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)