Walk in Silence 18

Moments in time, late 1988.

Joy Division, Substance (released 11 July 1988).  In between the Flying Bohemians jam sessions, I was teaching myself how to play bass by playing along to some of my favorite albums of the time.  I picked up on Peter Hook’s distinctive style (a countermelody high up on the fret board) pretty quick and would often run through “Transmission” and all of the second half of this album.

The Go-Betweens, 16 Lovers Lane (released August 1988). Another case of me really liking a band just as its members were about to head their separate ways.  This one’s a lovely and melodic record that got a lot of play on WMDK and WRSI.  I’d hear them playing either this song or “Streets of Your Town” every morning as I was getting ready for school.

The Wonder Stuff, The Eight-Legged Groove Machine (released August 1988).  A goofy band from the Midlands UK that got a lot of play on WAMH.  I picked up this cassette at Tower Records, along with Dead Can Dance’s Within the Realm of a Dying Sun, during a trip to Boston around the time of its release.  The trip itself was a visit to Emerson College to check out the school.  [Yeah, I’d pretty much already made up my mind which college I’d be heading to by that point.]

Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking (released 23 August 1988).  This band was the shit that autumn.  You’d hear “Jane Says” everywhere.  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this band at first, as I wasn’t sure if they were trying to be metal, punk, alternative, or all three at once…but they grew on my pretty damn quick.  Especially this song.  I may have ‘liberated’ this album from the radio station, under the pretense that there was no way in hell anything on this album would ever be played on-air there…

Living Colour, Vivid (released 3 May 1988).  This one’s slightly out of chronology, but I put it here because of MTV.  The channel had come up with a ‘new music’ tour of college campuses with The Godfathers headlining, and in early October they’d made a stop at UMass Amherst.  Chris and I wasted no time buying tickets and squeezing our way into the crowded student union building to see these guys perform.  It was the first show where I’d witnessed a moshpit first hand, and had I been more adventurous at the time, I’d have jumped right in.

Siouxsie & the Banshees, Peepshow (released 5 September 1988).  I picked up a used copy of the vinyl version of this album cheap at Al-Bum’s, if I’m not mistaken.  I’d been a passive Siouxsie fan for a good couple of years, but this album was the one that made me become a bigger fan.  It’s poppier and trippier than the moody Tinderbox, with a lot of wonderful songwriting and atmospheric production.

They Might Be Giants, Lincoln (released 25 September 1988).  Whereas TMBG’s first album was filled with weird non-sequiturs, silly imagery and bizarre ranting, their sophomore album was a bit more laid back.  It took me a bit of time to get used to it, as I felt there were a few songs that would have benefited from being short segments rather than full songs, but despite that, I still loved their offbeat humor.

Front 242, Front by Front! (released October 1988).  EBM (Electronic Body Music) never really got much of a foothold here in the States, but I certainly loved it whenever it popped up on WAMH.  It was dance music, but its aggression and metallic sound made it lean towards what would soon be called Industrial.  “Headhunter” is by far one of my favorite songs of 1988, and it sounds excellent in headphones.  I remember running into Chris at Al Bum’s (he’d taken the bus up from his dorm) one weekend when I bought this.

Ultra Vivid Scene, Ultra Vivid Scene (released October 1988).  Right about the same time I was getting into the dark atmospherics of the 4AD label (with Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil, to name a few), the label was signing and releasing bands with a much harder and louder edge, such as Pixies and Ultra Vivid Scene.  Chris and I both loved this album, a few of its songs making numerous appearances on our mixtapes.  Fun trivia: yes, that is in fact Moby playing the guitar in the background!

U2, Rattle and Hum (released 10 October 1988).  Following up on The Joshua Tree, U2 went on a very long tour and decided to record new music along the way.  The end result is a double album featuring live performances of past hits and new tracks infused with Americana.  A documentary film was attached as well.  Many reviewers felt the album bloated and the film too self-important, but both have actually aged really well, to be honest.

Ministry, The Land of Rape and Honey (released 11 October 1988).  Ministry was another band that was hard to pin down.  Equal parts metal, hardcore punk, goth, and industrial, and angry as hell.  I gravitated towards this album mainly due to the energy of “Stigmata”, but also thanks to the ultraviolent (yet funny, thanks to its deliberately bad lyrics) album track “Flashback”, both of which got a lot of play on WAMH.

The Fall, I Am Kurious Oranj (released 31 October 1988).  Another band I knew a lot about but never owned an album of theirs until this one.  A soundtrack for a Michael Clark ballet losely based on the history of William of Orange?  Sure, why not?  Mark E. Smith’s vocal delivery is definitely an a acquired taste, but the album is indeed fascinating and fun.

Blue Clocks Green, “Hemingway” single (released November 1988).  Simultaneously voted most favorite and most reviled song on WAMH that school year, depending on which DJ you asked.  A ‘so bad it’s good’ track that gets stuck in your head for days.  Its 12″ single was known for containing a remix which was essentially the single mix played in reverse.

REM, Green (released 8 November 1988).  “Two things to do November 8,” the postcard and the advertisement said, followed by two images: the cover of Green and a voting booth.  Their first album for a major label after years of being on IRS, the album is a mix of poppier singles, darker-edged sounds and even a few light-hearted moments in amongst the more political tracks.  Pretty much huge hit for my entire circle of friends.

Cowboy Junkies, The Trinity Session (released 7 December 1988).  My first major brush with alternafolk that resonated with me (I was never a big fan of Tracy Chapman or 10,000 Maniacs).  I loved that it was recorded in a church, capturing the natural echo and ambience.


Walk in Silence 17


“The problem I have with all my nonconformist friends leaving is that I don’t have anyone to nonconform with anymore.”

