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The 33 1/3 B-sides Week, Day 2: Debbie Gibson and Waking Hours


Back in 2006, Alex Green wrote his 33 1/3, The Stone Roses’ The Stone Roses, one of our earlier 33 1/3’s that made the series what it is. Today, he writes about his fantasy romance with Debbie Gibson, and how Del Amitri’s Waking Hours pulled him back to reality.


I didn’t know that my essay on Del Amitri’s Waking Hours would coincide with the 30th anniversary of the album’s release, but as I started writing and researching for the piece, that round number emerged and the whole affair seemed auspicious and timely.

And then I started thinking about 1989 and looking back, I realized that culturally and politically it was a rather blockbuster year.

In 1989 The Berlin Wall fell, the Exxon Valdez spilled sickeningly into Prince William Sound, the first liver transplant occurred, San Francisco got hit with a 6.9 Earthquake, Wendy Wasserstein won the Pulitzer for The Heidi Chronicles and Die Hard — the It’s A Wonderful Life of my generation — hit theatres for the first time.

Oh, and Debbie Gibson almost went to my college.

The rumor was that Gibson had burned out of public pop life and wanted to settle into normal college life and the place she was going to do all that settling was in Moraga with us at St. Mary’s College.

So.

What would a 19-year-old college student with a George Hurley haircut, a Toyota Tercel, and a decidedly unpopular weekly radio show think about that?

Well, he would think that when Debbie Gibson came to college, the two of them would hit it off, fall in love, and drive that battered Tercel wherever the road of romance led them.

This was long before one could Google whether or not Debbie Gibson was headed, even vaguely, in the collegiate (or Californian) direction, so the lack of information had to be filled in with imagination: Debbie Gibson laughing in class at one of my jokes, Debbie Gibson walking with me across campus, Debbie Gibson’s dorm room a heavenly mix of Laura Ashley and Samsara perfume, where we’d watch Quantum Leap, eat Wheat Thins, and make plans for our future.

Admittedly, I’d thought things out a bit.

The day school began I looked around for Debbie Gibson and everyone looked like her because anyone could have been her. Maybe she’d died her hair black. Maybe she was dressed like a boy. Maybe she was 6’5”.

It was like The Smiths video for “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before,” where everyone is dressed like Morrissey and everyone looks like Morrissey even though nobody actually looks like Morrissey at all.

In other words, I was surrounded by Debbie Gibson impersonators who looked nothing like Debbie Gibson or, for that matter, Debbie Gibson impersonators.

I looked for her all week, then the next week, then less intensely the week after.

My hopes for a mid-semester collegiate cameo finally dimmed and I realized that I wasn’t going to go to college with Debbie Gibson after all.

By the time my romantic montages dissolved and I settled back into my Debbie Gibson-less civilian life, all I wanted was for 1989 to be over. I was sick of being 19. I was sick of college. And I was sick of how desolate my voice sounded on my radio show.

Then Waking Hours arrived. And it did what I could never do on my own. It ended the ‘80s and kicked off the ‘90s. And it came just in time.


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