by Vallie Lynn Watson
My favorite music was produced between the years 1968 and 1986, the latter year mostly due to the usual early-teen nostalgia about pop radio. I was born in 1973 to parents in their late thirties; my brother and sister were born in the 1950s. We lived all over the US and the world, until my parents retired and moved to their very Deep Southern hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, a place I’d only known by our yearly visits. I had spent an exciting sixth grade year in a public junior high in Houston, where my class numbered in the hundreds and exhibited some racial diversity. Upon beginning seventh grade, I found myself among thirty-nine white and one black native Montgomerians who had known each other since kindergarten, and who knew to stand when a teacher walked into the room. Any confidence I’d gained in my twelve short years was shot. I was lost.
The Song with the Funky Break
The year was 1986, and I clutched tightly onto the little music I knew at that time: I played, over and over, the dozens of cassettes I’d recorded from my favorite Houston radio station. I can’t recite, from memory, what songs were on those tapes until I hear one elsewhere. Then, I even remember, as it’s ending, what would have played after it. Any time I hear Banarama’s “Cruel Summer,” I will always expect Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages” to rudely cut in after the line “So I had to get up and go,” a timing error I’d made on one of those recordings.
But Mama, That’s Where the Fun Is
From my current, comfortable perch of middle-age, I know that the new school was full of lovely people who tried to include me, and who treated me more kindly than most thirteen-year-olds are capable. But I was a hormonal teenager, determined to be miserable there, and after two years, I finally convinced my reluctant parents to beginninth grade at another private school, this one slightly more diverse and relaxed. I made friends immediately.
Where They Expect it Least
The year was 1988, the music was shit. Over the next four years, our small class adopted Manfred Mann’s 1984 “Blinded by the Light” as our unofficial song, and we tentatively worked backwards from there, exploring first the generic ’70s classic rock that played on 95.1 FM, but then branching out into the B-sides, as we gained the ability to browse and purchase music from the mall music store. Our class felt compartmentalized, not so much out of divisiveness, but teenage apathy, and sometimes it felt like our odd anthem was the only thing we all shared. In retrospect, I see the fluidity of those compartments, and a lot of my overlap will forever be bound to music. My first parentless concert – Eric Clapton – with Deanne. Exchanging mixed tapes with Stephanie to cope with our respective breakups. These musical connections bound us through college and beyond.
With a Teenage Diplomat
The year was 1995, and we were no longer teenagers who saw each other daily, but young adults who instead regrouped during holidays and summers. On August 9, in an order that I don’t remember, I learned that Jerry Garcia died, and that my mother had only a few months left to live. That evening, alone in our big house, I sat on my bathroom floor in the dark and called a handful of friends to let them know about my mom.
Trey – senior prom date/sometimes best friend/sometimes greatest antagonist – answered amongst noise, and explained that some of our friends were at his apartment, listening to the Grateful Dead and celebrating Jerry. Trey knew that I wouldn’t want to deal with the crowd, and offered to meet me at the nearby church – my church, the church where I would later marry an STJ boy from a different class – to walk around. I declined, but I still imagine that ghost-walk better than if we’d actually met that night. Knowing I had a tribe was all I needed.
She’s Gonna Make it Through the Night
Thank you, STJ class of 1992. You gave me music again, and you made me feel at home. And a belated thank you, MA Class of 1992. You starred the incomparable Meg, one of my best friends, and I wish I’d taken the time to get to know the rest of you better.
Finally, a belated apology to Bruce Springsteen—I didn’t know until a good ten years after graduation that you wrote our anthem, and recorded a much better version of it. Manfred Mann left out one of your best lines: “Asked him which was the way back home.” I know who to call on, any time I need home.