Thursday, January 19, 2017

Self Help Radio 011817: 1981

(Original image here.)

People love lists.  People spend all day on the internet looking at lists.  When I was a kid, I read all three copies of "The Book Of Lists."  I have a friend who's intensely interested in lists.  Give me a list of your top ten favorite artists, he has said.  What are your favorite records of this & such year?  Make a list!  Make a list of the best movies you've seen!  List!  List!  List!

Frankly I am leery of such lists.  First of all, it seems like once you've committed to a list, especially a hierarchical one, you're less likely to want to go back to change it.  Secondly, aren't lists conditional? I mean, none of my favorite hip-hop records from 1981 made it onto my show, but that's only because I don't think about hip-hop in the same way as music that affected me when I was younger.  Which is to say that there are times I'd much rather listen to "Apache" by the Sugarhill Gang than "Ceremony" by New Order.  (Both singles were released in 1981.)

The best kind of list I can offer is this sort of show.  On this week's Self Help Radio, I played songs from my favorite releases of 1981.  Two of these were recorded before, but not released until, 1981.  Eight of them came from singles or EPs.  Almost all of them would wait to be discovered by me until late high school/college.

& here's the show, now at the Self Help Radio website. Pay attention to username/password info on the front page.  The songs I played are below.  The fact that it's now thirty-six years since 1981 kinda blows my mind.

(part one)

"Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste" The Modern Lovers _The Original Modern Lovers_
"Nothing's Going To Happen" Tall Dwarfs _Three Songs_
"Fast Boyfriends" Girls At Our Best! _Pleasure_

"Exercise One" Joy Division _Still_
"Ceremony" New Order _Ceremony_
"The Passion Of Lovers" Bauhaus _Mask_
"Spellbound" Siouxsie & The Banshees _Juju_

"Charlotte Sometimes" The Cure _Charlotte Sometimes_
"Into You Like A Train" The Psychedelic Furs _Talk Talk Talk_
"Zoo-Music Girl" The Birthday Party _Prayers On Fire_
"Don't Shake Me Lucifer" Roky Erickson & The Aliens _The Evil One_

"Leave The Capitol" The Fall _Slates_
"Jerkin' Back & Forth" Devo _New Traditionalists_

(part two)

"This Angry Silence" Television Personalities _...And Don't The Kids Just Love It_
"Join The Book Club" George Carlin _A Place For My Stuff!_
"Help Me Somebody" Brian Eno & David Byrne _My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts_

"This Is Radio Clash" The Clash _This Is Radio Clash_
"That's Entertainment" The Jam _That's Entertainment_
"The KKK Took My Baby Away" The Ramones _Pleasant Dreams_
"That's When I Reach For My Revolver" Mission Of Burma _Signals, Calls, & Marches_

"New Lace Sleeves" Elvis Costello & The Attractions _Trust_
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" The Police _Ghost In The Machine_
"Since You're Gone" The Cars _Shake It Up_
"Belinda" Eurythmics _In The Garden_

"Poor Old Soul" Orange Juice _Poor Old Soul_
"Sorry For Laughing" Josef K _The Only Fun In Town_

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Whither 1981?

(Image from here.)

When Self Help Radio began, I thought of each show being a unique theme, nothing revisited, nothing repeated.  But within two months of doing the show, I realized I would probably do a Christmas show every year.  & then my birthday came around.

My birthday is January 20 - yes, inauguration day.  On my first birthday, Nixon became the President of the United States.  On my thirteenth, it was Reagan.  On & on.  More awful presidents have taken over the job on my birthday than good ones.  & this year will probably be the awfulest.

In 2003, I came up with the idea of, on my birthday, revisiting my favorite music from the year of my birth.  It was a cool idea & I kept with it, starting then at 1968 & arriving this year at (you guessed it) 1981.  The earlier shows, of course, didn't feature music I liked at that age - I barely remember any music I listened to in 1969, for instance, but rather featured music I have come to love from that year.  But we're getting closer.  At least two of the songs on the show tonight that I might play were songs I loved from the radio in 1981.  But most of them were still things I discovered later.

Personally I think it was an amazing year for music.  But you might not like the same things I like, so we'll just have to see.  Or hear.  The show's on tonight from 8-10 pm central, 9-11 pm eastern on 93.9 fm WLXU in Lexington, online at everywhere.

Hope you'll come back to the past with me tonight!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Preface To 1981: Middle School Life Crisis

This week's show features music from 1981.  If you don't already know why, I'll tell you tomorrow.

In 1981, I was 13.  It was in seventh grade that I met my friend Russell, who's my friend to this day.  He plays (or inhabits) the Reverend Dr. Howard Gently on the show.  Here's something interesting: being two shy kids, who spent way too much time in their rooms, we actually pretended on the phone to be a radio show - I was Gary Franklin (no idea why that name happened), he was all the callers.  I have tapes of us doing that that one day I may share.

Because Russell lived a fair distance away & because we were both introverted, we were friends mainly on the phone.  I still had a few friends in my apartment complex where me, my mother, & my little brother lived, but, usually because poor families don't stay in one place for long, & those friends would come & go, mostly I spent time alone.

