(Pictured: Peter Gabriel performs in the 80s.)
I heard Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” the other day, and it reminded me of something. Two things, actually.
Every town has a summer festival of some kind. In Macomb, Illinois, it was (and is) Heritage Days, held toward the end of June and centered around the city’s courthouse square. I don’t recall that my stations made much of it the first two summers I was there, 1984 and 1985, but the 1986 festival was different. We got a motorhome and set up a temporary studio on the square, and I spent most of four days in it.
At a community festival, you work long hours, you live on unhealthy festival food, and you have to be “on” all the time, friendly and personable as you visit with listeners, despite being tired and sunburned and ready to go home long before you’re able to go home. The experience is much easier if you’re one jock among several, but I was the entire airstaff of our FM station, the face and voice of the place, so the vast majority of the responsibility for the station’s presence that weekend fell on me.
“Sledgehammer” was one of the big hits of the moment in June of 1986, and it has forever after reminded me of that long, wearying Heritage Days weekend—and of a particular incident from that same weekend, which led me into another experience.
I am not a joiner. I support my community by contributing to charities that are important to me, but I have never gone out of my way to join a service organization, not since I quit 4-H when I was 15. At Heritage Days 1986, a man came up to our temporary studio and introduced himself to me. I’ve forgotten his name today, but I recognized it then—he was a prominent local businessman. And he started pitching me on joining the local Lions Club.
I listened politely as he told me that the Lions were looking for bright young men with much to offer the community, men such as myself, and that he’d consider it an honor if I’d attend the next meeting as his guest. I smiled as graciously as I could manage, but I was also noncommittal because, as I said, I am not a joiner. I thanked him for the invitation; he went on his way and I went on mine, and I figured that was it. Not long after, however, he called me to say that the Lions were meeting later in the week, and would I like to come and get acquainted with the group? I had no ready-made reason to say no, and I couldn’t improvise one on the spur of the moment, so I said the only thing I could: “Sure, I’d be happy to.” And after a single meeting, I consented to join the Lions Club because I had no good reason to say no, other than I am not a joiner.
I attended meetings the rest of the year, but in December, I got a new job and we moved out of town before I was ever officially inducted into the organization. I may have briefly considered joining the Lions in our new town, but I never did, because I am not a joiner.
The story itself is not particularly interesting. Of more interest (to me, at least) is how the memories associated with “Sledgehammer” have grown ever more hazy with each passing year. Far from seeming like a time I once lived through, the summer of 1986 seems like a country I used to live in, different in every way from where I live now, immeasurably far away in space as well as in time, a place where I was once considered to be a bright young man with something to offer.