WiS Notes – The Last Home Year

When I started my research for the Walk in Silence project last year, I’d decided to write some personal notes and reflections on how college radio affected me in the late 80′s.  It was a brief overview of what I want to cover in this book that lasted for twenty-five installments, a sort of a detailed outline of memories, thoughts on influential (to me) bands and albums, friendships, and such.  I’ll be posting these sporadically on the site over the next few weeks or so.


Considering how I desperately wanted to escape the small town by the end of my senior year, I ended up spending a lot of time planting memories and even a few long-lasting friendships then.  Of course at the time I was doing my best to trim anything extraneous that I didn’t want to bring with me to college.  This was my preparation to start a new phase in my life and not look back.  (Best laid plans, but that’s another story entirely…)

I’d decided to call it “The Last Home Year” in honor of it being the last time I’d be there before heading out into the Big Scary World.  The title pretty much mostly referred to the music side of things—especially listening to WAMH.  I have four cassettes that I gave that name to, as that was apparently going to be the last year I’d listen to the station.  If I recall, it might have also been the last year for the student at Amherst who ran the “Haphazard Radio” show, by then one of the best shows ever that I’d heard.

This last half of the year was spent doing a lot of different things.  There was my budding relationship with Tracey, my preparation for college, hanging out with Kris…and it kept me busy
and distracted enough that I wouldn’t fall into a funk.  I was also heavily into my writing at the time as well—after finishing off the Infamous War Novel, I’d started revising it, reimagining and reworking certain parts of it.  There was also the poetry and lyrics, which I’d work on at any available moment (usually study halls and late at night, and sometimes at the radio station).  And there was Belief in Fate,  the story that started as fiction but soon became a fictionalized diary of real events, including my relationship with Tracey.  I kept myself as busy as possible, and I think it wasn’t just to avoid depression, but to kickstart my creative juices that had been semi-dormant for too long.

The start of 1989 seemed promising, musically…bands I’d gotten into in 1987 (New Order, the Replacements, XTC, and so on) were now releasing new titles at the start of the new year.  It sounds strange to say it, but while 1988 had a “late night” left-of-the-dial feel to its indie rock, 1989 started sounding more open, more fresh, like the previous year had been winter and it was now becoming spring—if that makes sense.  The music and the attitude seemed more outgoing and positive, as if it knew it was gathering more steam in becoming the prevalent rock genre, as it did a year or so later.  Many of these songs were getting significant airplay on college radio, and to some extend on the progressive stations like WMDK as well.  Lastly, they were also getting more play on 120 Minutes, which had become the de facto alternative show on TV.  Little by little, I’d also hear some of these songs on regular rock radio (that is, when I listened to it), and during the daytime on MTV.  Not much, but every now and again a gem would pop up. A more radio-friendly track like Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” would show up on playlists, even if it had a weird video.  Most of these songs would stay on radio over the years, becoming AOR or Adult Alternative staples that you could listen to while at work.

[Side note:  I know there was a subculture of indie kids out there at the time that swore off this lighter alt.pop by decreeing it as selling out.  I should know, I had to contend with them in
college.   Still, it was stuff I liked, and I appreciated it because it was well-written music and good stuff compared to the overproduced pop of the time.  While I considered myself somewhat of a nonconformist, I certainly wasn’t a purist…I just couldn’t see myself rebelling against things I actually liked.]

I suppose some of this optimism came from my new relationship at the time.  So much so that I remember telling Tracey that after all those years of being moody and embracing dark ideas in my writing, now that I was with her I was kind of missing that dark side.  It sounded goofy at the time but it made sense—much of my poetry through most of 1988 was dark and angry or moody (and reminiscent of the Cure), and now that I’d fallen in love with someone, that moodiness had seemed kind of trite and lost its allure.  Which in effect was kind of interesting in that some of my non-relationship inspired poetry reflected  loss of something I felt close to for so long.  Funny how I felt that towards emotions I was used to, and not my fellow classmates.

And of course at the start of May, there was the new Cure album, Disintegration.

I’d heard they’d be coming out with a new album that year, and by that time I was a huge fan of the band—I’d gotten into them via Standing on a Beach and had gotten a few of their earlier albums on cassette, and 1987’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me was on  heavy rotation for quite some time.  The first US single off this new album, “Fascination Street”, had been released in late April (and the UK’s first single, “Lullaby”, had garnered some college airplay as well) and I found the cassette single in my Walkman on many a morning on the way to school.  My first reaction to the single was that of awe, as it was darker and heavier than the singles on their last few albums (their previous single was the silly “Hot Hot Hot!!!” which, interestingly enough, had been released around the same time as Buster Poindexter’s similarly titled song—guess which one got more commercial airplay?).  Chris and I were both eagerly awaiting the release.  He bought it on the release day (May 2nd), and I bought it soon after.  I remember hearing it at a mall department store’s music section, and couldn’t wait to pick it up.  And when I did, I wasn’t let down.

