In the early eighties, at Solvay High School in Solvay, New York, hard by the smelly, befouled shores of Onondaga Lake, we had two basic social cliques: the jocks and the stoners. The jocks were ugly, muscular, funny, and popular. They wore their football jerseys and webbed belts to class. They had nicknames like Cheesy, Stretch, Hook, and Fumes. The girls giggled as they walked by their perch outside the gym.
The stoners, who probably weren’t even stoned at all, wore black concert t-shirts, ripped jeans and carried big-handled combs in their back pockets for feathering their center parts in the mirrors of the smoky bathrooms. They were the ones, I assumed, who couldn’t spell “Lead Zepp Ruls” on the walls of these very same bathrooms. They hung out by a rock just off campus, inches out of reach of the principal’s grasp and smoked before school. We called this mecca Smoker’s Rock. We, that is, the third, unmentioned group: the nerds.
Forget the fact that I read the Preppie Handbook way too early, sported (very unnecessary) ties to public high school, and was once threatened to get my ass beaten for wearing green pants. There were lots of ways I was a nerd at Solvay (National Honor Society, anyone? That deserved a beat-down right there), but probably the biggest reason was music. I am absolutely sure I was the first and only Bearcat to own Murmur. Or Let’s Dance. Or Synchronicity. Most of my classmates were listening to Steve Miller Band, Rush, Foreigner, Foghat, REO Speedwagon, and the aforementioned Ledd Zeppp. Even my early love of the Beatles was considered risky. I was a music snob, I realize now. I disliked whatever was popular, preferring instead to be the founder and sole member of my own avant-garde music club.
Which is not to say I didn’t try to use my music acumen to my advantage. There was a girl who I was keen on (a Senior!) who lived a few doors up the street from my house. She used to get off the bus at the corner and walk by on her way home. I know this because I hid behind the curtains and watched her. She had long brown hair, and possessed the double whammy of being a cheerleader and a ballet dancer. I had heard it through the teenage grapevine that she liked the Police. No one liked the Police back then, at least not as much as me.
These were the days of the individual stereo components and huge floor speakers. On certain sunny afternoons, when I knew she was getting off the bus, I would pay out as much wire as I could and point the speakers towards the front screen door of my house. Then, timing the needle drop just right, I would blast Every Breath You Take, or, truer to my situation, King of Pain, out the front door into the suburban street, once again hide behind the curtains, and hope she would turn my way so I could get a glimpse of her face, the soft rope of her hair, the slightly too-big nose that really turned me on, and just possibly, the hint of a smile. Turns out, she must have been hard of hearing (maybe it helped her cheerleading or her ballet dancing?) because she never looked, not even once. And I gave her plenty of chances. Maybe the teenage grapevine had lied to me.
Now, almost thirty years later, I’m still a nerd, but not such a snob. I still love bands no one has ever heard of like The Clean, Rogue Wave, Deafhaven, and Zorch. But now that I’ve hooked up my old stereo and started to collect vinyl again, I hear the beauty in Take It On the Run, Head Games, Slow Ride, and Fly Like An Eagle. In fact, the outerspacey organ in that song gives me goosebumps now. Goosebumps I was too cool to feel in 1983.
At forty-six, feeling old and yet reborn in vinyl, I realize time does indeed keep on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’.
Into the future.