“One way or another I’m gonna see ya I’m gonna meetcha meetcha meetcha meetcha
One day, maybe next week I’m gonna meetcha, I’ll meetcha And if the lights are all out
I’ll follow your bus downtown see who’s hanging out. One way or another…”
In October of 1978 many things were changing in my life. I was soon to be 12 years old, I had an awesome new baby brother, my parents were approaching the edge of divorce, and the summer before he arrived I was making friends with a whole new breed of people. Looking back it is a miracle that I survived without ever getting into any heavy trouble. But I suspect most of us look back at 11-14 as a time when things in our lives started to take dramatic shift.
I have always love movies and music. In 1978 a new kind of music was catching my ears and eyes thanks to “FM College Radio, The Rolling Stone, Smash Hits, Circus, Creem and The Midnight Special. It was called “Punk” and it was very quickly morphing into a sort of hybrid called “New Wave” or “No Wave.”
It was around this time I first saw and heard Kate Bush. Her voice and image would stop me in my tracks. If you go to YouTube and seek out Kate Bush’s 1978 Wuthering Heights vid-clip, you will see an impossibly low-fi and over-the-top almost cheezy sort of soft-focus mess. But in 1978, if you were lucky enough to see this clip it was amazing. No one, to my knowledge, had ever heard or seen anything quite like this. The first thing that caught your attention was her voice. Almost ear-splittingly shrill — Kate Bush’s voice could soar so far into the atmosphere and then pummel back down with a low tonal quality that was at once beautiful, discordant and disturbing. The music itself was melodic and catchy. Then the visual.
We did not yet know Kate Bush. She would quickly become known as “reclusive,” eccentric,” “mysterious” and not an artist particularly interested in jetting her way around the globe promoting her work. When we heard she would be on MTV, it turned out to be an odd sort of vid-clip. What Kate Bush was doing would soon become a major part of our culture. This was the very early MTV kind of thing that would evolve it’s way toward oblivion.
But seeing Kate Bush in this initial video was an odd experience. You saw a thin and clearly beautiful girl. She never seemed to blink. She was constantly moving. At times graceful and at other times almost threateningly pounding the ground. In some clips she would be outside in a red flowing sort of long dress, but most times she would be in a long flowing white dress. Either time she would begin jumping, twirling, spinning and summersaulting into soft-focus blurred visual-echo-effect. At time she would twirl about that all you could really see was a blurry white mass.
It was altogether different and strange. It was not Rock. It was not Punk. It was not New Wave. For her first three albums Kate Bush simply did not fit in. For lack of any other label, she was assigned “Prog-Rock.” But she was a game-changer. But, although she shook me ’round. It would be a couple of more years before I would actually enter a Sam Goody and request a copy of her albums be ordered for me.
It was also around this time that I began to pay closer attention to the this band called The Patti Smith Group. Of course, KISS was already in my subconscious and my mind was constantly in battle over Disco vs. Rock. This debate was a heavy topic on my “new” friends‘ conversations. The movie, Grease, was immediately deemed “uncool.”
The Bee Gees were “soul-less hacks” and Rod Stewart has “sold out.”
I hid my Captain & Tennille, Andy Gibb, Saturday Night Fever and Donna Summer records. I did not mention them. Everyone knew I loved Barbra Streisand. This was accepted. In some way my defense of Streisand earned me points. I didn’t care what anyone thought. I was possessed. And it was considered very cool that I was the only one of the “clan” who had seen The Exorcist, A Star Is Born, Saturday Night Fever and Carrie in the cinema. I was asked to discuss all three movies in depth. The idea being that if I explained what I saw, then they too could claim to have seen them.
Being 11 going on 12, it was not always easy to find or secure the records of these new voices. The same was true for some of these cool people who were a few years older than me. I had known them for years. This were the kids who chased me and other friends around the local park and elementary school yard. Now they were in Jr. High and a couple had siblings in high school. These connections were not solid, but they offered adventure and access to the sonic treasures I needed. I was considered cool because I already had a Blondie album, Plastic Letters, and Radio Ethiopia by The Patti Smith Group. I can’t even recall how I landed these albums. I also had a growing collection of both Creem and Circus magazines that I had wrangled both my Grandmother and strange father into buying for me.