The Last Home Year, like I said, was that of preparation.  With my music collection, I had decided that bringing the entire thing to college would probably be a bit much—the same with
the books I had and the stories I was writing at the time.  On a more personal level, Tracey and I saw each other as often as we could, going out on dates and hanging out during the
school day.  My mindset at the time was that I’d finally gotten to the point of escaping this small town—not so much that I was bored or angry with the town itself, but the restrictions it had put on me over the last few years.  I knew that once September rolled around, I’d be in Boston, staying up all hours, going to used record stores when I wanted, and hanging out with all sorts of new people.  I wasn’t so much sick of the people I’d known since childhood, as I just wanted to branch out.

Listening to the radio and my music collection got me through most of that.  There were, of course, bouts of depression and loneliness (the downside being that I’d be further away from most of my friends from two years previous), and most of that was grist for the writing mill—the passages of Belief in Fate and my poetry in particular.

The Last Home Year was also the year of Killing Music By Home Taping.  Let’s be honest, I understood the worry behind that movement, but when you’re a high school student saving up for college and you want to beef up your collection in preparation for it, you end up bothering all your friends with cool collections, stock up on blank tapes from Radio Shack, and dub like crazy.  I’d done that the previous year with Chris—added to the fact that I’d made a list of my own collection for others to borrow if they wanted to copy from me—and it worked out well.  I’d go over to friends’ houses and peruse their collections (holding back on the urge to organize it for them), and sometimes borrow over the weekend.  Some people I could count on certain styles and genres—Chris usually had the alt-rock and punk stuff I didn’t have, Kris had the John Hughes soundtracks, REM and the poppier stuff, Nathane had the weird industrial and punk stuff, and the Cocteau Twins I didn’t have.  I remember one time at my shift at WCAT where Kris and I were chatting on the phone shooting the breeze and making plans on who was going to borrow what at the end of the week.  That isn’t to say I avoided buying music—in fact, I made even more trips down to Amherst and Northampton (and Leominster) with my sisters or my Dad (or Chris and the gang if they were home) and bought many new and used things from the stores out that way.  I even bought a number of cheap titles from Columbia House, something I did well into college.

Suffice it to say, I accumulated quite a lot of music in early 1989…

30 November 2010 – 4 January 2011

WiS Notes: 1988 – The Best Year Ever

When I started my research for the Walk in Silence project last year, I’d decided to write some personal notes and reflections on how college radio affected me in the late 80′s.  It was a brief overview of what I want to cover in this book that lasted for twenty-five installments, a sort of a detailed outline of memories, thoughts on influential (to me) bands and albums, friendships, and such.  I’ll be posting these sporadically on the site over the next few weeks or so.



I suppose most of my love for the year 1988 comes from the fact that it was the second half of my junior year, the school year where I had the most fun and have the most fond memories.  After a good few years of feeling out of place and trying to find myself, meeting up with my friends of that year was definitely a positive for me.

There was also the burst of creativity I’d had as well.  Just before Christmas break in 1987 I’d had this goofy idea of wanting to meet up and jam with others to play this alternative stuff, now that I’d bought that bass guitar.  When I returned after break, I’d put up a flyer sometime in March  or April, looking for like-minded musicians.  Most people scoffed, but two people took the bait—Chris and Nathane.  On April 22nd we became the Flying Bohemians.

Which meant someone—all three of us, really—had to get writing with music.

This, in turn, gave me a new push that I needed for my writing.  Before then, I’d been writing (or at least attempting to write) novels, the major one being the Infamous War Novel.  During 1987 I wrote and finished a silly John Hughes-inspired screenplay, and started many later-aborted stories.  Once I started the Bohemians, however, this gave me the outlet of writing lyrics and poetry.  The early stuff was pretty bad, considering I was new to to the format (or at least coming back to it—I wrote poetry in fifth grade for a special project and still have that stuff lying around somewhere), but I got the hang of it pretty quickly.

A lot of the poetry was, at the time, inspired by the music I listened to.  A lot of the darker and weirder passages were inspired by the Cure (with a nice dollop of weird dreams I’d had that I’d use as a starting point), to the point that some were given subtitles of “The Cure.”  Another was called “Wire Sisters” as it had been inspired by the angular wordplay of Wire and the goth darkness of The Sisters of Mercy.

It would also be much later in 1988-early-1989 (my senior year) that I’d revive a story I’d toyed with earlier that would become Belief in Fate, a second person narrative (POV inspired by Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights Big City, which had just recently been made into a movie), a roman a clef about trying to get the hell out of a small town and yet still being anchored to it.  That story would, like the IWN, go through many different versions over the years until it became a non-fiction book—this one.

As for music, this was a year that just seemed to click for me and everyone else.  Many key albums came out this year (or had come out in late 1987 and were hot during 1988).  To wit:

Sinead O’Connor, The Lion and the Cobra.  This was released early November 1987, but it really took off in early 1988.  O’Connor played against all kinds of feminine stereotypes here–a bald head instead of long flowing locks, an occasionally booming voice that spiked your heart rather than soothed it, and lyrics that held nothing back.  It’s a stunning debut that has funk, Celtic, balladry, and gritty rock all in one place–no wonder so many American reviewers weren’t quite sure what to do with her.  The opening track “Jackie” is a perfect introduction: quiet and plaintive (and mixed low), ascending into deafening and primal (and overmodulated), all within the span of a minute or so.

Public Image Limited, Happy?  A lot of PiL fans tend to like 1986’s Album more (or perhaps their more adventurous early post-punk albums), and I believe even John Lydon thinks this album’s a bit too mainstream, but I quite like this one, and it got a lot of play on my walkman.  It starts with their excellent single “Seattle” and never lets up until the bizarre “Fat Chance Hotel”.

Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses.  An album from September 1987, and a massive breakthrough for the band.  After years of loyal fans but very little radio play in the States, this one featured some of their best songwriting and production (“Never Let Me Down Again”, “Strangelove”, and “Behind the Wheel” were the big singles) and gave them scores of new fans.  It paved the way for their next studio album two years later, Violator, which would of course bring them even more fame.

The Smiths, Strangeways, Here We Come.  Released on the same day as Depeche Mode’s album, this last studio album from the Smiths would be released soon after they’d broken up, but it remains a stellar final release.  Like most Smiths albums, it’s all too short and most of the titles seem longer than the songs, but many are catchy as hell.  This one also has a slightly different sound than most Smiths releases, perhaps a more mature sound, and it ended up being a good hint at what Morrissey’s solo album would sound like.

Cocteau Twins’ Blue Bell Knoll.  After years of being distributed stateside by the indie label Relativity, the band signed with major label Capitol and released a very strong album.  A little more upbeat than previous albums and EPs (and definitely more radio friendly than their previous two, the etherial Victorialand and The Moon and the Melodies), this one caught the ear of many a new fan and critic.  The track “Carolyn’s Fingers”, while not an actual single, got quite a bit of airplay on alternative stations and even had a video that got heavy play on 120 Minutes.  This one hit me as a gorgeous album that somehow aurally captured the mood and feel of a New England spring.  Very heavy play on my headphones that year, and a key album in my learning how to play the bass guitar.

The Church, StarfishTheir make-it-or-break-it album, according to their history.  Many of their albums up to 1986’s Heyday were great albums, but never quite reached the heights they were looking for, even in their native Australia.  They decided to relocate to Los Angeles for this one, and their feeling of dislocation (so to speak) influenced the urgency and tension of these newer songs.  The opener “Destination”, for instance, is evidence of that.  Their big hit—at least in the US, as it barely made a dent in Australia the first time out—“Under the Milky Way”, is a thing of simple and beautiful brilliance.  Written about a nightclub they had frequented in Europe, it became their biggest and most well known hit, and my all-time favorite song.  It, as well as the rest of the album, oddly enough remind me of the feeling of sad inevitability that my friends were leaving for college in September.  Not necessarily the sadness I felt, but the determination that I would have as much fun hanging with them was I could until they left.  To this day this album reminds me of how close we were.  It also, through its jangly reverb sound, reminds me of Athol in the autumn.

Morrissey, Viva Hate.  Morrissey’s debut solo album.  After the acrimonious breakup of the Smiths, a lot of people wondered if Mozz could go it alone, without the songwriting of Johnny Marr.  With lyrics (and Stephen Street) on his side, he came out with a stunning debut that expanded the sound, something no one expected.  Gone was the trademark Marr jangle, replaced by strings and wistful melodies.  The first single, “Suedehead”, went over well, giving listeners a hint of things to come.  The second single, “Everyday Is Like Sunday”, went even further, encompassing both the strong writing and Mozz’s trademark lyrics of despair.  Out of all the former Smiths, he would end up being the most popular and successful.

Peter Murphy, Love Hysteria.  Murphy had been relatively quiet over the last few years after Bauhaus split…the other three kept themselves busy, David J going solo, and Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins forming Tones on Tail before the three reunited and formed the enormously successful Love and Rockets.  Murphy, on the other hand, released an album with Japan’s Mick Karn under the name Dalis Car, before releasing a moderately successful debut, Should the World Fail to Fall Apart.  In 1988, however, he formed a new backing band (The Hundred Men, named after one of his lyrics) and recorded a fantastic sophomore album.  It was certainly an adventurous one, working from dark ballads like “All Night Long” and “Socrates the Python” to poppy and radio friendly atmospherics like “Indigo Eyes”, to anthems like “Time Has Got Nothing to Do With It”.  Unlike the harshness of the previous album, this one embraced the moodier, more ambient sound that Bauhaus was known for on their later albums, and would become his signature sound.  The first single “All Night Long” became a radio hit both on college stations and elsewhere, and its grainy-8mm, sepia-toned video was put on heavy-rotation on 120 Minutes.

Wire, A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck.  During the mid-to-late 80s, a number of bands and musicians mentioned this once-obscure British post-punk band as a major influence—many from Husker Du to REM looked to the band’s early albums and singles from the late 70s for their unique “angular” sound—punk that didn’t go where you expected it to.  The band originally split in 1982 for solo endeavors, but in 1986 they surprised everyone with a return, a new EP (Snakedrill) and a new sound they jokingly called “beat combo”.  They followed the EP with a new album (The Ideal Copy), and in 1988 they released an even more melodic follow-up, led by the poppy single “Kidney Bingos”.  Considered the most “pop” of their albums of this time, it was a welcome return for longtime fans, and a perfect introduction for new fans like myself.  Along with the follow-up single “Silk Skin Paws”, this album connected with many fans of challenging and interesting music.

