Being raised by grandparents has its disadvantages, not least of which is living in a cultural time capsule. When I was a kid I would sit with my bowl of Sunday Jello next to the stereo in the living room listening to Second-World-War songstress Vera Lynn and Boxcar Willie. It was 1980.
I started to realize I was out of the loop when a couple of boys in my Grade 5 class sang—in tune and with conviction— “Everybody’s got a hungry fart.” I was 10 years old and this song really spoke to me. I had never seen The White Cliffs of Dover and wasn’t sure where they were—though I could sing lovingly about them. But flatulence, that I knew, that was real life.
I had to find the genius who recorded that song and get with the times. I was already attempting to break free from the endless loop of old-timey eight-tracks and find my generation’s jukebox heroes. I just wasn’t sure where to look.
I got my first clue from a super-cool girl who had a CHUM t-shirt and used to ride her 10-speed bike down our street with her back straight and her hands on her knees. It took a while to find out that CHUM was a radio station but when I did, I knew my life was about to change. I could be just like the super-cool girl and get a t-shirt of my own and ride my bike down someone else’s street. But with my hands on the handlebars. I was pretty sure riding with no hands was illegal.
I had just been given a radio that looked like a mini record player with detachable speakers. The plan was to start cutting the CHUM 1050 charts out of the Toronto Star, and then listen to the hits as they were counted down on Saturday morning after my swimming lessons. I was going to find that song and learn all the words.
Our paper still hadn’t been delivered when I sat up in my room, hair still damp, with my radio on and my best multi-colour click pen ready to document the songs I liked best. I don’t know where the song fell in the countdown, but I recognized it right away. Except it was all wrong.
The song was “Hungry Heart” not “Hungry Fart.”
To this day I am not a Bruce Springsteen fan. And I still don’t know the words to that song.
Though my car may be a Springsteen-free zone, I’ve noticed recently that my ride has become a cultural time capsule all its own. I have a crap ton of 80s music on a USB stick my husband Tony made for a road trip. It starts with 1980 and ends with 1990. It’s got everything from Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home” to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”
It’s not like I’ve been listening to 80s tunes since the 80s. I mean, I was still in touch with musical trends during the 1990s but somewhere down the road I seemed to do a U-turn and head back to where my musical tastes came from.
It doesn’t happen to everyone. I was at my mother-in-law’s for lunch a few years ago and she asked me if I’d seen Nicki Minaj on American Idol. I’ve never seen anyone on American Idol and I had no clue who Nicki Minaj is—but I did get a giggle out of my mother-in-law saying “ménage.” I’m middle age but I may have some growing up to do.
Veronica, my mother-in-law, is in her early 70s. She always had a sense of what was groundbreaking or popular and still does. She used to watch the Beatles play at the Cavern Club during her lunch break when she was a teenager in Liverpool. I think it’s a huge big deal. She thinks it’s no big deal.
I don’t know where my stepdaughters, Meghan, 19, and Sophie, 16, hear about new bands. They don’t listen to the radio. I don’t know what they listen to, they always have headphones in their ears.
They like 21 Pilots, or did the last time I checked. I don’t know anything about them except there are not 21 members and they probably aren’t pilots.
Veronica likes them too. It’s not like she’s just copying the kids—whose faces sank when they found out their Nana listens to the same music as they do—she discovered them, somehow, on her own.
I suppose I could blame my husband for turning my car into a back-to-the-future mobile. He made the mixed USB stick after all. He studies ancient history so I suppose he’s just following his interests. It’s not as though he listens to lute recordings by that second-century chart-topper Mesomedes or anything, but he does still listen to Rush regularly.
He continues to support geriatric and pre-geriatric musicians by going to see them with his high school friends. They’re not picky, they’ll go see the remainders in a band—Katrina without the Waves, or a lone Thompson Twin. It’s sad really. But it’s a night out and I guess that’s something.
I stick my nose up and rarely go. I don’t want to see individual has-beens—it’s the whole group of has-beens or nothing. If I’m going to listen to Hall there had better be some Oates, thank you, and it will be while I’m in the car and well before my 10 p.m. bedtime.
Now, can someone help me figure out how to download some Anne Murray from iTunes?