Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Wave makes me sad.

Thanks to internet radio stations like Pandora and Yahoo I can enjoy a trip down memory lane by tuning into my favorite music from the '80s. Neon accessories, rubber bracelets and spikey hair may be a thing of the past, but thanks to internet radio, I can hear Boy George asking "Do You Really Want to Hold Me?" or Devo exhorting us to "Whip It" at any given hour of the day. This is a good thing. Music fans anywhere can choose from a virtually unlimited list of genres and create their own playlists and stations. Thanks to the all-encompassing, cross-media capabilities of the internet, these stations link to band biographies, similar artists for fans to check out, and, most importantly, links through which customers can purchase their favorite music. No matter how bizarre, old, or obscure, if it's included on an internet radio station, it's been made available to purchase. This is also a good thing! For years I have been searching for the original 7"single version of an obscure new wave song "Nowhere Girl" by an equally obscure British new wave band called B-Movie. Long out of print, my only option was to scour used record stores and Ebay in hopes of scoring a less-than-pristine vinyl copy, or to buy an entire compilation album that may or may not contain other songs I like. The soundtrack to the film 200 Cigarettes has the original version, and is not a bad album altogether, but the film I relied on to relive the glory days of new wave so disappointed me that I refuse to buy its soundtrack! Any movie in which Casey Affleck and Courtney Love are the couple you're supposed to be rooting for can't be good. But I digress.

I was in high school during new wave's heyday of 1980-1984. When my high school glory days came to an end, so, did new wave's. The terms "Alternative" and "Modern Rock" sprang up to describe the slightly left-of-center rock music. Thanks to the internet, I have created my own New Wave station, chock full of the music of my youth, with its gloriously off-kilter aesthetic. My station includes "Nowhere Girl" in its original synth-heavy glory, as well as a host of other songs that meant a lot to me when I was growing up. When played this song, it was a good twenty years or so since I'd heard the original version in its entirety.As soon as I hear the synthesized opening bars of "Nowhere Girl" I'm immediately transported to the bedroom in the house in which I grew up. I spent a lot of evenings sitting in my beanbag chair listening to the only new wave station in the NYC tri-state area. It was great to hear this long-lost musical gem again, but I had a rather unanticipated reaction when I heard it: I teared up! Yup, I got all verklempt as soon as I heard it. The point of my story? Thanks to internet radio, I've discovered just how much the nostalgia I feel for my teenage years can get to me. These days I find myself older, slightly wiser, and still trying to decide what I want to do when I grow up. New wave transports me back to a time in which I had very few worries, a time in which I was certain things would be different when I was older. Hearing my favorite songs these days reminds me of the hope and certainty I felt as a 14-year-old looking to the future.
It's not the up-tempo songs that make me sad, though it's great to hear them as well. Among the dozens of fly-by-night, one-hit-wonders the new wave era spawned, a lot of good music made its way over here from across the pond, even if the American audiences generally didn't appreciate it. "Oblivion," "The Bugle Sounds Again," anything from Aztec Camera's High Land Hard Rain album still makes me somewhat emotional. This album was a Christmas gift from my mom in 1984. I listened to it for two months straight through Christmas break and into the second semester of my freshman year of college before It hit the fan, so to speak. My parents' divorce and various related issues clouded the rest of my college years and changed my life irrevocably. This album reminds me of the last carefree days before things got ugly. "Wishful Thinking" by China Crisis, with its gentle orchestral qualities does the same thing. The Bongos, vintage Elvis Costello, Squeeze, all these bands take me back to my high school and early college days, and that makes me a little sad becasue as adults, we all, to varying degrees, wish we could see things the way we did when we were younger.

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