Joy Division, Substance.  I mention this one, because the US had finally paid attention to New Order in 1987 with their compilation of the same name.  many were familiar with New Order by this time via that album and the movie Pretty in Pink (which featured three of their songs), so it only made sense for their American label to release a compilation of their previous incarnation—one that had a legend of its own in their tortured singer, Ian Curtis.  This album introduced Joy Division to many new fans (including myself), compiling early tracks with well known singles (“Transmission”, “She’s Lost Control”, “Atmosphere” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”).  They were by no means brilliant musicians, but their hooks were definitely memorable, and inspired a whole new generation of musicians and lyricists.  “Atmosphere” is another of my all-time favorite songs (and as stated earlier, the origin of the title of this project) and one I equate to my senior year in high school…it was very much the soundtrack song of my last few days in my hometown.

The Sugarcubes, Life’s Too Good.  America’s introduction to Bjork started here with the deceptively poppy and quirky single “Birthday” (deceptive in that the song’s lyrics are a bit disturbing once you realize what it’s about).  The pixie-ish singer and her cohorts played a very off-kilter brand of Icelandic pop that was both danceable and weird.  Picked up by Warner and distributed with a bright highlighter-green cover, this was a big favorite on campuses everywhere.  They would eventually break out with a US tour alongside Public Image Limited and New Order.  The band only lasted for two more albums, but Bjork is still high-profile, both onstage and off.

The Godfathers, Birth School Work Death.  Not exactly a big name stateside, but a great punk album that has a pretty decent following.  These guys, formerly a psychedelic garage band called the Sid Presley Experience, took on the image of pinstripe suit-wearing gangsters and projected a frustrated anger different from any other punk bands of the time.  Think Johnny Cash if he was British and really pissed off.  My British friend Eric introduced me to this band, which would soon become a mainstay that year on 120 Minutes.  The title song was a frustrated, angry take on the “life’s hard then you die” theme, and a big college radio hit as well.  The album was all rockers, even the slower love song “Just Like You”.

Living Colour, Vivid.  I mention this one next because they shared a bill with the Godfathers on an MTV college campus tour later in 1989, which I want to see at UMass Amherst with Chris and Nathane.  I originally saw these guys as a more mainstream, less controversial Bad Brains, though in retrospect they were more of a Funkadelic-meets-Chili Peppers-meets-metal band.  Either way, their explosive debut single “Cult of Personality”, with its blaring guitar and drums and soulful voice of Corey Glover (LC fans will remember him in a bit part in Oliver Stone’s Platoon a few years previous), hit the airwaves in a huge way—enough that even straight rock stations were picking it up.  Years later this is still a staple on alt.rock radio.  The rest of the album is equally strong, loud and topical.

I could go on with more great albums that came out in 1988…at first I thought the only reason I enjoy these releases so much is because of the time frame—a happy time for my teenage years.  The more I look at it, however, the more I look at the history behind what prompted these releases, the more I realize that this was indeed a year of serendipity for many well-known and well loved musicians.  Some were coming off a tenure with a popular band.  Some were coming into their own after struggling without success.  Still others recorded a make-or-break album that pushed them further in the right direction.

When I read about how 1992 was supposedly “the year punk broke”, I always interpreted that as “the year it went mainstream,” and not exactly in a good way.  Not to sound like an indie poseur, but by 1992 there was such a glut of alternative bands that it all started getting watered down.

In 1988, though…that was the year when “college rock made its presence known”—it became a bit more acceptable to listen to the stuff without fear of contempt, when it started to infiltrate the rock airwaves on the right side of the dial.

15-19 October 2010, edited/amended 8 November 2011

Wis Notes – Home Taping Is(n’t) Killing Music / Mix Tapes and Compilations

When I started my research for the Walk in Silence project last year, I’d decided to write some personal notes and reflections on how college radio affected me in the late 80′s.  It was a brief overview of what I want to cover in this book that lasted for twenty-five installments, a sort of a detailed outline of memories, thoughts on influential (to me) bands and albums, friendships, and such.  I’ll be posting these sporadically on the site over the next few weeks or so.



My older sisters introduced me to taping songs off the radio at an early age, probably sometime in the early to late 70s.  My eldest sister would be heading off to college in a few years and was taping things via sitting the family tape recorder (A bulky and black heavy thing we used everywhere) placed in front of the radio speakers.  She also introduced me to the year end countdown on WAQY out of Springfield.  There were also the tapes of random things—family noises, neighborhood singalongs, partial songs, and other things, interspersed with actual songs off the radio or from our meager record collection.

My own tape collection of the home variety probably started around 1980 or 1981 with copies of albums from the library (Heart’s Greatest Hits/Live from 1980 was a big one), and took off about 1982.  I’d started with taping stuff off the then-new MTV, which progressed to taping off the radio.  By 1984, I was big on the taping—I was listening to WAAF out of Worcester at the time and getting a lot of hard rock on tape, in addition to the classic rock being played on WAQY.  At that point in time I started naming my audio tapes—pretty much all the titles were a song featured on it—and was probably inspired by the K-Tel albums that were still floating around at the time.

Unlike those early tapes that were a mishmash of noises and recordings in random order, these new ones were tapes of songs dubbed straight from the radio using either one of my sister’s tape/radios, or my own recently acquired tape/radio, filled with songs I was looking for, sitting at my desk doing my homework or drawing or writing.  Also by 1984, I finally got around to buying cassettes instead of albums.  I picked out a few albums here and there—and duly snagged my sister’s already worn copy of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA—and another format in my collection was born.