Yes, I said that.  In jest of course, knowing full well how silly it sounded.  I was talking with Kris (the girl from typing class, yes) when I said it one morning while we were waiting for school to start, and she of course laughed at me in response.  But you get the idea.  It’s kind of a downer when nearly all your closest friends you’ve ever had a spot-on connection with has left for greener pastures, leaving you behind.  The fun of being the class weirdo kind of loses its sheen when the public response is indifference.

But that was the point:  sure, I was saddened that they’d all moved on and left me behind…but I could get over that.  Some of them had gone down to UMass, so a visit would be simply a short half-hour trip down to Amherst.  Plus we could always send letters if need be.  Chris and I had already planned on doing a bit of that over the next year to share ideas for Flying Bohemians songs.

No, the thing that bothered me was that my social life had unhinged itself.  I had no anchor, no gang to hang out with.  I’d continued hanging with Kevin — we’d both single-handedly saved the school newspaper after the school’s budget for it had plummeted and they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) have the local newspaper print it out for us anymore.  And Kris had become my partner in crime where college rock was concerned; we’d dub most of each other’s music collection over the course of my senior year.  But the fun I’d had with the Misfit crew — the silliness, the chats, the camaraderie — it wasn’t there with anyone else still in town.  But I could handle that.  I just had to make it on my own somehow.

I also had to make some adjustments.  There was a teen center that had opened down at the other end of my street a year or so previous called Crossroads (a former restaurant that, yes, was at a four-way intersection).  They had a local dj playing the Top 40 hits and a bar selling sodas and Shirley Temples.  I wasn’t a regular, but I’d head there maybe once a month just to hang out with friends.  At the end of 1987 it was always busy and packed with kids from town and elsewhere, but by autumn 1988, the scene was kind of dead.  There were still a few regulars, some slightly older townies and so on, but the excitement had worn off and the kids were finding stuff to do on a Friday night elsewhere.  The last time I went there was early in September.  Some old friends were there but they seemed to be as bored and distracted as I was.  I left an hour later and walked home on my own, never heading there again.

The entire town seemed kind of…well, I wouldn’t say dead, but old and dusty.  Unchanging.  And the things that were changing weren’t always for the better.  One of the local factories had closed up shop, leaving numerous locals out of a job.  Some of the local stores that had been favorites for decades were closing — sometimes for economic reasons, but also because they were just out of date and the owners were retiring.  At my school, the drama club had vanished; the teacher who’d run it had left, and some of the teachers weren’t interested in being in charge unless they got paid for it.

The music I was listening to seemed to reflect that.  When Cocteau Twins’ Blue Bell Knoll arrived in mid-September, I could just about hear the slow disintegration of my childhood.  I heard the silence of my neighborhood, all of its kids grown up and already moved on.  The creaking of old trees and the sad hiss of wind through dead leaves and branches.  The lonely distance of the sparse traffic of Route 2, a mile or so south of my house.

I had one more year to get through, but I could not wait to get the hell out.

My writing projects had changed as well.  After that moment of clarity at the radio station, my poetry and lyric writing had become less of a chore and more of an outlet; it became a personal journal, a way for me to deal with my own issues, albeit in an oblique and creative way.  I’d stalled on the IWN sequel, having gotten about a third of the way before I’d run out of ideas.  Two new stories popped up, ideas I’d come up with a year or so earlier but hadn’t expanded upon:  Dreamweaver, a horror story about a college kid whose violent nightmares become reality; and Belief in Fate, a roman a clef (yeah, I went there) written in second-person (inspired by Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights Big City) in which I dramatized (read: overdramatized) the ups and downs of my senior year.

As much as I want to dismiss the writing of Belief, especially for its one-note repetition of my feeling absolutely miserable and sorry for myself for many and varied reasons, it ended up being even more of an emotional release for me than my poetry and lyric writing.  Although the first chapter was written a year or so previous, the rest of the novel served as a way for me to actually come to terms with my emotional side.

[Let’s be brutally honest for a moment: it was 1988, and if you were a teenage male in a small town and publicly showed emotions or any sign of weakness, you’d probably have been labeled a pussy or a fag and the more troglodyte of the jocks would have never let you forget it.  Maybe it wouldn’t have gotten that far, who knows…but I didn’t want to find out, because I didn’t have the time for that kind of bullshit.  That’s why I kept the deeply personal stuff private, and used my writing as the release.]

That’s not to say I was completely miserable my entire senior year, far from it.  In fact, I’d already decided I’d keep the freak flag flying, even if it was flying solo.  One summer while I’d been digging through the back cellar storage at my house, I’d found an old green trench coat that had belonged to my grandfather.  I started wearing the thing to school all the time, using its many pockets as an alternative to carrying an unwieldy bookbag.  The front right pocket housed my tape player, the left one housing a few tapes I’d bring along, and the inside pocket to be used for the various things such as my daily planner that I’d use to write down homework assignments.  I’d carry my books and my notebooks by hand, and even went so far as to plan when I would visit my locker so I’d bring home as little as possible.*

The trench coat (and often that Smiths ‘William It Was Really Nothing’ tee-shirt) became my uniform, as it were, for the rest of the school year.  Even during the winter time, when it wasn’t all that cold, I’d wear it instead of a heavier coat.  Over the course of the my senior year I’d become known as the creative nerd (as opposed to the band geek, many of whom I’d hang out with occasionally).  I was the one who wrote the music articles for the school newspaper, the one who made all the weird projects for art class, the one who’d hide out in the publications room down in the basement and goof around on the computer (a Mac this time!) instead of going to the library or the cafeteria for study hall.

And strangely enough, I started getting along with a lot of the people in my class.  I’m not entirely sure how and when it happened, but I wasn’t about to question it.  Classmates who bothered me or just plain ignored me treated me as an equal now.  There weren’t any long-lasting friendships there, just acquaintance, and that was good enough.  Maybe it was because we were all about to head out into the world in a few short months, and the social hierarchy we’d known for so long now seemed a bit…well, stupid.

It seemed we were all in the same boat: we all wanted to move on, as soon as we could.

