Before Bjork was known for being Bjork, she was a co-singer for the band The Sugarcubes. Even then, she stood out as what made the band worth listening to. For me, the songs were all little bazaar delights. Bjork has a way of making dissonance feel like a hug. Birthday felt like the songs I was warned about, seductive, entrancing, and lots of twisted. In 1989, I got to see them live at what was once called Irvine Meadows. They opened up for PIL and New Order. It was the very first big name concert I ever saw.
No 80s child escaped the draw of Depeche Mode. They were dark, they were pop, they were androgynous, they’re music was so damn catchy. They became their own genre of music, often imitated. As much as young me wanted to resist them because of their popularity, they’re songs were so easy to sing along to. Black Celebration was this album full of hypnotic beats and angsty lyrics. I related. The volume always in increased times ten when the final anthemic song, But Not Tonight, came on.
In 1987, Strangeways, Here We Come by The Smiths was released. It was my first trip into the dark frolicking land of The Smiths. Unlike some albums I was discovering after the fact, Strangeways belonged to our 1987. The combination of Morrissey and Johnny Mar made the distinctive sound addicting. The lyrics were at once funny and sad, but also very dark and twisted. Perfect for 12-year-old me. Though they broke up very soon after, the language of the Manchester angst was one of the biggest influences of my first poems.
I had a strangely conservative Christian childhood. We were not allowed to listen to secular (non Christian) music. So when I first hear All Fall Down by the 77s, my world was blown. They sounded just like the forbidden music on the radio, but they had a very straight forward Christian message in all their songs. Musically, I was intoxicated with the dark melodies and pop rhythms. Somehow they blurred the line for me in the mid 80s. I remained obsessed with them throughout my teens.
My introduction to New Order was Substance. My first major crush told me about a song called True Faith and of course I had to become obsessed with it. They were the first band that felt a poem only I had read. Their music transported me into another quiet world. I know they were known for their dance beats and I definitely loved to dance to them, but it was something else that felt deeply personal about their music. Maybe I connected to how they came out of a dark past. Whatever it was, it was personal.
Unforgettable Fire by U2 was the first album I listened to over and over and over. U2 was the first semi-secular band I was allowed to listen to because they were kinda Christian at the time. (I wasn’t allowed to listen to non Christian music as a child.) My sister had a cassette tape with Unforgettable Fire on one side and Under a Blood Red Sky/Wide Awake in America on the other. She’d play it over and over as we fell asleep in our shared bedroom. As a result, this album always reminds me of a dream state. I either copied the tape or stole it, but either way, I’m sure I still have it. To this day, I maintain that it is a perfect album. The music is dark, mesmerizing, and sensual. They are a band that has reinvented themselves many times over, but this remains my favorite.
As a poet, nothing has had a bigger influence on my life than music. I’ve been wanting to pay tribute to music I love by spotlighting an album each week. I have to start with Standing on the Beach by the Cure (also called Staring at the Sea), not because it was the very first, but because I can still listen to this album in its entirety today and feel just as connected to the music. These songs still feel like home to me. Strangely, it’s not about the lyrics exactly, it’s the feelings behind the music, the anger, isolation, sadness, restlessness, innocence, passion, confusion, love, happiness, mania, and resolution. It appealed to 12 year-old me and present day me.
I wish I had a sonic screwdriver
I wish I had a magic wand
I wish I had a time machine
or pixie dust or a book of spells
I wish I had a genie lamp
I wish I had the holy grail
I wish I had a flying carpet
or a portal or an Atlantis key
I wish you were three
in the back seat of my car
singing an 80s Cure song
I wish you were sixteen
driving with me to open mic
singing an 80s Cure song
I wish my love was enough
I wish you weren’t there
I wish you and me were anywhere
far and away anywhere else