When I was sixteen it was 1989.
I vaguely remember the news stories of that year. The opening of the Berlin Wall, the tragedy of Tiananmen Square. Names like Manuel Noreiga, Oliver North, and Mikhail Gorbachev were on the lips and in the minds of everyone in 1989. The news didn’t matter to me much, though I remember learning about current events in school and hearing the adults talk about them at home and I remember wondering if we were going to have a nuclear war.
I always thought about nuclear war.
I was a sophomore in high school, actively finding my place among my peers. I was failing Algebra but acing English and Drama, and wondering why we weren’t covering the Holocaust in History.
And I was listening to my brother’s music and finding my soul.
In the early 80s I listened to Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna, along with everyone else in the world. I thought little about what wasn’t playing on the radio, but MTV told me there was something else out there. My brother, twenty months older than me but two years ahead of me in school, was a senior in 1989 and my ticket to all things post-punk. The local radio station that played anything alternative to pop or oldies had shut down, but we had tapes and CDs. By the time I got wind of the songs, most of them were old, had been out for years.
I found Love and Rockets and The Jesus and Mary Chain. I went to England on a school trip and brought back Elvis Costello, Thomas Dolby, and Big Audio Dynamite. When I got my driver’s license my friends and I would ride around town, scream-singing Blister in the Sun and everything The Police recorded until we were hoarse.
I memorized every lyric and rewound the cassettes again and again to hear the haunting melodies and melancholy tones of the songs that sang to me. Despite my average appearance, I wasn’t a cheerful teenager. I hummed along with The Smiths and was grateful for The Cure. I also listened to Bon Jovi and Janet Jackson and Milli Vanilli, but the new wave was my spirit guide.
When I hear this music today, I love it just as much as I did when I listened to it for the first time at sixteen. Age has softened the angst, given my high school years a rose-colored glow. At the first familiar notes I am 16 again, driving through town with my girlfriends, singing terribly and loudly with our hearts wide open.
Now 1989 is the name of an album by Taylor Swift. I know this because when I Googled the year to jog my memory of its music, her name was all over the search results. That’s fine with me. I like Taylor Swift. My kids do too, and will likely remember her name when they look back twenty-five years to recall what they listened to when they were teens.
I hope they can look back on their teen years with fondness the way I do. I hope they find the music that speaks to them, that the songs they memorize now bring them happy memories later.
I hope they have their 1989.
This post inspired by:
Prompt #6: What was your favorite song when you were 16 years old…is it still a favorite?