* – Amusingly enough, this is in stark contrast to Kevin’s book carrying; he’d made a king-size book bag out of denim for a Home Ec class in junior high, and had used it all the way up to his last day at school.  My sister used to call it the Killer Gym Bag because he’d carry an insane amount of things in it.


Fly-By: WiS will return next week!

Whew!  Didn’t think I’d be able to keep the series going with such consistency, but I did it!

Alas, I do not have an entry up and ready for today, primarily due to other deadlines and Day Job stuff.  I figure I can give myself a rest now and again, and can start again fresh next week.  [This will also give me the weekend to get ahead and create a buffer again.]

Thanks for tuning in! 🙂

Walk in Silence 16


The old WCAT radio station, where I worked in 1988 and 1995-6.

In early 1988, at the start of the spring semester, I was introduced to the school’s radio club.  I hadn’t even known it existed until Chris and a few other guys in my class had commented on it.  [Then again, aside from the student council, I barely noticed any other clubs in the school, as most of them didn’t appeal to me.]  I asked if I could join late, and they were totally fine with that.  It was run by one of the English teachers and tied in with the local AM radio station on the Athol-Orange border.

WCAT was run by a couple who’d owned it for a good few decades, and it was a local staple for years.  They’d do live broadcasts of the high school football games and the annual canoe race, some local talk shows over the years, but for the most part by the late 80s, it was primarily a station that broadcast a satellite feed of some media conglomerate down south.  The local commercials were recorded on looped cartridges — essentially the same kind of cartridge as an 8-track tape — with a loop of 40 or 70 seconds so we could play 30 or 60-second ads.

The radio club got to intern at the station, doing little things such as reading the school lunch menu for the week, recording that day’s weather message, or running the boards for a few hours.  The mixing boards were old school then, still using the big fat volume pots (thick knobs about an inch and a half across), so the most we’d do was fade the local commercials in or out and do technical readings every hour or so.  The station went off the air at sunset.

I’d join Chris on a few of his weekend shifts now and again.  On Sundays they’d have a ‘swap meet’ show where people would call in with junk they’d like to sell or get rid of, or were looking for…very hokey small-town stuff, but it was good fun.

Let me tell you — it may sound like the most boring job in the world, being an on-air producer at a radio station, but to me?  I was finally learning how it all worked.

And I loved it.

Granted, I already knew that the knowledge of radio that I was receiving here was already woefully out of date; Chris and I used to joke quite often about how the technology within this tiny building was more than likely older than the both of us put together.  The record collection had turned over numerous times since the days my family used to listen to it in the 70s, always veering towards an older generation of listeners.  Back when I was ten, I’d hear Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” or Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” playing over the radio at the local greasy spoon on the corner of Main and School Streets, but after a wave of old-timey shows (including a highly-regarded polka show, believe it or not), by the mid-80s the station had dropped down to a skeleton crew of maybe five or six people tops, and the music was a mix of Adult AOR and Lite Rock, all pumped in via satellite from Atlanta.  The now disused record collection as of 1988 consisted of those leftover polka records and not much else.

We still enjoyed the job, however, because we were gaining experience.  I already had big plans to get on the radio station of whatever college I ended up going to in a bit over a year, and this would help me get a foot in the door.

By that summer I’d signed up for the weekend shift as an actual employee there, radio license and all.  My Dad would drive me over to the station and drop me off, picking me up when the station went off the air.  Sundays were particularly quiet, as there weren’t all that many commercials that needed to be played; more often than not it was just me and my book bag with stuff to read and things to snack on.  I remained at the station on the weekends (giving me enough hours that I didn’t really need to sign up for an after-school job) until the end of the year.


But what about the Vanishing Misfits gang?  What would I do when they all left for college that September?  I’ll be honest, I was trying my damnedest not to get all mopey about it.  I’d sat through numerous high school graduations to know what it was like for all your best friends to head off in all directions.  I’d prepared myself.  I didn’t want to get all overemotional.  That wasn’t me anymore.  Besides — I wanted to move on, just like everyone else in the gang.


Late August, Saturday afternoon.  One of my shifts at the radio station, a quiet one with not much else to do but read and use one of the wonky typewriters to work on writing.  The gang had met and hung out at various points all through the summer, and we enjoyed every minute of it.  A few of our friends were already heading out into the big bad world, preparing themselves for a major move to out-of-state colleges, spending time with their families.  Our last meetup had taken place maybe a week or so previous, quite possibly one of our trips down to Northampton and Amherst.  Spending time at Main Street Music, eating at Panda East, having a late night drink at Bonducci’s, standing out in the Amherst Common parking lot in the cool summer night breeze, laughing and joking and making plans.

Me, I was preparing myself for one last year in high school.

The Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer” came on the radio, and I think that’s about when it finally hit me.

The Best Year Ever was over and done.

No more hooting ‘Albatross!’ in the hallways when I saw one of the Misfits.  No more corpsing in the library study halls and writing the Misfit books.  No more jamming with Chris and Nathane until further notice.  No more excited talk about new music and sharing albums and tapes over the weekends.  No more road trips down to the Valley.  No more fun conversations, no more games of Scrabble and Risk over at someone’s house. No more watching my dubs of 120 Minutes.

I was pretty much on my own for the next eight to ten months.

Back to Square One again.

I took to that rickety typewriter and started writing the darkest, moodiest words I could come up with at the moment.  If I was going to feel like shit for the next year, I was going to bleed it all out in my writing. I’d make it a point to be more social, even people annoyed the hell out of me. I’d be damned if I was going to become a mopey loner again.

Walk in Silence 15

Some time in March of 1988, I had this crazy idea: I want to start a band.

Sure, I had my bass, my cheapass Casio keyboard that I got for Christmas about six years earlier (and if I asked, I could borrow my Dad’s infinitely nicer Yamaha keyboard).  I’d even started writing songs.  Such as they were.  Okay, horrible poems at first, but I could write lyrics.  All I needed was a few other like-minded souls.

