Friday, January 18, 2019

Self Help Radio 011819: 1983

(I found most if not all of the images here from Discogs.)

Well, that wasn't easy.  I was able to choose 27 songs to be my favorites of 1983 but I left out so much more.  My brain imagines there would be an endless radio show if I simply played music I loved starting the year of my birth - I could do probably ten hours on 1968 alone - & then moving up.  I'd get to 1983 a couple or three years into the show, & then I'd spend a few shows on that year.

& you can already see up there things I've missed.  No "Blue Monday"?  Nothing from the Eurythmics?  Surely I love the song "Modern Love" by Bowie!  & didn't you think the Police were the absolute shit in 1983?  Why aren't they up there?  It was not an easy show to put together.  In fact, I regret some of my choices already.  No I don't!  Yes I do.

One thing to note: I do the show in a kind of annoying way.  I talk in-between each song.  I thought it might give me time to play more music but I haven't a clue if that's the case.  Maybe it is.  It's probably really aggravating though.  My apologies.

Show is at:
Length is like: 123 minutes
Username is: SHR
Password is: selfhelp
Songs I played are: below

Hope you dig it.  I loved that year in music.  But the 80s did get better.

Self Help Radio 1983 Show

"Swordfishtrombone" Tom Waits _Swordfishtrombones_
"Kiss Off" Violent Femmes _Violent Femmes_
"Monkeyland" The Chameleons _Script Of The Bridge_
"Age Of Consent" New Order _Power, Corruption, & Lies_
"Slippery People" Talking Heads _Speaking In Tongues_
"Smile" The Fall _Perverted By Language_
"The Cutter" Echo & The Bunnymen _Porcupine_
"A New England" Billy Bragg _Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy_
"Cattle & Cane" The Go-Betweens _Before Hollywood_
"Oblivious" Aztec Camera _High Land, Hard Rain_
"Fields Of Fire" Big Country _The Crossing_
"Crazy" Pylon _Chomp_
"That Summer Feeling" Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers _Jonathan Sings!_
"The Greatest Thing" Elvis Costello & The Attractions _Punch The Clock_
"Jokerman" Bob Dylan _Infidels_
"Cleartrails" Shriekback _Care_
"Victorian Society" Cleaners From Venus _In The Golden Autumn_
"The Lovecats" The Cure _The Lovecats_
"Temple Of Love" The Sisters Of Mercy _Temple Of Love_
"This Charming Man" The Smiths _This Charming Man_
"Song To The Siren" This Mortal Coil _Song To The Siren_
"White Lines (Don't Do It)" Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel _White Lines (Don't Do It)_
"Tour De France" Kraftwerk _Tour De France_
"Never Never" The Assembly _Never Never_
"Museum Of Love" Daniel Johnston _Yip/Jump Music_
"Lucky Me, Lucky You" Sparks _In Outer Space_
"Deep Blue Day" Brian Eno _Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks_

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Whither 1983?

(A great year.  I found this on Tumblr or somewhere, can't remember exactly where.  Sorry!)

This post has two parts.  The first part goes like this:

This week's show covers some of my favorite music from 1983.  Why is that?  It's because it's my birthday week & every year around this time since I started doing Self Help Radio I pick a year in my past, I started with 1968 in 2003, & I go up a year every year.  So we're at 1983.  You can see the playlists of the years I covered here, if you want.

That's the reason for the show, which will happen tomorrow at noon at the Self Help Radio website.

Also, I'll be doing the show in an especially annoying way, so you've been warned.

The second part of this post continues what I've been talking about this week, which is how I was in 1983.  When I had finished my freshman year of high school, I had to deal with my best friend moving away.  & if memory serves, I had already started helping out at the store which my mother's boyfriend owned, which was literally a block away from our apartments.

As for that summer, I don't remember too much.  I do know I kept in touch with my friend Russell, we probably talked a lot on the phone, & I have memories of going to video arcades with my friend Kirk, who is no longer with us, having died in a drunk driving accident in 1987.  Kirk was an interesting fellow, quite boisterous & loud.  His mother would take us places & he'd sit in the front seat & just saying one profanity after another, his mother not reacting at all.  It was quite odd.  I remember he & I went to see the film War Games & at one scene where a female character came running on screen he said, for the whole theater to hear, "Boing, boing, boing," along with the bouncing of said character's breasts.  It was mortifying but that's how he was & I enjoyed being around him.  But I wouldn't say we were ever close, though we did stay friends all through high school.

What I do remember is that tenth grade was lonely.  I just didn't really have any friends.  I didn't enjoy my classes.  I took Latin, mainly to irk my mother, who wanted me to take German, & I sat in the back corner as a kind of weird witness to much cooler kids doing life way better than I was.  When they discovered I was the only one nearby who did the homework, they copied off me, although they still treated me like shit.  & the woman who taught tenth grade English was actually the German teacher who had taught all my siblings but who never quite took to me.  I remember one time in excitement showing her an Alan Moore Swamp Thing & she looked at me as though I were developmentally challenged.

We were studying Le Morte d'Arthur & she said she'd give extra credit for anyone to write an essay about the writer, Thomas Malory.  Since I had been reading Mike W. Barr & Brian Bolland's Camelot 3000, which included an essay about Malory in its first issue, I volunteered to do it, & let's just say I liberally borrowed many whole paragraphs from Barr's essay.  Mrs. Phillips was impressed but must have been suspicious when later assignments weren't quite as eloquent as something that came, you know, from an actual writer.  It was really the only time in high school I plagiarized anything.  & I felt both tremendous shame for doing that & also a weird sense of relief for pulling it off.

She actually had me read it out loud to the class!  I didn't expect that.

Yeah, so as tenth grade ended, comics were pretty much the bright spot of my life.  My little brother & I weren't close at all, I didn't really fit in with the rest of the family & slowly stopped going to weekend backyard things they always seemed to have planned, & I wasn't making friends at school.  Would 1984 be better?

You'll have to wait till next year, but, spoiler alert: no, not really.

Hope you listen tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Preface To 1983: Things I Loved In 1983

It seems to me I've been looking back the past couple of days with sadness, so I thought I'd talk about things I loved in 1983.  There must've been some, yes?

Indeed.  For example, I loved laughing.  I loved dumb comedy of all kinds & I especially loved David Letterman.  It was not uncommon for me to stay up late (he came on at 11:30pm in the central time zone) & be groggy the next day, but armed with his best bits.  Remember the whole "Billie Jean" "chair is not my son" letter?  I laughed about that forever.

I loved listening to music, & especially to the radio, although at times I found it a bit frustrating.  I remember one lazy afternoon, I kept track of everything they played on one station - I believe it was "the Eagle" - & discovered they played a few songs every hour.  That was disillusioning.

But I kept listening to the Beatles - one great thing that happened was there was a syndicated show that year called Ringo's Yellow Submarine hosted by the dour one himself which I used to tape when it aired on Sunday mornings.  I didn't yet have all the Beatles albums, & it was a treat to hear stuff I had never heard before.

As I've already mentioned, so much new stuff was coming in from all sides.  My friend Russell became obsessed with the debut from Big Country, & I ended up buying the cassette at the mall, & loved it.  I saw Elvis Costello on Letterman do songs from Imperial Bedroom & was shocked to find it & his new one, Punch The Clock, in the discount cassette bin at the same mall record store.  While I didn't buy much music then, I did record lots from the radio.  I might still have some of those tapes, if they still play, thirty years later.

It's fair to say I loved my mother, then.  She kept me tied to her apron strings well into my adolescence.  If you were to see how weirdly devoted yet not devoted her other sons are to her now, you'd have a sense of her way of dealing with her boys, but I hadn't yet begun to see through her particular ways.  That would come later, & I suppose I'm still not entirely free of that.

There's a particular memory I have of that time.  You'll recall Ronald Reagan was President then & he was constantly talking about nuclear war.  I had a particular morbid fascination for a post-nuclear world, & even wrote a dungeon adventure for my D&D group that took place in our high school after a nuclear war, with all the teachers & some of the other students turned into monsters.  I never finished it, though - I didn't really finish things back then - but I did share it with Scott before he moved away, & he approved.

Anyway, I recall walking from my apartment to the comic store after seeing something on television Reagan said about surviving a nuclear attack which I knew of course was stupid, & I thought to myself, "If I knew we were about to die, I'd want to be with my mother."  That thought seems so odd to me now - when things are going wrong, the last place I'd want to be is with her.  This is true: when I hurt my back in 2002, & had to wait for surgery, & was out of work for three months, I never told her how bad it was, or that I needed spinal surgery, until afterwards, because I knew she'd come to Austin to make me miserable.  She loves to tell that story, even today, about how she didn't believe me.

Did I love my family?  I might have said then that I did, but I didn't really know them.  The divide between us was growing, & I no longer did things like play basketball with my little brother.  More & more I spent time with myself, & having things to love makes that time worthwhile.

& of course I loved comic books.  Oh shit, I loved them.  It was like a secret I had that very few people knew or cared about.  I am so grateful that there wasn't an internet or Youtube back then because there would hundreds of videos by me arguing dumb things about comic books.  I would've had to have spent the better part of my adulthood deleting them.

Back then I wanted to write comics.  I drew some, I'm not great but I can draw, but I really wanted to write.  I didn't have any good ideas, I had no conception of plot, I never knew an artist to collaborate with me - but I wanted to write comics!

