Back in the early 90’s, maybe around 1990, there was a radio program on a local station that aired on Friday evenings. For me, these were lonely seeming times when neither myself or any of my friends were yet able to drive. I spent a lot of time reading, as I mentioned in a previous post. This was long before I had begun really purchasing my own music – long before I owned nearly every Cure record on cassette, long before I started buying them on CD, and long before I really knew about the existence of anyone like Bauhaus or Sisters of Mercy.
Also, there was nowhere to go. Growing up in the midwest rustbelt is a fantastic place for photo opportunities if you are into that whole postapocalyptic abandoned industrial sort of setting. Other than that, my hometown, and towns nearby, didn’t have a whole lot to offer socially. I grew up in a farmhouse on a dirt road about ten miles from the nearest town. And I should describe what I mean when I use the word “town.” My town was a mostly agricultural area, just a few exits north on the highway from where the auto factories started shutting down and the land started to be used for growing things instead of building them. At the most, my town had four traffic lights, a grocery store, a video rental store with a pool table, an eight lane bowling alley, a McDonalds and, much later, a Burger King. We had one high school and two elementary schools in the entire county.
But I digress. Aside from a roller skating rink that was two towns over and thirty minutes away, (at which i spent a fair amount of windblown weekend nights,) there was nowhere for me to go. I didn’t have a phone in my room yet to call anyone, so local radio was the key to relieving boredom. Cell phones weren’t popular yet. Cordless phones, important so that you didn’t have to twist around a cord and hide in a broom close,speaking in hushed tones so your parents couldn’t hear your confidential conversations, were just on the verge of becoming an everyday item. And I didn’t really have many friends to call anyway. On weekend nights, there was an 80’s retro program that would air in all its synth-pop new-wave glory. This is where I first heard of The Cure, Depeche Mode, Adam Ant, and probably some things that didn’t yet resonate with me but would later on. I remember everything sounding so new and upbeat, listening to the songs while i was drawing and writing and probably procrastinating cleaning my mess of a room. It definitely made me feel less of that pre-teen loneliness and angst .
At some point, I started recording songs off of the radio. I made early, crude mixtapes, each song starting with a loud shuffling sound as i hurried to press the record button in time to get the beginning of the song. I had to be quick about this – there was rarely any warning that the coveted song would be playing -I just had to be ready and close to the radio to press that record button. After the song was finished, I would carefully rewind a couple of seconds to get a nice, clean end to the song – because inevitably, instead of sitting in front of the radio for three minutes or so, I would walk away to do something else and forget about the recording entirely. Now imagine that process repeating for about ten songs or so to fill up one side of a sixty minute casette tape.Mix tapes were an art, and I was merely an apprentice. It’s a wonder we were bored at all in those days. There was not a whole lot of instant gratification – everything was a process.
MTV was also a pretty big deal during that time. Is MTV still around? Do they still play videos? The best way in my limited world view to put a visual against my coveted mixtape songs was to watch old videos. Pretty much every day, you could turn on MTV at any time and see 80’s pop visuals of Madonna, Depeche Mode, The Cure, INXS, A Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran.. right alongside the up and coming grunge trends. I think this greatly influenced my young fashion aesthetic, but I’ll talk more about the fashion in an upcoming post.
This is for those of you stuck in a small town on a Friday night huddled in front of your flickering screen, feeling alone because you feel like there is nothing for you beyond your front door. There is a gigantic, amazing world out there, and sometimes it just takes time to explore, to find where you fit into it all. You are fortunate in some ways that the internet and social media have made everyone so connected and the world so much smaller. I didn’t really have that, not in the technological way that we do now. And If I could escape my rural, small town surroundings, so can you.
Thanks for reading,