Yeah, man. I was a cool 11 year-old. Though, I had The Patti Smith Group album since I was 9.
One night something came on The Midnight Special, Wolfman Jack’s voice introduced what would turn out to be a video of Blondie. The impossibly cool group of people seemed trapped in some sort of empty dance studio with a big disco ball being passes about. This was totally cool and yet disturbing. Of course this was the very early days of the music vid-clip that would soon take over my generations’ lives. The disturbing element was that Debbie Harry and friends were lip-synching to a disco song! Debbie Harry’s once-heavily sprayed hair was now sloppy-cut shorter. She still seemed sullen and teasingly bored as she “sang” that what had been a gas was really nothing but a Heart of Glass.
I shall not lie. I loved it. But I was hesitant to openly admit it. The next day, a Sunday I believe. Me and my actual friend, and the only other person under 13 were huddled with the others. Scoring cigarettes, beer or weed and the topic of Blondie’s Heart of Glass were the main conversation points. One kid spouted out an angry opinion that Blondie, like Rod Stewart, had sold out and only KISS and The Stones were truly cool. When a couple of others mentioned Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac, they were “shhhh’d.”
But then the coolest of us all (and the eldest) stood up, pushed out her ever growing boobs harnessed in by a way cool and far too-tight Who baseball jersey and stated, “Heart of Glass is a reaction against the stupidity of Disco. It is New Wave. It is even cooler than anything KISS will ever do!”
Now, I and my friend were only allowed into this circle because we were willing to run errands and stuff. We were allowed cigarettes and some weed but that was all. We were seldom allowed to speak. We were just lucky to be there. Everything grew very quiet. This girl, I shall call her “X” had just made an assertion that threatened the cool of KISS! Everyone sat slack-jawed at the 15 year old girl scowled at the the 14 year old boy who the self-imposed leader of this lame little gang. Even the leader didn’t know how to respond to X.
For those of you too young to remember or too old that you might have forgot:
KISS was starting to lose some cred. They were on the same record label as The Village People. And while we knew it was coming — nothing could prepare us for the serious “lame” of their infamous TV Movie, KISS Meet the Phantom of the Park. It was with this television special that KISS would seriously loose it’s cool for quite a while and became more popular with little kids. KISS was about to fully “sell out.”
At any rate, there was a growing vibe against the cool of KISS, yet it was not fully articulated. Although we were eagerly awaiting the TV Movie and the solo albums that we knew were headed our way.
I remember taking a deep breath. I was the first one to speak after X made the shocking statement.
“X is right. I mean, Circus and Creem are calling Blondie the coolest. Creem even called their new song ‘No Wave.'”– this was particularly bold of me because I didn’t understand the difference between New Wave or No Wave — and, to be honest, Heart of Glass sure sounded like standard Disco to me. I had already sort of worked my way up the ladder of this group of older kids. Largely because I had a big mouth and refused to show fear or intimidation. I, alone, had stood up for Fleetwood Mac’s TUSK and boldly stated that no one should ever speak against Led Zeppelin. And, I still stand by those opinions. However this debate would continue for a few weeks.
Then at the beginning of fall of 1978 a major event took place:
The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls, The Kiss Solo Projects and Blondie’s Parallel Lines albums all came out at about the same time! And none of us had them!
The Columbia House ads had not yet posted these three albums to their loop of “Get 11 albums for a Dollar!” campaign.
This was a marketing gambit that all of us, and probably you, took full advantage of with fake names hoping your parents would not beat you to the mail. Columbia House would attempt to chase us down well into the 1990’s to no avail. Odd marketing strategy that escapes reason even all these years later. How many record collections were started thanks to Columbia House? Anyway, The Stones & KISS & Blondie were not yet articulated as a part of the Columbia House Marketing Concept.
A few days later, my same-aged pal — I will call him “J” — and fellow member of this mis-formed clique, was at Albertsons with his mom he made a magical discovery! Now our Albertsons was obsessed with stamping out all competition. They even opened up a “Record Department” for a shot while. J grabbed me and we went straight over to let everyone know what J had discovered.
Albertsons was selling The Stones’ Some Girls, 2 of the 4 Kiss Solo albums and Blondie’s Parallel Lines for $5.99 each!!!