I wrote something out on a piece of lined paper (I didn’t even think of typing it) and stuck it up on one of the central bulletin boards near the cafeteria at aschool, and waited to see who responded.  That is, before some jackass jock pulled it down and tossed it away.

Amusingly enough, the two who responded quickly and with much interest were Chris and Nathane, two of the guys I was already haning out with.  Both owned electric guitars, had musical knowledge, and had jammed on their own not that long before.  Thrilled at a plan coming together nicely, we aimed for late April as the kickoff, just after the they returned from their senior trip.

The funny thing about starting a band, I should add, is that the initial session is almost always going to sound like shit.  You have multiple musicians with different qualities and styles — or in our case, instruments and equipment of varying quality — each not knowing exactly what to expect.  The first jam is almost always going to be a wild cacophony of noise of no cohesion whatsoever.  [This happened then, and it happened in 2001 when I started jamming with my buddies Bruce and Eric.  I’m pretty sure it would happen again if I ever sat in with anyone else.]   All three of us had our own styles and sounds, and some of us could play our instruments a hell of a lot better than the other two.  As for the singing, all three of us could, but Chris drew the short stick and became our de facto lead singer.  [I can sing just fine, I was just super self-conscious about it at the time.]

The initial session, played on a school day afternoon from 3 to 5pm on the 22nd of April, was maybe not a rousing success, but it provided us with two songs, which we immediately chose to claim as our ‘debut single’: “The Mellow Song.” (the period is part of the title) backed with “Green Coffee!!!”.  The b-side was the end result of that first cacophonous din.  We’re all playing completely different things, riffing and making it up as we go along, completely ignoring any kind of form or melody, Chris belting out hilariously dire lyrics off the top of his head.  After a brief break and a decision to, you know, actually write a song of sorts — and all three of us knew how — we came up with a much lighter and enjoyable A-side.  I’m actually kind of proud of that song, really; it’s deceptively complex, thanks to Nathane’s idea of each of us playing the same similar riffs but each of us playing it at different lengths so we’re swirling around each other.  We all agreed the lyrics (our first official moon-June love song, apparently to get it out of our system) were indeed horrible, with an ad-lib stating just that at the end.  But aside from that, we all agreed we had something there.  Something clicked, and it was good.

We’d also agreed on the name around that time as well.  Chris and I had thrown all kinds of names around as a not-yet-a-band group of musicians often does before they even play a note, but by that afternoon we’d christened ourselves The Flying Bohemians.

I remember we’d talked about our influences that day as well, and it was pretty eclectic:  New Order, REM, The Cure, Pixies, Depeche Mode, the usual college radio cast of characters that we all wanted to emulate.  Did we ever end up sounding like any of them?  Well, if I had to hazard a guess, our first couple of years were a bit on the Joy Division side — a bit post-punk, a flourish of keyboards, and attempts at dark and brooding lyrics.  The post-Nathane years where Chris and I recorded a handful of songs in the early 90s were more acoustic, more on the early REM side with some Indigo Girls, Love and Rockets and the Cure (circa 1985) thrown in.

Our jam sessions were few and far between as a threesome, maybe no more than fifteen or sixteen meetups at most, but we did manage to record them all.*  I never completely gave up on writing music, even if there were quite a few years where nothing new surfaced, but I did continue to practice on both bass and guitar.  One thing I’ve been proud of other than my novel writing has been my songwriting, which started in earnest that April and hasn’t stopped since.


* – Sadly I do not have the complete session tapes anymore for the 1988-89 years, but I did manage to get a good portion of those early songs on a two-tape compilation.  I have everything else from late 1989 onwards and have transferred them to mp3.

Walk in Silence 14


One of the things I liked about high school was that I had much more of a choice in what classes I could take.  Unlike junior high, where I was bound by the prerequisites of history, math, English, and so on, there was a lot more leeway here.  I took to that quickly and sighed up for the classes I knew I’d enjoy, like computer programming (using brand new Apple IIc’s!) and, believe it or not, typing.  I was a two-finger typist like my dad, but without the speed or agility.

I bring this up because this is where I met Eric.  He was our school’s exchange student that year, coming from the UK.  We shared that typing class together and proceeded to cause all kinds of trouble.  We moved to the back of the room where the higher end electric typewriters were stationed, and we would often use our in-class practice time trying to corpse each other with silly notes and other bits of ridiculousness.  We were both fans of Monty Python and our humor usually leaned towards that kind of absurdist irreverence.  (I remember I’d planned out my first meeting with him so I wouldn’t come off like an idiot: I’d told him I was a huge Python fan and that it was part of MTV’s late night line up, but also that I was an even huger fan of British rock.  He proceeded to introduce me to a number of great bands worth looking out for, many of which ended up in my collection.)

That was the class where I reconnected with Kris as well.  I’d known her since elementary school and had her dad as my fourth grade teacher, though we’d drifted into separate social circles over the years.  She became a part of the back-row hooligans.  I’d run into her now and again in during meetings for the school paper, but it was here that we’d reconnected on a musical level; she and I were both fans of pretty much any band currently playing on 120 Minutes.

Over the course of a few months, the jokey notes Eric and I shared morphed into what ended up as a very weird and hilarious game of Exquisite Corpse, and soon included Chris and the rest of the gang I was hanging with.  We referred to them only as “the books”, but they were less a straight plot than an ongoing riff on our Python-soaked senses of humor.  There were only three rules to writing in these books: write something that would make the reader giggle during class or study period, leave it on a cliffhanger, and thrust it to the next person saying ‘here, your turn’ and running way with an evil laugh.*  By the time the gang graduated in May of 1988, we had six books’ worth of bizarre nonsensical prose, bizarre titles (Sonny Bono and Pudgy the Penguin Go Snorkeling, for instance), running jokes, and an unofficial name for our own group: The Vanishing Misfits.  I still have nearly all of them (one was misplaced and has never been found, sadly) and do plan on scanning them to pdf form for the Misfit gang sometime soon.

