I was walking home from school when I found myself caught in an epic battle. Not since the Jets and the Sharks snapped and danced their way into violence had there been such a tussle. Nay! A rumble.
Yay, verily I say unto you, it was a mighty clash of good versus evil. As I approached the battlefield, the animosity was alive, roiling like an angry tide. The threat of violence crackled in the air. How could such an epic scene be caused by anything other than the fate of the–
“Rock,” half of the angry white kids yelled. Backpacks hung from thick winter coats their parents, sure winter was coming, had armored them in.
“New wave,” the other half shouted.
Behind the New Wavers, springing forth from a field of dusty pebbles, were the medieval machines of an early Eighties playground: steel, wood, and old tires stretching to the heavens, promising bloody noses and broken legs. Devices not yet banned by the helicopter parents of the future.
At home, I was fed a steady diet of Elvis, Foreigner, The Moody Blues, Fleetwood Mac, Alabama, The Carpenters, and Dire Straits. There was never a discussion of this music good, that music bad. And I sure didn’t know what the hell a genre was.
However, thanks to this brand new thing called MTV, I was vaguely aware of what the cool kids were listening to and therefore vaguely aware of the terms Rock and New Wave. I didn’t care about genre. I simply knew what I liked and what I didn’t like.
I was oblivious to the fact that not only did I have to put labels on those things, but I also had to choose one label or the other. I had to pick a side, and quickly since this musical melee was about to take me unto the breach, dear friends.
Pick a Side
Where did I fall? Which side should I choose?
I only owned one album that was truly mine. Perhaps it would be my guide.
Somewhere, in the midst of my puzzling where Michael Jackson’s Thriller put me, two leaders had apparently emerged, and the one was calling me out.
“Oh, yeah,” a small girl with short brown hair yelled. “What about four-eyes over there.” Her arm shot out straight and true, leveled right at me.
Four-eyes. It was a hit, a very palpable hit. While my glasses weren’t yet the Coke bottles of my future, they were still the unfortunate victim of Eighties fashion. Giant and brown and I hated them.
She yelled and pointed and just like that I was excluded from one side before I could choose.
The leader of the other faction was a tall, already-muscular boy, the kind four-eyed kids like me hated and admired at the same time. His eyes followed the quite real line connecting the girl’s finger to my four-eyed face. My breath stopped. I was screwed.
Then the boy nodded and instantly accepted me into his group.
“Well,” he shouted, turning back to the girl. “At least he isn’t a such-and-such so-and-so.”
I don’t remember the insults he threw back at her. I just remember being awash in the potent drug of acceptance.
And while I would never see that boy again, nor did I know anyone on my side of the playground–since I had been walking home alone like four-eyed losers tended to do–for the next five minutes I was part of a tribe and I shouted back at a bunch of other kids I also didn’t know.
There was no thought put into it. I didn’t weigh pros or cons.
In that moment I didn’t choose Rock. Rock chose me.