Now at this time my brother had just been born. My house was in a constant state of confusion. So it was easy to slip out and do things I wanted to do. X arranged to get a ride in her older brother’s car. It was decided that she and I would go and purchase the records. X held the money, but I already had a $5 bill and almost $2.80 in change. I was determined to get a copy of Parallel Lines.
X’s brother was a jerk. X declared him lame. True enough, he was playing the Mary MacGregor 8-Track as we drove to Albertsons. As she crooned about being torn between two lovers I innocently told X’s brother than my mother had this tape. X started laughing and slipped her hand back for me to give her “five.”
Like only a little sister can, she leaned forward to her brother and teased, “Wow, you are sooooo cool! Matty’s mom likes this too!”
X’s brother exhaled, ripped the tape out and replaced it with a Leo Sayer 8-Track. This reaction made both X and me laugh.
We rushed into the side entrance of Albertsons past the huge magazine and book racks and went straight to the shiny new Record Department. I grabbed my copy of Parallel Lines as X grabbed several copies of each album. I rushed to the cashier stand. The lady rang me up. I paid her. She then took out a box-cutter and sliced the shrink wrap open and placed a huge blue “Albertsons” sticker on my valued treasure! I was outraged!
“No! I don’t want that sticker!”
“Sorry, Kid-O. Store policy.”
X stood up for me, “Hey, he paid for that and you’re ruining the record!”
“Hon, it’s just a sticker. That way we know it was paid for.”
X stood her ground. “He doesn’t want that record now. He wants a different copy without your lame sticker. He is paying. We are going to leave right after you ring me up.”
“Look, Miss Smarty-Pants, any record anybody buys here is going to get a sticker on it! Now you stop giving me lip, Missy!”
X signaled for me to take my “damaged” album. She handed her slew to the bitch behind the counter.
“My oh my! This is a lot of records!”
The demented shrew proceeded to slash the shrink wrap and place the blue sticker on each copy. She even tore the Stones’ specially designed album cover’s cut-outs. But she didn’t pay attention to X’s protests.
As we walked back outside toward her brother and his suspicious music tastes, X turned to me. She took my cope of Parallel Lines and ordered:
“Go back in there, pick up a new copy of the Blondie record and pick up a new copy of the Gene Simmons record. We’ll be waiting outside the side door. That bitch is not gonna mess up our albums!”
I told her no. That I didn’t want to get into trouble for stealing. Clearly, X wasn’t going to do this. She was going to make me do it for her.
“You are not stealing. You are taking what is ours! She won’t notice you. You’re a kid. You look innocent. Just do it”
And then she hit me where I lived.
“If you don’t do it, I will make sure that you and J are miserable until I graduate from high school! No shit! I mean it!”
This served as a sort of Tipping Point toward the pending teenage rebellion.
I was terrified. But as I walked into the store, passed the magazine and book racks my fears turned into a sort of dared energy. I was walking fast, but with purpose. I suddenly saw the sweet looking Albertsons lady at the counter as My Enemy. This is probably the biggest trick to shoplifting: I didn’t hesitate or act like I was trying to hide anything.
I simply walked up, pulled both of these albums out of their respective cubbies, turned and walked out of the store. X, her brother and his car were waiting just outside the side entrance. I got in and handed her the Gene Simmons album. I held my Blondie album close to my chest. I was not caught and my cool prestige was knocked up several notches.
I would soon start working for a donut shop and would lose touch with everyone of X’s team. I’d also lose contact forever with J.
And, about 12 years later I would present my baby brother with the the few albums I did not sell to pay for my voyage out of Texas to Boston. It was January of 1991 when I sat down with my brother and explained the importance of The Beatles, John Lennon, Fleetwood Mac and Blondie. I was worried he might face the wrath of our mother if I left him with any Patti Smith, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd or Who albums. I sold those. Although, I might have given him a Stones, Doors and maybe even one Pink Floyd album. I can’t remember.
Anyway, I think the records I gave him pushed him toward the Greater Cool. At least, it felt like it. I hope they did. And I hope he never had to steal. That one time in the early fall of 1978 was the last time I stole. Well, sort of. Leave me alone!