Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Eighties. My Forties.

Lately, the more pungent memories of the 1980s have been percolating around my brain.  I grew up in the fairly quiet swamps of the midatlantic South in the 1970s, and can still remember how bracing and almost frightening the 80s looked to the denizens of my world back then.  It might be expressed in a bit of silliness about “boom boxes” or the slight, benign, almost comical horror with which the less-young faced New Wave (though, to be fair, my completely wonderful grandma did sort of know who “Cindy Looper” was, which I still adore).  It might be the advent of Reagan and preppiness and the bewildering-even-then-to-my-eleven-year-old-self rather shocking backlash against a president once accepted warmly enough as a Christian and a Southern farm boy.  I remember “Thanks, Ron” and “morning in America” and a sense, at his first election, that the eighties were about to begin.

It’s hard to remember the rest of the eighties, around Reagan and Greed is Good and preppies and yuppies, but there WAS so much more to this period when I departed childhood (in some ways, all too abruptly) and began to learn to think, as my mom and dad taught me to, both critically and as an adult.

I remember the sound of the masses across the world, chanting SO-LI-DAR-NOSC, and I remember when Walesa’s name had an N in it in most American broadcasts.

I remember just how real the threat of nuclear war seemed - and how, in the most repulsive fashion, they made a movie about it which, actually, made itself something of a cultural phenomenon at the time.

I remember the music – not just the classic rock which never (even now) seems to have left my life, but the NEW things – New *Wave* not being the least of it – my brother’s albums, Nina Hagen and Oingo Boingo and Devo and even The Romantics.  I remember the very first single I ever bought, “Barracuda” – which makes me proud, that I didn’t buy something cheesy and awful I’d be embarrassed to admit a generation later.  It was the one record I could identify and afford, and I paid forty-five cents.  I could not tell you the B-side, and probably have not owned this artifact for twenty years now, but I know the first music I ever bought, and I know it was a pretty bitchin’ tune.

But even by the time I bought it, music was changing, and we got all Adam Ant-y and Duran Duran-y and Prince-ificated very quickly.  My freshman year in high school saw also the serious encroachment of cable TV into my community, and with it MTV – which, for you young-uns, actually was a REALLY big deal.

Imagine a world so small you’d remember “Video Killed the Radio Star” and that MTV was on channel 33 locally, for the rest of your life.

I expect it’s all but impossible to even quite believe in a world as small as where I grew up (a time when this blog post would have been beyond my wildest dreams - or my Prius), but it was in the eighties that world became so much bigger.  My family traveled internationally in 1982 – to Israel, and to Greece.  Just days after we visited it (as close as we were allowed), there was a shooting at the Dome of the Rock.  I was all of fourteen and still in my first-Christianity (the one inherited from my parents, not the one I came back to embrace so many years later), and I felt a kinship with Israel for a long, long time after we went.  Even now, realizing I don’t feel that sense of “ownership” we forge with places we’ve been is something of a surprise to me, as I think of it.  But my time there was spent in a place that both no longer exists, and is eternal in a way far beyond my paltry grasp.  I presume no claim, and find not only my remoteness, but its living presence now, to be utterly heartbreaking.

Imagine a world so small that you can touch memories of The Clash, Minor Threat, White Cross … and (shamefacedly, she admits) even Shawn Cassidy with the same naïve hand.  I always like to say my first concert was The Clash – but, before the seventies quite died, there was a teenybopper show at the Colisseum in town, and I drove my parents MAD over it, and my dad took me … and I was so actually-SCARED of the loud opening band I made him take me out of the venue before Cassidy ever took the stage.  I repented, of course, bitterly, as Da Doo Ron Ron or something piped its way above our heads, walking away – but dad was, quite rightly, having NONE of my begging him to drag me back inside.  So, in a way, I’m not quite lying …

But it’s symptomatic of the way of the world, of pop-culture, before it really took over and corporatized our whole life’s experience, that a kid obsessed with that particular teen idol would so quickly become a kid hanging out with the little, pale punks, being ooh-ed over by girls who wanted to know “how I got my skin so WHITE” and taking for granted my brother ending up on a classic album cover or Aweem-Awepping before Minor Threat (it was MT, wasn’t it, dear brother?) tore into their standard 30-second thrash songs.

It’s symptomatic of exactly the whiteness and quietness and swampiness and conservativeness of our world that he took to angry music, and that I was allowed to follow him.  Looking back, it seems almost odd my parents let me go with him – and that HE did – but we had expectations of safety, somehow.  The privilege of our quiet, white world, perhaps.  And – indeed – those earliest subcultural kids I hung out with, most of them having almost nothing compared to what I did, were a pocket of protection.  If you were inside that strange bubble, they were NOT letting anyone get at you, and I (and all the other girls) *were* safe amongst the torn tights and plain jeans and black hair and spray dye.  I was always safe with my brother – almost unbeknownst to me, and I suspect even unbeknownst to him, one of the most terrifying boys amongst a lot of kids calling themselves “punk” precisely to put people off.

