Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: 1980

“I’m feelin’ Radioactive, think I’m gonna meltdown tonight” — Scott Wilk + The Walls

In the mail today!

A flashback to those glorious, goofin’, pogo jumping, slam dancing early the 1980s.

I saw this band at the Southern Illinois University (SIU) Student Center at the beginning of the 1980 fall semester, (shortly after I saw David and the Happenings perform at an outdoor party in Lewis Park) and the band would be one of a half-dozen New Wave acts I would see that semester along with The Pretenders, The English Beat, Ultravox, and Polyrock.

I bought the album at Plaza Records in Carbondale but it was never reissued as a CD until recently through Wounded Bird Records.

Although a bit dated, it has held up quite well over the years. Although Wilk comes across as sort of a cross between Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon, the music takes one back to those early days of New Wave when a farfisa beat and saxophone ruled.

 It’s going to get a lot of playing time on my iPod.

Picture of the Day: Friday’s Saloon, 1998

It doesn’t look like it did in its heyday, but for this to work you have to close your eyes and think back to 1980. Close your eyes and think of some song from 30 years ago, maybe it’s “Life Begins at the Hop,” “My Little Red Book” “Turning Japanese,” “Message in a Bottle” “Bionic Man” — can you see it now, can you feel the excitement. Do you have your two bucks out to give to Big Al standing inside the door? Move through the crowd, the electric night loud all around. Still can’t picture it? Close your eyes harder, and concentrate. Can you see Bob Noxious on stage singing “Gloria?” Not even Jim Morrison or Sid Vicious could have belted out the song the way he did. Look, there’s Chris V. Corky, Dave S. Tommy V. and Buzzy, Beth and Bruce, Mary Jo, Sue D. the two Becky’s. Goose is in the back chatting up Mike L. Can you see it yet? There’s Kelly N. Lisa S. and Debbie C. Jeff B.’s behind the bar and some of Big Al’s friends. Some of the boys from Longshot, playing down the street have stopped in. Wait for it. Yeah, that’s “Telstar.”

Break out the Tele or the 12-string Rickenbacher Al. Dick keep that steady back beat and tell the ladies to work off those lasagna legs. Sometimes when Al was changing guitars you and Al Schupp and Bodine would play a little jazz, “and now some jazz from Sergio Mendez and Brasil 66”– and then you guys would break into “Starry Eyes.”

It’s the best I could do.

(and if I omitted any names, I am sorry.)

New Wave Class of 1979: “Life During Wartime” – Talking Heads


If you are one of those music aficionados who prefers their lyrics to be on the cerebral side of things without compromising too much foot-stomping danceability, you could also count on the Talking Heads to deliver both.

And you never had to worry about them not making sense.

Take their 1979 hit, “Life during Wartime” that might have seemed to tap into the punk rock/new wave Zeitgeist, but instead comes across as more of a “funky cautionary tale” about foreign terrorists living in American suburbs.

I still remember when I picked up a copy of Fear of Music and slapped it on my turntable. First of all the album itself was really hip—all black and embossed with a pattern that resembled the appearance and texture of diamond plate metal flooring. Then there were such tracks as “I Zimbra,” “Air,” “Electric Guitar,” “Cities” and Mind”– songs for a generation and all creatively produced by Brian Eno.

However it was “Life during Wartime’s” nightmare visions of civil insurrection (and perhaps terrorism) in the United States as well as allusions to an apparent guerilla movement (“Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons/packed up and ready to go/Heard of some gravesites, out by the highway/a place where nobody knows”) that really grabbed me the first time I heard the song. Without question, these were some powerful lyrics jolted listeners in the waning disco era. And when the singer laments that he can’t go to night clubs anymore because he has to live underground, he sings “this ain’t no party/this ain’t no disco/this ain’t no fooling around” which became a catchphrase for punk and new wave.

At the dawn of the Reagan era, “Life during Wartime” might have seemed like a post-punk apocalyptic paranoid nightmare; today, in a post 9-11 world though, it had tragically become a reality.

On a personal note, it was one of those albums that when I listen to now reminds me of a defining moment of my life, not to mention the direction that my musical tastes would be taking me. It was early 1980 and I was debating whether or not to get out of the Air Force. At the time I was stationed at George Air Force in the high desert of California (just outside of Victorville) and I was thinking about reenlisting for another four years or perhaps going to college.

One day, while I was in CBPO—an administrative building for the base—I happened to see an advertisement for Southern Illinois University (SIU). The Air Force and SIU had some program called Students in Uniform for military personnel who wanted to study aerodynamics and even had a recruiter/advisor on base. I was interested in film and having already done some checking on SIU’s cinema and photography department, I stopped in to see the SIU advisor who put me in touch with SIU and helped me with the admission process.

