Everything But A Dead Body And Keifer Sutherland

August 18, 2010

There are certain dates imprinted upon my brain because of their significance to me.

August 18, 1981, though, remains lodged in my brain even though nothing particularly important happened.

It was a Tuesday and the start of eighth grade was in sight. The first football practice had been the day before, taking the first chunk out of the dwindling summer.

I’m not sure how I spent that morning. I’d probably slept in after staying up until the middle of the night watching the CBS Late Movie.

Whatever hours left in the morning might have been spent playing some baseball with the handful of kids in our neighborhood. Or, maybe I lounged on the couch in the den and read.

I do know that I hung out with my buddy Will after lunch. He lived several houses down from me and, for about three years, the two of us were inseparable.

Will was a year older and entering high school. He’d already had a week or more of football practice under the hot, late afternoon sun.

There were patches of woods bordering the farms and cornfields that surrounded our small subdivision. Like dogs, kids love trees and the woods provided hours of entertainment and an escape from the dog days of summer for us.

So, Will and I spent the early afternoon traipsing around in the woods, killing time before we had to head off to our respective practice sessions. A year earlier, we might have been climbing trees, but a year had seen us evolve into teenagers.

Instead of climbing trees, the woods was a place where we could hang out away from parents, siblings, and the other neighborhood kids who hadn’t yet reached thirteen. We could engage in deep conversations about girls and sports and, on occasion, smoke a couple cigars he’d nicked from his old man.

At some point that afternoon, we came to the edge of a small ravine and spent time attempting to hit targets on the other side with rocks. I eventually grew bored, borrowed Will’s knife, and carved my initials and the date into the truck of a large tree.

I noted the date – 8/18/81 – and the near symmetry of the 8s and 1s.

Each year since, when August 18th pops up, I can’t help but think of those numbers carved into that tree on a day that really wasn’t unlike a lot of days I spent hanging out with Will which, I suppose, does make it memorable.

By August of ’81, I was definitely spending more time listening to the radio and becoming mesmerized by music. Here are four songs that were on Billboard‘s charts that week…

Don Felder – Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)
from Heavy Metal soundtrack

It was mostly Top 40 that I was listening to as the summer ended in ’81. I might have known the term heavy metal, but I doubt that I could have named a band within the genre or described it.

Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride) was hardly metal, but it rocked harder than a lot of the music I was hearing and, as it came from the soundtrack to an R-rated cartoon, it had added cachet for me at the time.

Thirty years later, I stiill think it’s a wickedly cool song.

Electric Light Orchestra – Hold On Tight
from Strange Magic: The Best Of Electric Light Orchestra

Will loved ELO. At least he loved the song Don’t Bring Me Down enough to own the 45 and, if I had a dime for every time he played it during those years, I would be writing this from a hammock…on the beach…of an island…that I owned.

Hold On Tight is effortlessly infectious like so much of ELO’s stuff. One day I truly need to delve into their catalog as any band that churned out as many catchy songs as they did likely has some equally worthwhile tracks that didn’t make it to radio.

Carl Carlton – She’s A Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked)
from Carl Carlton

There was essentially one R&B station on our dial – Blaze 103 – and I rarely strayed there as the reception was a bit spotty. So, unless the song crossed over to the pop charts, I wasn’t hearing it.

I know that I didn’t hear Carl Carlton’s She’s A Bad Mama Jama on the radio, but Will and I discovered the song on some K-Tel hits collection that he’d snagged from his sister. We immediately related to the song’s sentiment and “bad mama jama” quickly took a hallowed place in our lexicon.

Eddie Rabbitt – Step By Step
from Step By Step

Our hometown radio station had flipped from rock to country by the time the ’80s arrived. And, Eddie Rabbitt had notched a string of pop hits during the first few years of the decade, so I was quite familiar with songs like Drivin’ My Life Away and I Love A Rainy Night.

When Step By Step became a hit, each time I heard it, I thought of Angie, a red-headed tomboy in my class with whom I was smitten as I knew she was an Eddie Rabbitt fan. In some alternate universe, I undoubtedly declared my feelings for her either using the advice offered in the song or clumsily working those lyrics into some heartfelt, half-baked letter.

(I’m sure that worked out well)

In our universe, Will ended up dating her several years later.