramatic synth, then Dave’s deep voice. Nikki’s eyes sparkled. Suddenly it was mushroom pizza for all.
Inside of a month, we were a band of our own: Nikki, Kristin, our somewhat reluctant friend Kari, and me. We learned every word and note of every album and memorized every video, which we acted out at Kari’s house, mornings before school. Every inch of each of our bedrooms was covered with photographs ripped out of teen music magazines. We petitioned to change our school’s song to “People are People.” We warred with a powerful faction of girls who hated Depeche Mode and pledged loyalty to Guns and Roses, whose slithery leader Axl Rose had once referred to our beloved Depeche as “a bunch of faggots.” (We referred to him as “Asshole” Rose.) Yes, Martin sometimes wore leather skirts. But he was more manly than all of the boys in our school combined, the boys we now refused to dance with at middle-school mixers.
By the middle of seventh grade, it was clear there was only one place our love for the band members could lead: to marriage, before God. Never mind the divides of distance, age, space or time. It had to be holy matrimony. First, we had to decide who would marry whom.
Of all of us, Kristin was the most genuinely smitten, with Dave. He was stormy and pure sex in white denim, born too big and too bad for small-town Britain. With her wisdom, her effortlessness, her blue-black hair, she just was Dave’s woman. If Dave was the Alpha, Martin was the poet — dreamy, elusive, and gorgeous, like a pervy cherub in a leather vest. Nikki’s tufty white-blond hair and bright blue eyes evoked Martin’s entire spirit, as if she’d been plucked from his very rib. Though I loved Martin, Nikki was Mrs. Gore.
I claimed keyboardist Alan Wilder, the better remaining catch. And I did like him. He was handsome, cerebral, and discerning. Kari did her best to muster a wifely appetite for the gangly and pallid Andy Fletcher, who was kind of like the band’s accountant, but who seemed sweet and reliable. A girl could do worse.
Before marriage, though, we had to meet the band. Making this happen became my life’s mission. Because I loved Alan! And because when I closed my eyes I pictured Martin and Nikki and Kristin and Dave flying to a European honeymoon on a private jet, leaving me and my B-level boyfriend behind. If I could deliver Depeche Mode, I would earn a seat on that plane, forever.
I had a phone in my room, and a bunch of British magazines. I practiced by calling businesses listed in the classifieds. Soon I learned how to call the directory information service in Basildon. I started to find people and places I’d read about in Depeche Mode literature. I memorized country codes and time differences. There were occasional mistakes, like the time I accidentally called Swaziland. There were also victories, like when I got a secretary at Martin’s primary school to release his academic records. Another time, I convinced Scotland Yard to make a well-being visit to Dave’s house. Still, we were no closer to matrimony.
Leafing through Spin Magazine one day, the idea came: I would write an article about Depeche Mode for Spin. Simple. The plan emerged in my imagination completely intact, like the field notes from an angelic visitation. And then I was off.
I called every place listed in Depeche Mode liner notes — studios, manufacturers, distributors. I looked up engineers, producers, people thanked in the credits, some of whom were dead.
“Hello, I’m with Spin Magazine,” I said, again and again. “I’d like to interview Depeche Mode.”
Finally, miraculously, I found Tamsin Yee, director of publicity at Sire Records, Depeche Mode’s American record label. She wanted to know: My angle? The art? The spread?
“It’s about the band’s new movie,” I said. “There’ll be photographs.”
Tamsin did not ask for clips or references. Instead, she told me to expect a call from Andy Fletcher in three days. Management would be in touch, she said. I left strict instructions for my family to answer the phone as if they were in a busy office. My office. My mom, bless her, bought me a two-way telephone recorder. My dad helped me brainstorm questions.
Andy Fletcher called my house at 11:03 am on a Tuesday morning in May of 1989. I took the call in my parents’ room, at a special station I’d constructed and tested 500 or 600 hundred times. Nikki and Kristin were on the speakerphone in my dad’s office, commanded to keep the phone on mute.
“Hi. This is Andy Fletcher. Am I speaking to Laura Bond?”
Somehow, I was calm. I asked about the movie and the accompanying album. Andy compared it to Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, and I emoted knowingly. An interview was underway. I monitored my body for wayward sounds. For some reason, about halfway through, I began to speak in a British accent. But I was doing okay. We were even sort of riffing. But I could sense something bubbling up from my father’s office, where Nikki and Kristin were on speakerphone. Their breathing got shorter and faster. There came a great giggle, then a scream.
“Andy! We love you!” It was Kristin. Kristin was the first to lose her shit.
“What?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
We confessed everything. About the mushroom pizza and our war with Guns and Roses and our wedding plans.
“Andy!” Nikki said. “We put on your videos, and we act them out! Every single one!”
“We have fantasized about being your toilet paper!” Kristin shouted.
To his eternal credit, Andy Fletcher was a sport and a gentleman. “Which one’s married to Martin?” he asked. “Listen girls. Right now you love us. In two years you’ll be like, Depeche Who? What?”
“Never!” we cried.
Before we hung up, Andy said the interview was “better than the last one I did for Spin. The guy took us to Central Park and said, ‘What do you think of that tree?’ Well done, then.”
The next call was from Tamsin Yee, the publicist, who threatened my mother with a lawsuit unless I announced over the loudspeaker at school that I had made the whole story up. That there had been no phone call, no contact. My mother responded cooly that she couldn’t have been more proud.
The next year, I pulled off another scheme and got tickets to the premiere of 101, and my Dad flew with us to LA, where we watched the film in a packed theater, Asshole Rose three rows behind us. Later, we intercepted Andy in the lobby of a hotel, and he stopped for a photograph — bemused, obliging, a little drunk — Nikki and Kristin on his left, and me on the right.
The plane ride home was quiet. We were in eighth grade now, soon headed for high school; me at the huge public downtown, Nikki, Kristin and Kari at the college prep a mile away. When high school did come and I saw them at parties, we did not call each other by our married names.
For the record I’m not married to Alan Wilder. But I still loved him at the start of freshman year, when I noticed a tall, stylish boy across the quad who was, I swear to God, the spitting image of a young Alan, and who became my first love for two sweet, thrilling years. Later, after moving on a penniless whim to London, a city I discovered in Depeche Mode pictorials, I interned at a famous Fleet Street newspaper, and a few years after that, had my first byline in the pages of a real magazine.
I am still immobilized whenever a Depeche Mode song catches me off guard. And every couple of years I have a Depechefest, which involves playing records and weeping in my kitchen, transported to the desperation and longing of adolescence, life’s first major transformation. Of all the passages that have followed, that one by far had the best soundtrack.
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Laura Bond is a Denver-based writer, journalist, and member of Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She is working on a book about the virtues and pleasures of thrift store shopping.
Editor: Sari Botton