“You’ve never heard of David Bowie or Duran Duran?!”
My babysitter stared at me like I’d just pissed on the floor after shitting the bed, all because we got to talking about music for some strange reason. In a nutshell, she had professed her love for those two artists and I claimed, rightfully so, that I hadn’t heard of either of them.
In my defence, I was 9. Now, had I heard of either David Bowie or Duran Duran at that age, it would have made me The Coolest Third Grader in the World. But I wasn’t a cool Third Grader; I was a Third Grader, whose sole concern was counting down the days until the next Star Wars hit theaters. Hell, the fact I still needed a babysitter should have clued her in that I wasn’t up to date on what they were at the time calling New Wave.
I would be eventually. I write a comic book about music, the first issue and second issue of which are available right now (hint, hint). But 1982? No way no how did I know New Wave. I knew The Beatles, and ABBA, and Simon & Garfunkel, and Gordon Lightfoot, and The Carpenters, and the American Graffiti Soundtrack, because those were the 8-tracks my parents had in their station wagon.
Had I been 5 years older, chances are good I would have known Bowie and Duran Duran because 14 is the age when you start really getting into music. And sure enough 5 years later it was bands like U2, REM and The Pixies who were my Animotion-esque obsession. But this wasn’t 1987 – this was 1982, and I had no clue about U2 or REM, who had just released their first albums, or The Pixies, who hadn’t even formed. That said, were I five years older, chances are pretty good I wouldn’t have required a babysitter, and the conversation never would have happened, and I wouldn’t be writing this, and somewhere a snake would be eating its own tail.
Our babysitter lived next door. She was 17, and her name was Sheila (I think – the memory’s fuzzy). If I was to describe her now I’d say she looked like a 17 year old in 1982 would look. She must have been thrilled when we moved in, seeing me and my sister and thinking “score” because she introduced herself to my mom and said she babysat. She saw a cash cow, not some dorky nine year-old who didn’t know David Bowie or Duran Duran. So when I let the news drop, looking up from whatever Star Wars comic I was reading to say I was unfamiliar with the oeuvres of Misters David Robert Jones and Simon LeBon (and the brothers Rhodes*), Sheila (or was it Cheryl?) took it upon herself to educate me on the matter.
She left the house – actually left the house of the kids she was babysitting – went to her house and her room, took her stack of Bowie albums and the one and only Duran Duran album at the time (imaginatively titled Duran Duran), and charged back over to our house, asking where we were hiding our record player.
This was 1982. People had record players, maybe cassette players, and like my parents, an 8-track in the car. Our record player was in the basement rec room (or “recreation room”, though to a 17 year old Bowie-Duran Duran fan that meant “where you keep the Bowie and Duran Duran records”, and to my parents it meant “that basement is a wreck with all the toys and crap everywhere, clean it you monsters”). I have fond memories of that basement. Heck I have fond memories about that house, that street and that neighborhood. Like this memory, right?
Anyway, 1982. We had a record player, and record albums, and Cheryl flipped through them out of what must have been morbid curiosity. She saw the American Graffiti Soundtrack, and The Shaft Soundtrack, and a Ray Charles Country & Western Album, and a Gordon Lightfoot album … I could sense her disappointment mount, like the disappointment you try to mask when at someone’s place and idly notice the Nickleback CD on the shelf and wonder if it was gifted to them, then notice the conspicuous lack of dust on the case and think “okay then”.
Anyway, Sheila (definitely not Cheryl now that I dwell on it) quit thumbing through our lame record collection, fired the record player up, pulled Duran Duran from its sleeve, and placed it reverentially on the turntable. She flicked the switch and we watched the needle move over and drop onto the record. I prepared myself to have my mind blown.
Not that it was bad – the first track was “Girls on Film”, which everybody knows, and the second track was “Planet Earth”, which not as many know. Now, if this had been Rio things might have been different, because Rio had “Rio” and “Hungry like the Wolf” which are both great songs (and would come to define the early-mid 80s as much as MJ and Madge would). But it was not Rio, it was Duran Duran by Duran Duran.
