Another Bee Gee is dead, and I’m depressed. When Robin Gibb died recently, it got me thinking about the big chunk of my life that is forever tied to Bee Gees songs. I am not one of those Johnny-Come-Lately’s that discovered the Bee Gees with Saturday Night Fever and disco. For me, the importance of the Bee Gees’ music started way before John Travolta ever thought of putting on a white polyester suit.
In 1965, when I was 12, my family moved (our second tour overseas) to an Army post in Landstuhl, Germany. Since my parents wanted me to become fluent in German, they enrolled me in a school in town, a Gymnasium–the kind of school that prepares German students for the university. I entered the school as a rising 7th grader but was quickly demoted to the 4th grade because of the language barrier. But the principal of the school, a very kind and generous man, agreed to let me try to gradually work my way back up to my age level. With the help of tutors, understanding teachers, and very friendly fellow students, I was able, over the next 3 years, to catch up with my grade again—so that when I came back to the States, I could enter high school.
So this was a stressful time for me. School was tough. The language barrier was immense. The school itself was extremely challenging. It was hard staying up late every night, translating my homework before I could begin to complete it. It was tough navigating cultural differences. But the Gymnasium was also a wonderful place. My classmates made me feel accepted into their world. Almost all of my teachers treated me with patience and kindness. And, although I was given special treatment at first, the best part of the whole experience was when people stopped giving that special treatment and started expecting the same level of work from me that they expected from the other students.
Weaving through all the good times and bad times–the stress, the expectations, and the confusion on one hand, the fun on the other– were the songs of the Bee Gees.
I attended my first dance and danced my first slow dance—with a very handsome eighth grader, an “older guy” named Michael Krick who was actually my age, unlike the boys in my class—to the lyrics of “Words”: “Smile an everlasting smile, a smile can bring you near to me….” I dreamed long daydreams about kissing that same boy to “To Love Somebody” (“You don’t know what’it’s like to love somebody to love somebody the way I love you.”) I worried about an endless drama with a mean girl in my class (some things transcend cultural differences) to “I Started a Joke” (“Oh, but I didn’t see that the joke was on me!”) I later mooned over my best friend’s brother, who was also our very glamorous newspaper delivery boy, to “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You.” And when I worried about leaving Germany and going back to the States, the words of “World” played in my head. (“Tomorrow…where in the world will I be tomorrow? How far am I able to see?”)
The Bee Gees are so much a part of that whole time for me, that time of excitement and longing and restless imagining—that when I hear one of their songs start up, I get transported right back to the EisCafe Dolomiten , where, in the 8th grade (my last year in Germany) everyone met up after school to eat Italian ice and flirt.
I was sad to see Robin go. There is something way too jarring about having two Bee Gees dead. I felt the same way when George Harrison died. It’s one thing to lose a childhood icon to a tragic, untimely death–like John Lennon–but somehow it’s a lot harder when someone just dies, from some regular old disease, just like the rest of us.
I have to say: I kind of wish that famous singers or movie stars of our youth would disappear or retire, right at the height of their fame, never to be heard from again. I didn’t really want to hear about Paul McCartney turning 64, and I sure as hell don’t want to watch The Eagles totter out in front of me on stage. I don’t care how good they sound. There’s something disturbing about watching old dudes with wrinkles and white hair sing songs that I associate with being 14 or 15.
I guess I prefer to think of all of my childhood idols as young, handsome, and vibrant–the way they were back then, when I was living my life with a constant soundtrack of the Bee Gees in my head.