Two months later, I got my acceptance from SIU—one week before my orders were cut for helicopter mechanic school at Shepard Air Force Base—and decided it was time to get out. Had I received my orders first, who knows what would have happened—I might have ended up making a career out of the Air Force.

Instead it was off to SIU.

And the rest is history.

Where were you when John Lennon was shot?


On December 8, many people around the world will take time out again to remember the anniversary of the death of John Lennon.


“Where were you when John Lennon was shot” became just as poignant a question as the one posed by another generation when people asked, “Where were you when JFK was assassinated?” 17 years earlier.


For myself, I was a student at Southern Illinois University when I heard the news that fateful night in December 1980. I had been studying for finals in my dorm room in Freeman Hall, an off-campus dormitory, and didn’t think much of the block of Beatles’ songs being played by the local college radio station I had tuned in.



Only when I walked upstairs to the TV room to check the score on the Monday Night Football game when I learned of the news. Howard Cosell broke away from his usual play-by-play of the game to announce to the millions of viewers that Lennon had been shot.

I ran back downstairs and burst into my friend Paul Collin’s room to tell him the news.

“Now I know the world is coming to an end,” Paul said as he sunk down in the beanbag chair he had been sitting on, “someone shot a Beatle.”.

We tuned in the college radio station and listened to one Beatle song after another, too stunned to say anything.

And it did seem like the world had, at least for the moment, stopped. For the next few days, it seemed that the whole world was in mourning. It didn’t make any difference where you were, there was bound to be someone who had either grown up with the Beatles or who had been touched by Lennon’s music.

Even if you hadn’t been into his music or a fan of the Beatles, the fact that an entertainer, a musician—a person who tried to advocate peace through his music had been gunned down was tragic enough to make one stop and take stock of their own life.

What was it that brought so many different people together, then—when they gathered at Lennon’s Dakota apartment or other places to leave messages, flowers, album covers, candles and the like in memorial—and now, when people again gather around the world to remember? What was it about Lennon’s life and his subsequent death that affected so many people around the world? Why did his death in 1980 fill so many people with such an incomprehensible sense of loss?

Without question, Lennon’s death was the loss of an icon for a generation.

We always feel robbed and cheated when one of our icons, one of our generation’s spokespersons is taken away from us. Although one can argue that it’s unbefitting that he has been elevated to some cultural sainthood status, his contributions to modern pop culture, not to mention history as a Beatle and as a solo artist cannot be ignored.

Above all, Lennon’s life and the music he created represented not only this whole idea of rock and roll rebellion, but also to a much larger extent, the social and cultural consciousness that touched a sensitive chord in us all. Whether it was one of his and Yoko’s “Bed Peace” events or one of their “War is Over” posters, Lennon was dedicated to raising our social consciousness. His music became a medium to address these issues and perhaps explain our own social consciousness through his songs. Just listen to “Imagine.”

His death touched us all, and perhaps reminded us of our own mortality.

On the other hand, would we still be gathering and remembering Lennon, though, if he hadn’t been gunned down, if he had, say, died of a drug overdose or committed suicide, or even died of natural causes? Would such a death have had that much more significance? Would he have been just another rock and roll casualty?

The fact that Lennon was murdered in the prime of his life made his life and death that more significant. Likewise, he had just re-emerged from this self-imposed exile with a new album at age 40—proof that even forty-year-olds could still rock and roll. When that album came out in the fall of 1980, I think he was probably the most sober he had ever been in his life and that can be seen through some of the hopefulness and love (no matter how hurt he was he always managed to tell us all about the importance of loving oneself and others)

One more reason, which made a generation feel robbed, when he was gunned down outside his Dakota apartment that fateful night in December.. Whether you agreed with his politics, his self-righteous cant, understood his avant-garde leanings or not, Lennon influenced our collective cultural consciousness and raised our social awareness.

Lennon was different. He broke the rules and we forgave him. Lennon wasn’t always a smooth cookie, like many humans, but part of it was the role we put him in. He wasn’t comfortable with it. His friendship with Harry Nillson towards the end was a classic tale

 Of course, there was always the music, too. Twenty-eight years after his death, his legacy, not to mention his music still resonates.

He wasn’t a Mother Theresa, a Princess Diana, or a Martin Luther King. He wasn’t a doctor who devoted a lifetime finding a cure for cancer or AIDS. He was just a musician, an artist who gave us all something just as important: the hope and the dream of a better world.