Some of those kids liked Prince, though.  I know one in particular who got to be a bit of a Dead head, and ended up pretty mellow indeed.

We took what we could get.  There was no homogeneity in practice, not in a world like that.  If something promised to be cool, you crossed your personal genre boundaries, most of the time it didn’t matter much.  I certainly was no punk, but I was entirely part of my brother’s pack of friends – considered them mine – think they returned the favor.  I still hang out with subcultural types, particularly when Mr. X and I were socializing together, and never ever presume to own any given label, but find myself welcomed by all.

I had a hippie phase once identity was all up to me, once out of the house and discovering those early internet geeks on my campus, who combined nerd elitism and computers and a little quasi-mysticism with one or two charismatic and attractive upperclassmen to create an aura of clandestine and exclusive appeal.  I got as far as being a Twaddler, with that, but never made ‘Zard, which may have been as well, given my poor predilection for join-ery.  But:  fun.

Freshman year gone, right out of the gate in year two, I met Beloved Ex, and became not only the girlfriend of a townie, but began a years-long career as a bit of a hair-metal groupie.

Through all of this:  Reagan.  Bush.  Mandela.  The sound of Mutabaruka barely-singing, in horror, “WHAA?  Dem invade Angola again?” and the inevitable horrors of watching those less privileged than I – before college, and beyond, in those friends so much less privileged, less safe – less CONFIDENT – than I.  The little girl punk I will never forget, whose very (supposed) NAME meant “sweet”, and the girls passing out in bathrooms in college.

Always, a girl, worse for wear, reminding me my luck was not my own, and that not everyone had it.  Poor G, that exquisite and vanishingly tiny girl, taken advantage of and ending on the filthy tile in the dorm.  Or L, whom I loved so much, but whose life gave me vertigo and made me worry, even years after I lost her, years after she looked at me and said she knew she’d never see campus again.

Years and years later, the girls in bathrooms – so like the little punk girls (indeed, believing they are such), asking me how I get my skin so white.  Being tiny, tiny, and (when they find out my geriatric age), enjoining me, “Oh, please stay this cool!”

I look at the girls now, the tiny skinny ones, still so young, wearing “The Exploited” t-shirts someone actually made money off of, and all I can hear is the sound of SO-LI-DARI-NOSC and the echoing void where I know the face I am seeing is deaf to the reverberations.

I look at the world I share with them now – born in the nineties, perhaps – and see unions demonized.  That force which once ALL knew to be righteous – reduced to the impingement upon corporate margins.  The music around me – there is much raw reality to be had, but to mine for it has gone beyond my parameters.  I still take what comes, you see.  And what comes is so much less rough-edged, so much more processed.  Extruded.

Solidarity logo ... Image:  Wikipedia 

I look at my own experience – a public servant who got scared, and ran away before I could be run off without my volition.  I look at those who have not run, and the deterioration of what it is to serve our nation, even without ever carrying a gun, without ever being seen doing it.  It breaks my heart.

I came of age in a recession – made $10,000 a year, my first job.  By the time BEx and I married, I was the breadwinner and scarcely more than that – and temping, no less.  The year we had to ask, “Can we afford toilet paper?” when there was nary a square to spare, and more mac and cheese generic box meals (even without milk) than you could shake a stick at.

I left my marriage and the Midwest, and came home to my quiet, easy swamps, and tripled my income in five years.  From 10k to 30 by the time I was thirty.  And counted that a triumph.

But then, 2001.

And back again.  At the highest administrative echelon, in Risk Management, working with and for and around people I respected and even loved, for one of the largest securities firms in the country.  Back, and proud.

But then, 2008.

I’ve taken 4-digit pay cuts more than once in my life, I’ve learned … when to run.

It’s a paltry takeaway, in some ways.  Along with the fact that I’m corporatized enough, myself, now, to use words like “takeaway” …

I want to shut down the laptop, listen to the quiet neighborhood around my house, this city I’ve known all my life, its interstate humming, its quietness looming, reassuring … and turn on something my ex husband used to sing, to hear someone who once wrote music I actually inspired.

I want to be alone, with Gossamer, and Pen.

And I want so badly – not to be alone, anymore.  The eighties are twenty-five years gone.  The nineties, when I was still young too.  The aughts, or whatever you like to call ‘em.

I’ve got too much to do.  And I am afraid.  And proud.  And wide-eyed.  Peering through fog, at the indistinct and unknown world ahead.  Not knowing it brighter, not knowing it darker.  But here.  Still here.

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