I spent the 80s in purple

Prince died today, at the age of 57. Coming on the heels of the deaths of David Bowie and Glenn Frey already this year, I didn’t think there would be any more meaningful musical deaths for some time. Apparently I was wrong in that belief. This one really left me stunned.

The high school I attended had purple and gold as its school colors, and when “Purple Rain” came out in 1984, not only was the music undeniably great but it also felt a bit like hitting the lottery. The title wasn’t “Auburn Rain” or “Sapphire Rain” or any of the other colors available on the visible spectrum, but it was “Purple Rain.” My high school, like a thousand others I’m sure, used “Purple Reign” as their homecoming theme that fall, because our purple-clad school was supposed to rule, you know? Totally. (It didn’t happen like everyone thought it would that year, but it was a kickass idea, all the same).

When I graduated from high school in 1986, my college choices came down to the orange and blue of the University of Illinois, or the purple and white of Northwestern. School colors played zero part in making my decision, but once I threw my lot in with the purple and white, I made sure to put a window sticker in the back of my old Dodge Dart. The purple looked great, and I still have a purple and white sweatshirt to announce to the world where I went to school once upon a time. And if people want to see purple and think of Prince, that’s fine. I do the same thing myself.

Musicians enter into our hearts in ways that actors and writers and other artists never do, particularly when we’re young. Prince kept on making music until the end of his life, but Purple Rain and a few other albums he released in the 80s have, and always will, cement his status as a cultural touchstone for me and millions of others who came of age decades ago.

The identification of Prince with the color purple will be seen over and over in the coming days and weeks. Simply put, purple is his color, but I’m happy to say that it’s mine, as well.


Don’t you forget about me


There’s a Chicago radio station that I don’t much listen to, but they’re having an 80s-themed weekend. I’ve written about 80s music before, because music mattered to me more in that decade than it ever had before, and more than it ever has since. And I doubt I’m the only one who’s like that, either.

When the 80s began, I was in the final years of elementary school. Life outside of my parents’ house had never even crossed my mind. And when the 80s ended, I was a senior in college, and life under my parents’ roof was the last thing that I wanted.

The 80s were the transitional decade for me, and the music from those years makes me remember. They take me back, in the way that nothing else can. And in the center of that decade was The Breakfast Club. I wasn’t out on my own yet when the movie came out in 1985, but I sure was thinking about it. And just a couple of years later, I left my parents home and never went back.

I was mindful of all this as I watched the movie tonight with my 14 year-old daughter. The teen years of this decade will be for her what the 80s once were for me. Whatever the future holds is not yet determined, but she’ll go through all the things that I did once upon a time.And I won’t ever forget about her, that’s for sure.

Rainy night in the city


I’ve written about Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” before. It’s one of those songs from the 1980s that takes me back to another time in my life. I wouldn’t relive high school for all the money in the world, but the music from that era can always make me think about those days. I don’t know why that is, but I suspect I’m not the only one who feels like this, either.

Last night it was raining in Chicago, and I was driving around, looking for something to listen to on the radio. And I turned to an 80s-related nostalgia station, and this song was playing. Whatever mental images of this song I may have already, they were supplemented by the images of night, the city, and the rain coming down.

Back in the 1980s, I was a long way from Chicago, both literally and figuratively. I never in my wildest imagination would have thought this is where I would end up living. But here I am, and there’s no place else I’m ever going to be after this, either. This is home for me now.

So as I drove through the streets of my new hometown, listening to the sounds of another time in my life, I realized that memories are a lingering thing. They can be good, or they can be bad, but they are always there. To the day I die, I’ll mentally picture the video for this song, with the guy (the singer, I think) driving a convertible through the desert, and the band playing this song in the studio, and two other guys doing some sort of a dance routine in what appeared to be time with the song.

But now, the next time I hear that song on the radio, I’ll possibly also think of a rainy night in Chicago, and a trip down Western Avenue, and the not-so-young-anymore guy who harkened back to an earlier time in life. As the band tells us in their song, “nothing ever lasts forever.”

There’s so many things that I wanna say

Today, as I was eating at a Five Guys restaurant in suburban Chicago, I heard some bits of a song by a band called The Outfield. Their biggest hit back in the 80s was “Your Love” and this sometimes gets them labelled as a one-hit wonder. But I like one of the opening lines of the song, and so I borrowed it for the title of this post.

There truly are so many things that I wanna say, on top of all the things that I’ve already said over the past 18 months that I’ve been writing in this space. There are stories I want to tell, comments I want to make, and images I want to describe. The ideas inside my head are always going to outnumber the time that I have for putting them into words but, as Jimi Hendrix once said, if I don’t capture these things, nobody else will. And if it takes a band like the Outfield to help bring my ideas into focus, all the better. I’ll take the inspiration whenever I can find it.

Closer to me

One of the benefits, if that’s the right word, of a long commute home in the evening is the chance to listen to some music along the way. This evening, for example, I found an old Def Leppard CD and put it in the CD player to make the Kennedy Expressway more tolerable. And as soon as the CD went in, it was as if I was in high school all over again. It was part of the magical power that music seems to have.

