I know. I know. This is a gardening blog, but WordPress has issued a Daily Post Challenge , a writing prompt that spoke to me — or rather, that sang to me. The task was to pick a song — any song — and write about it.
My first impulse was to select “Autumn Leaves,” by Nat King Cole, and add a few leafy photos — and although I love the idea of being wrapped in the velvet of his voice, it almost seemed too obvious. Another time, perhaps, because this music post begs to be more personal.
For months now, Joe and I have been trying to simplify our lives, but there is one area of my own life that remains a hold out. It’s my vinyl record collection, which now sits — alphabetically, of course — in crates that are stacked in my closet. I’m having a very hard time parting with my records. I’ve been talking about it for about 10 years now.
My records, you see, are important to me. They are the records I’ve carried with me for decades, the records I used on countless mix tapes, the records I uploaded onto my computer and burned onto CDs, the records I now listen to on my iPod. Yes, these albums, 12” singles, and imports can tell a story of me better than any diary.
The collection begins with those first purchases made with my allowance money in my early adolescence, when my musical taste was still developing. It’s the only way I can rationalize my Barry Manilow phase.
Then, there was the disco period, records purchased after I first heard them on “American Bandstand” and “Soul Train.” I probably could have stuck with disco if it hadn’t become so commercialized and if my parents hadn’t started listening to it.
My music palate clearly needed to change.
And change is a good word to use, because I was changing as quickly as my record collection. I spent the bulk of my adolescence fighting my identity, denying who I was — a young gay man ashamed and afraid to be gay, living in a world — in Ronald Reagan’s world — when some things just weren’t spoken about, when there weren’t any positive gay role models. In fact, any talk of gay and positive in the same sentence usually meant HIV. In those dark ages, there was no Ellen, no talk of same sex marriage, no coming out.
As isolated and introverted as I often felt, music — specifically college radio — helped me to feel connected, helped me to think of a world beyond my high school walls. It was there that I first heard Depeche Mode’s “New Life.”
The synth-pop sound was unlike anything I had heard on top 40 radio — and it gave me the courage to be rebellious, creative, and more at ease with myself. That first listen eventually led to Duran Duran, The Clash, Psychedelic Furs, Romeo Void, The Stray Cats, Lene Lovich, Dead or Alive, Bronski Beat, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam and the Ants, Spandau Ballet, and so many more amazing performers.
Fast forward to my debut.
In the Long Island town where I lived, there was a very popular disco, Uncle Sam’s. For me, it always represented something magical, a means out of my suburban existence. On Wednesday nights, though, the venue was transformed into Spit — a club catering to the New Wave and Punk sound embraced by WLIR, a local radio station. The entrance was in the rear, where it was grittier and rougher than the glamorous front doors on the street side.
One Wednesday night, my friends and I walked in for the very first time and I was hooked. The lights flashed and spun to the music, the sound throbbed my inner core, and the crowd — in their shredded black clothing and metal accessories — teemed with energy.
But what made Spit special was the dance floor — or rather, the speakers that surrounded the dance floor. Female regulars would often climb on top of them to dance — entertainment for the creatures below.
I looked up at the dancers, admiring their confidence and uninhibitedness and love of life — and, I wanted to be up there. I didn’t know how I — a preppy-by-day, reserved, quiet, closeted kid — could do it, would do it. But the speakers were bigger than the sound that boomed from them. They symbolized freedom, a pulsating yellow brick road into a new world.
My friends and I often fantasized about getting onto those speakers, but no one ever made a move, no one wanted to be the first. Perhaps, in the words of Kajagoogoo, we were too shy.
That all changed, though, one Wednesday night, when I heard the sci-fi opening of “Planet Claire,” by the B-52s.
I moved away from my friends and toward a speaker. I leaned my back against it. I lifted myself up until I was sitting on it. Then, I stood up — suddenly aware that my legs felt like limp noodles — and I danced with myself, with strangers, with the masses, with my friends cheering at my feet, with the music filling my soul.
Now that I’m 50, my knees can no longer take the pounding that they once did. But when I pull out the crates from my closet, look at the album art, and listen to the music of my youth, I can still see the lights in sync with the beat. I can sense the crowd moving in unison to the sound. I can feel the intense rush of dancing on a speaker . . .
And I wonder: can I ever part with a record collection that makes me feel 19 and free?
57 thoughts on “Return To Planet Claire”
Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones. Just love it!
Hi Lori. Great choice!
My goodness, seeing those lists of bands/groups brought back memories of high school and college days! I was an Adam Ant fan, with The Cure still on my iPod . . . and a desire to go track down a couple Stray Cats tunes now!
Hi Kat. Go shopping — and if Brian Setzer is ever in your area — GO! He puts on a great show with his orchestra, especially around the holidays.
