Top 5: Good Enough

I wrote about the spring of 1982 only a few weeks ago, but here we are again. You don’t like it, get your own blog.

Thirty years ago this spring, I was working my first full-time radio job, doing afternoons at KDTH in Dubuque, Iowa. I had moved to Dubuque in February, to an upstairs apartment in a old, four-unit brick building on a busy urban street. No parking lot, but I could usually park my ’78 AMC Concord somewhere on the same block. The rent was $180 a month, which seemed reasonable given my salary, which was $200 a week. There was a a gas station across the street, a sub shop nearby, a few fast-food restaurants a block or two over, and best of all, a grocery store down the block.

My first night in my new place was after my first full-time day on the job. The program director took me out for dinner and a few beers after work, and I was feeling no pain as I got home. It dawned on me that I had no toilet paper and nothing for breakfast the next morning, so I wobbled down to the grocery store. I also bought Coke in an eight-pack of returnable 16-ounce bottles (remember those?), fortunately recalling before I left the store that I would need to buy a bottle opener, too.

As weeks passed, I found that I liked living alone. I’d always had family or roommates sharing space before. The limitations of my apartment were becoming apparent, however. The kitchen was barely big enough to turn around in and the bathroom was the same size. There were three big floor-to-ceiling windows that made up a whole wall of the living room, which seemed great in the winter when I first saw the place. Come spring, when it was time to open them, there were no screens, so whatever was outside came inside. What came inside mostly was dirt—a dark film of urban street grime settled over everything. When summer arrived, the windows amplified the sunlight and turned the place into an oven.

Summer was also when the critters came out. I had a plague of various bugs, and a family of bats lived under the overhanging porch at street level, where my front door was. I lived in mortal fear of letting one of them in, and in mortal despair regarding the chances that my landlord would do anything about any of the indigenous wildlife.

One day I heard a commotion on the street outside, and I looked out to see a police officer drawing his gun on somebody who was fleeing down the block. Despite that, I felt safe in the neighborhood, parking my car on the street or walking to the grocery store, even late at night. In the year-and-a-half I lived there, I was never the victim of anything. Maybe I should have been more wary. If I wasn’t, it was because I was 22 years old and didn’t know anything.

Here are five quick takes on songs popular that spring, from the survey of WDRC in Hartford, Connecticut dated May 4, 1982.

5. “Ebony and Ivory”/Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder (up from 11). Remember what a big deal this record was? Listen to it again today and you may wonder why.

9. “Did It in a Minute”/Hall and Oates (down from 8). This might be the best thing they ever did next to “She’s Gone” and I ain’t joking.

10. “Still in Saigon”/Charlie Daniels Band (up from 15). Really? This artifact of the coming-to-grips-with-Vietnam period in our history hits all the clichés.

12. “One Hundred Ways”/Quincy Jones & James Ingram (holding at 12). Yes.

18. “Heat of the Moment”/Asia (up from 28). Do you suppose anybody listens to their Asia albums anymore?

I went back to the old neighborhood last week, and it hasn’t changed much. The gas station is still a gas station and the fast-food places are still where they were, although the grocery store is a hardware store and the sub shop is a tattoo parlor. The building itself looks the same as it did then, albeit a bit more worn. The apartments have blinds on the windows now. The 52-year-old me wouldn’t want to live there, but for the 22-year-old me, it was good enough.

3 responses

  1. barelyawakeinfrogpajamas | Reply

    Good call on Did It In A Minute. I’ve long thought it was one of their most underrated hits and one that seems to have gotten lost amongst all of the bigger hits that Hall & Oates had during that period.

  2. The thing with songs like “Still in Saigon” (and Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon” and Paul Hardcastle’s “19” later on) is the way they helped start the process of understanding. I say that because I am the son of a veteran of the War; in fact, he missed my birth because of the little fact that his Uncle Sam put him to work in that little corner of the world.

    He rarely discussed “over there” at the time. All his military buddies (which in 1982 meant all the fathers of my friends, since I was still a military brat at that time) seemed to be similarly quiet about the subject, except with each other. It was funny…they’d get liquored up and talk about the stupid things they did as youths that got them into trouble with the cops — and in a few cases, into the military as well — but the subject of That Place was seemigly off-limits.

    In my case, I came along too late to be affected by the War but still was as a result of my upbringing. But those songs and movies and TV shows helped to open the dialogue that many veterans really needed to have. Even if it was to tell me, “Son, that’s overly dramatic. It wasn’t like that the entire time.” He opened up about it a lot more after I went into the Army myself.

    Was “Still in Saigon” cliched? Yep. Did it touch on stereotypes? Sure. However, it really wasn’t the chest-pounding song that Daniels’ “In America” was two years earlier. That said, I really wish the lessons those veterans brought home after Vietnam would have been listened to by more people. Specifically, the Powers That Be who have been sending a new generation into the firing line for the past decade.

  3. amen to Chris. Luckily being a baby boomer (HAH!)* the threat of a Viet Nam draft didn’t hang over my head.

    * it dawned on me recently that John Lennon and his son, Julian were both boomers; how’s that for a wide demographic sweep?

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