Growing up, I was a fairly typical, suburban, midwestern teenager. My friends and I hung out at the mall on weekends. We loved John Hughes movies. Our hair was teased, moussed, bleached and frozen into fantastical forms with gallons of cheap hairspray. We were rad, awesome and fresh.
The soundtrack of our lives was comprised of new wave, synth pop, hair metal and what’s now known as “old school” hip-hop, but back in the day was just called rap. I bought a few treasured albums, some on vinyl, some on cassette. Classics I couldn’t, and still can’t, live without: Rio by Duran Duran, the Footloose soundtrack, and of course, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I owned a few others, but more often I bought miles of blank cassettes and pirated my music from the radio, because we were poor. (I also know firsthand that there’s only so many times you can record over the same tape before the sound degrades completely.)
There were many times my friends floated me a few dollars for a slice of pizza or a movie ticket. But what I missed a lot of in the 1980s were live concerts. Once I remember watching the Police’s Synchronicity tour broadcast on MTV, wishing like hell I could go, when my mother walked into the room.
“I’ve seen this,” she said.
I had no earthly idea what she meant. I couldn’t imagine my mother watching MTV of her own free will. We had only recently acquired cable, again, because we were poor.
“What do you mean?”
I think Keith took me to see this concert,” she replied. “Yeah. I recognize that guy in the jacket,” she said, referring to Sting, who was wearing a frantically ‘80s technicolor coat. Keith was her boyfriend at the time. The idea that she got to see the Synchronicity tour, with zero knowledge or appreciation for what she was seeing and hearing, made me want to tear my face off. The unfairness was unbearable.
The town I live in today with my husband and daughter is a college town, so we get a decent variety of concerts and music artists who swing through and play our little venues. It’s one of the many things I love about this town. “Hey,” a girlfriend said to me recently. “The Psychedelic Furs are coming to town. You wanna go?”
I considered. The Psychedelic Furs were not amongst my favorite bands from the 1980s. They were a band I liked, back in the day, because apparently I didn’t always have the best taste. My God, I know all the words to Pretty in Pink just by virtue of being alive at that time whilst exposed to FM radio. I’ve watched the movie more times than I can count, though Psychedelic Furs lead singer Richard Butler insists the girl in the song has nothing to do with the girl in the movie.
“Sure,” I said. After all, the show was in town, at one of my college stomping grounds, a retro movie theater repurposed as a dance club in the 1990s and today, a live music venue. Tickets were affordable. Most importantly, the show was early, a huge plus once you’re over the age of 40.
“Awesome,” my friend said. “I can’t miss the Furs if they’re going to be here. That would just be stupid.”
It would be stupid, I decided. There was no excuse to not go. We mentioned it to another girlfriend, who used to work for a record company, when there were actual records. Nobody loves live music like this woman. She was in, fer sure.
I chose a mostly black and white outfit, with Cyndi Lauper’s shock of orange hair on the front of my super mod T-shirt, as an homage to my teen years. “Girls just want to have fundamental rights,” it says.
The woman who opened was young and good. Beautiful voice. Rockin’ little bluesy three piece band. The venue had aged like I had. It smelled musty.
I honestly had no idea what to expect from the Furs. Their first couple of songs went off without a hitch. These guys were tight. The lead singer’s voice hadn’t changed a bit. I excused myself to the bathroom, which stunk of pot. Awesome. I partook from my own stash and hustled back through the crowd, up near the stage, where my friends were. The crowd was polite and let me through. Though most of us in the crowd were 40 and up, there were a fair few college kids there. I danced my ass off in this building before these kids were even born, I thought.
That’s when I let myself go and surrendered to the evening. The Furs were super-cool, dressed to the nines in their ‘80s New Wave duds, but it was right. It wasn’t sad or nostalgic or corny. They oozed cool. They embodied cool. They were cool. The music was flawless, as was thier delivery. “They don’t really make long, cool, dreamy Brit rockers like the Psychedelic Furs, anymore,” my record industry friend said, and she was dead-on. They still had all the moves. They had the right haircuts. They had presence and style, and they were clearly having a blast, as was the audience. We danced and gawked and pulled out our phones while the band strutted the stage and posed for photos for us whilst still playing and singing perfectly.
It was magic. We were transported.
It didn’t matter that we were all older and beginning to wrinkle. Suddenly our hair didn’t seem so gray. We didn’t feel so fat. Our jowls receded. We felt like the college kids who were there, except they didn’t know the words to any of the songs, and we did. Still, they knew they were witness to a damn good show.
“They are so hot,” my music industry friend said. She meant the musicians as well as the music, and we all had to agree.
I had forgotten how good Heartbreak Beat is. And My Way. Heaven. Until she Comes. All that Money Wants. Here Come Cowboys. All of it.
One thing I couldn’t deny was the menopausal sweat running down my face. I can’t even vacuum the living room anymore without turning into a puddle. But I didn’t care. It was worth it.
They made us clap and stomp and holler to come back on stage to play Pretty in Pink, and we gladly obliged. A roadie came out to tune the guitars once more, and the band responded by playing the encore beautifully.
It was a sublime night. They thanked us a final time before leaving the stage, and I wanted to thank them too, for recreating an experience I missed when I was young, while reacquainting me with a bunch of fantastic new/old music to explore.