Anyway there was Sheila, bopping her head to “Girls on Film”, and looking at me to say “See? I was right, this is great, huh?” And I could only nod, semi-enthusiastically, as if saying; “Yeah they’re pretty good, can I please go to my room?”
No, I could not, because this was An Education in Modern Music from a 17 year old New Wave chick named Sheryl or something. “Modern Music”, not “Modern Love”, which was a Bowie song that was released the following year, and is one of my favorite Bowie tunes. We listened to the whole first side, and when she turned the player off and removed the record, I sensed freedom within my grasp.
“That was Duran Duran” she said. “Now let’s listen to some Bowie.
Now this is where it gets hazier because I really couldn’t tell you which Bowie album she’d put on. By this point Bowie was well into his career – 12 albums by this point in 1982. So my guess is she started with his most recent, which was 1980’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), which included “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion”. I couldn’t tell you if those were the ones I heard, because by now what’s her face was playing selected tracks, trying and failing to get much of a reaction from me other than “yeah he’s pretty good”. She had a few albums with her, and spun tracks from those as well. Again, the memory’s fuzzy, but I can imagine it would have been anything from Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and possibly Diamond Dogs, because I remember hearing some “live” stuff (even though Diamond Dogs isn’t really a “live” album). Again, it was all pretty good, but to a 9 year old, about as interesting as the Falklands War and Polish solidarity.
Believe me I wish I could say this was my musical awakening and I became the coolest 9 year-old in the world that day. But it wasn’t, and poor Sheila realized it was a losing battle. She gathered her albums up and marched out of the basement, out of the house, back to her house to drop them off, then returned. By this point I’d gone to my room willingly, and I’m guessing Sheila went to see what my sister was up to because now (like then) I tend to forget I have a sister.
That was the last time Sheila (Cheryl? No, Sheila) attempted to educate me on Bowie or Duran Duran. She babysat us several more times, but she never brought up music, and I never brought it up either. My parents let her and her other 17 year old Bowie and Duran Duran loving girlfriends use our backyard pool a few times, and I knew they were looking at me, thinking “stupid dork 9-year old doesn’t know Bowie. Or Duran Duran”.
Much later, on what would have been the last time Sheila babysat for us, I introduced her to the awesomeness that was Miami Vice. I had never seen an episode, but kids at school had, and with my parents away I knew I could lie to Sheila that they always let me watch it (because they didn’t). She watched it with me, her eyes wide for a different reason entirely; “Your parents let you watch that sexual stuff?” She was horrified, and I smiled a secret smile because here was something that I liked that she did not get. That made me cooler than her for that moment, like Miami Vice was cool in 1984. Then it became uncool. Then it was cancelled and Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas recorded albums which were terrible.
That was 1984. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was huge that year. Return of the Jedi had come out the year before, but by then I was no longer into Star Wars. In fact that summer I sold my entire Star Wars collection at a garage sale, all for the then princely sum of $110.00. I still kick myself for being that stupid. Duran Duran was big in 1984 too, and Bowie had experienced something of a comeback (not his first, not his last either) with “Let’s Dance” and “Blue Jean” and “China Girl”. I remained as uncool an 11 year old as I was an uncool 9 year old.
But in the years that followed, every time Duran Duran or Bowie came on the radio, I knew who they were because of Sheila. So in that way she did score a victory for babysitters everywhere, making a dorky 9 year-old aware of Bowie and Duran Duran. And it wasn’t long before I started paying more atention to music, and girls, and girls who liked the same music I did.
A 17 year old girl in 1982 will turn 48 this year, but I’m guessing a lot of Duran Duran’s 1982 fans are still with them. Maybe Sheila is among them, married with kids, but still in love with Duran Duran and David Bowie. I like to think that on rare occasions she maybe remembers 1982 and the time she tried and failed to educate a 9 year old in all things New Wave. I’d like her to know that I did eventually become a fan of both Bowie and Duran Duran, and own many of the albums she brought over that day three decades ago. So it wasn’t a total loss, Sheila; I did learn, eventually.