Friday, January 16, 2015

Self Help Radio 011615: 1979

(Original image here)

Well, after all this reminiscing about 1979, it's about time there was some music!  Here's around two hours of music from that year, hopefully presented in a pleasing manner, along with facts about the year that I gathered from summary sites & spat back to you.  Who needs Google on the radio?

The show is available all 1979 2015 long at the Self Help Radio website.  Please pay attention to login/password information.  The songs I played are below.

Thanks for listening!

(part one)

"Fantastic Voyage" David Bowie _Lodger_
"Teenage Kicks" The Undertones _Teenage Kicks_
"Boys Don't Cry" The Cure _Boys Don't Cry_
"Dreaming" Blondie _Eat To The Beat_

"My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)" Neil Young & Crazy Horse _Rust Never Sleeps_
"Big Kick, Plain Scrap" Nick Lowe _Labour Of Lust_
"Discovering Japan" Graham Parker _Squeezing Out Sparks_
"Party Girl" Elvis Costello _Armed Forces_

"Industrial Estate" The Fall _Live At The Witch Trials_
"Flat Of Angles" The Fall _Dragnet_
"You Say You Don't Love Me" Buzzcocks _A Different Kind Of Tension_
"Insight" Joy Division _Unknown Pleasures_

"Down By The Side Of The Road" John Prine _Pink Cadillac_
"Came So Far For Beauty" Leonard Cohen _Recent Songs_

(part two)

"Affection" Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers _Back In Your Life_
"Making Plans For Nigel" XTC _Drums & Wires_
"Like Flies On Sherbert" Alex Chilton _Like Flies On Sherbert_

"40 Versions" Wire _154_
"No Looking" The Raincoats _The Raincoats_
"Adventures Close To Home" The Slits _Cut_
"I Found That Essence Rare" Gang Of Four _Entertainment!_

"Air" Talking Heads _Fear Of Music_
"Yellow Pills" 20/20 _20/20_
"Goodbye Girl" Squeeze _Cool For Cats_
"Rudie Can't Fail" The Clash _London Calling_

"Joe's Garage" Frank Zappa _Joe's Garage Act I_

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Whither 1979?

Normally in this space, I remind you that tomorrow I have another Self Help Radio show, on from 7 to 9am, on 88.1 fm in Lexington & online at wrfl dot fm.  I might also mention why I'm doing a particular theme, if I know.  I do know!  This is my birthday week, & way back when I started Self Help Radio, I explored my favorite music from 1968 on my birthday, & it became an annual thing.  I am up to 1979.

But I've been reminiscing about 1979 on this blog, & I want to tell the story of my adventure in 1979, when I was eleven years old, as I spent the longest I would spend away from home until I left for college: a summer passed in Albany, Georgia.

I mentioned previously that I didn't remember my mother telling me & my little brother that we'd be going, but that doesn't mean she didn't.  She must have.  What I do remember is being completely unaware that we'd be away from home for virtually the entire summer.

I talked to both of my sisters yesterday about this.  They cleared up a number of things I didn't know & perhaps had guessed at.  My younger sister, Karin, didn't quite run away from home.  She was miserable in high school & told our mother she wanted to get away, & our mother agreed on the condition that Karin attend school in Georgia.  She didn't - she would return with us when my mother came to pick us up at the end of the summer, & never go back to school - but that was sort of the plan.

As I discovered when I moved from growing, vibrant Austin, Texas, to shrinking, moribund Huntington, West Virginia, a few years ago, there's a tremendous shock to the system when one place is so very much unlike the other.  Garland, Texas, may have been - & may continue to be - the armpit of the Metroplex, but it is next to Dallas, which is a bona fide city; Albany, Georgia, sits lonesome in central south Georgia, two hours away from Tallahassee, Columbus, Macon - not cities in the same class as Dallas.

So my sister wasn't really going to find anything in Georgia but a temporary respite from her teenage misery.  I still applaud her for doing it, & of course I am glad our big sister was there for her.

(In 1980, according to the census, Garland had 139,000 people; Albany had 74,000.  So it wasn't quite as weird as going from Austin to Huntington, but still quite a shock I'd say.)

Now, I might not have thought I'd be spending the summer in Georgia, but it turns out I wasn't alone: my sister & brother-in-law, living on a very modest military salary, didn't think we'd be there all summer, either.  It was probably a bit of a strain for Karin to show up; imagine how tight the budget became when my little brother & I showed up!