By 1986 my tape collection was slowly growing, probably a few dozen tapes from my joining RCA, as well as stuff bought at various record stores and flea markets.  A year later it grew exponentially, through more purchases, but also due to my new circle of friends’ penchant for dubbing each other’s collection.  Those ninety-minute tapes you could buy anywhere (or even better, the 100 and the 120 minute tapes!) were perfect for dubbing albums…the shorter albums fit neatly on one side, so you could mix and match or even get a good chunk of someone’s discography onto one tape.  Of course there were a few albums that would get cut off, or go onto the other side, but more often than not it fit perfectly.

By spring 1988, when Chris and his gang were about to head off to college, we traded album and song lists (I was one of the few who catalogued theirs early on) and made wish lists of albums we wanted to borrow.   It had nothing to do with wanting to get an album for nothing—that wasn’t even in our thoughts.  No, basically it was that we wanted a copy of the other person’s album to add to our collection, and once they left town, who knew when we’d have a chance to borrow it or hear it again?  Dubbing people’s collections became a spring semester thing after awhile…when I was a senior, I was dubbing albums from Kris and others…when I was in college I was copying my roommates’ and friends’ albums.

I remember Chris got the Smiths’ Strangeways, Here We Come album before I did and he made me a copy on a sixty-minute tate—one side on each side, leaving a good ten mintues or so of space—so I asked him to throw random other Smiths songs on there.  I think he dubbed a few tracks from their self-titled debut and a few from elsewhere (and I think the end of side two had a few tracks from the Violent Femmes’ self titled as well for filler).  Interesting mix, but it sated my hunger for new stuff until I finally bought my own copy.  That was the thing—it was never about stealing music, it was about getting a copy to listen to, just like getting it from the library, and buying it if we really liked it that much.


16-20 September 2010





Out of the furious album dubbing came the compilation making.  I never called them ‘mix tapes’ because I always equaled that phrase with something to be played at parties.  And unless it was a get-together with Chris and the gang, I never went to parties.  I just didn’t run with that crowd.

As mentioned previously, my proto-compilations of yore were radio tapes—random things taped off the stations I listened to back then.  Somewhere along the line there were also the random tapes of stuff I’d taken from the library.  At that time, I just never thought about making a real compilation.

The ones I did end up making grew out of the radio tapes I gave K-Tel-like names to—Can’t Stop Rockin’, Turn Up the Radio, Reaction to Action, titles of featured songs and whatnot.  And with the college radio tapes, I’d just named them College Radio I/II/etc.

The first real compilation with a theme, with all songs from my collection rather than the radio, came in the spring of 1988, with something called Stentorian Music.  By then I’d been coming up with nifty titles for my fledgling lo-fi band The Flying Bohemians, and I thought something hyperbolic and taken out of my sister’s thesaurus (stentorian = loud) would work.  This one then, had all songs worth cranking up—The Vapors’ “Turning Japanese”, Screaming Blue Messiahs’ “Wild Blue Yonder”, Adam Ant’s “Friend or Foe”, the Pretenders’ “Tattooed Love Boys”, etc.—fitting onto a sixty minute tape.

This was quickly followed in the next few days or so by a compilation of quiet songs to listen to at one in the morning (Cimmerian Candlelight, featuring The Cure’s “All Cats Are Grey”, Felt’s “Primitive Painters”, The Woodentops’ “Give It Time” and so on), and a third one featuring new wave, technopoppy stuff (Preternatural Synthetics, which understandably had Art of Noise, Information Society, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, to name a few bands).  Not the most brilliant or coordinated, or smoothly-flowing mix, but they were the first three featuring nearly all “college music”.

These first three were trial runs in a way, testing out compilations of different kinds.  I followed these up with a few more, including a few duds like an aborted Remix series (all extended remixes of songs), one called Under the Ivy (named after a Kate Bush song, and featuring all single b-sides).  The first great one was Listen In Silence, so named as it was a tape I’d most likely listen to late at night, or that the songs were from tapes I listenened to at that time of night.  Either way, the aim was to create a compilation of my favorite college radio songs of the time.  Listen was a mix of old and new, purchased and borrowed.  It featured a lot of my favorites of the time, such as The Church’s “Under the Milky Way”, Midnight Oil’s “Dead Heart”, Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun”, and so on.  Nearly all the tracks were songs I’d heard either on WAMH or on 120 Minutes.  A few odds and ends were tracks I found at my brief job at the local radio station [more on that later].

I got fully into the compilation making to the point that I even gave them a label name to “release” them under: Plazmattack.  [Long story short: Plazma was an odd nickname given to me as a kid, and I’d used that portmanteau in various silly things such as my writing and art.  Its logo was a rune-like ‘P’ in diamond.]  I even got creative enough to make some c-cards for the tapes, though I never made any art for them (that I left for the TFB releases).  I never wrote down the exact dates of the early ones, but I can still make a good approximation as to when they were made, because of what was on them and when they were most listened to.

The next title that stayed was the one that shares the title of this project, Walk In Silence.  It’s the first line to Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”, which became one of my favorite songs of 1988 as the next-to-last track on the cassette version of the band’s Substance retrospective.

