(Note – I link to a bunch of videos here. Take your time. Watch them. Let me take you on a little musical trip. Enjoy!)
It’s 1978. Maybe early 1979.
I’m in college at UC Irvine. No scholarships for me, and no assistance from parents or anyone else, so I’m working full time to get through school. With classes during the day, I needed something that gave me the ability to work around that schedule. Which is why I worked for Marriott, first with swing shifts (some real shitty, entry level, minimum wage jobs, “moving up” to room service at about $3.10/hour) and then ended up on graveyard shift.
The graveyard job was night audit. This was not the computerized, automated, “babysit the front desk and check in people in the middle of the night” job that it is now. No computers at all, everything done on paper, by hand, with nothing fancier than a desk calculator. For a hotel with several hundred rooms plus lots of banquet space plus four restaurants, this meant at least three of us most nights.
It was work that taught me how to do the accounting equivalent of “M*A*S*H”‘s “meatball surgery.” I was a physics major with some computer programming (FORTRAN, LISP, assembly) thrown in, not business or accounting. (For the record, this proved invaluable after graduation and for the forty years since. I started writing computer programs for accounting, then ended up as a corporate Controller and now a Director of Finance. Physics, on the other hand – not so much.)
But it was truly drudge work. Boring. Slow. Boring. Tedious. Boring. Methodical. Boring. Routine. Detailed. And did I mention “boring?” Needless to say, “boring” is not necessarily a good thing when you’re working graveyard shift. Especially when you’ve had classes all day, crammed in a couple of hours of homework and studying, and only gotten four or five hours of sleep. (Ah, youth!) They also usually turned off the air conditioning, so it was always warm and stuffy.
Warm. Bored. Exhausted.
Anything that could help keep us from falling asleep at work was welcome.
There was some relief. They allowed us to have a radio in the office behind the front desk where we worked. But in the late 70’s, there were very limited options for late-night radio, even in Los Angeles. (Pre CDs, pre digitial, pre iPhone [hell, over ten years pre cell phone, period!] – does anyone have a cassette?) If you’re trying to stay awake, K-RTH 101 playing the Beach Boys doesn’t do much for you.
Then one night…
One night one of the guys (it was all guys except for a brief stint with a woman, which was led to a completely different nightmare) came in, very excited about a radio station he had found. It was called KROQ and we could just about pick it up on FM if conditions were right. It had a weak signal, low power, and they either kept losing their license and going off the air for a while or they were being threatened with losing it).
They were playing the most bizarre music any of us had ever heard.
Something called “punk.”
X. The B-52s. The Knack. Tonio K. (“Life In The Foodchain” is still an all-time favorite album!) Joe Jackson. The Clash. Boomtown Rats. Buzzcocks. Joy Division. Talking Heads. Public Image, Ltd. Elvis Costello. The Buggles. The Police. Blondie. Ian Drury. The Ramones. Devo. Morrisey.
Songs with titles like “Beat On The Brat,” “Hatred,” “Psycho Killer,” “I Want To Be Sedated,” “Warm Leatherette,” and “T.V.O.D.” (Go ahead, watch those last two from The Normal. Heads up – they’re anything but normal.)
THAT’s music that will keep you up at 3AM while reconciling restaurant sales in 90°F temps on four hours sleep!!
A lot of what they were playing was actually banned, which is why they kept having their license threatened. There were obscenities in it. There was sex. (Remember that I mentioned “88 Lines About 44 Women” by The Nails? They played the unedited version.) There were taboo subjects.
I’ll never forget that the Boomtown Rats had a song called “I Don’t Like Mondays” about the 1979 Cleveland Elementary School shooting in San Diego. (For those of you not familiar with ancient history, this was long ago enough so that people were actually shocked and horrified by a schoolyard being shot up and kids and teachers killed.) It had been banned everywhere – but KROQ played it.
It was glorious. I loved it.
My boss – not so much. He allowed it, but on nights I wasn’t there they listened to something else. But turnover in that job was high, it was tough getting good help, it was really tough getting anyone who wouldn’t be gone in six months (or less), so I got to listen to punk on KROQ and get his, “What is this crap you’re listening to?!” comments.
Until 1980 when he heard “The Wait” by The Pretenders. (See, you knew that eventually I would get back to this, which I got reminded of last night.) That angry, in-your-face chanting and ranting, borderline gibberish just cracked him up for some reason. It was the funniest thing he had ever heard in his life. He truly had no idea what crap he was listening to, but he liked it.
It didn’t hurt that he had seen a picture of Chrissie Hynde at some point and was deeply in lust with her. (I was a bit obsessed at the time with Debbie Harry of Blondie and would have crossed oceans and climbed mountains to be with Pat Benatar, so who am I to judge? Damn, those eyes… plus ça change…)
So that’s where my head goes when I find a new Sirius/XM channel of punk/alternative/new wave music and they smack me in the face with great music from forty years ago. I’ll be listening to my music of my early twenties to ease the stress of today in my early sixties.