Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday. My name is Darrell Darnell, I have seen the band Muse in concert more times than any other group, and I believe that if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living.

In case you’re wondering, my wife and I first saw Muse perform live in Dallas in 2015, then in Las Vegas in 2016, Las Vegas again in 2019, and most recently in Anaheim in 2023.

Have you ever had a case of mistaken identity that led to a decade’s long battle with insecurity? If so, you’re like me and maybe you’ll be able to relate to today’s story.

I grew up in a small town in central Oklahoma called Wellston. According to the US Census Bureau, the town had around 900 people living there during the years I called it home, and the most recent census has the population just below 700 citizens. Perhaps needless to say, but when we had some new kids move to town, it was kind of exciting. 

Perhaps you felt the same way when new kids would join your school. Would they be attractive? Or maybe more importantly, would they find me attractive? Would we become friends, or would they join up with a different friend group? Would they be mean or stuck up, or would they be friendly?

I remember one such day occurring when I was in 8th grade. I’d arrived a few minutes early to class that day and a few of the girls in my class had already arrived. As I took my seat I heard them talking about some new kids that had just moved in a block from the school. The girls seemed very excited and were talking about how cute the boys were. I hadn’t seen the boys in any of my classes yet, but I assumed it was just a matter of time before we would cross paths.

The conversation was short-lived as it was soon time to start class. I don’t recall if I later asked one of the girls about the new kids or if I asked one of my other friends, but when I did inquire, the answer wasn’t what I expected. It turns out that the girls weren’t talking about new kids that had just moved to our town, they were talking about a new band they’d learned about called New Kids on the Block. I suppose this story could turn into a lesson about eavesdropping and how that can lead you to misunderstand things, make false assumptions, and cause trouble. But that’s not where today’s story is headed.

As it turned out, the New Kids had released their first album when I was in 4th grade. It was not a commercial success, so it’s no surprise that word of them didn’t travel all the way to rural Oklahoma at that time. It was their second album, Hangin’ Tough, that would not only bring them into the household of my hometown, but into households all around the world. 

The first single from Hangin’ Tough released in April 1988 and peaked on the charts in the fall of that year. The second single released in November of 1988, entering the top 40 charts in January, and peaking at #3 in March. It was their third single, “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)”, which released in April of 1989 that would finally bring them to my attention. 

The summer of 1989 was huge for the New Kids. “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” reached #1 on June 17, “Hangin’ Tough” released as a single on July 3rd, and by early September, it was sitting atop the pop music charts. So as we returned to school for my 8th grade year, the girls were talking about New Kids on the Block. 

The next time I visited the mall I decided to check them out. I liked what I heard and purchased a copy of their album. It was then I realized a song I’d heard on the radio called “Cover Girl” was also a New Kids song.

I thought the New Kids were amazing. Girls liked the New Kids because they were cute, I liked the New Kids because they were cool. I heard someone once say that girls want to be with the New Kids, and guys want to be the New Kids. That was certainly true for me. I bought magazines of them and hung their pictures on my wall. I studied their wardrobe and tried to find clothes that looked like them. 

I think my parents might have been concerned. I tried to get them to buy me shoes like Jordan wore and get a perm so I’d have curly hair like Joe. They refused. One time while in Walmart I saw a poster of Jordan that I liked. I asked my dad if he would buy the Jordan poster for me. After he finished shopping, he asked me to show him the Jordan poster. I still remember the look of disappointment on his face when it turned out to be a poster of Jordan Knight instead of Michael Jordan. He didn’t buy me the poster.

At school and home with my brothers was brutal. My step-brother, who was a massive metal fan, hated the New Kids. He often made fun of me for liking them. The girls at school never gave me a hard time about it, but the boys did. I understood why. Probably 90% of New Kids fans were girls, and in rural Oklahoma being a male New Kids fan made you an oddball. 

I persevered, though. In the fall of 1990 New Kids got a Saturday morning cartoon. The cartoon was okay, but each episode ended with real concert footage, which I saw as a great reason to tune in every week. I also bought their first album and their VHS tapes. When they performed at the American Music Awards and hosted Friday Night Videos, I recorded them so that I could watch them over and over again. 