My memory is fuzzy about the difference between the summers that happened between the grades.  I suspect that the summer after seventh but before eighth grade is when I became friends with a fellow named Gus, who had been a classmate of my little brother's, who contacted me out of the blue to ask about comic book collecting.  The truth is, at the time, I suspected I might be outgrowing comics.  I couldn't really afford new ones, & the convenience store at which my mother worked had been sold - she would let me show up, grab some off the rack, & make off with them - & instead she was working at a drug store which was, shall we say, less easy to pilfer from.  But I also had read the ones I had too many times & found the style a little tiring, especially when compared with books I was reading.  But Gus told me about comics by people with names like John Byrne & Frank Miller who were apparently revolutionizing the industry.

Gus was just interested in making money through selling comics, but I had always loved them & would eventually spend the better part of my teens collecting them.  That summer, though, my little brother & I would walk nearly every weekday from the apartments to Gus' house to hang out with him.  (Google maps says it is 1.2 miles away - I imagine we did it even when it was quite warm out, but luckily the route was shaded by big old trees.)  It must have been the summer of 1981 because "Bette Davis Eyes" was always on the radio when we listened.

What we spent our summer hours doing I haven't the foggiest.  I remember two things.  One, I shot my little brother point blank with a b.b. gun.  I didn't know it was loaded.  It luckily didn't break the skin.  To this day he believes I did it on purpose - he brought it up a year & a half ago at my sister's memorial!

The second was that we were walking around in the attic area & I stepped off one of the wooden bars & went right through the ceiling landing on Gus' bed.  It was terrifying & I was lucky I didn't break anything - it could've been, for example, above the bathtub or the kitchen.  I don't remember if I got in any trouble.  For either of these incidents.  We would come back to Gus' house & there'd be a hole in his bedroom ceiling.

On days we didn't go to visit Gus I probably talked on the phone with Russell.

One thing I think happened at that time is that my sister Karin moved back in with us briefly.  She had moved out after she "ran away" the year or two before, & would eventually move in with the man who would become her husband, but for a time she slept in a bed in my room (I assume my little brother slept downstairs) & she'd wake me when she came in during the nights.  It often unnerved me, like someone was breaking into my room.

As for eighth grade, well.  I think I liked it better than seventh grade, but things were still confusing.  I didn't really have an idea of what I thought "attractive" was & puzzled over the tastes of my classmates.  Simply put, I didn't think any of the "popular" girls were all that pretty, but it had little to do with how they actually looked.  I could tell they were snobbish, & they were vary fashion-conscious - this was around the time the "preppy" look became the suburban style.  I still mostly wore hand-me-downs & whatever my mother bought me.  (Still!  I dress the same.  In fact, one KOOPer once told me I dress like a thirteen-year-old boy.)  But I paid attention, & tried to see girls through the (stupid, young, gross) eyes of my classmates.  & of course I had no idea about anything like kissing or sex.  That was so outside of any experience I could imagine having that it went beyond science fiction.

That's not entirely true.  I did have a crush on someone.  But it wasn't much more than a kind of far away admiration.  It became harder & harder to talk to her as time went on.

One teacher I was very fond of was my American History teacher, Mrs. Lane.  She was very kind to me.  Another was my English teacher, Mrs. Bishop, whom everyone hated but who was unusually rigorous about understanding literature for a middle school teacher.  It just occurred to me they're both probably dead now.  It's strange that's not easy to find out online.

My classmates were the same classmates I had had for my entire run of middle school, so it was a more comfortable grade I entered, even if I was still mostly thought of as an outsider, or a nerd, or a weirdo.  Man, thinking about eighth grade has made all kinds of memories flood back.  I can tell three stories & then I have to stop.

The first one is in health class.  I have always been squeamish about intravenous drugs &, just like in sixth grade, I passed out while watching a film strip about heroin.  Spent the day in the nurse's office. Was asked about it all the next day.  Experience the odd thrill of minor celebrity.

At some point - I'm not sure how this came up - I think this was with the Yearbook staff - we were in the school after hours - I dared another student - I can't remember who it was - to go write some bad words in the boy's room.  No, it was someone I worked with in the library.  Library staff got to travel freely in the halls during school.  The other person was in the seventh grade, & I was in the eighth.  I dared him to write something awful in the boy's room in his hall & I would do the same in mine.  I wrote something that today would be completely innocuous - something I'm not entirely sure I knew what it meant - but it was something like "Cheerleaders are easy."  I was shocked to find out some time later than this so affected the cheerleaders that one of them got in trouble for going into the boys' room to scrub it off the walls.  I felt just awful about it.

Finally - & this may have happened in 1982, because it feels like something that would have happened at the end of the year - I was in Beta Club - it's where I met Russell, I was very amused by his heckling at the dire meetings we had - & occasionally we were told we had to sell stuff for whatever club budget shit.  In this case it was M&Ms.  I lived in an apartment complex with lots of poor people, who knew a fifty cent box of M&Ms was no deal at all when you could walk to the Minyard's & get them for twenty cents, so I didn't sell many.  I actually barely tried.  I hated selling things.  I had tried before, tried to solicit newspaper subscriptions & just hated it.  Hated knocking on doors & hated pushing products.  I helped my mother at a convenience store, I would wait while people picked out what they wanted to buy & then came to me.