Recently a dog-walking friend seemed aghast that I like "super hero movies," & I told her that I've never discriminated between art forms.  If I like it, I like it, be it comic or classic novel, be it art on a wall or art on a seven-inch record.  Comics helped with that.  The fact that so many people (Bill Maher notwithstanding) love them, that graphic novels are taught in college, that people like Chris Ware are hailed for their genius, makes me feel a little vindicated, but you know what?  Even if none of this were true, I'd still love comics.

Tomorrow I'll talk about how 1983 ended for me, & it involves comics, too.  Surprise, surprise.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


It's funny to think that I lived over a decade until I had a friend who was just mine.  Just my friend.  I have a little brother who was born in the same year as I was - me in January, him in December - & we were constantly together for the first ten or so years of our lives.  But we weren't very much alike.  & for reasons that are too complicated to explain here, we were never actually friends - we treated each other more like rivals.  & no one can be friends with one's rivals, especially if the goal - whatever one is supposed to be winning - is more important than anything else.

So it was natural that when I began making friends of my own, my little brother dismissed them, derided them.  He would often say, "You just want to be like them," as if suddenly discovering you have something in common with someone was an attempt at imitation.  When I was in eighth grade, I became friends with a newcomer named Scott, & despite my own fucked-upness, we rekindled that friendship in my ninth grade year.  In the first half of 1983, I imagined he & I would be friends forever.

It's no stretch to say he was my first best friend, & maybe my easiest.  The remarkable thing is that he wanted to be friends with me.  It would be fun to go back & see us interact, to see what he liked about me.  I just don't know.

At the end of our freshman year at South Garland High School, we had a conversation which affected my life in ways I had never experienced.  We were talking on the phone near the end or after the end of the school year, & he told me his mother & stepfather were getting a divorce, & he & his mother & his little brother were moving back to Illinois, where he was from.  I remember the conversation, on a phone attached to a wall in a tiny kitchen, talking to him until it got dark out.  No one else was home, my mother was working at the convenience store, The Time Saver, which her boyfriend owned, & my little brother was - I don't know where.  I was wounded.  I didn't know what I would do without him.  It's very safe to say my life would have turned out differently if we had been best friends all through high school.  But we weren't.  He went away.

He confessed lots of things to me that night.  He told me about difficult situations with his family.  He told me about guilt with friends.  I don't think I want to share those things here.  I just want to note it was the first time he really opened up to me - the first time we talked about something other than comics or sci-fi or television or D&D or the many things we loved that we shared with one another.  & I was deeply affected by it.  I can safely say that I had never been truly real with anyone until that day.  My family, most of the people at school, most people I interacted with, they were basically all facades, pretending to be who they thought they should be.  I was no different.  Scott let me in by basically becoming vulnerable.  It was extraordinary, & it affected me like every act of honesty has affected me in my life: it transformed me.

We made plans.  I tried to send him comic books for a while, but even though he paid me, it was too much trouble & cost more money than I thought.  We talked on the phone when we could but in those days a thirty minute phone call could be as much as ten, fifteen, twenty dollars - money I definitely didn't have.

He visited me, something I never did for him: he came to visit when I was in eleventh grade, & then brought his fiancee (later his wife) after my first year of college.  I wasn't as deeply into sci-fi or such things then, & we had a hard time relating.  We lost touch.  But I thought about him a lot.  Last year, when I wrote about him, I sent him a message on Facebook, linking to the post, but either he didn't read it or, you know, he didn't give a shit, so he didn't comment to me about it.  Fair enough.

But yeah, we did find each other on Facebook, & we talked one night, ten years ago now I guess, when I first moved to West Virginia.  His son was with him, he loves his son so much, it was so nice to hear him talk about his son despite the problems he was having with the boy's mother.  A few years after that, my wife & I visited Chicago & he met us at a vegan restaurant & reluctantly took a few bites from a mushroom burger while we chatted.  My vegetarianism was probably baffling for him, & the last time we talked, he worked for a place that did animal experimentation.  In a sad bit of irony, they mostly experimented on beagles, the dogs I love the most.

Worse than all that, his experiences had turned him more & more conservative.  I can't be sure if he's a Trump supporter but I wouldn't be surprised.  I visited Chicago last summer & chose not to look him up, which I justified by remember that I found out he visited areas close to Austin in the early oughts to sky-dive (a hobby of his) but didn't look me up.  We just weren't friends like that anymore.

But I am a sentimental old fluff & hope he knows how much he meant to me back then.  He seemed to readjust to life in Illinois with his characteristic cockiness & confidence & I remember being amazed & jealous when he told me, in a phone conversation after he'd moved, that he had a girlfriend.  What the fuck?  In my sad, envious way, I tried to lie about sexual experiences but the truth is I couldn't even imagine them, so I sounded dumb & obvious & pathetic.

He never called me out on it.  He was too good a friend for that.

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Week About A Year, 1983

This week's show is my birthday show (my birthday is next Sunday) & every year around the time of my birthday, I explore my favorite music from a year in the past.  I started in 1968, for my first birthday show in 2003, & now, sixteen years later, I'm at age fifteen.  (I know, it should be age sixteen, I missed a birthday show at some point early on.)

Fifteen was a weird fucking year for me.  I had fallen back in love with comic books, & had discovered a used book store nearby where they carried "direct sales" comics (you can read about that here) which was far more reliable than the comic book stands in convenience stores.  I was also being exposed to tons of new music thanks to MTV.  We didn't have MTV - we couldn't afford cable - but there were plenty of shows, some syndicated, some like Friday Night Videos on network stations, playing those smart artists who made videos.  I think I talked a little about this last year, but in late 1982, my friend Russell made me a David Bowie compilation tape, & I also became intrigued by Elvis Costello around that time.  By the end of 1983, those two - plus John Lennon, whose Beatles songs I came to prefer over the others', as well as his solo stuff - became my musical holy trinity.

But 1983 began better for me than it ended.  At school, I had a best friend named Scott who had introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons & who read books like the Michael Moorcock Elric series (I got teased a lot for reading those books - "Look, Dickerson's reading about more cock!" was common) like me.  We had friends whom we hung out with at school.  I didn't hang out with him, but I did chat on the phone a lot with my friend Russell - & for a time I ate lunch with him & his friend Lee.  They were smarter than me, though, & less excitable - I was often the butt of their jokes.  I remember one time Lee made a comment when I was rhapsodizing about some John Lennon song, he said, "Too bad he said the Beatles were better than Christ."  I said, "No, he never said that!" but Lee had obviously meant to play my na├»ve enthusiasm against me, & as I tried to defend Lennon, the two of them laughed & laughed.

At home things were not great.  My mother had taken the chance of moving in with her boyfriend, a tall, skeletal man named Ed, who was an alcoholic, probably with his assurances he wouldn't go on a bender while we were there, but of course he did, & at some point, toward the end of the year (1982 that is), we moved out.  I don't remember if it were before Christmas, probably not, but we ended up living with my sister Pat & her husband Dan.  The crazy thing about this arrangement was that, a) they lived in a small, two-bedroom house - my mother got the second room while my little brother & I slept in the living room, with my little brother getting the couch & me sleeping on the floor (I can't say why that happened, except that he probably made a fuss & I was more & more tired of fighting with my brother about most everything), & b) my sister was about eight months pregnant at the time.

My sister is no longer with us, & my brother-in-law hasn't communicated with me for some time, but I feel weird about describing the weird circumstances of our brief time there.  My mother probably didn't ask, but rather told, my sister that we needed a place to stay.  & my sister would not have refused my mother.  But it seemed rather fucked-up.  I suddenly had to find a different way to school, I didn't know how long we'd be staying there, & I hated sleeping on the floor, not the least reason of which was that my sister's house had a roach infestation.  Not during the day, but at night, if you got up to get a drink, the kitchen floor would be swarming with them.  The entire kitchen actually.  It was not sanitary.

Strangely, I think it was just the kitchen.  I don't remember the bathroom being as bad.  But I was sleeping in the living room.  Next to the kitchen.  On the floor.  Where they might just come by to have a look at me.

My nephew was born in February so we obviously had to go.  It turned out that they had built a small apartment complex - six units, three separated by a driveway with a small parking lot at back - just down the street from the convenience store where my mother worked.  The store which her alcoholic boyfriend owned.  Yes, this entire time, she kept working for him.  My guess is that he arranged for her to get the apartment, probably also paying the deposit.  Why would I guess that?  Because he moved in to the small complex, too.  He was in number five, we were in number one.

The place is still there, some thirty-six years later.  It was brand new when we moved in - we were the first family to live there.  It looks like this now:

Image courtesy Google Maps.  I lived in this place - shared a bedroom with my little brother once again - all through high school.  It was closer to my comic book shop, but about equally far from school.

For some reason I don't remember how I got to school in those days.  Maybe an older sibling was forced to take me.  My little brother still went to middle school at this point.  In any event, the last bits of ninth grade came to a close & I endured a number of humiliations as one does but was glad I had a friend in Scott, with whom I often walked home, & with whom I talked on the phone & tried to share things with.

At the end of ninth grade, though, he called to tell me terrible news: his mother & step-father were divorcing, & he was moving back to Illinois.