When I said that I grew up in a town without radio, I exaggerated only slightly. For most of my life, we had two A.M. stations. One, all Top 40 all the time. The other, a mix of Top 40 and “oldies”. I use the quote marks because last year’s Top 40 was this year’s oldie. However, the resourcefulness of our species is a wonder to behold, and we were also able to listen to real oldies.
I’m not entirely sure how she did it, but somehow my mother rigged up a system that involved the cable for the television, aligning planets (we were on Venus, so it was really a matter of getting Mercury to behave), and making sure that nobody (younger siblings as I was a perfect angel) touched anything. Once all of that happened, we were introduced to such classics as “Leader of the Pack” (look out, look out, look out…).
The thing is, I grew up thinking these songs were really old. You know, from another century. Let’s face it, we had disco (and if you lived in a real city, you had punk). We had Casey Kasem. Only people stuck in the past listened to “Teen Angel”. Even at the tender age of 10 or 11 or whatever, I snickered at the innocence of days gone by (though, full disclosure, I fully admit that I belted out “Hit the Road, Jack” whenever I could).
Flash forward, 2007. We’re here in San Diego, home of the wired wireless connection. We’re hanging in the pool. It’s a great summer evening. The water’s at the perfect temperature, the Go-Go’s are all over the idea of a vacation. It’s good.
As a rule, we sort of tune out music in public places. Most of it is really bad. Most of it was bad when it was released, but once it hits the standard mixes that places like hotels deem safe and inoffensive, all bets are off. So we’re floating and talking and wondering why we never go swimming (no pool, for one thing) when we’re realizing that we’re hearing the English Beat (later, we believed we also heard the Paul Collins Beat).
Strange, but okay, “Mirror in the Bathroom” was probably more popular than we thought. But instead of serving as white noise, the music became part of our experience. We were listening to the songs, some of us cringing when it came time for Kajagoogoo.
Then, well, Kirk says, “Is this Bad Manners?” He stops and listens to the “Bang on the Drum All Day” song, and says, “No, that’s not Buster Bloodvessel.” I think he was sort of relieved but also kind of of hopeful. After all, the mix contained some great Joe Jackson and a lot of other songs that we weren’t so very ashamed to be caught enjoying. Coolness has its price, you know.
It was pure 80’s rock, only it was 80’s rock the way we remembered it, not the way most of America heard it. Except, well, there were always people singing along and bobbing their heads and generally suggesting that they knew these songs. Five-year olds. Ten-year olds. Listening to, yes, oldies.
It was late Sunday and I was listening to, oh, I can’t remember their name, that band from Australia. Men at Work? Anyway, this kid and his mom were singing together about Vegemite, the kid was like three. Old enough to doff his swim trunks and run around naked, not old enough to care that his parents were trying to pretend he wasn’t with them. So, they’re singing and I’m thinking, this is what is was like for my mom.
And, yeah, I felt old. Really old.