Cassettes and Vinyl
We sat around, listened to cassettes and vinyl like Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground; read books like JD Salinger, Graham Greene, and countless others, whose lyrics and quotes we’d earnestly write out on the walls in thick black koki pen. We were wide-eyed, and smugly sure we were the first people in the world to discover these songs and books, and they were always - urgently - about us. We searched in them for clues about the maelstrom of fears and passions we were going through. Given how impressionable we were, this was not always a good thing. We got lost in them, as we blindly tried to outrun the turmoil of teen hormones.
“I wear black on the outside, ‘cos black is how I feel on the outside”
- The Smiths
We were older than now. The world weighed heavy on our callow, narrow shoulders, a precocious weltschmerz we wore with deadly seriousness. I felt not so much blank slate, as bunch of raw nerves. The gamut of emotions and thoughts felt so much and so deep. Feelings red-lined the emotional Richter scale at the slightest bump.
The glimpse of a bra strap under a white school shirt would send me into anaphylactic shock, and I’d take the electric chair over the terror of calling a girl for a date. I’d never been kissed, never unhooked a bra, but I had bands like the Smiths and Morrissey to tell me that was okay, and people like Lloyd Cole who said I’d regret it anyway.
“They tell you to do your thing but they don't mean it. They don't want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing, too. It's a laugh, a fake. Don't disturb the universe.”
- The Chocolate War
High School was a stillborn rebellion, a daily rote of tedium. The cost of being an individual seemed astronomical. Books like The Chocolate War, Catcher in the Rye, and Adrian Mole just cemented my outsiderness.
The Summer of ’89
“We’ve spent so time shaping and detailing this time together, and next year we all leave and it breaks.We pick up what pieces we can, and start all over again, in new places, with new people.”
The summer ended on a high note. The girl who at 6 years old I’d had a helpless crush on and followed daily as she cycled home from school, came back after years away, even more winsome. We fell, plunged, in love for a brief, giddy summer. I got kissed, and finally saw someone naked (though my whoop of joy at the crucial moment queered the mood for a second or two).
Where Are We Now
It’s a long time since I thought 30 was old. Music still takes me back there in a heartbeat. The heartstrings sounds of Pink Floyd, vivid as tears on your cheeks. The hollow, wounded percussion of Depeche Mode. Even the flash in the pan, short shelf-life sounds of Prefab Sprout, or ‘Til Tuesday take me back. In retrospect it may seem a lot of melodrama, but it was so so real at the time. Some of the ideas seem dated and cringeworthy as lame ‘80s fashions, but most of them have the ring of truth.
The people from those days are far flung wide today. We drift in and out of touch. We’re older, better, and happy most of the time.
I treasure those times in Tessa’s room, the friends around me and the things we revealed to each other. I’m the sum of all I’ve read, heard, and seen, and most importantly, the people I’ve met.
“I've nothing much to offer
There's nothing much to take
I'm an absolute beginner
With eyes completely open
But nervous all the same”
- Absolute Beginners, David Bowie (1988)