Everyone has a song (or songs) that instantly trigger memories. You hear it and your past comes rushing to the front of your mind. For me, this is one of those songs.
It was August 1984 and I was a freshman at a tiny college in a tiny rural Nebraska town. I was on a soccer scholarship and was excited to be a collegiate athlete. At least I was until I got there.
How tiny was the town? McDonald’s was 30-40 minutes away, though we did have a Godfathers Pizza, some place called Runza, a Dairy Queen that closed for the winter and a single stoplight. We also had a grocery store called Piggly Wiggly. Considering I was raised five miles from the beach in Southern California, I thought this place sucked ass.
The soccer “coach” was really the economics teacher and the only reason he got the gig was that he knew what soccer was. Dude went to a coaching clinic where he received a magic book. The book said that during the second week our third practice should include X, Y and Z. Never mind that the book had never met any of us and had no idea what skills we had. Come to think of it, neither did the coach.
This town had one movie theater showing one movie once per night and I distinctly remember having absolutely nothing to do one boring weekend evening so I called the Pork Queen (I’ll explain momentarily) and we walked to the theater to watch Streets of Fire. It was an average movie with an average soundtrack, but it had a lot of (future) big names–Willem Dafoe, Dianne Lane, Amy Madigan, Rick Moranis, Bill Paxton and Deborah Van Valkenbergh. If you don’t know who Van Valkenbergh is, she was the average looking sister on Too Close For Comfort, a sitcom from the ’80s.
As I did some fact checking for this post I found out that Lane was nominated for a Razzie in the Worst Supporting Actress category. You know how they say “it’s an honor just to be nominated”? I don’t think that applies here. I’m not saying I agree with her nomination, but I will say that if one were to picture a pole on the stage as one watched this music video, it wouldn’t necessarily seem out of place.
The movie also featured a song called Tonight Is What It Means To be Young. For some reason when I hear that song, I instantly think back to that magical semester. What do I think about? A lot of things actually.
I remember losing my virginity in a corn field with a former Pork Queen. Please keep your snide remarks to yourself. She was raised on a pig farm. It’s not because she was fat. I remember drinking Stroh’s beer and I (sadly) remember using the phrase “Strohing a party.” As you can imagine, these were not some of my fondest memories.
My major was Secondary Education and English. The idea at the time was that I wanted to be a high school English teacher, though I later realized I wanted to write and not teach about it, so I switched to journalism. Looking back, it was probably a wise career choice. I have occasional visions of me as a teacher making notes on report cards like, “Tommy is in no immediate danger of being accepted to community college.” Or, “Becky couldn’t write a sentence if you spotted her the noun and the verb.”
If you’ve never seen Streets of Fire, let me give you the quick version. A young (and quite attractive) Dianne Lane dumps her caveman-like boyfriend so she can hook up with her geeky manager. You see, Dianne Lane is a singer and is on the verge of making it big when she’s kidnapped by a motorcycle riding dude with a 50’s version of a Flock of Seagulls haircut and wearing patent pleather overalls, A.K.A. Willem Dafoe.
Streets of Fire is the story of a golddigger who ditches the caveman for the geek (Rick Moranis), but (probably) only because the geek can make her a star. As the caveman starts tracking down “his girl” he meets up with Amy Madigan, who I believe is supposed to be lesbian. It doesn’t matter whether she was or not, I’m just saying that there is nothing feminine about the character. Moving on.
Your college years are supposed to be fun, but mine weren’t. I was feeling very alone at school. My grandparents were farmers in Western Nebraska but the reality is that I was a California boy and I didn’t fit in with most of the other kids I went to school with. I struggled with the classes and couldn’t figure out why. I would later be diagnosed as ADD, but you have to remember that in the 80’s ADD was a new concept. Kids were considered stupid and/or lazy and the fact that it may be a chemical problem was controversial..
Considering that at the time I was about as smooth as coarse sandpaper, I’m not sure how I actually landed a girlfriend or how we lost our virginity together on a blanket in a cornfield, but we did. I’ve also come to realize that saying, “I had sex with the Pork Queen” sounds like I was taking one for the team, but I wasn’t. The girl was a solid California 6. Possibly even a 7. In the pig farming communities of Nebraska this chick was a 9.5. Twenty eight years later, I’m still not smooth, but I like to think I’ve gotten better with age.
Sunday morning I was riding my bike along the beach and began thinking about what to write about for today. I had a rad Whitney Houston post halfway done, but after showing it to my Muse, I decided to take her advice and hold off a few days. Out of respect.
My “Beach Cruisin” playlist was on shuffle and I was still struggling for an idea when this song came on. As the piano started the song off, I was immediately whisked back to the fall of 1984. I remember eating some crappy dinner in the cafeteria, then walking the mile to the theater to see the movie. Afterwards, we stopped at the one bar in town that didn’t give a shit how old you were and I downed a couple Strohs before walking back to my shitty dorm room. The Queen didn’t drink because, “The Bible says alcohol is wrong. ” I’ll give you a moment to let the irony of that statement become crystal clear.
At that moment I knew I had my post. There’s nothing special about this song or this movie. I listened to the song three times in a 90 minute period and suddenly it dawned on me that these mostly shitty memories actually helped shape the J.R. that I am today.
Maybe that’s a good thing and maybe it’s a bad thing. I don’t know for sure. All I know is that at age 46 I feel younger than I did at 18. Anytime I heard the phrase, “things get better with age”, I would laugh. I don’t laugh anymore. Although I still go through long bouts of self doubt, I am 1000 miles ahead of where I was back then.
Forget the fact that Al Gore hadn’t yet invented the Internet (thus making a blog an impossibility), there is no way I could have created a mildly successful blog, finished writing a book or done radio in my younger days. I wasn’t ready then, but apparently I am now.
Sunday evening I was the in studio guest with my friend Josh Brewster on Duck Calls, the Anaheim Ducks post game radio show. After the show we went to Josh’s place where his wife Catherine, made dinner for us. For 30-45 minutes the three of us chatted about this and that and it was a good time. After getting in my car, I played this song again so I could let the ideas begin to flow. As I passed the Getty Museum it dawned on me that my Sunday began with a 13 mile bike ride by the beach and ended with me being on the radio for a half hour and hanging out with good friends. All in all, it was a pretty rad day
I felt really good after the bike ride and I always feel awesome after a good radio appearance. Tonight I feel young and I’m holding on to that as long as I can. So. What’s the song (or movie) that brings back memories for you? I wanna know.
P.S. For those of you not old enough to have fully experienced the 80’s, this was considered cool. Ish. Also, Madigan’s character makes an appearance at the very end of the video in case you want to render your own verdict.