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.
THE LAST HOME YEAR
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