Friday morning as I was making breakfast for my kids, my daughter was doing her daily “flip around” the major cable new channels.
My daughter Charlotte may be the best-informed sixteen-year-old in America. She makes a point of watching all the different news channels with their respective “leanings,” so she can get a clear picture of what each side is saying about the other. She does not take any one source of information on faith but instead requires multiple points of reference before deciding her own truth.
Back when there were still more than a dozen candidates for president, she read all of their most recent books… all of them. However, what I’m going to talk about today has nothing to do with politics.
As she flipped around, I heard something vaguely familiar. I looked up from my bagel-buttering activities to see none other than 1980’s pop songstress Debbie Gibson dancing around a live stage on the streets of New York City, singing songs from the apex of her career, nearly three decades ago.
In the late 80’s, Debbie Gibson was HUGE. According to Wikipedia:
In 1987, while performing around the United States at nightclub venues, Gibson was recording what would become her debut album, Out Of The Blue. It was recorded in four weeks. Four singles from the album reached the Top 5 of the Hot 100 chart: “Only in My Dreams”, “Shake Your Love”, “Out Of The Blue”, and the number-one hit “Foolish Beat”, followed by “Staying Together”, which performed more modestly, reaching No. 22. “Foolish Beat” set a record for Gibson, making her (at 17) the youngest artist ever to write, produce, and perform a Billboard number-one single, as entered in the 1988 Guinness Book of World Records, and she remains the youngest female artist to do so.
As I watched the now forty-something singer prance around the stage, I was instantly reminded of a story involving Ms. Gibson from my freshman year of college.
I landed at Lehigh University in the fall of 1987 as an eighteen-year-old, six-foot-two, skinny white kid with nary a clue. Having never had to really manage money in high school, I burned through my summer job savings pretty quickly; like before Thanksgiving.
Seeing my account balance dropping fast, I set out to find a job. I quickly found one working in the dish room in one of the on-campus cafeterias. The job was as unpleasant as it sounds and since all the students could see me through the grid of tray cubbies, the gig wasn’t exactly helping my social life either, you know because even in college – kids are assholes.
I washed dishes for a couple of months before I landed a better job working in the admissions office. It was a much better fit for many reasons, not the least of which was the complete absence of dirty dishes.
In the admissions office I ran the overnight stay program. Basically, prospective students would call and express an interest in spending a day on campus attending classes and then spend a night in the dorms. My job was to match the prospects with appropriate underclassmen. I have many other stories about this job, but for now let’s just remember I worked in the admission office.
If you were born before say 1990, you remember there was a time when life actually involved mysteries. There was no Google, no Snopes and no Wikipedia.
When someone walked into a room and proclaimed something, you couldn’t just grab your phone to confirm or refute their statement. You had to actually converse with the person and interrogate them about the source of the information. You would the turn to others to see what they knew before deciding if the statement was worthy of consideration, or simply an unsubstantiated rumor.
Before the Internet, rumors used to be fun.
For example, I remember one day in high school a buddy of mine piped up at the lunch table announcing an impending new album from one of our favorite bands. He claimed he had heard the info on the radio. Another guy at the lunch table chimed in that he had read an article about the band in Rolling Stone a few months earlier and there had been no mention of a new record. Then a third person corroborated the first statement saying he had heard the same info on the same radio station. The question was settled – the album was real.
This is how we settled informational arguments in the 1980s.
Sometimes however, rumors got going so fast that there was little to be done to stop them. One such rumor appeared on campus the second semester of my freshman year. We were still in the salad days of MTV and the “music news” segment run every hour had become the de facto standard for pop culture information.
I have no idea from where this particular rumor sprang, but as the leaves began to appear on the trees of Bethlehem PA in the spring of 1988, the word on the street was simply this… Debbie Gibson was coming to Lehigh.
No matter who you asked, everyone had heard this and they each had different, but equally credible “evidence” to back it up. I remember hearing things like, “My dad’s law firm in New York work does work for Debbie Gibson’s record label and he told me it is totally true!” I mean, how could you argue with a statement like that?
Here are the types of “facts” regularly presented in support of the rumor:
- Lehigh had a large population of students from the New York City area and Debbie Gibson was from Long Island
- She was born in 1970 and the incoming class of freshmen were almost all born in 1970
- Lehigh knows how to party and I heard she was looking for a solid party school
Forget the fact that although respectable, the Lehigh music program was far from renown. The entire time this rumor was exploding, the cynic in me just wasn’t buying it. One day I was sitting in a lounge in the student center when I overheard a conversation that went something like this:
Student 1 – You know that whole Debbie Gibson thing?
Student 2 – Yeah?
Student 1 – Well, I heard she had her interview in the admissions office after hours so she wouldn’t be mobbed by fans. She drove in from New York in a black limousine and interviewed with the admission director at like midnight.
Student 2 – No way!
Student 1 – Way!
I’d had enough. I closed my book, zipped up my backpack and headed over to my desk at the admission office.
Although computer systems then weren’t at all what they are today, the entire admission process was completely computerized, and in my role as the head of the overnight stay program I had access to it all.
I plunked down at my desk, logged into the mainframe terminal and accessed the system that housed all applicants for the upcoming year. I performed a simple surname search on the name “Gibson” and waited.
Thirty-seconds later the results popped up on the screen.
Not only was the name “Deborah Ann Gibson” absent from the search results, but of the approximately 11,000 applicants to the class of 1992, not one had the last name Gibson.
I printed out the search result and stashed it in my backpack. For the next few weeks, every time someone declared something about the impending arrival of Debbie Gibson, I calmly stated that I worked in the admission office and it simply wasn’t true. I then presented them with the printout of the search results.
To my astonishment, most people chose to dismiss my actual evidence and continue in their belief in her inevitable arrival. Of course, the school year ended and when we all returned in the fall… (shockingly) no Debbie Gibson. In fact, not only did Ms. Gibson not come to Lehigh that year, she never went to college at all.
So, as you copy, paste, re-tweet, forward and share all the things you believe to be true because your “friend” posted it somewhere – take the time to verify the information and (like my news hound of a daughter) arrive at your own truth. Only then should you bother to broadcast to the world. Opinion is fine, but when you present something as “true,” your reputation deserves irrefutable supportive knowledge.
In 1988 the students at Lehigh University were convinced they were about to drink cheap beer and rub elbows with a real-live pop star… it turns out it was – only in their dreams.
Here is the video from last Friday, and below the original video for “Only In My Dreams.” Enjoy!
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved