I think nearly everyone has one of those idyllic summers that are often the centerpiece of Stephen King stories of youth, like “The Body.” I’m not talking horror stories but coming-of-age pieces that, when you look back upon them as an adult, seem to form the absolute best times of your adolescence. For me, it wasn’t a summer. It was two weeks in the spring of 1989 when, toward the end of 11th grade, the teachers of the Los Angeles Unified School District went on strike.
I’ve written about this before. Today, me and my friends who lived through the strike look back on it fondly. Our spouses, who didn’t live through the strike, have gotten quite sick about us talking about it when we get together, and I suppose if I were in their shoes, I would be sick of it too. But I lived it. And as a 17-year old, it was two weeks of unheard freedom during the spring. Two weeks when school was closed down. Two weeks when we had our parents permission to leave campus and do whatever we wanted.
We didn’t go crazy and that’s part of what was great about it. Over the course of the first few days, we simply hung out at friends’ houses near the school. As the days stretched on, we began to expand our range. We went to the Peppertree theaters, a cheap second-run movie house, and the guys went to see John Ritter in Blake Edwards’ Skin Deep, while the girls went to see Beaches. On another day we went to the beach. It was absolute heaven.
Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” is a big reminder of those two weeks. There are lesser reminders (like Elvis Costello’s “Veronica” and R.E.M.’s “Stand”), but “Free Fallin'” became not only an reminder of the Strike, but an anthem for those last days of school before the summer of our senior year. We went to high school in Reseda, California, and there is a line in the song that goes:
And it’s a long day, living in Reseda,
There’s a freeway, running through the yard…
It makes it feel like the song was custom-made for us.
Some songs are like time machines: they can transport you through the years. Living Colour’s “Broken Hearts” is one such song. But in stark contrast to a song like “Don’t You Forget About Me,” “Broken Hearts” takes me to a place beyond those raging and changing hormones, a place to where I’d finally found friends that would last a lifetime, a place where I felt like a grown-up for the first time. Indeed, listening to “Broken Hearts” brings back some very specific memories.
Friday or Saturday nights in the spring, tenth or eleventh grade. I had my drivers license and would get permission from my folks to take out the white Nissan Stanza. That car had a stereo tape deck. I’d pop in my Living Colour Vivid album, roll down the window and then drive down the length of Tampa Avenue from Rinaldi, where we lived, all the way across the Valley to Ventura Blvd to meet my friends at Corbin Bowl. There were countless stop lights along the way and I can remember sitting at one of those lights. The air was warm outside, the sun getting lower in the western skies, the palm trees that line Sherman Way casting long shadows to the east. And “Broken Hearts” playing in the background.
We usually had a petty good sized group at Corbin Bowl. We’d bowl, of course, but I don’t think that was actually the point. The point was to get together, to hang out, and have a brief taste of a kind of freedom that none of us had ever really experienced before. We didn’t always even meet at the bowling alley, but for some reason, when I hear this song, I am always reminded of being in the car on the way to meet my friends to go bowl.
After bowling we might go back to one of my friend’s houses. More likely, if we were feeling expansive, we might crowd into a booth at Denny’s. It was a wonderful, near-idyllic time, and as the spring of 1989 rolled around, it was going to reach an unusual peak.
High school. The fall of 1987 was my first year in high school: 10th grade. I didn’t got to my local high school. I was part of the magnet program in Los Angeles and went to Cleveland Humanities Magnet in Reseda, California. (At the time, my local high school would have been Kennedy High School).) It was very early in my first year of high school that I met and became friends with people with whom I am still friends today, some 22 years later. In fact, I talked to some of them on the phone this very afternoon.
And now here is where my timeline gets a little messed up. I always associate the start of high school with the beginnings of Pirate Radio 100.3 in Los Angeles, but a quick check tells me that while I started high school in 1987, Pirate radio didn’t start until 1989. Nevertheless, I still associate Pirate Radio with high school and will continue to do so no matter what the real timeline says. Pirate radio’s staple was Guns ‘n’ Roses, but the song that I think of when I think of the early years in high school is Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford’s “Close My Eyes Forever.”
My first year in high school we were still living in Granada Hills and I had this routine. Wake up early, eat breakfast, then fall asleep on the couch for a little while. At some point, I’d wake up and catch the bus to school. Those bus rides–on the order of an hour long–I’d listen to music and the kind of music I’d listen to was the kind of music that was played on Pirate Radio. “Close My Eyes Forever” was just one of those songs, and even if the timeline is off, that song reminds me very much of those early times in high school.
We had a bit of an unusual high school program. Whereas most kids had English and History, those of us in the humanities magnet program did not. We had an evenly divided course of philosophy, literature, social institutions, and art history. Every test we took was an essay test and I give complete credit to that program for my ability to “write on my feet” as I can do today. And whenever I hear “Close My Eyes Forever” I am back in the early days of those classes, hanging out with the people who would eventually become lifelong friends. We were just kids back then, and now we all have kids of our own and it is a bit disconcerting to think of it that way. But the hormones had left the system and my mind was being challenged in ways that it had never before been challenged. Life was good and I even think I knew it at the time.
And it would get even better as I moved from tenth to eleventh grade. Eleventh grade was unique in several respects, one of which provided an extremely rare opportunity to a group of friends. But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out about that. In the meantime, some Ozzy and Lita:
I’m halfway through this musical autobiography with just ten days remaining in my 30s. The last few songs have been covering those awkward years when puberty hits and the rush of hormones through your veins cause all kinds of strange feelings and emotions. Perhaps no song better epitomizes these feelings for me than Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.” The song was from the movie, Top Gun, a movie which I loved when it came out in 1986. The song plays in the scene in which Maverick and his instructor (played by Kelly McGillis) are having sex at her house near the beach. I recall seeing that movie in the theater and so clearly thinking during that scene how I wish I could be Tom Cruise’s character at that moment. It was, perhaps, the peak of the hormone rush. Indeed, any time I hear that song (I played it just now) I am back in that theater, watching that scene and wishing that I was Maverick.
But that song represents the end of that era for me. The hormones were fading, high school was approaching. I don’t think I recognized at the time that those strange feelings were finally going away, but looking back on it, I must have been glad to be rid of them and feel normal again. High school ended up being a much better time for me than junior high school. While virtually none of my junior high school friendships survived, nearly all of the people I was close friends with in high school are still my good friends today. It’s strange in some way, more than twenty years later. Most of us have kids of our own and are doing our best to act like mature and responsible parents. Sometimes it makes me laugh to think how far we have come to get to that point.
My first New Year’s Eve party was on December 31, 1984. I was in 7th grade. This was an all-night party and lots of kids from school were attending. There wasn’t anything illicit going on. No drinking or drugs that I am aware of, but everyone was euphoric. The party started in the evening and went on until the sun came up. At one point during the night, there was a scavenger hunt. Much, much later, as the sun was beginning to rise, a bunch of us found our way to one of the cement tributaries of the L.A. river.
There was a certain freedom I felt that night that I’d never felt before. After that night, I began to think of myself a “grown-up.” At some point during the night, music had been playing and people were dancing and one of the songs that came on was DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night.” That song always reminds me of that party, especially the opening of the song.
As an amusing footnote, I was supposed to go to a friend’s house on January 1. Well, I got home from the party and went through my day. I’d been up all night–another first for me–but I plodded along and came time to go to my friend’s house, off I went. But after I’d been there only a little while, I began to feel strange. I didn’t feel like myself and it was pronounced enough to call my parents and ask them to pick me up, something I would never have dreamed of doing before. They picked me up, and off home I went. The lack of sleep was producing all kinds of hallucinations and I remember sitting down to dinner (we were having chicken Parmesan) and constantly looking nervously over my shoulder. Right after dinner I went to bed and had the second best night’s sleep I can ever remember.
To this day, however, I feel bad about leaving my friend’s house. I can remember how much I looked forward to friends coming over and how disappointed I’d get if circumstances prevented them from coming. In my imagination, my friend must have been bitterly disappointed that I left his house for the silly reason of partying all night long the night before.
Remember your first school dance? I’m not talking about the square dancing you would do in sixth grade as part of a program for the school show. I’m talking about a real dance where your music was playing and there were, you know, girls to dance with?
I think mine was in seventh grade, although it very well could have been eighth grade. I can remember the auditorium very clearly. I was into Flight Simulator at the time and I remember walking into that auditorium thinking about the Microsoft product. But I quickly forgot about it. The auditorium was all decked out. I can’t remember if there were teachers acting as chaperones, but I am certain there were. The truth is, I can’t actually remember if I danced with anyone, but I do remember a song that was played partway through the school dance: Madonna’s “Crazy For You.” Anytime I hear that song, I’m reminded of that first school dance, and the strange feelings it brought about (thanks in large part to the hormones).
There were a number of girls that I “asked out” in my junior high school years. I don’t remember if any of them had any interest in me whatsoever, or if they even noticed me much. I remember asking out one girl who sat next to me in home room. During the morning break, I turned to my friend and said, “Hold my milk!” I then walked over to her and asked her out. Where on earth I thought we’d end up going, I have no idea, and I suppose in hindsight, I’m extremely lucky that she said to me that she was flattered, but she just wanted to be friends. (Many years later, I wrote a story science fiction story about the incident called “The Guardian Angel Project.” I think it was in seventh grade that I really started noticing girls, thanks in large part, I’m sure, to the chemicals in my blood stream.
Eventually, my luck improved, but there were some awkward moments in those early years, and even more to come. Madonna’s “Crazy For You” is one reminder of those awkward moments. But as Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back, “There is another…”
That same school year that saw me in the darkness of seventh grade also saw a number of musicians come together as part of USA for Africa. “We Are the World” is another iconic song of the mid-80s and an equally iconic song for my life in seventh grade. Unlike “Don’t You Forget About Me”, this song is associated with more positive memories.
When I hear this song, I am mostly reminded of the times I’d spend at friend’s houses. It didn’t really matter what we were doing: playing Ultima III; watching movies; just hanging out. It was nice just to be on my own, away from school, to not have to think about homework or tests that were coming up next week.
Then, too, the video for the song was an equally big deal and for a while, it seemed as if it was just about the only video played. I could turn on the TV at any given moment and somewhere, that video would be playing (much like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video some years earlier).
The combination of these two songs, “Don’t You Forget About Me” and “We Are the World” still provide a strong emotional one-two punch. It is difficult for me to listen to them back-to-back (as I have just done, in writing these posts).
Seventh grade was a new world for me. New school, new friends, and there was also the fact that you didn’t remain in the same classroom all day, but instead you moved from class to class over the course of the day. Six periods, with a break in the morning and a break at lunch time. The school I attended, Porter Junior High, was a little closer to my house than my elementary school so that was convenient. But there was one added inconvenience that lingered throughout seventh grade: puberty.
Seventh grade, for me, spanned 1984-95, and in early 1985, The Breakfast Club was out in theaters and extremely popular, at least among my friends. The closing song from the movie became my anthem for seventh grade: Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me.” There was a time when hearing that song would transport me back to those dark, rainy, days when my blood was filled with all kinds of hormones. I say “dark and rainy” because I can’t remember a sunny day in seventh grade. The chemicals coursing through my veins made me moody and the sunshine seemed to evaporate away.
I had a rough time in seventh grade. School, which was so easy for me in sixth grade, became much more difficult for me in seventh. I struggled particularly in math, for no other reason than I simply didn’t care, didn’t pay attention. I also found it difficult to do my homework, and that too affected my grades. But despite all that, I survived, I made it through and there was a light at the end of that dark, dark tunnel Indeed, I can distinctly remember laying in bed at night, dreading going to school the next morning. I felt like I was at the bottom of some deep well from which I could never escape. But I did.
Looking back on it, it’s painfully amusing. But it was all deadly serious back then. And The Breakfast Club was the perfect movie to reflect that tween-angst that I was experiencing.
I shiver just watching this video.
The summer olympics in Los Angeles was one of those truly memorable events for a twelve-year-old. There were all kinds of interesting things happening that summer. In addition to Olympics Everywhere, there were these strange little signs cropping up all over town. Sometimes it appeared on a billboard. Other times on a bus bench. Still other times as a sticker stuck to the side of a boarded up wall. It looked like this:
Of course, it turned out to be for Ghostbusters, the movie, but the marketing campaign never made that clear, as I recall it, and people wandered around in those pre-Internet days wondering what it was all about. It was brilliant. The movie was released in June of 1984.
But even more than the Ghostbusters theme song, another song really stands out from that summer that captures the spirit of the time as the summer drew to a close: Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long.” Richie performed the song during the closing ceremonies of the ’84 olympics and I remember watching those ceremonies rather in awe that the olympics were over so quickly. All of the hype and all of the glory (remember Mary Lou Retton!) that led up to it had zipped by along with the summer. School would be starting soon. I’d be leaving elementary school behind and entering junior high school. But that summer was, for many people, like one big party, all night long, and whenever I hear Lionel Richie’s song, I always think fondly of those closing days of summer in 1984.
Soon, everything would begin to change.
When I first moved to L.A., I didn’t realize that I wasn’t going to like it. There was the usual sadness over leaving behind friends (and especially my grandparents). Most of those friend connections were forever severed by that move. But my first school year in L.A., sixth grade, was a breeze for me. I was placed in the highest level reading class in the school, and despite that, we were reading the same book that I read in fifth grade in Rhode Island. When sixth grade was over, I was cheerful thank to an easy year of school. My first summer in L.A. had arrived, the summer of 1984, and it was a particularly special summer.
The Olympics were taking place in town.
It was during the summer olympics that I became aware of the Nike ad that used Randy Newman’s song “I Love L.A.” That song, it seemed, was everywhere. You couldn’t take two steps without hearing it coming out of one speaker or another. And although I grew discontent with L.A. rather quickly (and though it took twenty years, I eventually got back to the east coast), I always like Randy Newman’s song, and even when I hear it today, I think fondly of L.A. because it reminds me of that pleasant summer after a successful year in school, when the Olympics were in town.
I attended one event: a high-diving event. I couldn’t tell you who was competing in the event. The pool in which the olympians dove into was an L-shaped pool, and we were about as far away from the diving area as we could get, sitting in some bleachers under a hot sun. But it was a lot of fun to get to go. And I would never have been to an Olympic event if I hadn’t been in L.A. when the Olympics happened to be there as well.
Van Halen’s “Jump” is a kind of transitionary song for me. And a big transition it was. In October 1983, after living in Warwick, Rhode Island for four years, we moved again, this time to Granada Hills, California, a suburb of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. Shortly after we moved, Van Halen’s “Jump” was released and was an immediate hit. I can remember listening to it, and I love it.
And now here, my memory is all confused. I could swear that I first heard the song the summer before we moved to Los Angeles. We had a friend who lived near my grandparent’s who was a wiz at the keyboard. He could play “Jump” (and many other songs) and to my ears, it sounded as if I was hearing it on the radio. In fact, he taught me how to play the song on the keyboard, chords and all, and to this day, it is the only song I was every able to play on a musical instrument.
When I hear the song, it reminds me mostly of my last days on the east coast (we spent most of the summer of 1983 at my grandparents house) and the very early days in Los Angeles. It’s one of those songs, like Def Leppard’s “Photograph“, that I love listening to, and for which I crank up the volume when the song is playing.
Moving to L.A. was a bit of a disorienting experience for me–at least at first. And yet we moved at a time in which it was very interesting to live in Los Angeles, as you shall soon see.
Sometime in 1979 or 1980, my dad got a new company car. It had an FM stereo with one of those antennas that would retract. Back then, we used to make the trip from Warwick, Rhode Island to Spring Valley, New York with fair regularity. We’d hop onto I-95 and sit on that road for nearly 3 hours, as we passed through the length of Connecticut. Of course, we’d listen to the radio while we drove.
One time, I recall going with just my dad. We were driving along toward sunset. As we passed through New Haven the Long Island sound was orange and countless sailboats spread across its surface. Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” came on the radio. I remember this distinctly: my dad grew very excited. “The bells!” he clamored, “Listen to the bells!” As the song opens there are bells in the background and in our fancy new car stereo, you could (apparently) hear them chime throughout the car.
Ever since, Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” has reminded me of the drive from Warwick to Spring Valley. Indeed, the song is emblematic of that drive. There are many songs that I recall along that route (“Upside Down”, “Rosanna”, “Queen of Hearts”, “Africa”, “Leader of the Band”) but no song makes me thing of that drive more than “Sailing,” Those trips were special because it meant that we were going to visit my grandparents, and I loved going to visit my grandparents. And, of course, there was the coincidence of our timing, passing through New Haven with the sun setting on the Long Island sound dotted with sailboats. That image is forever associated with the song. It was a long drive for an eight-year old, but it was always a happy drive, at least in my memory of it.