Dear Grandma: Milli Vanilla ≠ Vanilla Ice. A We Went Fast Memory
An Instagram friend spotted a photo of Rob Van Winkle (A.K.A. Vanilla Ice) wearing a We Went Fast t-shirt and it unearthed a funny childhood memory from 1990. Even 11 year old me found it funny. More than you’ll ever know, girl you know it’s true.
Vanilla Ice’s debut album “To The Extreme” spent 16 weeks atop the Billboard 200 and I desperately wanted to be culturally relevant among my fellow 5th graders. (Motocross was an oddity at my school). This was the year I asked Santa for a stereo and CD player for Christmas.
Be like Ice. Wear We Went Fast
And I asked anyone who would listen to (please) get me the Vanilla Ice album “To The Extreme”, which featured the wildly popular song “Ice Ice Baby”.
At the time I didn’t know that Robby Van Winkle loved dirt bikes as much as I did. I didn’t know that he finished 13th in the 125 B class at the 1985 AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn’s. I’m sure I didn’t even know his name was Robby. But I do remember, about a year later, seeing him on TV riding a 1992 Honda CR250 along the pool deck of what I assume was (one of) his mansions.
And, of course, I couldn’t have known that I would someday race against “Ice” in the 2003 Suzuki Crossover Challenge in Anaheim Stadium. I’m proud to say I got beaten by Victor Sheldon and Brian Lopes. Outside of blowing a chance to win that race, my one regret is not chatting with Vanilla Ice and giving him the short version of the story below.
Or maybe I did and I forgot about it because I was super nervous about the event. But that’s a story for another day.
In 1990 I just wanted to “Stop. Collaborate and listen” with the other kids on bus 88-6 as it lumbered down M-57 on the way to Carter Middle School.
On Christmas Eve 1990, Grandma Smith (God rest her soul) handed me a package that had the distinct shape of a compact disc. I tore it open; Bon Jovi’s sophomore album, 7800° Fahrenheit, a 1985 release that even Jon Bon Jovi admits he still overlooks. “Always have, always will,” he said in a 2007 interview. Someone threw another package in front of me; Poison’s Flesh & Blood, a 1990 album that went 4x platinum. I might not have appreciated it in the moment but I love this album today (I also like that Bret Michaels is a moto fan, even if he spells his name wrong, ha ha). A third square-shaped package landed in my lap.
It’s fuzzy but the memory of being watched by my grandmother, aunts, uncles, parents and cousins lies deep within my temporal lobe. I tore off the wrapping paper. And there it was:
Milli Vanilli – “Girl You Know it’s True”
Almost perfect. But not quite.
This was on brand for Grandma, who thought my name was “Brent” instead of “Brett”. And the timing of this came with extra cringe-worthiness because five weeks earlier, Rob Pilatus admitted to the LA Times that neither he nor Fab Morvan sang a single note on this Grammy-winning album. Four days after the news broke, their Grammy for best new recording artist was revoked.
The next morning, a massive box sat under the Christmas tree. It was a Magnavox stereo with a turntable, dual cassette decks and a separate CD player. I used that thing every day for the next ten years. That stereo was definitely one of the best Christmas presents I ever got. At some point during the Christmas break of 1990-1991, I went to the mall and got “To The Extreme” and spent an entire day reading the liner notes and listening to the song. I had to return to school and join the chorus of kids also singing it.
What a crazy life.
Eleven year old me would not have believed that 23 year old me would race against Vanilla Ice and 43 year old me would get an unofficial endorsement from said pop icon. I have Wes Kain to thank for the last one. Wes helped a close friend get backstage to meet Ice this past summer and I sent down some shirts as a thank you.
Maybe someday I’ll get to share this laugh with Rob.
Thanks for reading! If you want to know more about Rob Van Winkle’s early motocross life, Davey Coombs wrote a story in 2018 about Van Winkle competing at Loretta Lynn’s long before he was Vanilla Ice. Share this story with a friend. And if you need to send someone a gift, I want to help! Hit me up at wewentfast.com/shop.
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