We had a blast that year, both in school and outside of it.  We’d meet up at someone’s house and watch cartoons or movies (or one of my many taped episodes of 120).  Eric and I had a Python marathon in which we’d watched numerous episodes, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and most of the Young Ones episodes that lasted nine hours.  A bunch of us would drive to one of the malls and hang out.

At one point Chris started a Sniper game where we’d be assigned someone to shoot with a completely harmless weapon (usually a water gun, a wad of paper shot by a rubber band, or something similar).  I’d missed the first run of that game but made it a few days into the second, when one of the guys went so far as to wear camo, sneak into my house, and scare the bejeezus out of my mom before shooting a rubber band at me.   Suffice it to say we figured it was time to shut that game down for the time being.  Heh.

We were taking road trips down to the Amherst/Northampton area, which would become one of our favorite places to hang out.  Even the drive was one of our favorites: to head down to Amherst from Athol, we’d take Daniel Shays Highway (Route 202) down to Pelham and take a side road into Amherst center, but more often we’d turn earlier on Shutesbury Road.  That would take us through the forested hills, down a very winding road, and eventually into the north of Amherst and onto the UMass campus.  And our soundtracks were one of two things: either WAMH, or whatever cassettes I happened to bring with me.

Sometimes we’d head to one of the Hadley malls (Mountain Farms, aka ‘the dead mall’, known for being completely shuttered except for the AMC Theater and the Papa Gino’s, or the newer Hampshire Mall across the highway) to do some shopping or see a movie.  At some point we’d end up on North Pleasant Street in downtown Amherst, eating Chinese at Panda East** and spending time at Al Bum’s nearby while some of the other non-musically inclined of us would hang out at the ‘hippie stores’ down the road.  We’d often finish our night, especially after movies, with a late night snack and soda at Bonducci’s Café overlooking the Common***.  In Northampton, we’d hang out at Faces, a trendy fashion shop aimed at the college crowd which sold all kinds of fun and quirky things from dorm furniture to posters to clothes (oh, the dayglo!!) to whoopee cushions and the silly pins I’d amassed over my high school years.  We’d also head across the street to Thorne’s Marketplace, a giant former department store turned mini-mall full of small shops for books, clothes and more.

But our primary destination in Northampton was always Main Street Music.  I was already familiar with its collection, but once I started heading here with the Misfit gang, it became a ritual.  We had to head there, even if we hardly had the money for it.  The music they played over the speakers was the music we loved hearing on WMUA and WAMH.  The selection was absolutely phenomenal, even better than Al Bum’s, and a million times better than any chain store at any of the malls.  Tapes, vinyl, posters, pins, blank tapes, tee-shirts…what did it not have that I wished I had enough money for?    And imports!  This store was firmly aimed not at the passive listener but the avid obsessive collector and the intelligent punk.

And for us, it was absolute heaven.  At least for me, at any rate.

I truly looked forward to our weekend road trips down to the Pioneer Valley.  Did we go anywhere else?  Oh, sure…but not as often.  We just loved the vibe down there.  The best atmosphere, the best stores, the best college radio stations.


* – In true Python form, while writing this very sentence, I’d originally started with one rule, changed it to two, forgot something and made it three, just like the Spanish Inquisition sketch.  I was sorely tempted to write it flat out without edits and end with “I’m sorry, I’ll come in again.”

** – No one remembers when this restaurant opened, but it was there when we hung out in the late 80s, and it’s still there today.  This was where I had my first Chinese food, in which I nearly always ordered the sweet and sour chicken.

*** – Sadly long gone, it now houses a Mexican restaurant.  This was often our last stop before we had to head back home.  They had huge pastries, tasty coffee, and New York Seltzer sodas — I’d always get the vanilla creme with a chocolate chip cookie.  Decades later while shopping at a World Market here in the Bay Area, to my complete surprise I found that NYS sodas still existed, still with the styrofoam label (or something like it now).  I bought the same exact thing that day, just for old times’ sake.


Walk in Silence – Interlude 2

Moments in time, 1986-7.

Love and Rockets, Express (released 15 September 1986).  I’d heard about the release thanks to MTV playing ads for it, and the track “All in My Mind” getting some minor airplay on WMDK and WRSI.  And where did I buy the album?  At Rietta Ranch in Hubbardston, a giant flea market in the middle of nowhere that my dad and I used to go to almost every Sunday after church!  I listened to it as soon as I got home and decided they were my favorite new band of the moment.  Between this and their Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven album, I managed to teach myself a bit of acoustic guitar playing in the style of Daniel Ash.

This Mortal Coil, Filigree & Shadow (20 September 1986).  I didn’t pick this one up until early 1987 if I recall, but once I did, I played the hell out of it.  I bought the cassette for that very reason: I knew this was an album I’d be listening to at one in the morning on a school night.  I would always equate TMC’s music to either a dimly lit recording studio or an empty field at dusk, just after the sun has dipped down below the horizon.  Consequently, my writing style changed accordingly, introducing much darker moods and more vibrant visuals.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Liverpool (released 20 October 1986).  Say what you will about Frankie’s sophomore album — they’d shed a lot of fans and salivating music journos by this time — but I still feel this album is so much tighter than the bloated Welcome to the Pleasuredome.  It’s also much more organic and less overtly flash.  I found a copy of this one in a discount bin somewhere and instantly fell in love with it.

They Might Be Giants, They Might Be Giants (released 4 November 1986).  This album was my next attempt at album reviews in my school newspaper.  It did get some responses, as “Don’t Let’s Start” actually got some daytime play on MTV as well.  I totally fell in love with the goofiness of this album (even if I didn’t know that they were kinda-sorta local; they originated in Lincoln, MA before moving down to New York City — thus the title of their second album).  WRSI and WMDK loved this album as well, so I got to hear a lot of their tracks on the radio, which was always a cool thing!