That year culminated with a best-of-year compilation, harking back to the years I spent listening to end-of-year countdowns on the radio.  This wasn’t so much a countdown, though, as much as it was a best-of.  Opening with the wistful “Will Never Marry” by Morrissey (a b-side from his “Everyday Is Like Sunday” single), it featured all my favorite tracks from my favorite year in music.  Cocteau Twins, Wire, The Church, Peter Murphy, Information Society, Front 242, Jane’s Addiction, Morrissey, U2, Joy Division, and so on, and title taken from Wire’s “A Public Place” (the last track on that year’s A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck), Does Truth Dance?  Does Truth Sing?  The Singles 1988.  It was the pinnacle of a really fun, cool year.

I went through phases with compilations over the years.  Some years I’d have over a dozen comps made, and some years there would only be four or five.  It really depended on what was going on at the time…this first wave of comps lasted until about 1990, when I stopped obsessing as much over music due to focusing on college work.  The next phase, 1991-1993, was pretty sparse, 1994 was almost nonexistent (except for the Two Thousand soundtrack/compilation for a story I was writing at the time).  In 1995 things changed a bit—these were comps made to mirror my desperation of the time.  Quite a few were made during my tenure at HMV Records, 1996-2000, as well as my Yankee Candle years (2000-2005) when I was making weekly trips to Newbury Comics in Amherst.  The compilations have kind of died down since then, especially now that my collection is completely digital, but I’ve thrown virtual collections together now and again.

20-21 September 2010, revised 7 November 2011

WiS Notes – Fuzzbox, Sputnik and The The: Night Flight

When I started my research for the Walk in Silence project last year, I’d decided to write some personal notes and reflections on how college radio affected me in the late 80′s.  It was a brief overview of what I want to cover in this book that lasted for twenty-five installments, a sort of a detailed outline of memories, thoughts on influential (to me) bands and albums, friendships, and such.  I’ll be posting these sporadically on the site over the next few weeks or so.



Before there was 120 Minutes on MTV, there was Night Flight on USA Network.  NF was a four-hour block on weekends that played all kinds of weird things typically aimed at the arty or creative college kids.  They’d do a retrospective of a video director, or a themed show of music from Australia, or cult movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Fantastic Planet, or band overviews, or what have you.

In 1986, the show featured a mini-film based on The The’s then-new album, Infected, a collection of eight videos filmed around the world and sharing a theme of being caught in uncomfortable situations—the theme of the album.  I of course taped it, partly due to having seen the video for the title song on previous NF episodes.  Additionally I’d read a review of the album from a music magazine (the name of which still escapes me) and was intrigued.  I’m thinking I bought the tape at Strawberries in Leominster, but I could be wrong.

About the same time, the music magazine I read, Star Hits, had made a big thing out of this new band from England called Sigue Sigue Sputnik.  Their claim to fame was being signed to EMI for a Malcolm McLaren-worthy four million dollars, not to mention having a sound akin to incredibly cheesy techno and a fashion sense of frightwigs, punk and all things Bladerunner.  One of my pen pals at the time, a girl from the UK, put their single “21st Century Boy” on a compilation for me.  That did it—I was hooked.  If I wasn’t going to be the morbid and moody Cure fan all the time, Sputnik’s Dionysian anarchy was good enough for me.  Silly release!  Why not?

And lastly, there was the other fun punky band I latched onto via Night Flight and Star Hits, We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!! (exclamation marks intended).  This tatty foursome were like British punk girls you didn’t so much want to go out with as you knew them as friends or at least crushes.  They didn’t have the best musical abilities, but damn it, they were too cute not to like!  And added to that, you realized their version of punk was what resonated with you most.  Not the angry stuff, not the political stuff, but this, the celebration of being yourself and having fun doing it, and to hell with everyone else!

These three albums made quite the difference to me in late 1986, because that was when I’d started to change my outlook on life.  I’d started drifting away from popular Top 40 music because it was boring me…I’d drifted away from trying to fit in with the popular crowd because that was a lesson in futility.  And yet I was drifting away from older friends, some I’d known since elementary school, because I’d stopped trying to fit in with them.  Some of these old friendships remained, but for the most part I started drifting.  I’ll be honest and say that part of it was class in nature—most of my these friends were from families that, while not exactly poor, didn’t exactly aim any higher than they were expected to.  These were the people that most likely weren’t going to go to college—basically graduate high school, get a job somewhere, and start a family before they hit twenty-five.  I don’t hold that against them in any way, and I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that choice–it’s just that it wasn’t me. While I fit in for the most part with their group—more like they accepted me without question, unlike the more opinionated popular crowd—I realized I was different in that I wanted and needed to aim higher than that.  Part of me felt guilty of course, but part of me was relieved that I’d come to this realization.

These three albums were part of this realization, albums I’d listen to on my walkman late at night when everyone else was asleep.  It was my escape into another life I could prepare myself for—the rampant silliness and anarchy of Sputnik, the willful nonconformity of Fuzzbox, or the stark, no-holds-barred reality of The The.  There was an opening that made itself present to me, and all I needed to do was take it.

At the time, it was taken in baby steps, as I tended to be of the school of thinking before acting.  Sometimes too much so, but at least it was in the right direction.

