7 Songs From the 80s: When Angst Was A Good Friend


I was recently asked by a friend — with whom I spent a lot of time in the 80s — to share seven memorable songs from that time. I enjoy any chance to think about music and how it has shaped me. And it would be no surprise to anyone who looked inside my journal from that decade to see these songs are all about longing and angst and heartbreak. I've always felt connected to others by music and knowing others felt the same way was comforting. 

Nothing magical happened to me during those years. I never got the boy, I wasn't popular, I wasn't all that memorable. It was hard then, but I'm glad went through it. I remember those days as a time I was caught between two versions of myself: the nervous observer the outer world saw and the dramatic and bold girl who only made herself known inside the sanctuary of a candy-coloured bedroom. I spent a lot of time on my own, writing the lyrics to songs in my best cursive and folding them over and over on themselves, so I could glue them into that journal. Maybe I thought it was better to let someone else tell my story during that time; it was easier than trying to figure out how to tell it myself. 

In that way, not much has changed. I am still the kind of music fan that identifies with and becomes attached to lyrics and storytelling in songs. I still fall head over heels in love with moody, sad songs and play them on repeat until my family begs me to stop. As for which version of myself I eventually became, I think I landed somewhere in the middle. And I'm glad about that, too.

I've listened to these songs in cars with the windows rolled all the way down, in darkened school gyms during awkward dances, and on repeat through the foam-covered headphones of my Sony Walkman.

In the 80s, I was the same age as my two oldest children are now. Hearing these songs today, I don't feel any regret it wasn't a more spectacular decade for me. I've kept the journal to remind myself it's okay to be confused about who you are, and it's okay to spend time alone figuring it out. I look at it sometimes to remind myself how big my feelings were, when I'm trying to help my kids navigate their own big feelings. And I always feel such a sweet gratitude for these songs when I see those handwritten lyrics.

They knew the words when I didn't and they invited me to sing along.

CARS: Who's Gonna Drive You Home? (1984)

BILLY VERA & THE BEATERS: At This Moment (1981)

HEART: Alone (1987)

DEPECHE MODE: Somebody (1984)

BANGLES: Eternal Flame (1989)

PETER GABRIEL: Don't Give Up (1986)

KATE BUSH: This Woman's Work (1989)



Back To School: With The One Who Always Believed In Me


I was the first one to say something when we were introduced.

Some things haven't changed about who we are when we're together. 

My roommate had tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear, 

This is the guy I was telling you about. The one who's in your program.

I think she nudged/gently shoved me forward and said something similar to him.

I looked at him, did my best to ignore the firework show that was setting itself off inside my body, and said something like, 

So how did you find that anatomy course last semester? 

We still laugh about how such an awkward exchange could feel so natural. We ended up continuing that conversation through the night and into the following day. We talked about our lofty goals and the plans we each had for our future. 

It's a conversation we're still having. 

We were in our third year of university then and, as our relationship grew, so did our mutual support for reaching those goals and achieving those plans. We developed rituals like sitting in certain cubicles in the library (though never on the same floor, because that ultimately proved too distracting), meeting at the doors when the library was closing for the night, pulling through a drive-thru on our way home for milkshakes. 

We held each other accountable for showing up at class. He used my computer to write his papers, I borrowed his meticulous study notes when I got overwhelmed. When we walked across the stage at convocation two years later, we very much had each other to thank. We continued on in school together and crossed a few more convocation stages in the years that followed. 

But being on similar career tracks and committing to a long-term relationship came with its challenges, of course. Sometimes one of us took the lead, while the other had to fall back. Sometimes, and especially after parenthood became part of our story, resentments would make themselves known. Eventually, we ended up in completely different places in our careers, and we're doing okay with those roles today. 

A few weeks ago, we settled on a documentary for our family room date night, about a talented life that ended too soon. As often happens with the two of us, it inspired a long-into-the-night conversation. We revisited our individual goals and plans. And with years of experience behind us, we spoke openly about regrets and missed chances. 

When we finally went to bed, I lay down beside him with a full heart and busy mind. But our conversation rattled around for days afterward. Have we done enough to keep regret out of each other's lives? Have we continued to hold each other accountable for showing up for ourselves, as well as each other?

Last week, we accepted an invitation to return to that first campus and meet with undergraduate students from our program who are planning for their futures. We were placed at different tables, because we have very different careers. And as I snuck glances at him from where I sat, I wondered what advice he was giving the students who lined up to speak to him. 

I was surprised by the more philosophical questions I was getting about how I knew I was on the right path (I didn't) and how I decided to get on it in the first place (accidentally). I spoke with students at the beginning of their journeys, while being pummeled with memories of being in that same position, on that same campus, years ago.

When the event was over, and we made a last-minute decision to return to the campus pub where our paths first crossed, we talked about how we had been asked very similar questions. And we both wondered whether we had been able to answer them with the passion and sense of possibility those questions deserved—being that we were so far from those days now.  


I looked at him on the other side of the table, only a few feet from the place I first passed him my dreams and he gave his to me, and I thought about our recent late-night exchange about regrets and missed chances. It struck me that none of those regrets and missed chances live in the time and space we've spent with each other. 

Resentments and frustrations dot our timeline, yes, but they were never given enough light to cast shadows on our goals and plans. Even when my conflict about stepping off a full-time career track to focus on our children had me lashing out at him for the ease with which I felt he could stay on his, he held on to the bigger picture for me. Possibility is as close to us now as it's always been.

Thank you for the pep talk, one student said after we spoke about her next steps. It was nice to hear those things from someone who doesn't know me, because the people who love you are supposed to say those things about you. 

I looked over at him again, before I answered her. 

If you're very, very lucky, I said to her, that's true



Grow Old Along With Me, The Best Is Yet to Be

Grow Old Along With Me, The Best Is Yet to Be

Said the poet, Robert Browning, and so does the antique clock that sits on JB's bedside table—because I had it engraved with that quote for my wedding gift to him.

I very seldom write about videos that I see on social media. I might leave a quick comment underneath it, or send it along to someone I think will be affected by it, or even pin it onto my own space.

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