It was already a hot day and it wasn’t even nine in the morning. The heat shimmered off the black asphalt like a steady rain falling upwards. I was walking two houses up the street to Adam and Billy’s. Adam was my age and Billy was his younger brother; we’d been friends since kindergarten. Above me, past the sagging eucalyptus trees and overgrown shrubbery, trucks ground through their gears as they made their way up the 210 freeway along the slopes of South Hills. I loved going over to Adam and Billy’s house for two reasons: Rock music and their stepmom. She drove a burgundy MG convertible and she looked exactly like Erin Gray from Battlestar Galactica. Yeah. She was hot. She’d take us to the beach in that convertible and we’d be the kings of the road. And she’d let us go into Adam’s room and blare the music and we’d dance and sing and act like little rock savages. We’d play air guitar to “Eye of the Tiger” and “Abracadabra” and “Don’t You Want Me”. Our favorite song to play pretend band to was Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘N Roll”. It became my little anthem. And whenever Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” came on the radio, we’d be joined by Adam’s stepmom who would belt out her voice as though she was calling us into war. I’d pick up Billy’s wooden tennis racket, Adam would jump onto his chair with two pencils substituting for drum sticks and we’d play our own little private concert. To say that Adam’s house was a sacrosanct temple of music doesn’t do it justice; I watched MTv’s launch at his house. I was confused by Boy George there. I watched Madonna and got turned on there. While my house only had free channels and the gospel networks, Adam had cable! I had convinced my parents to let me sleep over at his house that fateful August night in ’81 and together we watched The Buggles change how we listened to music. After a few weeks of Rod Stewart videos we tired of MTv and went back to AM radio and our rock gods.
1982-84 were good years for music. The Police. Duran Duran. Michael Jackson. Prince. But in my good Christian naivete I had no idea what it was that I was reciting despite the clear connotations: “I feel the magic in your caress/I feel magic when I touch your dress/Silk and Satin; leather and lace/Black panties with an angel’s face”. Uh, yeah. Nope didn’t get it! And this from a kid who’d read all the naughty stuff in the Bible. Though it doesn’t help that the Bible is rather cryptic with its messages with its “goes in to her” stuff. [Extra points for anyone who can name the song quoted above! No looking up on the internet either.] To be honest, I was beginning to get things figured out and by ’84 I would be pretending to not have a clue just so my sister and her friends could get a laugh.
It might sound callouss, but I would head over to Adam’s just to listen to music. We were friends though, and did the things friends did. When the older boys on the street dared us to a game of “rat tail” we’d be there for each other, until the boys caught us. Rat tail was just that–We’d all have towels rolled up and soaked wet. The older boys would hide inside one of the houses and Adam and I would have to come in and try to find them. The older kids would jump out from their hiding places and start snapping their wet towels against our bare legs and arms and once cornered Adam would abandon me to the tortures of those rat tails or vice versa. We were good friends! But we shared a love of music. There really wasn’t music in my house. Juice Newton’s “Queen of Hearts” was tempting fate. My sister tried to bring in Purple Rain and the tape was destroyed twice–she dared to buy another copy–when my parents heard “Darling Nikki”. It didn’t help her cause any that my sister’s name is Nicole.
So, there I was wandering up the street ready to immerse myself in everything holy about rock ‘n roll. Adam and Billy were standing outside on their driveway. They’d just waved good-bye to their dad and were standing idly in the morning heat. Like usual, we stood around debating what to do: Ride bikes? Ride our skateboards down Concord Lane? Ask the older boys to go to 7-Eleven? Listen to music? Then Billy stopped mid-sentence and gurgled a burp. Adam and I laughed, but Billy didn’t look good. Billy looked around as though a wild spirit had just flown through him and he was trying to find it. Adam and I paused. When Billy looked skyward, we both looked too wondering what it was that he was looking for or at. Then we heard the gurgle again. Only this time it was accompanied not with a burp but with a steady flow of breakfast. There was Billy standing on his driveway, eyes to the sky, vomiting like a fountain in Vegas. It went on for what seemed like minutes. Billy puking to the sky with chunks of bacon and eggs and milk and toast raining down on his shoulders and the pavement with a faint splattering sound almost like the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. The longer he puked, the paler his face went until he finished and his face matched the white of his eyes. After we’d finished laughing what Adam would later call “The Fountain of Billy”, Adam took Billy inside. That was the end of my day with them. If Billy couldn’t play, neither could Adam. I went home.
I had two ways of listening to music: A Panasonic slimline cassette player or my record player/stereo. The only redeeming value that my Panasonic had was that I could record my favorite songs off the radio. I’d sit next to the speakers and hold up that old cassette player, careful to not make too many movements because the microphone would pick up all the cracks and knocks of the plastic case. It wasn’t worth listening to music on since it’s one speaker sounded about as decent as a conversation between two tin cups tied with a string. But I would record all my favorites off the radio.
The stereo was a hand-me-down. As were most of the things, expensive things, that I had in my life. My first bike was a lime green–that late ’70s green, like peas meet Andy Warhol–girls bike with a two foot long beige banana seat and glittery tassels that hung from the opalescent, green handle grips. It had been my sister’s and she’d long since outgrown it. My first car was my dad’s old, old business car that he bought off the company, but that’s getting ahead of myself.
The case was fake wood and the AM/FM dial often stuck in the higher numbers. The opaque green lid wasn’t hinged so if I was playing a record, it was just better to leave it off otherwise I’d make the needle jump. The speakers were massive, yet they only produced a tinny, static noise if I turned the volume anywhere past five. And that was okay, because if my parents knew what I was listening to, I’d have gotten in trouble. My mother forbid me from watching such subversive shows like Sesame Street–she’d never let me learn my numbers from a vampire!
At school there was a sixth grader named Chad who wore a simple black pin with “U2” in white on the collar of his shirt. I had no idea what a U2 was, and thought it just was a cool way of saying “you, too?” In March I’d heard them for the first time. “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. I had to have their album. I’d talked to Chad and he told me they were a Christian band. I knew he was full of shit, but, hey, a band singing about Sunday I could play this off on my parents. I recorded the song off the radio with my little Panasonic but you could hear my mom in the background clanking dishes in the kitchen as she made dinner. Kind of took the edge off the protest song.
Walking home from Adam and Billy’s, I decided that I would screw up the nerve and get my parents to take me to the music store and buy War. I had an elaborate lie crafted.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” was a song about Christ fighting for our sins; “New Year’s Day” was about His resurrection and how it made a new day for us Christians. The album title was a bit complicated so I had hoped to navigate around that one, but if it came up, I’d say something about it being a “war” against Satan.
When I say music store, what I mean is a Christian Bookstore on Arrow Highway. It was next door to Southeast Construction Products and their bright red sign that looked a 2-D image of an arrow’s fletchings. It was a strange place. The fence bounding Arrow Highway was made of beige brick columns with pearl white statuary atop them and chain link fencing between. I always imagined the place as some ’70s drug induced shrine to Italian stereotypical lawn decor or a Roman gladiator pit. The latter seemed more appropriate since Maranatha Christian Books was next door.
Read Part Two Here
Read more stories from the ’83 series here