What do we really remember in the end? Is it just the passing of one our icons? Or, is it something more? I think the answer lies in our need for some connection with are own permanence, are own mortality.

Remembering Lennon is our own memorial for our permanence and humankind, and our hope for a better world.

From Carbondale to Daejeon

You just never know who is going to stumble across your blog on the Internet and then either write to you or leave comments on one of your postings.

Sometimes it’s not unusual like when an old friend who you thought you might have lost touch with writes you or leaves a comment; other times it’s someone looking for information about how to contact Jimmy Wong or information about teaching English in Korea.

Then there are those times when someone comes across your blog and sends you an email that really catches you off guard and surprises you.

Like the email I received a few months ago from David from the band David and the Happenings.

Talk about a trip down memory lane. The last time I saw David and his band was a party in Carbondale back in March 1981. I had gone to Carbondale with Chris Vasquez and Dave Scholle to pick up my stuff from my dorm room at Freeman Hall (I had “dropped out” of SIU a few weeks before) and ended up staying in Carbondale for a few days. While we were there, we caught The Romantics and The Rockats at Shryock Auditorium (The Rockats blew away The Romantics) and ended up going to a few parties were David and other people I knew from SIU were at.

I never really knew David (who was the brother of James Chance of James Chance and the Contortions fame) that well, but I had seen his band a number of times when I was attending SIU from the summer of 1980 to the spring of 1981. The first time I saw his band was at an outdoor concert at the beginning of the semester; then again later in the Student Center right before Thanksgiving. They were a pretty outrageous and tight-knit band known for David’s vocal stylings and stage presence, which might have reminded one of Iggy Pop. If you were into the New Wave or Alternative Rock Scene at SIU then you probably caught them playing one of their gigs around town.

When I had gone home for Thanksgiving in 1980 I hung out with Chris and one of his friends Colleen who was going to SIU at the same time I was and who also knew David and the band. Then, when I came home for the holidays again at Christmas, Chris, Colleen, Dawn (a friend of Colleen) and I went to Chicago to see David and the Happenings play at this punk rock club called The Space Place and another time at Tuts.

That Tuts gig was a bit of a downer because David’s band came on after Martha and the Muffins, a band that Chris and I really wanted to see. We pretty much screwed ourselves on missing the band by partying with Colleen and some of her friends too long before the concert (“Don’t worry, I know the bouncer there and I will be able to get you guys in,” Colleen said).Well, she knew the bouncer all right, but what she didn’t count on was the club following the fire code to a T. By the time we got there, the place was packed and they weren’t letting anyone else in (after Colleen had managed to talk her way inside). So, Chris, two other girls and myself ended up hanging out at this small blues bar until Martha and her muffins finished and we could finally enter Tuts.

The Space Place, on the other hand, was an interesting club and we had no problem getting in and seeing the band. The club itself, located somewhere on the North side of Chicago (if I am not mistaken) had been converted from an old warehouse. It was big and roomy and on the night we saw David and the Happenings and some other bands, it was packed.What I remember most about that night was the bouncers who looked liked professional wrestlers wearing white tee shirts with “security” scrawled on the front (which looked as though it had been hastily written with a black marker earlier in the evening).

A couple of skinheads showed up to cause trouble and these bouncers—standing around the stage—pounced on them and started beating the shit of them right in the middle of the dance floor as one of the bands played.Later that night, Chris and I went to a party where the band was and we stayed up all night. The next day, a Sunday, we went to Wax Trax Records on North Lincoln Avenue, the coolest and hippest record store in Chicago.

I think seeing David and the Happenings—then and when we saw them in Carbondale afew months later—really had an influence on Chris when he finally got around to putting his band together The Libido Boys in the summer of 1981. David and the Happenings was the kind of band that Chris wanted to have or be in; he wanted to have a really strong stage presence with a band that could back him up musically and who were not afraid to take chances. What Chris really needed to do was put a band together and get out of the Illinois Valley.

I would see David and the Happenings one more time, a month later in Chicago. Chris and I were trying to put something together to have the band play at Friday’s Saloon in Peru and were in contact with Pete Katsis, the manager of the band at the time. However, the owner of Friday’s wasn’t too keen on bringing a band in that he didn’t know too much about and never got around to returning phone calls. We had even made these posters of the band and put them all around town (We could have even made a little money off the gig being promoters and all—who knows where that could have led us?) to generate interest, but the owner backed down at the last minute.And that was the last time I had thought about the band until now when out of the blue I get this email from David.

Pretty cool how a one sentence blurb about his band on my blog could bring me back in time to Carbondale in 1980 when life was wild and interesting.

(Thanks for the pics David!)

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