A SECRET HISTORY: 1984 – 1986

I receive a cassette player/recorder at Christmas, 1983, probably purchased from the J.C. Penney’s Catalog. Years later, I find a recording my mother and I had made around that time, the two of us belting out “Jingle Bell Rock”. We amusingly messed up that line tailor-made for karaoke-butchering, “giddy up, Jingle horse” (‘cause you see, the song’s called “Jingle Bell Rock”). I don’t know whatever happened to that tape… most likely, I trashed it in a fit of teenage embarrassment and revulsion, which I now regret doing.

I discovered Top 40 radio a month after I turned nine. One Saturday, my parents and I got together with longtime friends we would vacation with every summer. After dinner at Shakey’s Pizza on Loomis Road (the only time I ever remember going there), we went back to their suburban cul-de-sac. They had two sons, one my age, and we spent the rest of the evening listening to the radio. I heard a lot of stuff for the first time: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, Van Halen’s (not the Pointer Sisters’) “Jump”, Rockwell’s supremely horror-cheesy “Somebody’s Watching Me” (pretty much a Michael Jackson track in all but name). We kept scanning the dial in hopes to find “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Eat It”, but only caught it in spurts. It was so liberating to hear something other than my parent’s music. I ran around the orange-carpeted house, inexplicably wearing a Tinkertoy necklace, rapt in a sugar high fueled by Legos, Pepsi, and lots of disposable but fun pop music.

Alas, it did not take. My cassette player did not have a radio, and apart from a well-worn copy of the soundtrack to It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown!, I didn’t even think to start buying my own cassettes until more than two years later. By fifth grade, I became painfully aware of my tendency to play the goody-two shoes and decided it was high time I became cool. Not that I had any idea of how to accomplish this. For my 11th birthday, I knew I needed a bigass boombox, like the kind you saw in Run DMC videos. I’m not sure where I got this from--my neighborhood had finally been wired up for cable TV in late ‘85, but I watched a lot more Nickelodeon than MTV. So, my grandmother got me a boombox alright, but it was tiny, non-threatening and white with an aluminum handle. It fit all too comfortably on my shoulder. Nevertheless, it had the basics--a radio and a cassette player.

After a summer spent taking my first guitar lessons (at an all-woman’s college, no less) and watching daily morning reruns of Here’s Lucy, I bought a copy of "Weird Al" Yankovic’s self-titled debut album from Kohl’s Department Store. I’m not sure what possessed me to pick it up right there and then (perhaps a viewing of The Complete Al on HBO?), but I listened to it constantly, and gradually acquired Al's entire oeuvre over the next four months. I tried to keep my new obsession a secret from my Bon Jovi and Kiss loving cousins and classmates, which seems silly now; if there’s ever an appropriate age to admit you like Weird Al, eleven may as well be it.