Friends invited me to play a game listing one ’80’s song a day for a week. Since I really don’t know much about music, I made it about the music that meant most to me rather than what may or may not be ‘best’. It turned out more autobiographical than I expected but might be so in ways where the individual connects with broader social currents or where memories simply intersect and might be of interest to others
I’ll begin near the beginning. I turned 18 in 1980. Finished high school, not yet at Uni, still living at home on the Plateau in Montreal and going regularly to a new disco called Secrets that had replaced an old post office on the corner of Clark St and Pine, near where we were all still living. We all played at being sophisticated and I liked to dance to this, which had just become a big hit:
I loved Grace Jones throughout the 80s and love her still. In 1982, I lived on Park Avenue, opposite the Rialto theatre. It was one short hop on the bus to the Garage, the first gay club I was a regular at (and which the old Nightingale in Birmingham had huge and very sleazy posters of hung all over its lounge), where I used to dance until two on weekdays which is when they closed; and they always ceremoniously finished the evening off with Jones’ version of ‘La Vie en Rose’, which I love still. But I see that that’s 70s so have chosen this one, which evokes that period of ‘Nightclubbing’ in the early 80s just as vividly to me and is just as good or better:
I don’t like rap but bought this when it came. I grew up an immigrant working class kid in Quebec between two referenda on separation, formally designated allophone, ethnicised as Hispanic, and constantly interpellated as not belonging, sometimes invisibly and sometimes to the point of violence – Althusser’s notion that ideology has a material force is something I always understood. This song spoke to me…and we danced to it.
Jimmy Sommerville has to be on my list in some form as he was so important to me then. I remember buying the Bronski Beat’s’ Age of Consent Album and making sure I got a bag to hide the pink triangle on the cover in case I should see anyone I knew. But what to choose? ‘Smalltown Boy’ has already been picked by some of you; I loved listening to The Communards’ version of the Doris Day ‘Sentimental Journey’ but it doesn’t hold up as well to listen to, at least on my computer. So it was a toss-up between ‘I Never Can Say Good-Bye’ and this. I chose ‘I Feel Love’ because of Donna Summer and its validation of 70s disco and gay culture, because it’s got Marc Almond, because the video is so camp, and because that thrilling voice was an affirmation of feeling at a time when the AIDS pandemic was just coming into being and refocussing everything once again on sex and death.
To the dismay of many friends, I loved Tom Waits throughout the 80s and beyond. I once went on a camping trip with some mates where they got so fed up with his growling that they unreeled my compilation cassette and hung it over a pine, like a junkyard Christmas tree. But I didn’t care. Tom Waits was blue valentines, and waiting for the heart of Saturday night, and hoping I didn’t fall in love with you and being drunk on the moon. He inspired romantic longings of a gutter life redeemed by moments of poetry. The gutter I would get to know well; I’m still hoping for the poetry. This song, played often, seemed to express how I felt about the person I was then in love with.
I’ve never been a ‘leader’ but I’ve always liked contributing; and I was heavily involved in all kinds of activist causes throughout the 80s: translating for the various waves of Latin American refugees in Montreal; advocating for Victor Regalado and against obscenity laws; marching against apartheid and for gay rights; etc. It was all exciting and moving and worthwhile and was accompanied by a lot of parties. I could have chosen many songs to commemorate and evoke this; ‘Shilpbuilding’ is the one I most regret leaving out; but this, in which Elvis Costello was also involved, better conveys all the elements — including the communal and the celebratory — of protests in those Thatcher-Reagan years.
It’s the last day of the 80s challenge and I’ve left out so much music that was important to me in that decade: Québécois pop (Diane Tell, Diane Dufresne, Beau Dommage, Charlesbois and particularly the Dubois of ‘Comme un million des gens’ and ‘Infidèle); salsa (Celia Cruz and Rubén Blades), The Clash, all the superstars of the era (Madonna, George Michael, Prince, Michael Jackson, Sinead O’Connor, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper); it’s also when I came to love opera.
I chose this, which is 1990, ma qua importa, because it combines my love of Annie Lennox and Cole Porter; and because it so well evokes to me that period of the late 80s when people one loved so much, and as young as one was then, were already very ill and dying . One felt simultaneously so helpless, and lucky and scared and angry. This was also used in Jarman’s Edward II and there captures the feeling and anger and activism. Here it’s mainly about the love: