I have been laboring away on my novella from the ’80s, so please forgive my nostalgia.
The decade gets a bad rap, still there’s plenty about it to mock.
There was the hair, for one thing. I will not lie… I was guilty of Jersey-mall-ho hair.
True story. In my high school, from which I graduated with 21 other people (17 of them girls), I still had the biggest hair. Sure, there was a girl who had taller hair but for overall square footage, both tall and wide, I won the prize and so they cropped all other senior photos in the yearbook based on my hair.
They figured that if my hair made it into the necessary photographic dimensions, then everyone’s would. Something like this, but brunette.
I am usually pretty chill when people tease me. But tease me about my high school hair, and I will probably kick you. And if you start teasing me about my junior high hair, I will break your arm, and then send back the Terminator to murder the rest of you.
The gnarliest problem I am facing right now is to put myself back into the mindset of the limited communication technology that went along with the era.
Growing up, at our quaint (read: piss-ant) school, there was one payphone on campus that everyone used for all phone calls we didn’t want the school office to know about.
If you had a boyfriend (which I did at the tender age of 14, because everyone else had one and I desperately wanted to fit in), then that was where you called him in the late afternoon, after school but before dinner. It only cost a dime, but you had to work out beforehand the exact minute you would call (with a back-up time in case the phone was in use), via note passed in class, so that he could get to the phone before his parents did.
There were strict rules of family phone etiquette in the 1970s and 1980s, and one of them was that only adults answered the phone.
Or, bare minimum, kids reported to parents exactly who had called and exactly what they had said.
So you always needed a fall guy, someone you could say was calling you (a friend who was calling about homework, for example). And you had to be cool about it, because if you started acting shifty, your parents could “star-69” the call, which meant they would find out who’d really called and then the shit would get real, if you’d lied.
All of this flashback to the ’80s has me missing Stranger Things. At least we get a new season this summer. Yay!
Try finding a payphone anymore. My daughter rolls her eyes whenever I call out, “Hey! Look! An actual payphone!” but they used to be everywhere. They mattered back then.
So I am writing about phonecards (had one of those in college!) and answering machines (still had one of those into the ’90s!) and leaving messages at the front desk of the library.
Then there’s the music. I didn’t know at the time how much it would mold and shape me.
I am very sensitive to sound, good or bad, so perhaps this isn’t surprising. Still, I was a deejay for school dances from 9th to 11th (my senior year, I had chronic senioritis). Along with my gay-but-closeted friend, we amassed a collection of over a thousand 45s.
Because back then, mid-’80s, there was nothing but cassette tapes and vinyl records. CDs wouldn’t hit until I was already in college. Digital downloads only stardust on the moon.
After every Friday game, after all the athletes had gone home and showered, the ritual would commence. Will to my Grace, the two of us would stack up the table with tapes that we had rewound, manually, to within split seconds of the beginning of the song. This would require a separate tape player and headset.
It was when I was no longer deejaying that my hair rose to monstrous heights, in part because of the absence of those headphones.
Then we would intersperse the playlist with 45s, which allowed us to have the most current song for about a buck per song.
45s have a full hole in the middle of them, unlike LPs which have a bullet hole. So I kept a half-dozen of those “doohickeys” that adapt turntables to 45s in my pockets.
I might have, don’t tell my mom, even stolen a doohickey or two from record stores.
Who did I love the most? I loved Madonna, I will not lie. But I also loved Crowded House.
Seriously, if you are my age and hear “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and it doesn’t take you somewhere gauzy and blissful, away from pain and disappointment, you have no soul.
So much I could go on and on and on about, but my current music tastes have roots in the ’80s as well. REM and Michael Stipe have had a profound effect on my life, for good. In large part because I felt that they/he understood me and my struggle against mindlessly conforming to the dominant paradigm.
And then there is Natalie Merchant, formerly of the 10,000 Maniacs. No other musician (not even John Lennon or Bob Dylan) has had more of a guiding hand in my life than she has. She’s the reason my fanfic pen-name is ManiacMotherland.
And it all started with this song.
And then there is U2. Such a powerhouse. It was a big fucking deal when they played Sun Devil Stadium and called out Governor Evan Mecham for nixing the MLK, Jr. holiday. The entire thing had been a boondoggle, on both sides of the aisle, but something about Bono in his Irish brogue talking about slavery and respect, and your blood responds.
Which is why I will end this post with a song that encapsulates my endless wanderlust.