In 1982 I was 11 and my knowledge and exposure to music was limited to say the least. (See my post on Country music for further proof)
I listened to mostly only commercial radio (plus the Annie soundtrack - gag) and I suppose there were college stations somewhere on the dial but I was never fortunate enough to find them. This means I was embracing artists like Men at Work, Asia, and Laura Branigan but didn’t have a clue there were thousands upon thousands of other kinds of music and artists out there.
My parents and siblings were undeniably my earliest musical influence and from them I gained a limited view of what the world had to offer. My dad liked The Beatles and Sinatra but classical music or talk radio usually filled the silence of our car rides spent together. My Mom grew to have incredibly eclectic taste but early on I mostly recall listening to top 40 stations with her on our trips to the grocery stores. I had multiple older brothers and sisters but they were all so much older than me that I don’t recall much about their taste other than the occasional record they accidentally left behind at our parent’s house. Pink Floyd’s “Be careful with that Axe Eugene” literally scared the hell out of me so avoided most of their records all together after that traumatic listening experience.
There was however a time when my brother Robbie showed up with every item he was wearing on his body cut to pieces and put back together with safety pins. I was told by him that it was “punk” but I couldn’t have guessed what that actually meant. I knew visually this punk thing pissed my parents off (“you ruined perfectly good clothes why?) and it made my brother look like a scrawny patchwork quilt connected by pins but I didn’t connect at the time that this fashion faux pas related to music at all. Connecting music to things like fashion or youth / political movements was all totally alien to me.
My brother Chris who was six years older than me and was nicknamed “Psycho” at high school dabbled in metal and punk. I didn’t know what these forms of music was really called at the time but as a rule whatever my brother liked, I didn’t. I remember him playing me the Ramones “Beat on the Brat” and thinking it was written specifically for big brothers to play to little sisters for strictly threatening purposes. I was mortified and hated The Ramones for writing such a mean song which I was rather certain was directed at me. (What can I say, I was an overly sensitive child)
I should also point out that I didn’t have cable TV nor was I allowed to watch much TV at all so revolutions like MTV and that high level exposure to pop culture missed me completely. In fact I didn’t see MTV until the late 80’s.
My allowance didn’t warrant me the freedom to purchase records and tapes so typically when a favorite song came on the radio I held my crappy little tape recorder up to the speak and recorded it. It sounded miserable and I always missed the first few seconds of every song but it was the only way I could capture these songs I wanted to know better. I also knew these ghetto mixed tapes were not quality enough to share with friends so when I was asked to sleep over a friend’s house in 1982 and bring music- I panicked.
This girl lived one town away so we didn’t go to school together. We both played on a local girl’s soccer team and she had invited me to stay over house for the first time ever. This was uncharted territory for me on many levels. I wasn’t 100% positive girls from other towns were just like the girls from my town and I had no clue what music to bring. My parent’s loaned me a Beatles greatest hits cassette and were certain this would be fine.
It wasn’t fine. For the first time in my life a peer made me feel lesser about who I was because of the music I listened to. I showed her my Beatles cassette of which I knew ever word to every song and she frowned. She handed me a Clash record and told me this was the ONLY music she thought was goodl. The Clash? Who? (although I did eventually did hear “Rock the Casbah” on the radio) It was very new to me and I suddenly felt stupid and like a baby for loving the Beatles which was hip to people like our parents but not kids our own age. I held “Combat Rock” in my hands for the first time that night and pondered the door this record had opened. I was listening to music I had never heard anything like before but almost more importantly it was the ultimate lesson that the kind of music you listened to said something about the kind of person you are. Defining yourself by the records you listen to no less making or breaking friendships around it was a startling revelation.
I was never invited back to her house for another sleepover but shortly there after I began asking my mom to help me explore the world of music I didn’t know. The spell of top 40 radio was broken and I was determined to hear what else was out there. My Mom began taping me late night music video programs like Friday Night Videos so I could watch them in the morning and then we would take monthly trips to our local record shop “Crazy Eddies” where I could pick out one record to buy each time.
Later that year I discovered a video from a freaky late night music video show for a band called Midnight Oil. The song was called “Power and the Passion” and that was it. I was on my path towards what has become a lifetime of seeking out new music in a daily capacity.
Comcast had all this great Clash video footage available On Demand and as I skimmed through the material I was suddenly reminded of my life changing childhood experience. I am sure this girl has no idea how her sleepover changed my life and the music snob in me know wonders what records she has in her collection now.
On a side note I actually and literally ran into the 10 foot tall singer of Midnight Oil or rather he ran into me by accident at a meet and greet label thing at one of their concerts a decade later. He said he was sorry – he didn’t see me ( 5ft 3 of me) and I could only stare back and ask him if that was a joke. We both laughed and that was that. I mean how do you even begin to tell a man in some random band from across the planet that they helped shape the adult person he just tripped over?