Never never give up your records … I did and have regretted it ever since. This was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing
Hi Kate. Glad you enjoyed the post — and thanks for the advice. I looked into selling the records a few years ago, and a collector offered me 3 cents for each album. Three cents!! For my autographed Go-Gos album?!? I’d rather melt them down. 🙂
I’ll second the ‘never give up your records’!
Love planet Claire and my favorite music moment was depeche mode at jones beach for Shake the disease.
Ahhhhh WLIR. Dare to be different.
Bittster — I think we could have been at the same concert. Ain’t that a screamer of the week!
Keep that vinyl, Dirt Man!! Some things just cannot be replaced.
Hi Carol. Thanks for the advice. By the way, nothing can replace the sound of vinyl — not as sterile as digital.
Dear NGDM – that vinyl defines a part of your history. Don’t part with it! Your 61 year-old aunt still has all hers – King Krimson, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles – and those songs take me right back to dancing the night away at parties and dances at local Catholic churches. The music still has the power to touch me deeply and remind me of who I was with and what I was doing when I heard it! Like a fragrance or odor that can take us back, so can the music! And, that desire to dance was with you at an even earlier age – do you remember “The Freddie”? I do, and I am smiling!!!!! Love you! Aunt Pat
Hi Aunt Pat. I don’t remember the Freddie — but I do remember the Alley Cat and a block party on a street in Queens a very long time ago. I always think of that moment of doing that dance with you and Kathy each time I hear that song. Thanks for the memories! Love ya!
Great post! I love Depeche Mode, Stray Cats (Brian Setzer, period!) B-52’s! Reminds me of college! My husband has crates of LP’s taking up a lot of room in the closet that he will never part with. Sadly, my ex stole all mine :O( Never had Barry Manilow, and wouldn’t admit to it if I had (you brave soul!) but I started out with Sonny & Cher and Motown…
Hi Kathy. You know, Barry is the guy who writes the songs. 🙂 Now, Brian Setzer is amazing. Always loved his sound — and he’s still going strong. Beyond the ’80s, there is so much music that I love: Motown, American standards, jazz . . . Music (and dance) is a universal language.
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I loved your writing and could hear the insistent beats as you named songs that I still love today. Thank you for sharing. I truly enjoyed this.
Hi Marci. I’m glad you were able to stop by. Keep on dancing! 🙂
Barry Manilow. I have a few memories tied up in his music … not necessarily good ones. 😉 … Thanks for sharing your story. I left all my records in the marital home when I left my husband years ago. I have no idea what he did with them. Had to let them go. Had to let so many things go. But that’s life. … Don’t part with yours if you don’t have to. Why deny yourself the pleasure of your treasured music memories, made all the more real by the sensorial pleasure of holding those old record sleeves? It’s all part of the experience. … Be well, Dorothy 🙂
Hi Dorothy. Thanks for the advice. If you had to lose Barry in your divorce, that may not be such a bad thing. Look how much you gained . . . which, by the way, brings us right into Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman.” 🙂 Take care, be strong, and thanks for visiting.
Kevin, I have regretted the few I let go of when we moved years and years ago. But I still have a large collection. And now we really do need to downsize a bit, and i’m not at all sure how I’m going to handle this–I can’t bear to part with them. I am so moved by your story, my friend. Someone very special in my life is a gay woman in her late 70’s. We’ve spent much time talking about what it was for her to come out in the 50’s–very scary. But you’re so completely right to recall that it wasn’t all that long ago that Ellen, now so well received, was shunned for coming out on her show. Your story of how music empowered you is very significant! To those of us who love music, it does stir our memories and can quickly bring us back to important times in our lives. I hope you find a good way to hold onto your records. They are a major part of your development. And that’s important!
Hi Debra. I hope your friend is able to tell her story — it alarms me that many young people today have no idea what it used to be like. Our stories are ancient history — and too important to be forgotten. I may have to weed out the highlights of my collection — and frame them, perhaps. Downsizing is not easy.
The soundtracks of our lives insist on staying in our heads and in our homes. They are us, and as long as we have room for them, we usually decide to hold on. Even as we simplify. Life just isn’t always simple. Fortunately.
So, hold on, Kevin.
Lee — so beautifully said. I so appreciate your wisdom, guidance, and your amazing way with words. Thank you!
Great stuff. My first 7″ single was ‘Stand and Deliver’ by Adam and the Ants. This now sits in alphabetical order in my attic with the rest of my vinyl. Don’t part with your vinyl, it’s part of who you are.
Hi Leon. I have the 12″ version of “Stand and Deliver,” backed with “Beat My Guest.” If those records could talk! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.
