My AOL Instant Messenger Girlfriend and I Revisit 1999


As anyone with a calendar will tell you, the summer of 1999 was 15 years ago. It was a time of Blair Witch hysteria, Jar Jar Binks alienating a generation and the music industry becoming bigger than ever. But while TRL was establishing itself as a tastemaker, there were tweens like me who watched the full 24 hours that MTV had to offer, as well as spending every waking moment trying to absorb as much music as possible. Thanks to the internet, that was becoming easier.

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There weren’t many kids in my school who shared my passion, so I took to the internet. One Wednesday afternoon in June, my mouse wandered into the AOL Music Chatroom and that’s where I met Mary Lamb.

It’s likely Mary and I connected because, in a sea of a/s/l a/s/l requests, were we both actively trying to see if anyone else caught The Living End’s “Prisoner of Society” video on last Sunday’s 120 Minutes. From there we took it to Instant Messenger and “dated” as much as two pre-teens who live 1,300 miles away could have a “Relationship.” We wound up talking for about 18 months or so until changing screen names caused us to drift apart.

Imagine my surprise last summer when, while at a party, I received a tweet out of nowhere from someone claiming I was their “internet boyfriend.” I was relieved and excited that it was Mary, both because 1) I remembered how cool she was and 2) I had further confirmation those conversations spent online in my youth were actually with someone my age and not a degenerate’s elaborate catfish.

The internet’s a much different place to trade music in 2014. While Mary and I used to attempt to impress each other via linking to different 30 second Realplayer streams at (Napster was still a year away), today we can instantly share high quality YouTube streams. In celebration of music being more accessible than ever, Mary and I decided to party like it’s 1999 and share what today would be our three favorite selections from that outrageous year.

Fiend – “Talk It How I Bring It”
Chaz: As huge as Master P and his No Limit Soldiers were in ’99, being everywhere from the Toronto Raptors to WCW, I’ve always had a soft spot for No Limit member Fiend. Of all the New Orleans rappers that were starting to emerge at the time, his work always seemed the most visibly influenced by decades of New Orleans music. “Talk It How I Bring It” is such a rich tapestry of that legacy with Fiend’s own infectious personal touch added to it.

Mary: I was just really starting to get interested in rap in 1999– so Fiend wasn’t on my radar. Lauryn Hill’s album from the previous year was on heavy rotation though, and I remember really digging Missy Elliot’s “Hot Boyz.”

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Travis – “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?”
Mary: Right in the middle of a few years of inoffensive, catchy Brit-pop, this song makes my list because I ran away from home with a school friend in a serious attempt to see Travis perform.

Chaz: I honestly had a feeling you would pick that Travis song, I recall the title/chorus frequently being your AIM away message the weeks following it premiering on “120 Minutes.” There is something very away-message-y about that hook.

Isaac Hayes – “Good Love (South Park Soundtrack Version)”
Chaz: Looking back on that summer of ’99, I remember how huge “South Park” and the South Park movie was. While everyone remembers the great musical numbers from it, there was a soundtrack only cut that showed just how talented Trey Parker was. Years before Book of Mormon, he made a new arrangement for Isaac Hayes to record his 1972 classic “Good Love.” It sounds totally different and captures what’s so great about Hayes’ sound with a legit contemporary jam.

Mary: I remember the South Park craze but was mostly removed from it. I think at that age I missed the cultural criticism and assumed was the realm of obnoxious teen boys telling fart jokes. So I can associate Isaac Hayes with the show, but I don’t remember the movie or the music at all. It was happening around me while I rolled my eyes and turned on Daria.

Le Tigre – “Deceptacon”
Mary: This song was a total revelation to me in 1999, mostly because it existed in stark contrast to the boy bands and the sexpots– a woman was behind the microphone and she was screaming. Not surprisingly, this was the year I made a Kathleen Hanna fanzine.

Chaz: I want to say hearing “Deceptacon” at some point on college AM radio was a rite of passage for the outsider music fans of our generation. The rare case of a song that’s as infectiously catchy as it is utterly befuddling. The best things at that age often are. I want to say I also recall it being from some channel or video game’s promotional campaign around that time, but I’m drawing a blank.

Moby – “Run On”
Chaz: It’s so weird to think of where Moby was in ’99 and where he was even a year later. Of all the unlikely crossover artists, dude went from 120 Minutes to licensing  every song off his album to commercials and then doing songs with Gwen Stefani while writing essays about his morals and Earth or something. While a lot of that record was played to death and continues to show up all over media some 15 years later, I think “Run On’s” aged incredibly well and really predicted the obsession with extensively lifted soul samples that wound up really taking off in the mid-2000s.

Mary: I still love that Moby album tho. So good.

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Eiffel 65 – “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”
Mary: This is the perfect song for people who thought Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” was too lyrically complex. Evidence we are a failed experiment: this song was nominated for a Grammy a few years later.

Chaz: I remember in high school, my friend Heather telling me she would convince kids that the song was about suicide and the chorus was “I’m Blue and indeed I would die / Yah indeed I would die.” Revisiting this, I’m trying to analyze the lyrics to figure out what the actual narrative is. I mean, the song insistently begins “Yo listen up here’s a story about a little guy that lives in a blue world.” But no actual story takes place. It’s just a series of statements affirming everything in the protagonist’s life is either literally or metaphorically “blue.” That’s a setting, or at best a premise, NOT a story one would have to “listen up” for. Also, how many times do you think the music coordinator for Breaking Bad was tempted to pull the trigger with this song?

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