I took a picture that I’ll have to send
People here are friendly and content
People here are colorful and bright
The flowers often bloom at night
–From R.E.M. and The Flowers of Guatemala
During the summer of 1986 (or was it 1987?) I lived with Julie and Debbie in an apartment on Alexander Lane in Bethany, Oklahoma. I worked at Hertz Data Center and made about five or six bucks an hour. It was an absolutely miserable job as I spent all day on the phone with people all over the country who had either bad or no credit and sought to be “cash qualified” in order to rent a car. I was frequently cussed out. Fun!
Between rent and gasoline, I could hardly afford to eat. The story was not much different for my roommates. I remember eating a lot of rice cakes that summer and being very glad when I returned to college in the fall. For one, the apartment complex was a scary place often frequented by police. The only furniture we had were swimming pool rafts. We used them as beds!
Lifes Rich Pageant
That summer, my friend Phil and I paid a visit to Rainbow Records in Oklahoma City where I purchased R.E.M’s album, Lifes Rich Pageant. Phil was an Air Force brat who had lived in England. He’d had early exposure and interest in alternative bands, some of which had never seen the light of day in Oklahoma.
We talked a lot about this band, R.E.M., and so I decided to check them out. I blew a lot of money on records that summer, which is probably why I didn’t have any money for food. Ironically, it didn’t seem to matter that I did not own a record player.
Still, I spent a lot of time with that album, just staring at the cover and trying to figure out what it all meant. With The Flowers of Guatemala I’d become an instant fan of this new genre of music, alternative.
80s Inspiration: Echo and the Bunnymen, Pretty in Pink
That summer I drove a 1981 Ford Granada that had a broken radio. I used to buy D-size batteries every week and load them into my gigantic silver jam box, which I kept in the car. I’d listen to mix tapes of Springsteen, Echo and the Bunnymen and U2. Crazy times, my friend. Dead broke and really not that focused on the future, only focused on the adventure of college and falling in love — with someone. My friend Trica and I frequented Community Thrift on NW 23rd and Portland, which was by a restaurant Phil loved named The Bricks. One day it burned down and they never rebuilt it.
That was also the summer I started carrying vintage bejeweled purses from the 1960s, wearing old men’s dress shoes and re-purposing old velvet dresses. It seems a bit silly now, but I’d been inspired by Andi from Pretty in Pink. I was, after all, only 18, having started college a full year earlier than most of my friends. I’d cut the velvet dresses off below the arm pits and turn them into skirts. It was great fun, this journey of self-definition and exploration, especially against the backdrop of my conservative, Christian university.
Every Generation Gets The Rock Documentary It Deserves
As you’ve probably read by now, R.E.M. broke up this week after 30 years. Moreover, today, the New York Times published Generation X in a Time Capsule, a story on the “long-delayed DVD release this month of David Markey’s Sonic Youth tour documentary, “1991: The Year Punk Broke.”
The article leads, “every generation gets the rock documentary it deserves.”
With Francis Bean Cobain making small steps into the spotlight and R.E.M. bidding us farewell, it’s time to confess, the Generation X rock music documentary was written a long time ago. We are no longer being defined — by ourselves or anyone else.
Document Your Generation
Tomorrow, my daughter Juliette turns 14. I encourage her to make lots of memories and take lots of pictures of the people and places she loves. Generation Z. I tell her to document her generation. Someday, it will make more sense to her than it does now.
I do not have one picture from that summer except the one running through my mind. Trica and I are at Eldon Lyon Park in Bethany listening to Echo and The Bunnymen on my jam box. She says we should get out of the car and dance.
And, Phil. We are shopping at Rainbow Records and I’m taking risks and judging albums by their covers. I’m buying music and hoping it sounds nothing like the stuff they played at Woodstock or on Hee Haw, Solid Gold or American Band Stand. I didn’t know it then, but I was helping write the Generation X rock music documentary.