In my first year as a teenager, punk arrived at our middle school in the form of Scott F., a new classmate, whose sartorial choices–black Chuck Taylors and Black Flag t-shirts–and close-cropped hair stood out starkly among the mop-tops and bi-levels sported by most of my album-oriented-radio-listening classmates. Terry and Steve followed suit, and I hung out with them, and I eventually bought the Magnets LP by The Vapors (of “Turning Japanese” fame). (Magnets is melodic, dark, and brilliant, a true gem among the neglected ruins of early post-punk.)
The subsequent summer, in 1982, on a trip my parents figured would expand my budding middlebrow horizons, as noted in the Prelude of Stealing, I toured the UK and continental Europe with the Boy Scouts of America, and returned to the states a devotee of post-punk and new wave.
The categories of punk and new wave were largely lost on me then, but not completely. I had a growing faith that things could be otherwise, that the rubric of muscle cars/bangs-to-the-eyebrows-proto-mullets/Led Zeppelin/Van Halen had a half-life, and that the expiration date was quickly approaching. Other music, as well as other masculinities, were out there, even in California. In spring 1983, on a family trip to Carmel, I visited the local record shop and, much to my surprise, found More Specials, The Specials’ second LP, on cassette. Like The Specials, my host family in England lived in Coventry, and I was astonished that this tape could make its way across the Atlantic, across the US, to a record shop barely the size of a walk-in closet. Much to my subsequent embarrassment, I asked the cashier, “This Specials? It’s the same Specials from the UK, yes?,” which elicited a nod and a well-deserved eye roll. I didn’t care. I tapped my Dad for an advance on my allowance and bought the tape. Upon tearing free the cellophane, I was disheartened by the absence of any liner notes–a sentiment often reprised when I opted for cassettes over LPs. Still, this serendipitous find represented the cornerstone of my new music collection. Long after that tape became a hazard to any tape deck, I held onto it, packing it for moves between northern and southern California, and then off to New York. It’s still in my basement, in a box underneath other boxes, and I hope the cover image finds its way into one of many of my daughter’s collages I have properly filed for safekeeping.