Why did my mother not tell my older sister how long she'd be in Germany?  I don't want to be too unkind, but it's weird to look back into my childhood to observe how many things my mother did that were just outright selfish.  I don't have a whole lot of evidence to say she was like that her entire life - but I do have enough to suggest that.  She stayed in Germany for as long as she could because she knew there'd be no repercussions for doing that.  She knew her daughter wouldn't send us away or mistreat us or do anything awful to us.  As she's gotten older, as she's relied upon her daughters more & more, my mother treats them in much the same way.  She asks for virtually nothing from her sons.  But her daughters, it appears, have always been required to do what she says & take care of what she needs.

I was awakened painfully early (school was out!) on an early summer morning (there's a picture of me somewhere in my tee shirt & underwear, sitting on the edge of my bed, looking as though I'd been tortured & sleep-deprived for weeks) & put into a car.  My brother-in-law, the Marine, had probably driven from Georgia the day before.  My little brother, me, my sister, her husband, & their dog Sam went straight back onto the road.  I can't say I wasn't a little excited once I woke up - it would be the longest I'd been in a car in my life.  We drove on small highways - I'm guessing we were on I-20 for a while, but it might not have been as developed as it is now.  My memories are of small road.  & I have two memories of the trip:

1) Stopping at a Stuckey's.  We had a burger there.  It was my first truckstop.  It seemed to me a magical place, full of things unavailable in department stores, but with the feel of a weird overstuffed convenience store with a diner in it.  I remember us eating outside, because Sam was with us, & it was probably too hot to leave him in a car.

2) Driving through the Alabama woods as the day was ending.  I had never seen so many trees, so densely packed.  I felt like I watched whole worlds go by.

My sister & brother-in-law lived in military housing, a small place with a carport, immaculately kept by my sister.  I think my little brother & I were given the extra room, & my sister Karin exiled to the living room.  It was probably a good idea - keeping two spazzy kids in a room you could lock was a good idea.

Now, when I talked to my sister yesterday - my older sister, Pat, who has read my previous entries - I told her I didn't want to say anything mean about her or her husband.  But the realization came pretty quickly to me & my little brother that we were having our summer stolen from us.  The first night after we arrived, we were made to go to bed at 9pm.  9pm!  It was still light out at 9pm.  This was the summer!  I'd be up to all hours watching old movies & Mary Hartmann & whatever else I could find on the television.  What the hell was going on?

I'm sure that my older sister & her husband watched the way my little brother & I were raised - or not raised, as the case may be - & told themselves, "We can do better."  They made us wake at a certain time in the morning, we ate at specific times, we had snacks at specific times.  There were times when we were shown the door & told "go play."

Imagine my shock!  As a willful child, certainly one who wasn't above crying & pitching a fit to get what I wanted, I doubtless tried that.  But my brother-in-law was a Marine.  My sister had already lived through three other kids.  I wasn't going to win.

It didn't help that Albany was basically a swamp.  It rained every day, usually around three in the afternoon, not for a long time, but long enough, which meant it was hot, muggy, & humid all the time.  I have memories of just standing under that carport waiting for the rain to stop.  A summer just standing there.  Wondering what I had done to deserve this.

& there weren't a lot of children in the area, either.  We might have met & played with a couple, but it was mainly my little brother & me, trying to find ways to pass the time.  & me wishing the entire time I was back home.

Oh, to have been more self-aware then!  I'd love to have eavesdropped on telephone calls my sister had with my mother, asking when she'd be coming to get us, perhaps asking for a little money (which my mother didn't have & wouldn't be able to get to her anyway) to help out.  Or the discussions Pat & Dan had about their limited resources.  Both of them are good people, but in retrospect it seems a disrespectful thing was done to them, a thing they've probably never been recompensed for, or even apologized to for.

Look, I know I wasn't tortured or in any way mistreated, spending the summer there, but I did resent it a great deal & for a good period of time afterward.  I think my brother-in-law came to really dislike me at that time, & that dislike was not eased by my teenage years, after he & Pat moved back to Texas.  It took years for him to be agreeable to me - more than fifteen years, I'd reckon.

I felt like I was in Albany for three months, all summer long.  My sister Karin says we were there for two months.

My mother finally showed up, on a Trailways bus, in the middle of August.  She had landed in Dallas, hopped on a bus, & came to get us.  My sister Karin opted to come back with us to Garland, so, after a night's sleep, we four took a Trailways bus back to Texas.  Trailways still exists out there, but in the 1970s, it was the cheaper alternative to Greyhound, & by cheaper, I meant cheapest.  We switched buses a lot on the trip back, & I remember at least one bus had no air conditioning, just open windows.  In the heat of the summer of the Southern United States.  We returned to Garland smelling the opposite of roses.

