David Bowie has resurfaced in my iTunes lately. Along with Squeeze and Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and Chrissie Hynde. That music has a curious power over me; I feel it in my belly, carrying the beat and bringing me back to another time, while sitting contentedly, happily in my present. (Depending on whose car you were in, Madonna and Prince accompanied our dreams and longings, too.) The 80s made as much of an impression on me as the 70s or 60s or any other decade did for those who gained their footing with the music du jour flooding the airwaves. I was 18 in 1984 — the legal drinking age in those days — and I dove deeply into freedom and fumbling.
What were the 80s, my 80s? I remember pointed-toe boots and faded peg leg jeans; wall phones and cassette players; smoke-filled bars and conversations that had nothing to do with key-tapping; big, sprayed hair and serious eyeliner; anxious expectation for who knew what and a hunger and satiety kindled and quelled by friends and music; upbeat longing while having all the answers and blatant, unapologetic, searching; singing out loud together in the car and dancing together once we arrived.
It was classes by day, work in the evening, then out with friends –– needing little sleep, as it is for everyone at that age. Meet first at Margaritas on Lark Street for a warmup, then move next door to dance on the second floor of 288 or at Putting On The Ritz on lower Central, a few doors up from where Metroland was at the time. Minutes ticked by like seconds, and 18 became 20 became 25…
Today’s prevailing search for centeredness supplanted an unstoppable, angst-ridden rollercoaster through peaks and valleys. They must add up to the same, mustn’t they? Centeredness can not be a constant state, but a balance of highs and lows, whether we want them or not, just like any other time. I doubt any of us look for center at that age as much as the highest peak.
But those 80s. They were a sugar rush of schemes and consolations, hopes and heartbreaks, mended more or less by much-needed, reliable, good friends — and always good tunes that seemed to know what we were feeling. We moved like a fluctuating herd of who could or couldn’t make it that night, but we always knew there would be the next night and that we’d be there for each other. Until one day we weren’t. Until one day we looked up and turned a corner. Some had the luck or privilege or wisdom to say goodbye. And some did not.
On October 26, 2016, I will turn 50, surpassing the too-young age my biological mother lived to be –– a quiet, suppressed worry of mine for years. Hence the palmful of daily vitamins and yoga and attempts at positive thinking. I am determined to live a long life with Mick, to make up for late starts and to reach those long-held goals that present themselves upon waking every day with increasing urgency.
I’ve thought about the 80s’ hold on me more and more lately as I approach 50. It’s been a long time since those wide-eyed days and yet they sometimes feel like yesterday. And always they bring an ache to my throat if I think about them too pointedly. It’s because it was the time of flight, when the world held only promise and possibility. Now, arriving at the age that I’d thought frighteningly close to the grave when my Dad turned 50 and loving the life I have now, I do find myself looking back a bit, wondering if I should have done anything differently and if I would, given the opportunity.
David Bowie died this past January, and Elvis Costello is coming to the Palace on my birthday, in fact. I had considered going, but plans with those I love took on a life of their own, and I am happy to live in the now. The clock ticks on and so must we. That era of music will always have the power to transport me, not to the past, per se, but to the same sense of hope and yearning and trying and forging ahead so that maybe when I am nearing 70 or 80, I’ll look back and think I tried my best and took a few risks. I hope. Though it comes with a chance of grief or disappointment, it comes, too, with a shot at victory.
I want always to move, to set my sights on something and try with all my might to grab hold of it. I want always to sing — off key, windows up — and dream and scheme and be carried somewhere by a song, and I hope that for everyone. Let’s Dance.