As the love of my life and my partner in crime, Paloma had the opportunity this Thanksgiving to spend twelve hours in the car, trekking between my hometown and our current home. She was a trooper, gracious no matter what the circumstances and/or chaos which accompanied time with family in a foreign land.
The foreign land in this case being a small town in Indiana and, yes, growing up there in the ‘80s was indeed like being in a John Cougar song. He’ll always be John Cougar to me – actually, he’ll always be Johnny Hoosier, the moniker which my buddy Bosco affixed to our budding local hero as he reached critical commercial mass in 1982 with the album American Fool.
I’ve rarely returned since leaving college nearly twenty years ago and this was my first venture home in almost a decade. Unfortunately, the first thing which greeted me in our hotel room was news of the terrorist strikes in India.* (in accordance with some impulse which most guys I know possess, upon entering said hotel room, I dropped our bags, flopped onto the bed, and did a compulsory channel surf)
For most Americans, terrorism hadn’t been invented the last time I had been to my hometown. Growing up, we had engaged in relatively minor acts of mischievous vandalism – OK, there was a fire or two (oddly enough, I seem to recall Bosco being involved in one) – but it was all rather harmless.
Current events aside, most things in my hometown were where I had left them. A few businesses had vanished and a few which hadn’t existed had replaced those now gone. The bowling alley, which along with the movie theater and high school basketball games was the hub for night life, remained, but is now painted a retina-damaging shade of yellow.
And, in a town of only a few thousand, everyone knows everyone, but, although certain faces looked familiar, names were irretrievable. Even more conspicuous in their absence were people who had always been there – cantankerous Mrs. G, whose husband owned the theater was not perched sternly in the ticket booth; Duck was not in the bowling alley, his alcohol intake increasing the degree of difficulty each ensuing frame; and Reuben, the portly town eccentric wasn’t wandering around barefoot outside his house (even with snow on the ground) by the grade school.
Times change, eh?
And though my hometown is no longer home, existing only as a gauzy concept now, it was an important stop along the way.
So, here are a handful of songs you would have undoubtedly heard blaring from a Camaro during those years…
Shooting Star – Hollywood
If you aren’t from the Midwest, you probably aren’t familiar with Shooting Star, but in our part of the world, Shooting Star were HUGE. They has a violinist in the band and it seems a lot of folks viewed them as a poor man’s Kansas, I always felt they were more a poor man’s Journey (circa Escape).
Hollywood was all over our rock stations during 1982. The song breaks absolutely no new ground with its tale of farm-fresh Midwestern girl having her dreams get shattered and getting sucked into the seedy underbelly of the dirty city. But, it is an engaging four minutes of straight-ahead rock with a sentimental pull.
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Fire Lake
Seger will forever linked to my childhood friend Willie, who, if there was a jukebox, would inevitably play something by the band (often Fire Lake). The song certainly makes my list of favorite Seger songs. I’ve always taken Fire Lake to be describing some kind of Valhalla for rural Midwesterners, but I find the line about line about Uncle Joe puzzling. Why the hell was he afraid to cut a cake?
Billy Squier – In The Dark
It is not overstating things to say that Billy Squier was in the pantheon of rock gods in our town. Hearing this song still immediately makes me believe it is Friday night and, more than twenty-five years later, that reaction is unshakable.
Loverboy – The Kid Is Hot Tonite
I think that 96Rock used played about every track from Loverboy’s debut. Seriously. Bands from the Great White North – Rush, Triumph, Red Rider, Prism – were staples on our rock stations. Sometimes I wonder if there was some little doppelganger town in Canada where we had returned the favor.
*And, this morning, in a small world moment, the local news interrupted my coffee to note that one of the Americans injured in Mumbai was a girl whom I know and one whose sister Paloma and I both worked with at the record store where we met.