The The, Infected (released November 1986).  Bought this on tape at that small music store inside Faces in Amherst, after reading about it in Only Music and other music magazines.  My first reaction to Matt Johnson’s music was that he seemed to have one hell of a chip on his shoulder, but he was also one hell of a great songwriter.  Night Flight played the film he’d made of the album soon after.  I let one of my buddies borrow the tape for a few days…he handed it back saying the music was okay, but “who wants to hear a song about a piss-stinking shopping center?”  I’d buy his previous album, Soul Mining, a few months later at the same store.  Both ended up getting serious late night airplay on my headphones.

Fuzzbox, We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!! (aka Bostin Steve Austin in the UK) (released December 1986).  I placed Fuzzbox in the same spot as Sigue Sigue Sputnik in my brain: loud, wacky, fun, punky, and great for blasting in my headphones.  [They also embraced the 80s UK punk scene with the Oxfam clothes and the wild hair, which I of course gravitated to.  I’ll totally admit to having a teen crush on Vix, the lead singer.]  In a way I felt that while Flaunt It was my ticket into the new social circle, this one cemented it when my copy of the cassette made its rounds.

Concrete Blonde, Concrete Blonde (released December 1986).  “Still in Hollywood” got major airplay on 120 Minutes back in the day, and that’s where I heard it first.  I think Chris had the album first and I copied it from him soon after, but I ended up buying a used copy sometime in the spring of 1987.  I remember being excited by the revelation that a hard rocking Los Angeles band sounded this badass, when their more popular local brethren were playing weak glam-soaked pop songs with squealing arpeggios and hitting the top of the charts.  [This is also why I was impressed by Guns ‘n’ Roses, even though I was never that big of a fan of them.]  A year or so later Chris and I were working at the local radio station and found two of their singles gathering dust in the back bins, inspiring another wave of heavy rotation from me.  This one got a lot of play during my summer job at the DPW as well.

World Party, Private Revolution (released March 1987).  One of the last albums I got from the RCA Music Club, I believe.  This was one of those then-rare college rock albums that crossed over to commercial radio with ease.  I listened to this one a lot in the afternoons while doing my homework.  Decades later I met lead singer Karl Wallinger at Amoeba Records; he’s a super nice and friendly guy who absolutely loves what he does.

 Siouxsie & the Banshees, Through the Looking Glass (released 2 March 1987).  I think this was the first Banshees album I owned, having dubbed a copy from someone not that long after it came out.  Cover albums are usually considered suspicious (usually a sign that they need to fulfill part of their contract and don’t have anything else lined up), but this one’s great in that their choice of songs veered towards the alternative side.  Tracks by Sparks, Iggy Pop, the Doors and Television popped up alongside Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday.  Unfortunately, this album was released the week before the gazillion-selling The Joshua Tree*, so it was kind of ignored by all but the closest fans.

The Smiths, Louder Than Bombs (released 30 March 1987).  Another singles mix to go alongside my copy of Hatful of Hollow (which I’d picked up at a store in North Adams, of all places), my copy was a dub from Chris that added a few extra album tracks at the end of each side.  Morrissey was definitely an influence on my more personal writing then, as a lot of my high school poetry (and later on, Flying Bohemians lyrics) were inspired or influenced by his lyrics.  I still find it kind of ironic and amusing that I chose to finally get into this band just as they were on the verge of breaking up.

Erasure, The Circus (released 30 March 1987).  I was familiar to Erasure thanks to Vince Clarke’s previous jobs in Depeche Mode and Yaz, so when their sophomore album dropped, I’d hear them quite often on the radio.  [Surprisingly, I would not own any of their albums until The Innocents later in 1988.]  At the time they were a band whose albums I’d have liked to buy, but never got around to it until much later.

Wire, The Ideal Copy (released 12 April 1987).  I’d heard of Wire before, thanks to the numerous American punk and indie bands professing their love for them.  It wasn’t until I picked up the Enigma Variations 2 compilation later in July that I finally got to hear one of their best songs ever, “Ahead”.  Their sound was so unique that I could never quite pin down what it was that drew me to them, only that they resonated with me completely.  I picked up this album later that year, and have been a dedicated fan ever since.

 The Cure, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (released 25 May 1987).  After a year of listening to Standing on a Beach and familiarizing myself with their early discography with Happily Ever After and The Head on the Door, I was twitchy with excitement that I’d get to buy a new Cure album on the drop date!  Added to that, it was a sprawling, noisy double album filled with blistery pop, goofy psychedelics, and even some of their trademark doom and gloom.  It was released right around the end of my sophomore year, and it was an immediate hit with the new gang.  We’d listen to it everywhere we went.  [Okay, aside from the questionable moments in the “Why Can’t I Be You?” video — Lol Tolhurst’s blackface and his, er, lips costume, in particular — it’s by far one of the band’s silliest.]


The summer of 1987 was relatively uninspiring at first, as I finally found myself facing that crossroads I’d expected some time ago.  School was out, and I retreated to my usual shell of listening to music, keeping myself busy with writing (One Step Closer to You) and rewriting (the Infamous War Novel), teaching myself how to play guitar and bass, and whatever day job I happened to have.  [If memory serves me, I believe I jumped on one more summer of working at the local supermarket.  I’m pretty sure the YMCA job was only during the school year.]

It took some time for me to adjust to this new frame of reference.  I would still see some of my old friends around town, but I was no longer hanging around with them with any frequency.  Thankfully this new group of friends were more than happy to invite me on their road trips to the Pioneer Valley or elsewhere, whether it was to see a movie, go out for dinner, play mini-golf, or whatever else there was to do.  I didn’t care if we were just going to sit around someone’s living room and watch movies all night — I just felt so happy to finally be a part of a social circle where I could just be myself.

