Soundtracks of my teens

A road to somewhere? Photo: Andreas. 1987.
A road to somewhere? Photo: Andreas. 1987.

In 1980 I became a teenager. Of course, along with my girlfriends, I felt very grown up long before that, having already been to parties, listening to music, dancing and playing kissing games with boys. And drinking alcohol. The music was a massive part of it all and as hormones raged, I my experience  reflected in almost every love song ever written.

Then my brother discovered American Graffiti (1973). It was full of great rock’n’roll music curated by the mythical DJ, Wolfman, on the radio station the young people tuned into as they aimlessly drove the streets of their one-horse town. To me it sounded like every track on the double long-playing album spoke to my life, even if the music was from the 1950s and early 1960s. When Curt finally decides to leave to study rather than stay cruising in his home town with his friends, I knew there was a learning in that. At the time I never knew how far away my journey would take me.

After American Graffiti, it seemed obvious to become infatuated with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in Grease (1978) when it finally arrived in the local cinema.  My friend and I went to see it twice, we twirled and danced the jitterbug and stood side by side doing the Hand Jive. At a dress-up party later that year, my friend was Sandy – she was the one with long blond hair – and I was Danny, complete with Brylcreem in my slicked back, much shorter, darker hair. It mystified me that my brother did not share my passion for every track and poo-pood the idea of this ridiculous movie.

Back when Carnaby Street was still at hot spot for alternative youth culture, on one of our family’s many trips to London my brother  bought Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977). The album cover was yellow with a mosaic of cut out pink letters that spelled the album’s title. The music was raw, fast and signalled all teenagers could want: music our parents would despise, especially when played loudly. Not that we succeeded in that kind of rebellion in my family. My mother was a pretty smart high-school English teacher and knowing she had to meet her students where they were, she brought books and magazines home from London about the punk movement for her classes. I recall reading in one of these texts: We behave and dress like the shit society perceives us as, and I wondered why the establishment hated young people. Listening to God Save the Queen, I realised the truth for so many young people in the words: No future for you.

I did not identify with this sentiment – by accident of my birth, I definitely saw a bright future for me, but I empathised deeply with the idea that everyone should be given the same opportunity for a good life. What I saw when walking The Streets of London (1969), lyrics we studied to death at school, demonstrated with ample clarity to me that the way society was structured did not give everyone the same chances.

So I started dressing like a punk. No piercing, of course, but skinny jeans in heavy boots and over my t-shirt a too-large suit jacket that once belonged to my father, adorned with safety pins and a multitude of badges collected in London. At fifteen I had my hair cut short and bought some red, yellow and blue hair colour so I could look the part. By this time my brother had learnt to play the guitar and played in his own band. That was pretty cool and though the age difference at 15 and 17 is great, we moved in the same circles of friends, listening to the same music, apart from the Grease part.

At this time, Shakin’ Stevens came to Denmark, playing in a town half an hours drive away. His music was rock’n’roll and a mix of well-known covers and brand new ones. You Drive Me Crazy he sang in his denim jacket and all the girls’ teenage hearts melted. We were a group of girls going with my brother and his friends.  Mum drove us up there. I recall standing at the large speakers feeling the beat bounce right through me, like an additional pulse. When we came out, my ears still rang and mum asked how we could stand so much noise. I thought it was magic.

That summer I went on a bus trip with three of my girlfriends to Spain. We were away for a week and it was a week of sun, sand, water, partying, boys and drinks. And music. Whenever I hear Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, I am reminded of Calella on Costa Brava. I brought home two Queen Albums, Greatest Hits (1981) and Hot Space (1982). Under Pressure and Crazy Little Thing Called Love, indeed.

In 1985, the open air concert, Grøn Koncert, came to my hometown and I discovered Danish music. My brother endorsed Michael Falch, whose dress code was almost identical to that of Shakin’ Stevens. But other bands were almost exclusively mine: Gnags, TV-2, Thomas Helmig, Sanne Salomonsen, Anne Linnet, Bifrost. I entered a new era of musical independence and spent the next years with the songs and melodies of Danish bands in my ears. To me the words, the lyrics, were everything. Funny, entertaining, deep and meaningful. They made sense of my life, of the world. The music was just the channel through which the key messages were communicated.

Then I started studying at Aalborg University and moved away from home. At O-Week, Talking Heads’ Road to Nowhere boomed out the speakers, played by the inaugural students for the course. We were the second intake for a new academic degree aimed at bringing informatics and communication together in the Humanities. We were on the road to somewhere, it had just not quite come clear to where.

And maybe it still is not. But music kept us company, all the way.

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