Coming of age: 4 Non Blondes, “What’s Up” (1992)


(Above: Gisborne, New Zealand, where I lived for about a year in the mid-90s.)

It’s weird to think that the song that starts with the line “25 years and my life is still/Tryin’ to get up that great big hill of hope/For a destination” turns 25 years old next year.  Released in 1992, 4 Non Blondes’ Bigger, Better, Faster, More! yielded only this one hit single, making the San Francisco band a true one-hit wonder.  The song popped up on my radio this morning, and I got to thinking about it.

That hit was much bigger around the world.  While making only #14 in the US, the song reached the top of the charts in most of Europe save only the UK and France, where it was still close.  In both Australia and New Zealand it peaked at #2.

My time in New Zealand is what I associate the song with most.  I packed up my things and threw them on a boat to move to Gisborne, New Zealand in the late summer (winter?) of 1994. At that time I was – you guessed it – 25 years old and looking for a fresh start.  My radio career had met with, shall we say, a lower level of success than I had hoped to see by that point.  I was a part of the #2 morning show in Springfield, Illinois, at that time the #192 market in the United States. I was a part of an oldies station that played it wildly safe in terms of playlist and was myself micromanaged beyond comfort, eventually getting to a point where the station’s corporate office wanted to see a schedule of bits we planned for the morning show each day. The low point may have come when the station manager and program director thought that a hilarious promotion would be for the show’s co-host and me to take listeners on a trip to Las Vegas, where they would witness our wedding.  Then, we’d take the same listeners to Reno, where they could be witness to a quickie divorce.  I suggested that that may fly in the face of the family values the Oldies audience espouses, and, besides, I didn’t want to take on a tax beneficiary for a morning show bit. As a result I was seen as “uncooperative.”  So, when the opportunity to take a job at the farthest possible point from the station came up – well outside the bounds of any non-compete agreement less than 9,000 miles – I took it.

There was a mix tape that I made for the trip with songs about packing and leaving. “L.A. Goodbye” by the Ides of March made the list (a song that your local Oldies station should be playing), and so did this one.

Once I got to New Zealand I ended up working with creating promotions for a station that leaned much younger than the Springfield Oldies station. We partnered with a group in Gisborne called the Sun Fun Club, a group of young people that interacted with school children for events in the park and so on. Imagine my surprise when, at the first event, the Sun Fun Club emerged to perform a skit to the tune of “What’s Up.”  But it wasn’t the version I knew.  It was a dancy, upbeat club version that I learned was quite popular down there. I suddenly felt like the oldest person in the room.  Come to think of it, I was.

Maybe there will be a re-release for Gen X denizens approaching milestone birthdays in the next few years. After all, even as you close in on fifty years, there’s still a pretty good chance that you’re still trying to get up a great big hill to a destination.  At least I hope you are, as opposed to crossing that hill and coasting down the back side of it to the bottom.

You can yell along with Linda Perry a bit by clicking here.


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