& our apartment was a mess.  I told my sister last night that it smelled like a Cheech & Chong film.  My brother had not kept it up, & what's worse, he had barely taken care of our rabbit.  She was very thin, & something had happened to one of her eyes - a green film covered it.  We never took her to the vet, & to my complete shame, I was repulsed by her, & didn't spend a lot of time with her after that.  She became this lonesome creature that lived in our little patio that my mother, I suppose, remembered to feed & water, & she actually lived a couple more years.  As someone who now has seven animals that I live for, it angers & saddens me that my self of thirty-five years ago was such a piece of shit to the poor bunny.  It makes sense that as a child I couldn't be trusted with a dog.

& selfish me, I was desperate to reclaim as much summer as I could.  It was two weeks until school started.  I wanted to go swimming in our apartment complex's pool!  The bad news was, as I've mentioned before, the place was a shithole, & it was apparently between effective management, so the pool hadn't been cleaned all summer long.  In fact, it was a deep green color due to algae growth.  Honestly, I would've swam in it anyway.  My mother, alas, would not let me.

& that's how I lost the summer of 1979.  I would make up for it by being a complete sloth the next summer - but there would be a heat wave!  I'll talk about that, I suppose, next year.  I'll try not to kill too many brain cells between now & then.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Preface To 1979: All Calculations Are Off

Getting old is a strange phenomenon.  One's memory, which of course was never as infallible as it one believed it was, is gradually revealed as completely untrustworthy.  The past, which one once remembered with incredible detail, is made general by perspective.  & the stories one tells oneself about one's life stop making sense when everything is put into context.  How our minds do protect us!

In 1979, I was 11 years old.  I was in fourth grade until the summer, & started fifth grade in September (or late August) of the year.  My family had moved, the previous year, to an apartment complex called Villa Cordoba, which is now called Garland Oaks Apartments, located 2900 S. 5th Street, in Garland, Texas. It's a shithole now, & there's no reason to believe it wasn't a shithole then.

We lived in those apartments for maybe five years.  It would be the longest I lived anywhere in my childhood, although we lived in three different apartments in the complex (if I remember correctly, apartments 30, 18, & 47, in that order) during that time.  In 1979, we lived in apartment 18, which was in the back of the apartments, on the northeastern corner.

Thanks to the magic of Google Maps, & the fact that the apartment complex backed into a Lutheran church, I actually was able to find a (not great) picture of the apartment in which my family lived in 1979:

(The picture is taken from the street view of First Street.  An alley connecting the streets, running past the church on the left & a school on the right, also served as part of the apartment complex's driveway area, & parking spaces sat in front of the apartments, whose doors looked out, & still look out, on all four sides.)

Apartment 18 is the one on the corner.  The window on the second floor was the window in my & my little brother's bedroom.  We would sleep with the curtains open so the rising sun would wake us.  I remember people I knew in middle school (which I would start the next year & which was actually right next to the apartments) telling me they could see me sleeping when they went to the church.  They were probably being mean; I was just embarrassed.

I seem to remember it being puke-pink.  It had a little fenced-in "patio" in the back.  The patio is important because all through my childhood I - like every other kid in the world - wanted a dog.  My mother simply told us we couldn't have one; she never gave us excuses about apartment rules or pet deposits, maybe because she didn't want us to know how poor we really were.  But she did get us a rabbit, which I named Sunny, although later someone told us he was a she, so she became Sunshine.  Sunshine lived a terrible life, even for a domestic rabbit.  We had no idea how to care for her, & when we discovered she wasn't the most playful thing that ever lived, she became just something that lived in a shabbily-constructed little home in our patio, which had no cover, so she was constantly exposed to the Texas heat.  The patio, with its stucco or adobe walls that only went into the ground so far, had little dirt areas (nothing would grow, of course) that Sunny was constantly digging through - she must've escaped half a dozen times.  I wish she would have, because dying of a car accident or something else sudden would have been better than her sad, sad fate.

