"Broken Wings", 616, 616 East Lincoln Avenue, Billboard Pop Chart, Eclectic Music, Forgiveness, Healing, Hip-Hop, Humanities, Mending Hearts, Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon New York, Mr. Mister, Musical Tastes, Race, Rap, Top 40, Welcome To The Real World
It was thirty years ago on this date that Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings” Broken Wings was #1 on Billboard’s Top 40 pop charts. Twenty-five years, another time, another person, I was in and was. Somehow in a world dominated by hip-hop and rap, it seems like it’s been way more than a quarter-century since a bunch of studio musicians in their mid-thirties got together to create the album Welcome To The Real World.
What I remember most about my fifteen-year-old self in ’85 what how music served as an escape from the violence — or the potential of it — at 616 and from my loneliness at school. I could find myself in another world through song, where no one could touch or hurt me in any way, where life seemed more worthwhile. The sounds, images and smells that lyrics and notes could conjure gave me a place to find myself, a confidence that I otherwise didn’t have.
I liked a lot of crap in those days of my renewed interest in music. I liked Mr. Mister, Tears for Fears, some Heart, Sting, Simple Minds, some Madonna or a-ha, and U2 even before I knew who U2 was. I also liked Kool In The Gang, Billy Ocean, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam (with Full Force), Run DMC, early Whitney Houston, some Freddy Jackson, Sade, and Luther. The problem was, I had trouble combining these divergent interests in music. Sade would make me feel sad. “Another woman out of my reach,” I often thought. While I liked Run-DMC (especially “My Adidas”), the lyrics were sometimes silly, and I couldn’t be silly all the time. Kool In The Gang had gone from cool to wack in the last year or so. For me, most of the R&B from the mid-’80s was boring, romantic yet stiff. I wasn’t feelin’ it.
Certainly the pop of ’85 wasn’t exactly full of passion, pride, or pain. It often had the feel of folks working off a high in a recording studio, which has turned out to be true in many cases. But it was easier to listen to. Keep in mind that the music world had just started to recover from seven or eight years of music that was without social conscience and virtually pain-free — and that’s even accounting for Phyllis Hyman, Miki Howard and U2.
Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings” met me at a place where I needed to be met in ’85. My own “wings” needed some mending. I wanted to be free of my family’s so-called love, and I wanted to know what love as an emotion really felt like. I needed inspiration on a weekly basis because of what I saw at home and at Mount Vernon High School. R&B rarely provided that kind of fuel for my mind and spirit.
I found it in the lyrics, the liner notes, the pace of the music, the ability of a voice or synthesizer (as the case often was) to make a song soar. Given my situation, it was a no-brainer for me to choose lyrics like “take these broken wings and learn to fly again, learn to live so free . . .” over “rock . . . steady . . . steady rockin’ all night long . . .” in the mid-’80s.
I certainly don’t walk the streets of Mount Vernon with $20 Walkman knockoff singing in high falsetto to Mr. Mister like I did twenty-five (or thirty) years ago (I do that in DC and Maryland running 10Ks, with my iPod or iPhone instead). But I do still find songs like “Broken Wings” appealing. At almost forty-one (now almost forty-six), I understand much better the need to mend broken relationships, to heal bruised and broken hearts, to want to make yourself and those you love whole again. From my wife to my mother to my late sister Sarai and older brother Darren, I really do understand. I sometimes can’t believe I got this much out of one song from so long ago. Especially when I was so young and so injured myself.