Music Memory Lane: The Only Record That Mattered

 The Clash – London Calling (1979)

When I was a freshman in college there was a music war between the rock traditionalists who clung to The Rolling Stones, Hendrix, Who, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Ozzy, el al., opposed by the modernists who championed Punk and New Wave bands like Talking Heads, Dead Kennedys, Ramones, Buzzcocks, Joy Division, and this band, The Clash, labeled by its most passionate fans as “The Only Band That Matters.” I loved “Classic Rock” but this new music out of New York City, London, and Manchester won me over by the sheer excellence and excitement of the music; it was my generation finding a voice and sound to call its own, and here it was in all its glory on London Calling, the greatest Punk/Post-Punk/New Wave record by the best band.

I realized something in early 1982 as I absorbed the ethos inspiring this new, radical, cool music: It was time to move on from the music and ideas from the 60s and 70s. It was time to change. It was time to grow. It changed my life in how I viewed everything, not just music, but also politics, society, culture, and my role in the greater world. Mainly it forced me to look at myself and change who I was—indeed, inspired by this new music and new ideas, I looked within myself to find what I could change, and change I did in radicals ways that I’d been previously frightened to even consider.

In 1981-82 I felt trapped in a life I felt I was living for others; I was a fat, miserable, decadent, substance-abusing mope wandering around without feeling or purpose. I felt myself wasting away in college, bored and throughly uninterested in the path it was taking me. One morning I woke up and decided to take control of my life, change myself, even reinvent who I was to the very core of my being. And I did–I dropped out of college, joined the Army, and got as far away from my previously miserable life as I possibly could. It was my act of rebellion on the one hand and a cleansing of all my previous sins on the other, a chance to reinvent myself as the person I wanted to be, not who I was.

London Calling is now, oddly enough, played on Classic Rock radio, and of course it’s classic Rock & Roll as much as The Who or Stones or Zeppelin or Rush. But in the early 80s it was a revolution of sound, style, and attitude, a new generation taking the music of Elvis, Chuck Berry, The Stones, Beatles, Who, Zeppelin, Bowie, etc. and taking it elsewhere, to different, newer directions. The Clash played a diverse melange of styles on this record, from Ska and Reggae to Punk and traditional English Rock, and even a little Blues and Country, all filtered through Joe Strummer’s unique voice and vision. It wasn’t Punk any more in the way Tommy wasn’t a Mod record by The Who. It was just Rock & Roll. GREAT Rock & Roll. It was rebellious. Cool. Intelligent. And of course it kicked butt. It was the defining work of my generation.

Music Memory Lane: The Revolution Has an Anthem!

Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Relax (1984)

Happy 30th to one of the most ridiculously over-hyped and yet still totally awesome dance tracks of all time. Frankie said RELAX and we did!

As a straight man who has always sided with, and fought for, the rights of all my dear LGBT friends worldwide, there was no better expression of pure, unashamed, unbridled, joyful gayness than what these maniacally naughty queens from Liverpool put down on this track. The revolution was well served with this legendary anthem and declaration of sexual free will.

And the fight is not over! 19 states down with 31 remaining! Frankie says gay marriage is a Constitutional right!

Music Memory Lane: Rallying at Chip’s the Summer of 1978

 AC/DC – TNT (1976)

The summer of 1978 between 9th grade and our sophomore year of high school, my little clique—Chip Johnston, Doug Russell, Chip’s girlfriend Robin Overhoff, Doug’s girlfriend Robin Dalzell, and whatever other assorted fools, party fiends, and hangers-on we collected along the way—would rally at Chip’s house at 3 pm every day, as his parents worked second shift at CBS records, giving us free reign of Chip’s house, his step-dad Jim Keefer’s awesome stereo system and fantastic weed stash from which we pinched “juuust a taste” every day, and of course Chip’s Mom, Betty, always stocked the fridge knowing her sweet baby boy and his gang needed sustenance! We’d crank on the black lights and lava lamps, blast music so loud we’d be deaf by the end of the night, and flop around Chip’s house like idiots dancing to Boston, Ted Nugent, Rush, AC/DC, Earth, Wind & Fire, Aerosmith, Sly and the Family Stone, Zeppelin, Kiss and so much more.

Chip’s old man had every great record ever made that he bought super cheap from all the great employee sales at CBS, so we hardly ever wasted our own money on music or weed that summer; Jim was cool in that he knew we were pilfering his stash, but we never abused his benevolence, so he’d just snarl at us to make Betty happy, but you could see him wink as he snarled. Jim was in a biker gang called the Cloven Hoofs MC but was a cool, kind man who’d served in the Marines way back and was now a hairy, muscled, imposing figure to us; mostly we viewed him with fear, respect, and awe. I guess Jim Keefer figured it was better Chip kept his wild ways at home than on the streets. Like I said, it was the 1970s—the rules were ambiguous at best.

Perhaps, in hindsight some 36 years later, it’s a horrifying thought remembering the unbridled licentious lifestyle we original latchkey kids lived back in the late 70s, but we all turned out fine, thank you very much. Well, maybe it took me a while to reach that point…whatever. And maybe it aged my poor Mom. Be we have all those super cool memories from that crazy summer.

Music Memory Lane: Tanya and the Summer of ’87

Just Around the Corner – Cock Robin (1987)

Melancholy and heartbreak are made beautiful in this classic by Cock Robin, an American band who took this to the top of the charts in Europe the summer of 1987.

I lived about 30 kilometers from the German-French border then and first heard this on a French radio station one morning while driving my German girlfriend, Tanya, home after she’d spent the night at my house. It was a quiet ride as my Firebird barreled down the L465 roadway from my town, Martinshöhe, to her home in Zweibrücken; we were both deep in thought and hardly spoke–which was normal because, between us, we barely spoke each other’s languages—and after this song finished we looked at each other and nodded in agreement, wow, what a lovely song.

I asked her, “Kennst du diese Lied, Liebling?”

“Nay,” she replied.

“I think we should,” I declared.

And we did get to know that song. It was a great summer for music and this became our favorite. It was just a great summer all around.

Well…until that August when Tanya caught me coming out of a movie theater in Homburg, hand-in-hand with a very pretty American girl, Heather, with whom I had been blithely cheating on Tanya for weeks. That was the end of Tanya and me. A year later I learned from Tanya’s best friend that Tanya died of a cerebral aneurysm about eight months after we split up. She was 20. Wow. She was a beautiful, brilliant, and intense girl I loved dearly. I was just a lousy person when I loved her.