Thursday, November 13, 2014


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:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #6: What was your favorite song when you were 16 years old…is it still a favorite?


  1. I was 16 in 1989, too. I think that it was about this time when I was transitioning between my Guns-N-Roses phase and my country music phase. I know that is quite a leap but, you see, there was this boy...I think you can figure out the rest.

    1. There is always a boy. I gave up The Cure for Gun-N-Roses briefly later because of a boy.

  2. I was 14 in 1989 and my brother's listened to ROCK. Only one of them was still living at home then and he would blast it through our shared bedroom wall. Music was so good back then. But I didn't really appreciate any of it enough until I was older...

    1. My brother and I were so close in age so his interests were mine, too. I remember thinking we were the only ones who listened to this music, until much later.

  3. I was also 16 in 1989. (I picked the same Mama Kat prompt) Watching videos was such a big part of this time so I remember the visuals of all of these groups along with the songs. It was a great time for music. My 12 year old listens to this music more than the music of today.

    1. That's terrific! About your 12 year old, I mean. Mine listened to a lot of older music when he was younger. It is funny how some kids sort of gravitate to the music their parents like. I wore out my parents' Beatles records when I was in elementary school.

    2. I was the same way with my mom's Motown and Murray the K records.

  4. I was 19 in 1989 and lots of exciting things happened.
    I just can't tell you about them.
    Because 25 years ago.

    1. Hello: I Googled "music in 1989" for this post. And "news in 1989" too. Because 25 years ago. Gulp.

      But when I saw all those stories and bands, it alllll came flooding back to me.

  5. I was 13 in 1989 and the only song I remember from then was Right Here Waiting, lol.

  6. I was a little younger in 89, and my taste in music at the time was much more pop, but I came to love all these songs when I was a little older. This is great list.

    Stopping by from Mama Kat's.

    1. Thanks! I liked pop, too, but it just couldn't grab my attention like the alternative songs did.

  7. 1989 was an awesome year for music!

  8. I graduated from high school in 1989. I was a speech geek, and as a result I followed national and world politics. I remember the events happening, but to me it was all about the debate point, not actually thinking about what those things meant to the people they were happening to.

    My musical taste was so much more top 40. Bangles, Debbie Gibson, Madonna, Richard Marx ... I loved them all. I did get exposure to the Smiths, the Cure, INXS, XTC, but they never spoke to me the way the rock ballads did.

    Like you, whenever I hear the songs from the era I'm immediately transformed. I have memories of where I was and what I was doing while listening to those lyrics when they were playing on the radio ... often with me posed by the tape deck waiting to record them!

    Thanks for the memories!

  9. I'm the oldest person to reply to this post so far.

    I was 16 in 1984 and my musical tastes were tragically unhip. I did love The Police, but also REO Speedwagon, Chicago (ack!) and Foreigner.

    LOVE ballads were it for me. I wanted to be in love so so so desperately.
    And also to have someone else love me back like those lyrics implied.

    "I wanna know what love is...I want you do show me..." (sign me up. I know nothing but I'll give it a shot!)

    "You're the meaning in my're the inspiration." (sigh. I was ready to be a muse. for sure.)

    "I can't fight this feeling anymore. I've forgotten what I started fighting for." (Duh. Stop fighting. I'm all yours.)

    Yep. This is how I spent my days. Listening to cheesy music and pining for a boyfriend I didn't have yet. Still. I was positive he was out there. Just waiting for me.

    And he'd have a cool car, too.

  10. I am loving these posts about the music people listened to when they were 16. It's amazing how much of an impact our musical interest had on us. Loved this post.

    I'm from Venezuela so most of the artists I followed were in Spanish but in English my go-to band was UB40... absolutely loved them (actually, still do).

  11. I was 16 in 1990 and for my birthday I got one of my first CD's ever--C&C Music Factory's Gonna Make You Sweat. Awwww yeah, everybody dance now! I LOVED it. And I loved your post, so fun going down memory lane.