Whenever I talk about pop culture, or about American culture in general, I usually zoom in on one year: 1994. 1994 was, to me, the fulcrum between the conventional world I had grown up in, and the radical extreme culture that I foresaw the world turning towards. (A culture soon to be co-opted by the likes of OK Soda). And in 1994, newly converted to Nirvana, I thought that every single song from the 1980s was a piece of vapid, mass-marketed pop. Not a totally unfair opinion to have, but one that would cause endless debates between myself and my sister, who was a bit older than me and still retained fond memories of the 1980s.
And there is a time before I was a politically, socially and self-aware adolescent, when I remember a kind of diffuse ocean of experience, and I remember as a young child, listening to "Time after Time" by Cyndi Lauper. This was when I was too young to know the name of the artist, and when the lyrics "I will catch you, time after time" I interpreted "time after time" to mean "occasionally", which gives quite a different meaning to the song. Even at that age, the song struck me as being different than other love songs: the singer had a huskier voice, and the lyrics seemed to be more parental care then about the typical infatuation and romantic love of most songs.
And now, from the vantage point of 2010, I realize how wrong and right my earlier impressions were. Cyndi Lauper's 1984 song "Time After Time" was in many ways a typical 1980s song, released at a time when rock music was at a nadir, and when synthesizer pop with easy verse chorus verse formats were popular. Cyndi Lauper could be viewed as another version of Madonna. And my very first impressions were also correct: Cyndi Lauper is writing something different than a conventional love song, in that the song is more about faith and devotion than it is about typical infatuation.
The lyrics are also oblique and surrealistic, and as with any good love song, are personal to the point of obscurity, while still seeming to resonate with the listener: at least when Cyndi Lauper (or someone equally skilled) sings them. This is perhaps why the song is so successful, and has been covered so many times.
To me, having listened to this child as a small child, a teenager, and an adult, I have found different meanings in it. As a teenager, I overlooked just how subversive a song like this could be: because a simple song of yearning like "Time after Time" can speak more about the inequalities and frustrations of life than the noisiest, angriest songs ever could.