My junior year was going to be bitchin’.


* – I was tempted to add U2’s The Joshua Tree here, but decided against it.  Suffice it to say, that album transcended all barriers in my small home town; it was pretty much a smash hit from the beginning.  They’d expanded their fanbase in 1984-5 thanks to The Unforgettable Fire and their performance during Live Aid, and by the time the lead single “With or Without You” popped up a week before the album release, everyone had gone nuts.  It truly is a great album, though!

Walk in Silence – Interlude 1

amherst college

courtesy Amherst College’s website

So.  New friends, new outlook, new music.  My teenage life certainly had changed within the span of a year or two.  I wasn’t going to complain.

Between autumn 1986 and autumn 1987, my music collection expanded — more like exploded — thanks to Amherst and Northampton’s used record shops, the mall stores in Hadley and Leominster, the RCA and Columbia House music clubs, and a hell of a lot of blank tapes.

UMass Amherst’s station, WMUA, was back on the air, and it became a late night staple for me after a day’s listening to the AOR of WMDK and WRSI, or the pop and rock of WAAF and WAQY.  And I’d also just discovered their neighbor, WAMH 89.3 at Amherst College, so they were added to my late night listening lineup.  That November, I made it a point to start making radio tapes of those college stations.  Unlike the pop/rock radio tapes I’d made, however, I’d wait for the right moment, hit record, and just let the tape run for a good half hour or forty-five minutes.  I heard songs and bands new and old; punk bands from the 70s and post-punk bands from the 80s; classics and obscurities; titles and names I should know.  The Church.  The Go-Betweens.  Sonic Youth.  Felt.  The Only Ones.  This Mortal Coil.  Billy Bragg.  The Woodentops.  Peter Murphy.  Danielle Dax.  Love Tractor.  The Damned.  Bauhaus.  Butthole Surfers.  Hüsker Dü.  Robyn Hitchcock.  The Mighty Lemon Drops.  The Chameleons UK.  Love and Rockets.

I had a lot of catching up to do.

The easiest, of course, were the bands on major labels.  This meant the Smiths and Depeche Mode, both of whom were on Sire; The Cure, who’d recently inked a deal with Elektra and would be re-releasing their back catalog soon; REM, who were at this point still on IRS but had a large following in collegiate New England and thus were easy to find. I could pick those up at Strawberries or Musicland at my leisure.

It was the others that started the thrill of the hunt.  Knowing which mall stores were ‘cool’ enough to carry certain titles.  Strawberries in Leominster had quite a large selection and gave me a better chance at finding items.  Musicland in Hadley was somewhat smaller but still catered to the Pioneer Valley college crowd.  The other music store in that mall (whose name I no longer remember, due to it changing multiple times) carried quite a few independent labels.  Al Bum’s in Amherst carried imports, as did Main Street Music in Northampton.

That’s a good point right there — catering to the college crowd.  New England (and specifically Massachusetts) is unique in this respect, due to the extremely high number of schools of higher learning, both in the Boston area and in the Pioneer Valley.  College radio stations were not exactly a huge scene per se; they were more like one of New England’s best kept secrets.

Bob Mould mentions this in his book See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody

“[Hüsker Dü] were quickly discovering that the East Coast had a unique mentality that might be summed up best in two words: college rock. A lot of it came down to the clustering of high-quality schools in the Northeast, particularly in the Boston area, where the tour took us next. There were many more college radio stations in the Northeast than in the Midwest, and they gave rise to the likes of the Bongos, Violent Femmes, and the dBs, bands who had a more accessible, more melodic sound than hardcore.”

Most college radio stations in this area did play their share of hardcore, of course.  WMUA and WAMH were where I first heard Sonic Youth, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and so on.  But their playlist was vast and varied: they were stations where I learned about industrial and its danceable offshoot EBM (electronic body music), with bands such as Ministry, Nitzer Ebb, Front 242 and D.A.F.; the ambient classic 4AD Records sound with Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, and This Mortal Coil; the snotty goofball punk of The Dead Milkmen and the demented noise of Butthole Surfers.  They were all champions of local bands: Dinosaur Jr., Pixies, Mission of Burma, Moving Targets, The Neighborhoods, Throwing Muses.*  And especially: most emphatically, even, the sounds of British indie rock of The Cure, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Fuzzbox, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Wire, and more.

New England college radio played it all, and some of it was due to the fact that there really wasn’t that large of a physical scene to go along with it.  There were nightclubs in Boston and in the Amherst/Hadley/Noho area, of course, but that was just it — they were in the college centers, but not anywhere else.  Especially not out in my home town, that was for sure.  The rest of us had to make do with the soundtrack and forgo the scene.

And that suited me just fine.


* – This could merit its own entry (or multiple entries), to tell the truth.  Massachusetts  has always had a fascinating music scene, both in the commercial and independent scenes.  For every well known rock band out of New England (i.e., Aerosmith, The Cars, Boston, The J Geils Band, ‘Til Tuesday, all the way up to the present with Passion Pit — a band from my alma mater, Emerson College), there’s hundreds of local heroes like Tribe, Heretix, Caspian, Guster, The Lemonheads, and more.  Go check out Brett Milano’s The Sound of Our Town and Carter Alan’s Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN for excellent histories on the local scenes.


Walk in Silence 13


Meanwhile, my search for music continued unabated.  I would buy blank videotapes and record each Sunday’s episode of 120 Minutes.  Well, not right away…I was still watching and taping Night Flight as well, so I’d often toggle between the two, especially if the latter was showing some kind of cult film.

I was also checking out a lot of the new releases that the music magazines were suggesting.  I started picking up a new (and sadly shortlived) magazine called OM: Only Music, a monthly set up by Spin magazine to feature just the tunes.  Their reviews were gems, focusing mostly on hard rock, punk and metal, with the college rock thrown in.  This was where I found out about The Minutemen, The The’s multiplatform release Infected, and the quirky danceability of New Order.  Over the course of the next few months, from late 1986 into 1987, I went out of my way to find as much of this stuff as I could, whether it as in a record store at the mall, a bargain bin in some department store, a flea market or a garage sale, or at an indie store like Al Bum’s.