When the time came to collect, I returned a nearly-full box to the Beta Club sponsors.  One of them - the same woman, I believe, who was my Yearbook Club sponsor - was furious with me.  She accused me of not trying, of being lazy, of being indolent.  I told her, because I couldn't really see the point, that I didn't enjoy & wasn't very good at selling things, & if it was a condition of my membership that I sell a certain amount of M&Ms to be in the Beta Club, I guess I wouldn't be in the club.  She just stared at me, then gave a cry of exasperation, & left.

You see, I didn't really understand about things like service groups & college applications back then - how could I?  None of my siblings had gone or would go to college, & my mother was a working-class woman raised in Germany, where none of her family would have even dreamed nor had the opportunity for higher education.  I didn't really know what Beta Club was for.  I didn't like the meetings, I didn't like the parties - although my friend Russell tells me that it was one of the parties where we sat in someone bedroom & talked about the Beatles.  I vaguely recall that.  That's how a friendship was born.

Russell was watching, too, when I gave back the M&Ms & explained myself.  I looked at him & saw him wide-eyed.  It may be why I remember the story.

Monday, January 16, 2017

When I Was Thirteen

On January 20, 1981, I turned thirteen (13) years old.  That seems like such a terrifying thing, but I don't know that I perceived it as such.  I was vaguely aware that something called "puberty" was assaulting me, & my skin was already not so great, though my voice would take its time changing & I wouldn't reach my full height until some time in high school.  Honestly, what might have been most noticeable to me at thirteen was how different I was not just from everyone else, but mainly from my own family.

Honestly, thirteen found me in one of my worst years of my life - I spoke a little about it last year when I talked about 1980 - but I didn't mention one class I had, my "Reading" class (a real middle school class), in which the teacher actively hated me.  She was a severe woman with a thick Southern accent who did everything she could to - well, not humiliate, but she did enjoy flustering me.  I remember one day we were doing crafts - so weird, in a reading class - & I clumsily spilled paper & glitter on the floor.  She made me stay after class - so I'd be late to my next class - & basically called me a dolt the entire time I tried to fix my mess.  It was a weird experience because, in general, teachers either liked me or they tolerated me.  For a teacher to be openly hostile to me frightened & confused me.

By the way, I remember her name: Mrs. Reeves.

But it is true that at thirteen I was about to make my first friend who'd stay my friend into adult life who wasn't also my little brother's friend.  A month or so ago, when I was talking to my wife about something, she mentioned that it was hard for her to understand that I once was close to my little brother, to whom I barely speak & haven't really talked to for years (we shared some conversation & memories at my sister's memorial in 2015, but haven't spoken at all really since I moved back to Texas).  But he & I spent the first ten or so years of our life together, doing things together, fighting, talking, playing.  It was obvious by the time I was thirteen that we weren't very much alike, but separating - having a life without the other - was something we gave up reluctantly.  Luckily, my mother had installed a mechanism which would make it easier.

Often people will be surprised that I have six siblings but am close to none.  My sister Pat, who died almost two years ago, was the sibling I was closest to, but that closeness came much later, in adulthood.  My sister Karin is much harder to get close to than Pat, & I am not sure why that is.  My four brothers, however, I have found impossible to have a relationship with.  & I think I know why.

My mother likes her boys - not so much her girls - tied to her apron strings.  One of the way she has done that - subconsciously or no - is to basically instill into each of her sons the idea that they are the most important person in the world - that they are phenomenal, without peer, exceptional, including in the looks department.  What happens when you do that with five boys?  Well, I believe that they begin to see the other brothers as something like rivals for the mother's attention & affection.  She obviously thinks the one the best; but she also has to spend time with the others.  You are competing for the most attention - & surely you can't be friends with your rivals, can you?

It has baffled me when I see siblings who are so close, so supportive, so kind to one another.  That doesn't happen in my family.  It's not just at my generation - my sister Pat once told me that my father barely kept in touch with his siblings (I have no way to know if that were true), & my mother recently told me she hasn't communicated with her deceased sister's son in almost two years.  & look at me - I have barely had a friendly exchange of words with any of my brothers in years.  I am certainly taking part in the role I've been given.

Of course I wasn't cognizant of any of this at thirteen, but I do know I was aware I was different.  My love of comic books & science fiction, as well as my growing interest in music, which was much more obsessive than my siblings', who were happy to like whatever was on the radio, was starting to set me apart.  I was, as they may have noted, a fat little weird nerd.  Possibly beyond saving.

There are more details about this year of my life tomorrow.  So sorry about that.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Writing In My Sleep

I had a dream last night in which, when you received a letter from someone, you wrote back to them starting on the empty space at the end of their last letter, & then sent them back your letter with theirs. People who corresponded for a long time sent back & forth to one another giant tomes of their writings. Getting a letter in the mail was a thrilling, if daunting, event.