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Surviving The Real 1984

Updated: Jul 19, 2021

As lots of us have noticed, our national odometer finally kicked past the timeframe when "Blade Runner" supposedly took place. It was November, 2019, according to the first frames of that film. It’s strange to be able to transcend a moment in history that, in art, has been likened to a dark dystopia.

I wish everyone could have known what it was like to live through the real 1984.

Everyone was sure the world was about to end in some kind of totalitarian apocalypse, due to George Orwell’s novel, which every high school student had been forced to read since the 1950s. It wasn’t just a year, it was a test of humanity. Bowie sang about it, a decade before the year arrived. And Oingo Boingo feverishly screamed it: "WAKE UP! It's 1984."

Musically, it was like reaching the crest of a hill, and being gifted with a greater perspective of the intense music scene gleaming all around. And we New Wavers lived through it, in our prime.

For me, ‘84 was the year I moved into my first apartment, a dumpy basement along the Delaware River where we shoved four people into a one-bedroom unit. We had sheets on the window and egg crate mattress toppers on the floors instead of beds. And a single bedroom closet. For four girls. My clothes hung in the hallway coat closet.

It was the most fun I ever had.

We blared Bowie and the Talking Heads and The Psychedelic Furs, Bow Wow Wow and The Clash, and went to concerts at the East Side Club and the Kennel Club in Philadelphia. I met a New Wave guitarist with a weird sense of humor who took my breath away, one who pulled a Roxy Music album out of its sleeve and opened up a new world of ethereal beauty for me.

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t start my own band, or muscle my way into that boyfriend’s act, or decide to sleep my way to the top like Madonna until I hit on someone who could help make me famous. I had the look. I had the voice.

But no, I only used my powers for good.

And in the end it was a rip-roaring great ride anyway, dancing my way through three states and two countries. In 1984 there were so many thrill-a-minute albums out, it was hard to choose which ones could possibly be the best. A zillion other valiant and outrageously gorgeous records had to be pushed aside during our Banzai Retro Club podcast in order to zero-in on the must-haves at the top of a very exclusive list. Meanwhile, fabulous pieces of music like The Icicle Works' “Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)” (or vice versa) had to be relegated to an unpolished, spectacular gem. The song stands as an unsung hero amid the fanfare of U2's “The Unforgettable Fire,” The Smiths’ song How Soon Is Now?, and Howard Jones’ “Human’s Lib” album.

Still, I’ll never forget the moment that New Wave boyfriend balanced the outside rim of that Icicle Works record gingerly between his palms, placing the untouched surface of the vinyl disk on the over-sized console turntable in his apartment. Drums came up in the room, pounding through the harmonics as he said, “Have you heard this one?” When I looked into his eyes and listened to that sound, I felt like I knew him forever. Like I recognized him from some other life.

Still, now, when the bell-like intro of that song materializes, a chill speeds up my spine like the day I first locked eyes with him.

And little did we know in 1984, not only were we in the middle of the best years of our lives, but we were in fact reaching the pinnacle of the New Wave era. Our youth was running in parallel to the movement. We hadn’t come to realize yet that we couldn’t make it last forever, not any more than I could keep the spark alive in that guitar player’s eyes.

In that moment, in the foreboding year that we thought would mark the end of Western Civilization, we clung to our music.

Listen to our podcast ranking the best New Wave albums of 1984. It was a distinctive year, for the music, and for the people it inspired.

I’ve been informed that our New Wave podcasts make up four of the top ten most downloaded broadcasts now on Banzai Retro Club. So congrats to us! Listen to the rest of the series:

Best New Wave Albums, Year By Year:

1983: Banzai Retro Club, Episode #83

1982: Banzai Retro Club, Episode #80

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 (Now the club's TOP podcast.)

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