Wednesday, December 02, 2009

For Those About to Rock

Although much happens during the course of a year, in hindsight we tend to look at years as a whole: Either it was a good year, just okay, or it sucked out loud. For me, 1981 kicked total ass.

I don't usually sit around dwelling on that particular year, because it was 28 freakin' years ago, but a particularly entertaining post on the fine blog Popdose had me reminiscing. The post focused on a mix of AOR (that's album-oriented rock radio to the unitiated) staples from '81 and most were from bands I was listening to a lot that year: Rush, April Wine, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Foreigner, Journey and Pat Benatar. I was blissfully unaware of punk back then, although I did like some new wavey artists like XTC, Joe Jackson and the Police. But it was primarily hard rock that interested me. I still have some mix tapes that I made off the radio in '81 with songs by Triumph, Aerosmith, Zeppelin, Billy Squier, get the picture.

I had started getting into comedy, watching shows like SCTV and listening to National Lampoon on the radio (one of the rock stations dedicated Sunday nights to comedy programming) and going to see Mel Brooks movies in the theater: "History of the World, Part 1" had come out that year, and "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein" had both been re-released in the theaters so I caught them, too. It didn't get much better for a 13-year-old wiseass.

The year was a pivotal one for me because when it began, I was in eighth grade. I went to Bayview Heights Public School in Pickering, Ontario, Canada, which was a k-8 school. Being an eighth grader meant you were at the top of the heap. We moved to that town in the suburbs of Toronto when I was a wee second grader, so six years later, it was good to be the king. In a lot of ways, it was the last hurrah for we denizens of Grade 8; by the fall, we'd be off to high school, where we'd be transformed into dorky freshmen to be either picked on or ignored by the upperclassmen. And there were two large high schools in Pickering, which was growing rapidly as more people moved out of the city and into the suburbs. Where we knew everyone at Bayview, we'd soon be scattered among a school full of strangers.

I had a pretty tight-knit group of friends that I hung with: Darwin, Charlie, Vincent and Wayne. We all went to Bayview and had been close for several years, playing endless street hockey games and just goofing off in general. But Charlie's family moved to Calgary the year before, and Darwin stayed back a grade, and Wayne had already graduated, so the group was pretty much splintered by '81. I started hanging out with more of a "burnout" crowd, kids who liked the same music and movies I did. Not that I ever drank or smoked back then; I was still a good Christian boy, at least for the sake of not disappointing my parents. I was a good student, but I had started to value a good wisecrack almost as much as a good grade. In one of my report cards, I think from sixth grade, my teacher Mr. Grummett wrote, "Jay needs to learn to keep his sharp remarks to himself." I never did learn that lesson.

It was that winter, early in 1981, that my dad started looking in earnest for a new job. He felt he had been bypassed for promotions too many times at Ontario Hydro, where he worked as a draftsman. By the spring, he had taken a new gig: In Washington freaking state. He moved out to Richland, Washington, in June to start working; the rest of us stuck around until we could sell the house. I kept hoping he'd go out there, hate it and come back so we didn't have to move.

We graduated from Bayview and there was a big dance afterwards. I got to slowdance with the hottest girl in school, Jennifer Harris, who was 13 going on 20. She already had a ridiculous body and we had a playfully antagonistic relationship because she was a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers and their hated captain Bobby Clarke, while I of course rooted for the Leafs. We danced to "Stairway to Heaven," the last dance of the night, and by the end her mascara was running down her face from the tears. When the song ended, she gave me a big smooch and like that, my stint at Bayview Heights was over. It didn't really hit me, though; I rode my bike home high as a kite on the wings of that kiss. It was the last romantic one I received for quite some time.

The summer quickly passed and me, my mom and my brother still hadn't moved, so it was off to Pickering High School. It was tough at first, going from kingpins to outcasts, but I eventually made some friends and even met a girl who I thought there might be a spark with. But as soon as that possibility entered my brain, it was time to move to Richland.

We moved at the end of November into the duplex my dad had rented, which was about a third the size of our old house. I was sharing a room with my 9-year-old brother, an arrangement neither of us was thrilled about. I was going to a junior high and because I wasn't supposed to start math classes at my Canadian school until second semester, I was way behind. We moved a month later to a house across town, and I moved to another school, which I liked a lot better. Still, I had to make friends all over again. Nobody there knew or cared about hockey and the radio stations sucked. I listened to those early mix tapes all the time, in addition to the new records I purchased with regularity. That was pretty much what kept me going in those days.

But when I look back at it, I still think 1981 was the balls.

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