In the writing field, my fiction made a turn for the strange, with the Infamous War Novel I’d been writing for the last year or so started taking on darker, weirder plot twists.  Newer stories such as the nightmarish Dream Weaver and the roman a clef Teenage Thunder (yes, I stole song titles for all my writing at the time) I wrote while at my job at the YMCA, cornering myself on the back steps and frantically scribbling away when I wasn’t poring over the latest music magazine.

Socially I started testing people out by throwing this music at them.  Some of them understood my excitement, having older siblings that listened to the stuff, but they themselves weren’t too excited.  “It’s okay, but who sings about a ‘piss-stinking shopping center’?” one of my friends said to me about The The’s “Heartland”.

It must have been late 1986 or early 1987 when I went for broke and wrote a record review of Flaunt It for the school newspaper.  My only motive for doing so was that I thought it was a hilarious and fun album and I thought others might want to know about it.  Sure, there was an element of showing off my newfound nonconformity, but readers could take what they wanted from it, if at all.  There may have been some pushback when I submitted it, though I don’t remember either way.  I’d been writing for the school paper in one way or another since junior high.  It was kind of expected, considering having a reporter father.

I must have been a few days after the publication when Jim B. walked up to me, asked if I was the one who wrote the review, and proceeded to thank me profusely for it.  Someone had reviewed an album that wasn’t Top 40 crap!  Even more so, someone reviewed something cool with the other nonconformist kids!

I was absolutely thrilled by the payoff.  Over the course of the next few days, a few others had run into me and thanked me for the review or thought it was cool.  One was Chris, one of the guys I’d met briefly in junior high but had lost touch with despite our getting along like gangbusters (and, as it turns out, being distantly related).  Through him and the others, I met a new circle of friends that, to my surprise, totally fit in with my new mindset.  The only problem was that they were all a year ahead of me.  I didn’t take that too hard at first, though…since freshman year I’d met, hung around or got in trouble with others a few years ahead of me.  I’d worry when the time came.

As the 86-87 school year wound down, I started hanging out with this group almost exclusively, going over each others’ houses to play games, watch movies, and of course talk about music.

Chris and I seemed to latch onto each other the most, mostly due to our mutual love for college radio and music in general.  In a way he was the cool older brother I didn’t have.  Every now and again we’d meet up, compare each other’s latest music purchases, and dub them if we could.  We were both part of the music club crowd, so we’d be really bad influences sometimes, ordering albums we didn’t have the money for.

This new group of friends I had ended up running into each other or hanging out over the course of the summer.  We’d go to movies, hang out at Hampshire Mall, and have all sorts of fun.  And for me this was important because these guys were the class geeks, the upper rank of students.  We didn’t always talk about mundane things—we had all sorts of intellectual conversations.  Even when I was lost and resigned myself to just listening, it was a change from the teen soap opera conversations I’d hear with others in my own class.

By late 1987, this was my new circle of friends, and ones I’d cherish for a long time.  I would probably need to thank those three bands—The The, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and Fuzzbox—for being a catalyst for getting us together.


13-16 September 2010

WiS Notes – Collecting

When I started my research for the Walk in Silence project last year, I’d decided to write some personal notes and reflections on how college radio affected me in the late 80′s.  It was a brief overview of what I want to cover in this book that lasted for twenty-five installments, a sort of a detailed outline of memories, thoughts on influential (to me) bands and albums, friendships, and such.  I’ll be posting these sporadically on the site over the next few weeks or so.



My parents were enablers.  Well, that, and I was insistent that they buy me such-and-such’s album.  Still, it wasn’t in a bad way that they enabled my music addition.  When we went shopping at the local mall, I’d gravitate to the music stores while my mom shopped for clothes and my dad spent his time in the bookstores.  They didn’t mind that I went alone, because they knew that’s where I’d be and where I’d stay until they came to get me.

My first collection, of course, was the Beatles.  After receiving the Blue Album (1967-1970) as a Christmas gift, I started my search for Beatles albums I needed to complete the discography.  They came from varied areas—Help! came from my uncle, Abbey Road and a few others from the local department stores, still others from tag sales, flea markets, and elsewhere.  The Beatles were the first band where I went out of my way to acquire a complete discography (including various bootlegs).  It wasn’t enough to get the US catalog that was available at the time…I had to find the rare b-sides like “The Inner Light” and “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”…the ones that hadn’t been released elsewhere.

Once I started actively listening to music—sometime around 1981 or 1982—and more to the point, around the time I’d started taping stuff off the radio (1983-4 or so), that’s when I really started the collecting thing.

Part of it was due to acquiring various music reference books or taking them out of the library, and part of it was due to the info on new releases that radio deejays would give out.  Most of it was from the books, though.  And once I started listening to college radio, a lot of it came from a copy of the Trouser Press record guide form the local library (and then my own, once I found it at a book store).

Once I had all this info, I would wonder what those albums sounded like—not to mention what the covers looked like, since the stores in my town obviously never carried them.  That sort of sparked, or at least fed, the mystique of college radio as something nocturnal [more on that later].