Loved the telling of your journey and how the music shaped it. Beautifully written. Your Barry Mannilow rationalisation made me laugh. Keep the records – sounds like they are great memories. I love the ease of being transported back in time when certain songs are played and also how those I didn’t like at the time now seem like old friends.
Hello Irene. I may joke about Barry Manilow — but how can anyone not love “Mandy”? Your comment about some songs — the ones you didn’t like — even seem like old friends. I have a few of those — and as I get older, I find my music taste continues to absorb other genres. Thanks for commenting.
Keep the records, let them sit in the boxes in the closet where they are little a oasis of memories, just like a photo album, but with sounds instead of pictures. What would you gain by getting rid of them? about 3 or 4 square foot.
Many thanks for the practical advice. When you put it in that kind of perspective, it makes perfect sense to keep them. 🙂
This is brilliant! I’ve danced in a lot of places, but never made it to the top of a speaker, bravo to you!! 🙂
Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words. It’s never too late to dance on a speaker. It’s more difficult to get up there, but it’s never too late. 🙂
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Favorite song…stil….Free Bird. Another beautifully written post. I could see you climbing up on that speaker. Wish I was there!!
Hi Maria. Believe me, there are days when I wish I could go back in time and do that again. Hope you’re feeling better.
Don’t do it! Get rid of the vinyl I mean…you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.
Hey Bridget. I knew I could count on you to tell me what I want to hear. 🙂
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Oh wow! I love synth pop. Depeche Mode…Spandau Ballet…Duran Duran…you’re speaking my language 🙂 My mom still has all our old LPs and now I wish I had kept all our 45s from back in the day. Oh well.
I really enjoyed going down memory lane with your post 🙂
By the way, I love Barry Manilow!
Hi Belle. Thanks for stopping by. If anyone ever looked through my iPod, they would be dizzy with the broad range of music I have — but my heart always goes back to the early ’80s. As for Manilow, you can’t help but not enjoy his music. “Mandy” is one of the most beautiful songs. He’s definitely a guilty pleasure!
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You have great musical taste! I wasn’t yet born in the 80s, but I’ve grown up listening to and loving Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs, Spandeau Ballet, the list goes on and on. Wonderful post!
Hi Stacey. Ouch! You weren’t born in the ’80s. Thankfully, you didn’t let that stop you from discovering the music. Thanks for commenting!
Wow. I don’t remember identifying with something so strongly in a long, long time. I went to Spit a few times but mostly I was the “New Wave” DJ at the Silver Lining (one night per week), and then at The Brooklyn Zoo on Sheepshead Bay Road. I too, still have all of my vinyl, and the collection, just like yours, is in my closet (really in two closets, to be honest). I would NEVER let my collection go…NEVER. Depeche Mode’s “New Life” was an absolute favorite of mine, as was Planet Claire. Great article, thanks for reminding me that I wasn’t the only gay person growing up in Ronald Reagan’s world who turned to really great music for solace and a really great time!
Hi Larry. Wow! The Silver Lining — now that’s a blast from the past. When I wasn’t at Spit, I was across the street at Reds (which later became LaCache) or going to 007, BeBop, Thrush, or Paris, NY. I wasn’t a big fan of Malibu, but I have a fun memory of doing the twist to “Brand New Cadillac” by The Clash. In those days, it was difficult for me to find a fit. Frecklebellies wasn’t playing the same kind of music. 🙂 I’m glad we survived the Reagan years. Thanks for commenting and keep on dancing. 🙂
Oh Kevin, you do make me laugh. Your story reminds me of a night I danced with friends in a wire cage on girls weekend. ( And that was just a few years back, making me a rather old cage dancer!) Of course, the highlight of the weekend! And then there was the time, I danced naked in the moonlight in the garden in Bellport. Highly recommend freeing yourself this way sometime in your lifetime. A foxtrot, under the stars of a summer night, and the bright lights of New York City, will filled my soul with a contentment I know I will savor eternally. I do remember saying that night, ” Pure perfection, If the world ends tonight, I have fully lived.” And then, there was dancing to the song Moon River along the River Seine, not to mention a salsa lesson/party for everyone at my retirement gathering. Most of my great moments in life revolve around dancing and music. Didn’t you and Joe once help me sneak off to a ballroom dance at Michelle’s wedding? And then there was that night with bagpipes outside a window…. So many memories…..
I vote, keep the vinyls.
Hey Jeannie! You of all people are never too old to be a cage dancer! 🙂 I love hearing about your dancing stories — and I do remember the stroll to the ballroom dance at Michele’s wedding. Life and music and dancing — what an adventure!
I have so lost all my records 😦 but I still enjoy the music even today. Thanks for your blog. I loved it.
I’m glad you stopped by. It’s interesting how we all seem to be so nostalgic over our vinyl records. Do we feel the same about a CD? Thanks for commenting and enjoy your day.
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