Originally aired in 2014.
Edited post in 2023.
Bruce Springsteen – Dancing in the Dark
U2 – Like a Song
Big Country – Fields Of Fire
Mike Peters – The Stand
The Waterboys – Spirit
Simple Minds – Sanctify Yourself
Lone Justice – Soap, Soup And Salvation
R.E.M. – Harborcoat
Guadalcanal Diary – Fire From Heaven
Echo & the Bunnymen – Seven Seas
the The – This is the Day
The Cure – In Between Days
The Smiths – How Soon Is Now
Billy Bragg – The World Turned Upside Down
The Clash – Clampdown
Peter Gabriel – Biko
Violent Femmes – No Killing
Minutemen – The Price Of Paradise
The Replacements – Here Comes a Regular
Suzanne Vega – Undertow
10,000 Maniacs – Back O’ The Moon
Lone Justice - Wheels
Cocteau Twins – Lorelei
This Mortal Coil – Song To The Siren
By the time I reached high school, I knew I wanted to write and began working for the school paper, the Southfield JAY (our team mascot being the Blue Jays). For the duration of my high school career, I would write about sports, music, and social issues, including peace, civil rights, and ill-fated endorsement of the Walter Mondale/Geraldine Ferraro ticket for President in 1984.
My older friends Scott and Joe had programs on the school radio station WSHJ, so soon I joined them with “Music For Thinking People” and “United Underground,” airing weekly and respectively during my junior and senior years. I like to joke that “sex, drugs, and rock n roll” ended my athletic career, lettering in track and cross-country, and it’s not that far from the truth.
By 11th grade year, I had adjusted the birth date on my driver’s license from 1967 to 1962, so I could get into clubs that had an age restriction. Using my radio and journalism passions as justification, I even went downtown to shows on school nights. I learned how to telephone record labels and managers and get free stuff or get on the guestlist, with my staff status on the JAY and WSHJ as the only credentials I needed.
As an up-and-coming journalist, I read Rolling Stone magazine religiously. Soon, I would discover fanzines. I was weaning myself off classic rock and getting heavily into punk, new wave, and those bands or artists that would end up under the wide umbrella of “alternative.” In Rolling Stone around 1983, an article about the Irish band U2 was called “Blessed Are The Peacemakers.” As a devout Christian, the reference to the Beatitudes immediately grabbed my eye. In this story, a singer called Bono spoke of his allegiance to the ideals of the 60s and his disdain for the superficial sides of pop music. He exuded an enthusiasm for life that I shared, and he located his anti-apartheid, anti-nuke stances in his Christian faith, such as I would soon discover, with biblical allusions dripping from his lyrics, all the while resisting the “Christian rock” pigeonhole of groups like Petra or Rez Band.
By then, I was already passionate about John Lennon and the Beatles. Lennon’s death in 1980 had hurt me deeply, so nothing could mean more than seeing a passionate and charismatic voice like this coming from my generation. I was in my late teens and the members of U2 were in their early twenties. On the album War, Bono declares in “Like A Song”:
Angry words won’t stop the fight
Two wrongs won’t make it right
A new heart is what I need
Oh God make it bleed
In U2, I had found the voice of my generation.
My enthusiasm for U2 quickly turned me on to the authentic anthem bands from across the pond, bands like The Alarm, Big Country, Waterboys, and Simple Minds. The politics of people over profit informed the likes of Billy Bragg and the clash. Back in the USA, Bruce Springsteen was a more sophisticated John Cougar. Down in the South, there was a jangle rock scene, from fiery bar band Guadalcanal Diary to the Athens, Georgia legends R.E.M., who would be the American peers to U2 in terms of widespread popularity, creative expressions, and progressive messages.
Refugees from punk provided the antidote to cheesy radio rock, and the likes of Minutemen, Replacements, and Violent Femmes filled my ears.
Finally I found my first genuine fanboy crushes on Maria McKee of Lone Justice and Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs. I kept my intentions all about the music and was thrilled to meet them, interview them, write about them, and travel all around the country to see them play. As my newspaper and fanzine articles started to land in the hands of other bands and labels, backstage access was a surprisingly easy hustle. I ended up meeting almost every artist I saw.
Many of the artists I saw were also activists against war and racism, commitments I shared. Surviving the Reagan years meant meeting like minded folks, attending lots of protests, and having a great record collection. The transition from the high school years to the college experience was so bumpy and wild and included drugs and dropping out. While I loved all my adventures, there were close calls and dark detours. These amazing soundtracks kept me moderately sane and always inspired.
Listen to a playlist:
Listen to a playlist: