There were interesting things happening in music around 1983. The discussion seems to always turn to Madonna and new wave emerging with strong efforts from Depeche Mode, Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls but it is important to recall the complete spectrum. The music industry was drunk from the money being made through the new video medium and we were bombarded with big hair, wailing guitars and synthesizers. Theatrics ruled. Hair metal had us Shouting at the Devil, Boy George introduced us to high androgyny, Lionel Richie showed how to dance All Night Long and we saw the Police move into a genre that would reward them with more airplay. We loved Annie Lennox and Donna Summers was still Working Hard for the Money. Although much less favorable for the high marketing of video, metal put forth its best efforts with the big four but Siuslaw High School parking lot only rang out with the latest cassette tapes of Scorpions, Van Halen and Billy Squire. People chose teams and displayed their loyalty with a wardrobe that followed suit. To wade into the tepidarium of other genres was unacceptable as allegiance and conformity was expected. I thought there was something good in every sub-genre but didn’t feel a lot of support expressing my eclectic opinions.
The interesting thing about living in a small town, especially pre-MTV years, is that there are so many fewer mavens, or information specialists. The spread of cultural influences is so much slower specifically because of the lower population. When I moved to Florence in 1981, very few had even heard of the Sex Pistols or Ramones. It felt like the cassette tape in my pocket was a magic bean. My closest friends banded due to our common interests in music. Cultural influences certainly spread more efficiently once MTV hit the airwaves, but still we were limited to what the industry assumed would make money. Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert might have scratched a “rock” itch but no one was touching punk rock.
While the music that earned wide airplay hinted that we were moving in a direction in which marketing geniuses would monitor Every Breath We Took, punk rock continued to try and distance itself from the clutches of consumerism and answer the call to conform with a collective, “fuck you!” The Avengers lambasted the whorish record industry in the song No Matry saying,
I know you look at me and say
Here’s something I can use, abuse
But I’m not going for it, I’m innocent and I’m young
But I’m not so naïve that I’d fall for it
I don’t want your money
Or your record contract
Fame and fortune, no
I tried to breathe this stuff. I was fortunate to have a brother who supplied me with great new music that would have otherwise taken years to get to Florence. I planted myself firmly in the influences of Rush and Iron Maiden and Jerry helped direct my growth with the likes of the Avengers, the Damned and Hanio Rocks. Jerry has always had this incredible gift to understand music for what it is, beyond the influence of what is getting airplay. He handed me a live recording of Nirvana in 1987 and said, “These are some friends from up north, I think you’ll like them.” Years later it would be the Gits.
It was in 1983 when a friend and I escaped parental supervision and made our way to Portland to see Poison Idea open for the Dead Kennedy’s at La Bamba’s. I hadn’t seen Jerry for over a year and the reunion was charged with the excitement of a certain freedom and connection. I had lied to my aunt about my whereabouts and suffered a hefty penalty upon my return. I remember thinking it was worth it.