A SECRET HISTORY: 1987 - 1988

Every May, my Catholic grade school concludes the year with an all-student picnic. Approximately 150 first-through-eighth-graders caravan nine blocks to Wilson Park for a day of jump rope contests, softball tournaments, jungle gyms, sloppy joes and generic brand “COLA” (in black print on plain white cans, of course). Unlike past picnics, however, this one simmers with defiant self-expression and youthful rebellion, stuff you only catch glimpses of within the school’s constricting walls. Out in the open, I hear Motley Crue, the Beastie Boys and even U2 for the first time. I don’t like everything I hear, but I realize I’m missing something by just listening to Weird Al. Unseasonable, sweltering afternoon heat erupts into an impromptu water fight. The upperclassmen kick it off and the melee gradually trickles down to us, all the while escalating nearly out of control. We’re scolded and the next two years, the “picnic” is held in the school’s/church’s basement hall, the same site used for assemblies and weekly bingo.

I receive a slightly larger black (the color’s important) dual-cassette boombox for my thirteenth birthday and I listen to the radio casually, but often. I go home for lunch every day at 11:30 (I only live two blocks away). When my mother’s at work and I have the house to myself, I drag the boombox out to the kitchen table and listen to “She’s Like the Wind” and “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” while I heat up soup or a Stouffer’s entrée in the microwave.

Apart from the latest Weird Al (Even Worse, which I’m totally oblivious about until my classmates mention it), I still don’t purchase any music. I do start taping songs off the radio, slowly, carefully mastering the art of capturing an entire song with as little interference from the DJ or a fade-in to the next song as possible. I also enjoy scrolling up and down the AM and FM dials in search of what weird shit I can find. My dedication and patience, however, is that of an ADD-rattled thirteen-year-old: I capture stuff in bits and pieces, not allowing enough time for anything to stick.

I finally watch MTV on a regular basis: I love the countdown shows, Club MTV (since the fashions seemed so ridiculous at the time, I can’t imagine how they must appear now) and Remote Control, the granddaddy of all hip cable game shows. Still, I can’t get into Closet Capsule Classics (a daily half-hour prototype for VH-1 Classic with daily Doors videos): I can't yet fathom why anyone would want to listen to anything old.