It should be noted at the outset that, as children of a single mom who worked a lot, & overseen by a sister in the prime of her teen years, my little brother & I were mostly left alone & not really watched or disciplined.  In fact, we might have turned out much, much worse if we hadn't been raised by my particular mother.  My mother is terrified of the world, & every other thing she said out loud to us was some superstition or other awful thing that happened to people who weren't paying suitably afraid & wary.  With a different parent, my little brother or I might have left the confines of the apartments & gotten into real trouble; with my mother's constant tales of the world's terrors, we rarely ventured far from home.

Despite that, we were doubtless brats.  Certainly we were enough bother that my sister Karin resents me (at least) to this day for being someone she was forced to constantly watch.  She will tell me, even now, what a "pain in the ass" I was, & I am always a little baffled how I am to respond.  I was a child.  I had a mother to whom I was still pretty attached, whose love I competed for among seven children (& which competition, as I've noted before, my mother actively encouraged).  Winning favor with her was everything.  My little brother would snitch on me, I would snitch on him, & of course we both would tell our mother anything we knew about whatever illicit things (usually involving boys) my sister was doing.  There was certainly no malevolence involved - how could there be?  But boy did my sister & my sister's boyfriends (& boy friends, of which there were many) dislike me.  One of them, who I remember looking like a kind of goatroper Frankenstein, even once came close to actually striking me.

That resentment came to a head in the middle of 1979, when my sister Karin dropped out of school (she would've been, I guess, in eleventh grade), & fled to Albany, Georgia, where my oldest sister & her husband had recently relocated.

There are two things I want to note about this action by my sister:

1) It was a ballsy thing to do.  It was not something any of my mother's sons would have even considered doing.  The Dickerson boys, by virtue of being nurtured by their fearful mother, are at heart cowards.  (& yeah, I include myself.)  My sister did have sense enough to go somewhere safe, which may have been influenced a little by my mother's constant world-dread.

2) The dropping out thing was a 70s phenomenon.  I guess it still happens with sad regularity, but in the 1970s it was a kind of a statement.  Certainly in my family, it was something that probably wouldn't have been done without the lingering effects of the 1960s.  There are seven of us, & only four of us graduated high school.  My sister was the third to drop out, after brothers number 2 & 3, respectively.  It will perhaps warm your heart to know that all three eventually did get GEDs.

I have only vague memories of my mother's reaction to my sister's escape.  The apartment had three upstairs bedrooms, & my sister's, in the middle, was a windowless room whose door was always closed.  I remember the door to the room being strangely open after my sister left.  But I don't really recall a lot of my mother's reactions to things; I assume she was upset about a lot of stuff, because she's still like that, today.  But if she ever really freaked out about things like my sister running away, her children dropping out of high school, or even those rare times my alcoholic father would come by (when she was at work) & take us somewhere, I don't have a clear memory of them.

Unfairly, using evidence gleaned from paying attention to her for the last two decades, I might say she was simply looking out for herself.  My mother's narcissism & selfishness surely couldn't have risen, fully formed, in the last act of her life.  But in the interest of being a little more understanding I might say that she was simply too busy trying to provide for three children to allow herself to worry to a crippling extent.

In early summer 1979 - school had just ended, & I was looking forward to the laziness & freedom of the school break - my oldest sister & her husband came to town very early one morning - there's a photo somewhere of me looking stupid because I had been awakened around 5am - & whisked us away to spend the summer with them in Albany, Georgia.  I have no memory about being told this would happen, & it was certainly a surprise for me.  We were out the door before the sun came up.

I bring up my rabbit & her sad fate because it was difficult to leave her to spend the summer in Georgia.  Because my little brother & I were taken there not as a vacation, but (spoiler alert) as a place to stay while my mother visited her family in Germany.  My younger sister was already there, with my older sister & her husband; my brother Eddie had a wife & lived elsewhere; which left my two older brothers.  My brother Steve (brother number 2, child number 3) may have gotten married by then (my sister seems to think so).  Which left my brother Ralph (brother number 3, child number 4), who had lived with Steve & so now was abandoned by marriage, to be the caretaker of apartment 18 - & poor Sunny.

Boy I had a lot to write about 1979.  I'll write about my trip to Georgia & the return tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

When I Was Still Eleven...

I meant to tell a story about the year 1979, but the day got away from me.  Can I tell the story tomorrow?  Thanks.

Monday, January 12, 2015

When I Was Eleven...

The show this week is my birthday show.  I was born on January 20, 1968.  When I first started doing Self Help Radio, I thought it would be fun, on the week of my birthday, to do a show featuring my favorite music from the year of my birth.  & then, since it would be weird to devote a show to 1968 every year, I decided to move up a year on subsequent shows, so the next year I'd do 1969, the year after that I'd explore 1970, etc.

