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Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" Takes One Person's Sanity To The End Of The Line

Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" Takes One Person's Sanity To The End Of The Line

This month, to celebrate the Internet's unbridled love for wallowing in nostalgia and even greater relishing of talking about why certain cultural artifacts are horrible, Sound of the City presents First Worsts, a series in which our writers remember the first time... they ever hated a song enough to call it The Worst. (And to be fair, we're also going to see how these songs have stood the test of time.)

THE SONG: Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart." THE YEAR: 1983. THE REASONS: College roommates, Meatloaf-ian histrionics.

1983 was my junior year of college, and the year all of my friends moved away from the dorms, out to Arthur Avenue and the other "safe" areas around Fordham's Bronx campus. Despite all of my pleading, I was left behind to find my way through student housing for one more year. (I think it had less to do with my parents' fear of the Bronx than their fear that without some kind of structure I would just spend every day in record stores and hanging out in rock clubs downtown. They were probably not wrong.)

So when September rolled around, I ended up in a suite with four other women that I didn't know, all—like me—rejects who didn't have someone else to room with. Three of them slept in their makeup in case they woke up and there was a man in the room and spent every moment angling for a husband. (The fourth didn't talk much at all.) As a result, I spent a lot of time in the suite of my sophomore roommate, Casey, who'd left me behind because she had to room with a group of friends from her upstate hometown. Thankfully, they were just a bunch of normal girls trying to get through college with as little drama as possible; they had no problem with another person turning up and studying in the corner, or chipping in to add to the pasta pot for dinner.

Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse Of The Heart"

There was only one problem: Those who liked music liked horrible music. To make things worse, they liked it but didn't pay attention to it—they were the kind of people who would put a record on and then leave to go do their laundry and come back when the tone arm was thunk-thunkthunking against the outer groove of the record. They would just pick it up and start over again while heading into the bathroom or the bedroom. If you pointed it out, they didn't understand what the problem was.

They loved Air Supply and Lionel Richie and "Islands In The Stream" and, when they were daring, "Every Breath You Take." (That was edgy, because, you know, the Police were British.) They weren't stupid women; they just didn't think about music the same way I did. They only knew what they heard on the radio and they liked what they liked.

The year passed into a lovely spring, and before I knew it, we were all barreling down towards the end of the year. I was trying to work on the student newspaper and write my papers and study for exams. I don't know when my roommates did their homework, but whenever I was in the suite, the TV was on full blast while they yelled at each other from the kitchen to the living room, usually with the water running. The library was packed; the light in the open-for-exams cafeteria gave me headaches; I was at my wits' end about what to do. Casey came upstairs one night to say hi, and found me sitting in a corner of the living room with my headphones on, facing the wall and desperately trying to concentrate while Star Trek reruns blasted at full volume. She walked over to turn the sound down, and before I could stop her, two of my roommates came running out of their rooms, yelling that they were watching that and she didn't live there.

 

That was when Casey quietly suggested that, given that two of her roommates had already finished for the year and moved back home, I just bunk in with them until the end of the semester. I had my stuff downstairs in less than an hour. Peace and quiet! I was going to get work done.

But I forgot about the music, or I didn't forget about it so much as figure I could work through things like "I'm All Out of Love" or "Tell Her About It" or "True". What I didn't figure on was roommate Susan's new affinity for "Total Eclipse of the Heart." She had tried talking to me about the song a couple of weeks earlier, and I did my best to be kind and encouraging and not snobby because she seemed to really, really like the song—she'd even taken a trip up to the music department at Korvettes on the Grand Concourse so she could abandon her off-the-radio dub. She was so excited to have a new (well, new-ish) song that she liked, one that was a "serious" song and not a pop song. I didn't want to explain that I wasn't a fan of Jim Steinman's overly histrionic lyrics nor Bonnie Tyler's raspy voice, and that I didn't like faux wall-of-sound echo on plodding, dirge-like songs.

A day or two later, I was struggling through the worst part of my last paper, for Constitutional Law, when "Total Eclipse" came out of the living room. I didn't even notice it, thinking that she'd made a little stack of 45—she had 10 or 12 of them, at the most—on the record changer. The song ended and I waited for the telltale click click click snrk click thunk of the tonearm going back to the side and the changer plopping the next record down on the turntable.

click click click snrk click

"Turn around..." "Every now and then I get a little bit lonely..."

It was 'Total Eclipse" again. Okay, well, maybe the changer had stuck; it was an old record player, passed down from an older sibling, something to have at college that wouldn't get ruined. (Even I didn't take my good turntable to college.) I rolled my eyes and went back to Griswold v Connecticut.

click click click snrk click

"Turn around..." "Every now and then I get a little bit lonely..."

Hmm. Three times. Well, it would be Susan's modus operandi to put the records on and then disappear. She was probably down the hall or in the laundry room and when she came back she would surely notice. I wasn't getting up; I was on a roll; I was finally getting work done because there wasn't inane loud conversation over blaring TV.

click click click snrk click

But it went on, and on, and on. When the record began its eighth play, I heard the door to the other bedroom open. I assumed that it was Susan, finally noticing that the record had been playing over and over and over and over. A few seconds later, there was a knock on the door to my room and Casey stuck her head in. She was a double major (pre-law and journalism, just in case) and, from her expression, was clearly feeling the pinch of both right about then.

"Have you seen Susan?" she asked.

"No."

"You didn't put this on, did you? No, of course you wouldn't." She looked around.

click click click snrk click

"Turn around..." "Every now and then I get a little bit lonely..."

At the ninth playing, Casey headed toward the living room. I thought she would just turn off the record player or, in the worst-case scenario of the power button sticking (it had happened before), unplug it.

rrrrrrrrriiiiizzzzzzpppppppppppppp

I was pretty sure she didn't mean to scratch the record, but when your eyes are bleary and you're tired, you don't have the best control.

Silence descended upon the suite, and I was grateful. I never would have said anything to Susan, because she wasn't my roommate and I was a guest, but I think I probably would have cracked at the dozenth broadcast and gone looking for Casey or headed back down to the laundry room to try to get the damn paper finished.

I was just about to turn back to my paper when I heard the venetian blinds open and the window slide up.

A few seconds later, Casey walked down the hall. "There," she said.

"What happened?"

"You don't understand; she has been playing this record all week. All week! Just this record. Non-stop. She puts it on and then she leaves or goes to pick up a book and comes back and of course she hasn't heard it so she has to let it play a few more times and I just—I just can't any more."

The door to the suite creaked open, and Susan stepped in. In her hands was what suspiciously looked like a 45.

"Hey, guys? Hey, I was walking back to the building when I saw the window open and this came flying out of it." She looked at us. "Do you know what happened?"

SO HOW IS IT NOW? "Total Eclipse of the Heart" sounds even more histrionic and overblown now than it did back then, and it has not aged well at all. It was responsible for introducing me to Bonnie Tyler's version of "It's a Heartache," which I liked perfectly well; the fault in this case lies solely with Jim Steinman, although the mysteriously goth video didn't help, either. It isn't as terrible as many other awful songs from that era, but I'd never deliberately put it on an '80s playlist for people I liked. Although I think that day of overplaying created a Pavolvian gag reflex preventing me from ever really trying.

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