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The Bifurcation of 1982

Check out the Banzai RetroClub podcast featuring the best New Wave Albums of 1982, with Scott, Dave, and myself.

1982 was split in two for me. For most of the year, I lived one life, topping off my senior year of high school. Love. Prom. Senior Awards Night. In the waning months of 1981, I shivered through football games in 50 degree weather in a short cheerleading skirt. Our uniforms hadn’t been updated since 1960-something, including requisite saddle shoes (I swear to God). I was devoted to Billy Joel, and my record collection still prominently featured Boston, Kansas, Foreigner, and Steely Dan. But in the last remnant moments of the seventies, my musical sensibilities were being infiltrated by The Police, The Cars, and that Talking Heads’ spin-off Tom Tom Club song that played the entire weekend of my senior trip in the Catskills.

Then the calendar page turned, and I bought that amazing fucking Flock of Seagulls album. And the Clash’s “Combat Rock” hit the airwaves.

The world took a U-turn.

By September 1982, I had packed all my belongings into a clamshell on top of my parents’ Honda and drove away. I started college.

It was a whole other planet, one without TV or cable—and not even a vaporous thought of the Internet, which was still just a gleam in the government’s eye at that point. But oh, there was music. Synthesizers had arrived that none of us ever heard before, and little did we know how much their appearance on the scene would both unite and compartmentalize us as a generation.

College in the early ‘80s wasn’t just about getting an education. It was about selecting your lifestyle: Were you a hair-band metal head? Were you a rocker? Or were you like me: an artsy, punky, Bohemian New Waver? Once 1982 rolled around in all its skinny-tied, sprayed-up glory, your choice of music dictated how you dressed, what friends you kept, what clubs you frequented, and on what nights you showed up there. New Wave nights started springing up in clubs from city to city … first just on Mondays, then Mondays and Fridays—sometimes they even named the club something different those nights. Then whole clubs just went New Wave. We took over.

More than anything else in the early 1980s, music was how you defined yourself. In 1982, I made a pact that fuzzy, “Muffy”-looking sweaters with lace collars and monograms would no longer be tolerated. That was “preppy,” and by our standards, insipid. From then on, if I were to buy clothing, every piece would have an off-beat bend to it: Working zippers in places they didn’t belong. A diagonally cut neckline that flapped its patterned lining inside-out over my chest. Ankle boots with cool scrunched leather. Industrial earrings the size of shoe buckles. Belts made of chain links. PAINT SPLATTERS.

I moved in with a group of other girls—four quirky loners who found themselves in a big group of friends for the first time ever. We embraced the fluke and reveled in our shared New Wave sensibilities—and in the fact that we were mostly all the same dress size. Our wardrobes became a communal game of mix-and-match, and our record collections melded together. Both collections grew exponentially.

During college breaks, I headed back to Long Island to find that the post-punk movement continued to gain ground in my wake. My best friend from high school spiked her hair. My brother’s formerly Rush-focused band added U2 songs to its repertoire. One of the girls from the cheerleading squad invited me to see The Ramones at a dive-y club in West Islip called Hammerheads. It was a general admission show where I learned to shoulder my way to the front of the crowd and get as close to the stage as possible without getting beaten up. That night, I was far enough up-front that Johnny Ramone tossed me a pick with the band’s name embossed on it.

God dammit if I didn’t save that pick for years, until it disappeared from a ceramic jewelry box on my dresser in a post-collegiate apartment. No one stole the jewelry. They stole my authentic RAMONES guitar pick.

In the summer of '82, me and a group of hysterically funny guys I’d met at a party started up a New Wave-based friendship. We took to piling into cars and driving for hours to chase around a cover band called Vixen, who did the Island’s best live Flock of Seagulls imitation. We traveled the pastoral sparseness of Sunrise Highway for mile after unlit mile—without the benefit of GPS—singing along to an INXS cassette and drinking illegally open beers, trusting that the guy behind the wheel would eventually figure out where we were going. Once we miraculously located the West Hampton beach club where the band was playing, Vixen bleated out “I Ran” on their claggy MOOG synthesizers and all was forgiven. I danced my turquoise patent leather spiked heels off.

Through all of this, at every party and every New Wave night, The Clash would always ask, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” They made punk not only acceptable, but a party necessity.

Life, and music, had turned a corner, going from underground to sanctioned. The preppies and the long-haired rockers had come up against us gelled-up, underdog post-punks, and I couldn't help feeling like we'd won.

Check out the whole podcast series if you'd like to reminisce with us:

Best New Wave Albums, Year By Year:

1981: Banzai Retro Club, Episode #77

1980: Banzai Retro Club, Episode #74

1979: Banzai Retro Club, Episode #71

Best New Wave Songs of the '80s: Banzai Retro Club, Episode 67 (Currently the club's 2nd most-downloaded podcast)

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Oct 29, 2019

Great stories Suzanne. I felt like I was riding shotgun.

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