Because I was born in January, I would be the age I turned on my birthday for nearly most of the year.  This is handy for remembering a certain year of my life.  It's not so handy when it comes to schooling.  In January 1979, I was in the fourth grade, a miserable experience; fifth grade would be a little better.

I talked some about my life in 1978 previously on this blog.  That link is good at pointing out two important things.  One is that virtually none of the music I'm playing on my show this week is music I listened to at the time, though I had at the very least discovered the Beatles by this point.  I did listen to the radio constantly, & so did my older brothers, who (as I also noted last year) listened to none of the great punk & post-punk that was happening at the time.  This may be because it simply wasn't being played on the radio - but the fact that the Sex Pistols played in Dallas - Dallas! - ten days before my eleventh birthday & none of my family probably noticed says a lot, I think, about the limited amount of musics I had access to.

Strangely, I can't remember the name of my fifth grade teacher.  She was a very nice person & she made us sit in desks that were grouped in fours.  My group - at least for a while - included someone with whom I am still friends, Dale Smith, & also a fellow named Greg Brown, who never liked me.  (Greg went on to become valedictorian of my high school class, & I was frankly surprised he didn't turn out to be gay.)  The other person was a fellow named Phil Claunch, who was kind of my best friend.  I say "kind of" because he teased me mercilessly about things that I had very little control over - mainly things that existed because my family was very poor - like my terrible teeth & my clothes.  Still, I must've been amusing enough to be around, as my little brother & I would ride our bikes to school to Phil's house - which meant riding up a big hill on Parkmont - & get him before we went to the school.  It wasn't a long ride - maybe a half mile - but it was quite a triumph that my mother, a person so full of fear that I think she's lived to a ripe old age mainly because she's terrified of dying, even let us.  She confided in me later that she would call the school every morning to make sure we got there okay.  I don't think she did it all year long, but certainly she probably did it longer than most parents would.

I remember that group of four because I somehow convinced all of them to help me make my first comic book.  I was obsessed with comics & even though I had virtually no sense of humor, I drew strips all the time.  I got Dale, Phil, & Greg to write strips, then to copy them three times (!) so we could have four issues.  (I had no access to the mimeograph machine.)  I remember my most successful strip was me illustrating a joke from a book of "jokes for kids" I got from the library.  I remember Dale did a strip called "Big Red" that involved a cowboy who was so large all you saw was his boot.  & I remember Greg making a "Battle Of The Planets" parody that I liked so much that I made my own - which annoyed him - but mine was more detailed because I loved the show more.  He may have started hating me then, although it did boil over in Music class later in fifth grade because both of us had memorized the required terms, & we answered questions to a standstill.

Or it may have come earlier - I remember a similar competition with him in third grade, involving times tables.  From a young age, I've hated competition.  It made me uncomfortable, & I was by the age of eight or nine exhausted by constantly competing with my little brother.  In school, which didn't seem to operate by the same rules of my house, where my mother openly encourage her children to vie with each other for her affection & approval, in school competition seemed weird to me.  Anyone who did well could get an "A."  There didn't need to be a winner.

In third grade against Greg Brown, I just decided I'd had enough, & was yelled at for it.  In fifth grade - possibly also against Greg Brown - I purposely flubbed a word in a spelling bee competition when I realized that, after it was done in the class, if I won, I'd have to compete against the winner in the other fifth grade class, & then that, after, with the one who won at his or her elementary school - it just seemed endless, endless discomfort, endless pressure, endless attention to something that didn't mean anything to me.

So when I misspelled the crucial word, I said, out loud, "Oh well!  Back to my comic!"  & my teacher, furious with me, took the comics from me & told me I couldn't make them any more.  (It didn't make me any more competitive, however.)

The teacher was otherwise very nice.  I wish I could remember her name!  I liked her definitely more than my fourth grade teacher, & I remember her treating me with respect.  Her anger at me throwing the spelling bee was probably because she expected more from me.  I was, & I say this not as a boast, a pretty smart kid.

I may be getting dates mixed up, but I believe the summer of 1979 was the first summer I ever spent away from home.  In the summer of 1974, I spent a couple of weeks with my mother & little brother in Germany, but in June of 1974, my brother & I were whisked away from our home - & from the summer I loved, the time to sleep late, watch reruns, & go swimming - & taken to Albany, Georgia, for almost three months.  I'll talk about that tomorrow.