Uncomfortably perched on a lime green inflatable love seat placed feet away from a 16-inch double-deep Zenith, hundreds of my early 90s afternoons were whisked away by the wondrous world of Nickelodeon. Back then, in my hood at least, it was found on channel 24, and it was the only network solely dedicated to filling adolescent brains with entertaining distraction. Today you'll often overhear adult discussions regarding the programming of their now distant childhoods - most of which revolved around mainstream titles like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, GUTS (Global and domestic), Rugrats, and the like. But my focus was on an under-appreciated show listed on far fewer favorite lists today than its peers - The Adventures of Pete and Pete.
Don't worry, I'm not going to sit here and explain to you the thematic depth of "The Big Quiet" - an episode from season 2 when Little Pete deals with the death of Gary, his lizard, and Big Pete struggles to build a relationship with his doofy dad - because that would take forever. Instead, I'd like to address the impact this little, three-season show that existed from 1993-96 had on my musical taste.
Unlike most shows of the era that had their own tacky original theme songs geared towards earworming 10-year-olds, Pete and Pete opened every episode with a song performed by New Haven, Connecticut group Polaris, "Hey Sandy".
This wasn't only different because of the song's tone, but if you listen closely to, "You're lookin' happily deranged / Could you settle to shoot me? / Or have you picked your target yet," you'll notice its bizarre lyrical content. According to speculation, the song was written about a girl killed during the 1970 Kent State shootings. Of course I didn't comprehend this 20 years ago, but I'm confident that it had an impact on my future preferences. While other kids were howling "Hey Dude!" I was mumbling words of a song enjoyed by the big kids.
Pete and Pete also had its fair share of cameos with actors like Steve Buscemi, Janeane Garafalo, and Adam West, but it was constantly incorporating famous musical artists into its casts. The clip below includes a full edit featuring David Johansen (New York Dolls), Suzzy Roche (The Roches), Sarah Shannon (Velocity Girl), Gordan Gano (Violent Femmes), Debbie Harry, Kate Pierson (the B52s), Marshall Crenshaw, Juliana Hatfield, Luscious Jackson, Iggy Pop, and Hunter Thompson(!).
Not featured in the video is Michael Stipe (REM) who played the unmasked Mr. Softee. Looking at this list of performers assuming normal roles would make a music lover's head spin today. It's hard to imagine a show that will ever do it so seamlessly and to such great success, no matter how hard Glee and Portlandia try.
Through all of its musical greatness, a certain episode of Pete and Pete had the greatest impact on who I've become. The episode entitled "Hard Days Pete" again features Polaris as a jamming garage band Little Pete encounters on his ride to school. Throughout the entire episode, he longingly tries to remember the lyrics and tempo of the song.
In some ways, this quest of Little Pete's has become my own. Every day I come to work looking to relive the thrill that last great song provided.