I knew that going to see them in person would never be an option for me, so these taped performances were the best I could hope for. In 1990 they did a massive ad campaign with Coca-Cola to support their Magic Summer Tour. If you purchased a can of Coke, you could win prizes, including concert tickets. I drank so much Coke that summer, but alas, no concert tickets for me.

Their next album, Step By Step came out in 1990, and they also released a remix album later that year. I loved both of these albums and memorized every song, every rap, every bit of New Kids goodness. However, by 1992 my interest in them was waning, and when they released an album in 1994, I didn’t buy it. I think the New Kids had to face the music that I, and most other fans, had moved on. They broke up in 1995.

Here’s what I learned.

I’d like to say that I learned that it’s okay to like the music you like regardless of what other people say, but that’s not a lesson I’d learned. At least not yet.

New Kids eventually got back together and started touring again. Ironically, I put this episode idea in my spreadsheet in January of this year and in February I chose today for its release date. Then, in March the New Kids announced they were coming out with a new album, which just came out 10 days ago.

But I digress. Back to the story.

Unfortunately, the New Kids haven’t made many stops in Oklahoma City. However, in 2019 it was announced that they’d be coming to OKC as part of their Mix Tape tour.Joining them on the tour was Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, and Naughty by Nature. Once I found out about the tour, I got excited! I even looked into getting tickets. My wife was also a big New Kids fan when she was younger. She’d even got to see them live on the Magic Summer Tour!

Ultimately I decided not to get tickets. Why? I was too scared.

I was afraid of what my brothers might say. I wouldn’t dare post pictures to social media because I’m friends with a lot of my old classmates there and I was afraid of what they might say. Of course, I could always go to the concert and not post photos to social media, but I knew why I’d be opting not to do that, and that seemed dumb. So I just opted not to go.

When it came time for the concert, my social media blew up with several of my old classmates’ photos from the concert! My best friend from high school, who was also a New Kids fan, posted pictures of him and his wife. Everyone that posted pictures looked like they were having the time of their lives. And I was at home watching videos of New Kids instead of enjoying the real thing.

Here’s the part of the story where I finally learned my lesson.

In 2022 New Kids announced another trip to Oklahoma City. This time they were coming with Salt-N-Pepa, Rick Astley, and En Vogue. I wasn’t missing it this time. Kari and I got the best seats we could, arrived early, and enjoyed every minute of it. We even got to see Donnie up close, which excited both the New Kids and Blue Bloods fandom sides of Kari.

We posted several photos to social media while we were there, and we even ran into my high school buddy, James, and his wife.  The concert not only met my expectations, it exceeded them! The only downside was that it made me feel even more foolish for not being brave enough to go see them sooner.

In another bit of irony, my 30 year high school reunion is next weekend. When I put this episode into this spot on the calendar, I didn’t even know we were having a reunion this year. 

New Kids on the Block fans have been affectionately referred to as “blockheads” for decades now. For me, that title is fitting in more than one way.

Maybe you’re not like me. Frankly, I feel dumb even sharing this story. I hope none of you are like this. 

Maybe you are different from me. Maybe you figured out how to unburden yourself from the ridicule, bullying, or social challenges you went through in school. Maybe you are like me and those words, laughs, heckles, or even physical pain still haunt the recesses of your mind. Let me encourage you to hang tough and ignore those voices. 

You find that one of two scenarios are true. Scenario one: those people don’t care about you or what you do anymore. They’ve moved on, matured, or both.  Scenario two: those people do care about what you do and will still look for chances to treat you like they did in high school. In this case, I say, “who cares what they think.” Seriously. If those people are still acting that way, they are the ones with the problem, not you. 

If you’re like me, this is easier said than done. Maybe you can overcome this fear tonight, maybe you’ll need to take it step by step. But the sooner you push through and silence the echoes of their voices, the sooner you’ll be able to truly enjoy life.

I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday.

I want you to be a part of the next Monday Mailbag on April 29th! Monday Mailbag is your opportunity to Share what YOU’VE learned, so that other listeners and I can learn from YOU.  It can be a message as short as 30 seconds or several minutes long.  It really doesn’t matter just as long as it’s something that will benefit others.  You can send in questions or responses to my SILY episodes, and I’ll respond to them via Monday Mailbag episodes. You can participate in Monday Mailbags by visiting the Golden Spiral Media listener feedback page at goldenspirlamedia.com/feedback.