I’d often share these new purchases with Chris, as both he and I seemed to gravitate towards the same styles of music.  We were both big on REM as well as bands like New Order and the Cure.  Gleefully and willingly, we both worked hard against the Home Taping Is Killing Music campaign, dubbing each other’s collections whenever one bought a new title and the other had blank tapes available.  I’d be the one buying most of the new releases, though I’d just as easily be the one forgoing homework time to copy three or four albums from other people.

By the autumn of 1987, my collection had grown exponentially, and my social life had changed dramatically.  I’d moved on from my old circle of friends by this time and spent nearly all of my school time with the new gang.  This was for a good reason, too — this was their senior year, and I’d be damned if I was going to pass up hanging with them as much as I could.  This would be the best school year ever.

One of the things that had started in the early part of the year and had become an extremely important mainstay was MTV’s Sunday late-night line up, and it had evolved in an interesting way.  The flagship show, 120 Minutes, had been the idea of Dave Kendall, a well-regarded journalist from the UK and had originally worked in tandem with its predecessor, the monthly IRS Records Presents: The Cutting Edge.  The shows leading up to it, however, seemed to evolve from the recent stand-up comedy boom of the mid-80s.  Both MTV and VH-1 had ‘comedy hour’ shows (as did numerous radio stations) that were showcases for well-known comedians and newcomers alike.  Since they were always a ratings boom, MTV chose to bring in some alternative comedy from across the pond to fit into the late night schedule.  The Young Ones and The Comic Strip were two series from the alternative comedy genre from the UK (spearheaded by one Alexei Sayle, who was also connected to both these shows).

At the same time, and in a completely different context, early evening comedy came in the form of reruns of The Monkees, the classic music and comedy show from the late 60s.  The Monkees themselves had recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of their show in early 1986, and that spring MTV provided a day-long marathon of episodes entitled Pleasant Valley Sunday.  For this MTV Generation, most of us remembered watching these episodes on the local independent stations some years back (4pm on WLVI 56 for me!).  The renaissance was so huge that The Monkees became a mainstay on MTV, and nearly the entire band reunited for a tour and new songs.

Following up on the comedy, MTV brought in another indie TV station mainstay from our youth: Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Soon, Python became part of the late night Sunday line-up, starting with Python at 11pm, The Young Ones or The Comic Strip at 11:30pm and 120 Minutes kicking off at midnight.

These three hours were manna from heaven for a lot of teenagers and college students, especially those (like me) who were in dire need of the alternative.  Many videotapes were used to the point of wearing out during this time.  I’d pretty much given up on Night Flight at this point and swore allegiance to the almighty Sunday lineup.

120 Minutes had found a stable host in the softspoken and slightly weird form of one Kevin Seal.  Seal’s delivery was not quite smarmy, but not cloying either.  He spoke like he was fully aware of how corny and simplistic his script was.  He chatted up songs and bands with a slight wink or nod when he found their names funny or peculiar.  His overall performance was as if he wasn’t even trying to be all that professional.  Not that it stopped us from loving how inherently strange he was in relation to the other more commercially likeable veejays.  Downtown Julie Brown was that party girl you loved hanging out with.  Caroline Heldman was the cute college girl you had Literature class with.  Adam Curry was the metalhead you hung out with at the bridge.  Kevin Seal was…that guy in history class that knew a frighteningly vast amount of information, didn’t say much, but surprised the hell out of everyone when he did.

Plus, he was the perfect foil for Dave Kendall, who was more about the mystique and the attitude that came with the alternative rock genre; Kendall was not only extremely knowledgeable about the scene, but immersed himself in it and wrote about it via Spin and other music magazines.  Kendall often came off as insufferable, sneering at pathetic and obviously derivative attempts at punk, delivering all-too-hip asides when spouting trivia, and sometimes shoehorned the Question Authority mindset into his own scripts.  On the other hand, it was hard not to appreciate his willingness to be the genre’s mouthpiece for the show.  He was the one you’d trust the most with accurate alternative rock news.

On a personal note, I could feel that this school year was going to be a special one, a unique one that I’d be cherishing for years to come.  I had the new friends, I had the soundtrack, and I had one hell of a better and healthier positive outlook on life than the last few years.  I may have still been the goofy-looking dork with the braces (which I’d had since eighth grade), the spiky 80’s hairdo, and the acne and everything else…but I didn’t care about that anymore.  I knew who I was now, and what I wanted to do with my life and that’s all that mattered.

One major thing that happened was that I’d bought a bass guitar for Christmas.  It was a white Arbor Stiletto with no headstock — the tuning pegs were down at the end of the body — and it was my baby for a good couple of months before I released it upon the world.  I bought it at a tiny local music store that one of my sister’s classmates had opened up just across from Town Hall downtown, a steal at fifty bucks*.  I taught myself how to play by taking what I knew on guitar (which really wasn’t much) and expanding on it by playing along with songs from my growing collection.  Led Zeppelin’s first album, Wire’s “Ahead”, The Cure’s Pornography, anything where I could pick out what was being played.  I gravitated towards bassists like The Cure’s Simon Gallup (repetitive but high on the fret board and unexpectedly creative), New Order’s Peter Hook (bass as lead guitar) and, a short time later, Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde (dual tones and harmony).   This would soon lead to my first band, but that’s a little further down the road.

For now, I let myself have some fun.


* – In all honesty, there really wasn’t all that much to choose from in the cheap amount I was looking for.  I twas either that one, or a black one with the body in the shape of a machine gun, which even then I found too embarrassing to pick up.  Also, to this day I have never taken guitar or bass lessons.  I’ve always been self-taught on both instruments.