Friday, November 03, 2006

Top 5: Steppin' Out

By autumn 1982, I was out of college. I'd finished my coursework that summer (thanks to a professor who passed me in my last course, even though I'd flunked both tests and didn't turn in any assignments) but wouldn't walk through graduation ceremonies until December. I'd been working full-time at KDTH in Dubuque since the spring. Over the years, KDTH was great to me. They hired me part-time in 1979 at a time when my on-air experience consisted of less than three months at my college station. They let me leave for the summer of 1980 to work a full-time gig at another station, then took me back in September. And they reconfigured their weekday schedule to make room for me as a full-timer when I finished school in the spring of '82.

I'd planned to stay in Platteville and commute to my job in Dubuque, but we had a fire in our apartment in January, so I found a place in Dubuque and commuted to Platteville instead--from a furnished one-bedroom walkup, old building, urban neighborhood. There was a grocery store and a gas station across the street, and a sub shop down the block. I wouldn't live there now, but in 1982, it was fine. And by autumn, I was feeling pretty comfortable with the life. I liked my job, I liked living alone, I liked living in a big city--compared to Platteville and growing up on the farm, anyhow. (Dubuque was, and is, gorgeous in its own way, with beautiful old houses, duplexes, and apartment buildings clinging to the Mississippi River bluffs along streets that are impossibly steep, impossibly narrow, and often both.)

That autumn is one of the last ones in my life that's vividly brought back by certain songs, and here are five of 'em:

"Blue Eyes"/Elton John.
There's a quality to this song that I can't describe well except to say that reminds me of how it feels to bundle yourself against the wind while you crunch through the fallen leaves. Probably because it was the last song I heard one day before bundling myself against the wind to crunch through the fallen leaves.

"Steppin' Out"/Joe Jackson.
Killer hooks aplenty--drums and bass marking a brisk beat, then the piano crashing in with those big, beautiful chords. Elec-tricity so fine, indeed.

"Southern Cross"/Crosby Stills and Nash. All about trying to escape your feelings for another person by lighting out for the ends of the earth, and how well that always works. As beautiful a lyric and tune as they ever recorded.

"You Should Hear How She Talks About You"/Melissa Manchester. One way to hear this is as an uptempo example of the adult contemporary sludge that clogged the Top 40 in the early 80s--and Manchester contributed her share with records like "Don't Cry Out Loud" and "Fire in the Morning." Or you can hear it as a clever bit of adult bubblegum made to sound great on the radio--which is the way I like to take it.

"IGY (What a Beautiful World)"/Donald Fagen. We didn't know at the time that The Nightfly would be the last gasp for Steely Dan fans until the 1990s. In one of the Top 40's most unsatisfying eras, "IGY" raised the level quite a bit.

There's a cut on The Nightfly, not released as a single, that brings autumn back even better than "IGY." "Maxine" gives me that same kind of buttoned-up-against-the-cold feeling I get from "Blue Eyes"--and it's one of Fagen's best lyrics, too, about a young couple graduating from college who are eagerly anticipating sophisticated lives in the adult world: "We'll move up to Manhattan/And fill the place with friends." Dubuque's no Manhattan, but I could relate nevertheless.

("Maxine" is a WMA file again this time. Buy The Nightfly here.)


At 8:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah yes...fall of 1982. I was living in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. My job was baby-sitting a beautiful music FM station and pulling some airshifts on an adult contemporary/oldies AM station. Other great songs that fall included "Africa" by Toto, "Dirty Laundry" by Don Henley, and "Hold On" by Santana. The best memory of the fall of 1982 was the NFL being shut down for a couple of months by a players strike, but the focus was on baseball as the Milwaukee Brewers came back to win a thrilling American League Championship series, then lose in seven games in the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. I look back to that time very fondly. ---Shark


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