Paradise By The Dashboard Light: A Memoir.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

We were alone in a car in a parking lot, talking and occasionally kissing.

I was still very new to this.

My adolescent years had been a seething hell of isolation, spending three long years without a single friend to call my name, and I had come to terms with the fact that not only would I die a virgin, I’d probably never so much as kiss a girl. And yet thanks to a chain of events that had led me to a group of friends who’d brought me to an Emmaus Catholic gathering had led me to a college girl being interested in me, I was alone in a car with an older girl who occasionally kissed me.

I did not know what to do, really. I was like a housepet, just grateful to be there. I talked, and we sang along with the radio, and occasionally made out and I got to touch parts of a girl that I never thought I’d touch and every bit was this immense gift from heaven.

We hadn’t discussed my virginity, but she had to know it; I radiated virginity, blasting this awkward eagerness like an antenna. And I was, apparently, cluelessly charming for all of that – I knew how to tell a joke, I knew how to listen, I had interesting opinions – but I was not going to press for sex because honestly, it never really occurred to me that it was an option.

I mean, I wanted sex. But I was so terrified of breaking whatever tenuous spell existed in this car, in this odd relationship we had, that I didn’t ask for anything. I just showed up, and did whatever she asked.

And in retrospect, I can see where she was coming from; here I was, this cute and clueless boy with potential, but did she want to take my virginity? Would I imprint on her like a baby duckling, turning this summer fun-time into an agonizing breakup when I tried to follow her to college? I was a bit of a fixer-upper, but how much of a project would I be?

Would I be fun, or a regrettable decision?

And that’s when “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” floated across the radio.

If you’re not familiar with “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” it is a rock operetta where a boy tries to convince a girl to have sex with him in his car, and the girl tries to deny him. It is a three-part, eight-minute song with a surprisingly downer ending; the boy promises to “love her ’til the end of time,” she agrees to do the deed, they become unhappily married forever.

But it does have a lot of harmonies.

And it is super-fun to sing.

And so we sang it, not really thinking of the sex part (or at least I wasn’t), just losing ourselves in the fun of bouncing around in the car and doing a little backseat karaoke.

And then we got to the end.

The end is a sad part where the boy and the girl sing two different parts, independent of each other, signalling how separated they’ve become. Meatloaf sings “It was long ago and it was far away, and it was so much better that it is today” while Ellen Foley sings “it never felt so good, it never felt so right, we were glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife.”

To Beth’s surprise, I was able to sing my part while she sung her part.

We got to the end. Her eyes widened.

“Everyone else gets confused at the end of that song,” she said. “They step on my part.”

“Not me,” I shrugged, not thinking much of it.

Later on, she told me that was the moment she decided to have sex with me.

And in retrospect, I wish I’d asked why – but I didn’t ask why then, that was my whole raison d’etre, I was the cheerful charlie accepting whatever she chose to give.

But I do think I know. I think that little harmony was the proof she needed that I was independent enough – that I wasn’t just following her lead, I was there for my own purposes.

Was it a great sign, a thunderbolt from the heavens? No. But she wanted to be with me, and it was a little push, that tiny nudge, that indicated that I would be okay if she chose to end this relationship at the end of the summer, which she did, which I was, which we were.

I lost my virginity in the back of that car for reasons I did not, and do not, fully understand. It wasn’t great sex – in fact, in retrospect, it was pretty terrible for me. But it was sex, and in that moment I broke a prophecy I’d made about myself that I would be forever alone, forever unkissed, forever shunned like I had been for the past three years running.

I still wear the shattered chains of that prophecy sometimes in my darker days, but I have not been alone, I have not died a virgin, I have not been a waste.

And I’d say that’s thanks to Beth, which is partly true, but it’s also true in part to Jim Steinman, author of that and so many other brilliant, operatic, magnificent songs – the man who wrote that alternating harmony that I will forever associate with a world slowly opening up for me, one kiss at a time, a college girl stunned as she realized that I could sing independently.

Thanks, Jim.

Thanks for being there for me at the right time.


  1. Doug S.
    Apr 21, 2021

    Aww… ❤

  2. Anonymous Alex
    Apr 22, 2021

    Still trying to figure out how you’d step on each other’s parts when you’re singing independently. Just shout over them?


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