As I listened to song after song from Pyromania–which came out early in my high school days–and Hysteria–which appeared near the end of my college career–I once again felt like a kid who had never used so much as a cordless phone before. The kid who couldn’t talk to girls to save his life. The kid who didn’t know anything about anything, but thought that he knew everything that was worth knowing.

The kid that I was back in the 1980s is gone, and I couldn’t bring him back if I wanted to. Decades of life, and the lessons that it teaches, have made that an impossibility. I’m sure that 1980s me, and the me that drove home from work today, would both get a good laugh, if they could ever meet up with each other. And yet, the two of them were both getting into Rock of Ages and Foolin’ as my Prius made its way homeward this afternoon.

I knew pretty early on that I wanted to write about this CD, and the music it held, and the time-bending properties it seemed to possess. I listened for a good lyric that would tie this all up for a title to this post. I’ve even titled one of my earlier posts after a line from Photograph, which probably is the best song Def Leppard ever recorded. If I ever went to a Def Leppard concert (I think they’re probably still touring somewhere) and they played Photograph and a dozen other songs that I’d never heard before, I’d walk away saying it was a good show. Nostalgia is a very powerful thing, after all.

But every line I came up with (“Put your hurt on me, if you dare” anyone?) didn’t say anything about my main idea. And then, as I was driving into another amazing sunset on the final part of my trip, a throwaway line at the end of Hysteria sealed the deal for me. The music on the song itself is strangely affecting, at least for me, but the line “get closer, closer to me” seemed to be the sentiment I was looking for.

Def Leppard’s music is more a part of my life’s experiences than Led Zeppelin or the Doors or the Rolling Stones ever could be. I love the music that these other bands made, but I was in high school when Pyromania came out. The feelings that I had in high school, about life and everything that it was composed of, come flooding back to me whenever I hear anything from that album. Incidentally, I owned it on a cassette at the time, but now I wish that I had owned it on vinyl, for some reason. And who knew what a CD was back in 1983?

The music of Def Leppard is closer to me than most other music I hear when I listen to the radio. I enjoy songs like Takin’ Care of Business, but not because I have any memories about when it was on the latest BTO record. After all, that was a bit before my time.

Now that my sojourn to the 80s is over, and the middle aged father with a minivan and a mortgage has returned, I’m glad that the music of Def Leppard, and all of the other things I listened to back then, can still affect me like this. That time in my life must have  had some redeeming qualities, or I’d want to turn this off and listen to some Soundgarden instead. And I can say with confidence that won’t be happening anytime soon.

I know this much is true

At the end of a long day at work today, I faced the prospect of a long commute to get home. It always seems like getting to work takes 15 minutes in the morning, and getting home takes an hour in the evening. Some of that is psychological–does anybody look forward to work more than home?–and some is because I don’t take the tollway on the way home. When the tolls are doubled, as they were here some time ago, it makes taking the tollway each way seem like an extravagance.

To pass the time on the way home today, I had a CD filled with hits from the 80s. Songs that, whether I loved or hated them back in the 80s themselves, are now a treasured part of my past. It’s very bizarre to think of Billy Squier as being a treasure, but two minutes of FM hit radio in 2012 is enough to make me start singing “Everybody Wants You.”

At one point, about five or six songs into the CD, a song started to skip, and I wasn’t able to listen to it. What surprised me today, and probably would have disgusted the  teenager I once was, was that I was disappointed when I couldn’t hear Spandau Ballet’s “True.”

Back in the 1980s, I listened to Def Leppard, Judas Priest, the Scorpions, Quiet Riot, Night Ranger, and pretty much any other “hair metal” band that was on the radio or on MTV. I listened to some other things too, like Prince, Bruce Springsteen, and Run-DMC. So I wasn’t locked into just one type of music, but I did have my preferences. And Spandau Ballet wasn’t among them.

But things changed over time. I was once a simmering cauldron of confusion, anxiety, frustration, insecurities, bravado, and stupidity, with a thick outer layer of smart-ass holding it all together. I was waiting for my life to start back then, oblivious to the fact that I was already living it, and once those teen-aged days were gone, they weren’t coming back again. I actually wanted that to happen back then, but now I wish I had found some way to enjoy the moment a bit more than I actually did.

So the me that once hated Spandau Ballet, because they didn’t have long hair and guitar solos, is gone. In his place is someone who’s lived enough to know more about how the world is, and how people are, and how things turn out the way they’re supposed to, whether you see them coming or you don’t. Someone who can appreciate a catchy melody and a nice sentiment in the lyrics. And someone who is a lot more comfortable in his own skin than that kid from three decades ago.

The next song played without a hitch (“She’s a Beauty” by the Tubes), and before too long I was back at home, living a life that the teen-aged me might find interesting, or boring, or perhaps someplace in between. But at least there’s now room in it for a song by Spandau Ballet.