About 1984 onwards, my dad would let me buy an album or a cassette or two while on our roadtrips.  Most of them were popular, easy-to-find titles like Purple Rain, Born in the USA and so on.  It wasn’t until 1986, after I started listening to college radio, that the collecting really kicked in.  One of the first acquisitions was the cassette version of The Cure’s Standing on a Beach—the one with the b-sides on it.  I figured that would be a good place to start. (Amusingly enough, when I heard “Let’s Go to Bed”, I immediately remembered that song from the early days of MTV.  Small world, and that wasn’t the last time that would happen.)  That soon led to other first acquisitions—The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow (found at a record store in North Adams), Depeche Mode’s “Shake the Disease” single (found in a cutout bin at a K-Mart in Leominster!), and others.

Truthfully, I really had no real idea who to look for, since I was new to the genre.  I basically looked for who I recognized from Trouser Press (or was mentioned in Star Hits, the teen music magazine I read at the time), or who I heard on college radio or on Night Flight and later on 120 Minutes.  That would explain why I gravitated towards the more well-known of the bands—The Cure, Depeche Mode, and The Smiths.

Another way of collecting was via those record clubs one used to see advertised in TV Guide and in newspaper inserts.  I believe RCA was the first one I joined, sometime around early 1987.  By then I had a few part-time jobs—one had been at Victory Supermarket downtown, and later at the local YMCA.  What little funds I got from that job that didn’t go into a savings account went to my pocket.  That was my money for music magazines, candy, and the occasional cassette or LP, and also the money used so I could pay off the music club.  I bought a small number of albums and ordered things for my sisters as well.  One early purchase from them was World Party’s Private Revolution on cassette.  I believe I also snagged a few albums on vinyl that were on sale.

I quit RCA around late 1987 when my friend Chris tried to get extra albums by signing his friends (read: me and a few others) to join Columbia House.  I decided to join that one basically because it had a better selection—that is, RCA was more mainstream and CH was more adventurous in their selection.  I stayed with them  until college started, I believe, and finally quite for good sometime in 1991.

Back to stores—I spent most of my money at the mall stores, simply because they were more accessible.  The Strawberries at Searstown Mall in Leominster had a great selection (I’d buy many major-label titles there like Music for the Masses, Love Hysteria, Flaunt It (the vinyl version), and so on).  There were two at separate ends of the Hampshire Mall in Hadley—the one at the western end next to JC Penney (whose name I’ve forgotten) had a great selection.  I remember being pleasantly surprised (and the cashier indifferent) when I found Love Tractor’s This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship on cassette there, soon after I heard it on WMUA.

My foray into the independent stores came early, specifically when I started looking for Beatles bootlegs.  That’s Entertainment in Worcester was one such place my Dad took me in the early 80s.  That was a neat store, because it carried a lot of their hard-to-find solo albums, like the early pre-Plastic Ono Band discs that John Lennon did with Yoko.

I think it must have been soon after I started listening to college radio that my dad brought me to Al Bum’s—first to the one on in Worcester, then to the one in Amherst—and soon after that, to Main Street Records in Northampton.  Al Bum’s was a local mini-chain of new and used titles, and definitely catered to the college crowd.  And since we didn’t go to Worcester as much as we did the Pioneer Valley (mostly due to ease of driving there), so the one in Amherst became a hangout.  I found a few Beatles boots there, and later many alt.rock titles I’d been looking for.

By association, we also went to a storefront that was originally an outlet of a Noho store called Faces.  That store in particular carried the usual proto-Hot Topic clothes and accessories (I was into silly pins back then, as everyone was).  In the back, there was a small record store-within-a-store (sort of like the old fashioned Five and Dimes) called For the Record.

It was here that once I’d started buying more college rock titles, I’d find some great titles to add to my collection.  One was Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Flaunt It which I’d heard about through Star Hits.  Another was The The’s Soul Mining, which I’d picked up after buying Infected elsewhere (possibly at a mall store).  Flaunt It would end up being one of my life-changing purchases (so to speak), as not only did the music excite me and inspire my rebellious streak, I’d meet a whole new group of friends after writing a review of it in the school paper [more on that later as well].

Once I started hanging with that group, it became a weekend thing to drive down to Amherst and/or Northampton to hang out.  These people were just shy of a year from graduating high school, so they of course gravitated to the Five College area (instead of roadtrips to, say, Keene or Leominster or Worcester).  The Valley’s ambience grabbed us and fit our mindsets perfectly.

We made Al Bum’s our second home, as well as Main Street Records.  Not to say that’s all we did, of course—we did go to the movies, eat out (the Panda East in Amherst was a favorite), and basically hung out, like any high school group.  Just that mine had a few core members who were as big on the music as I was, and we gravitated to the music stores most of the time.

Of course, the collecting wasn’t always about buying.  In our own way we were guilty of ‘Home Taping Is Killing Music’ by borrowing each others’ tapes and vinyl, and dubbing them onto cheaply bought blank tapes we’d buy at Radio Shack or the department store or wherever.  It almost became a ritual to let each other know who had what and borrow it throughout the course of the year.  For the most part we were good about it, borrowing on a Friday and getting it back to them on a Monday.  By the time my friends graduated high school, we were dubbing in earnest, trying to level off each others’ collections before everyone left in the fall.

At that point, in the late 80s, my penchant for collecting wasn’t as intense as it was later on…I was content to search for albums and not every single minutiae that got released.


August 31 – September 10, 2010