In 1984 I left my hometown to attend college in what was, to me at the time, the big city of Kansas City, Missouri. It was only an hour away, but the cultural distance was staggering—and exciting.
I had only been significantly away from my hometown—excluding family vacations and holiday trips to central Kansas—once. Earlier that year I had gone to Washington, D.C., as part of a civics program called Presidential Classroom. How I was nominated to go is a mystery to me. I was kind of aimless academically by then—I certainly had no idea about government or politics—but the local Jaycees pitched in $50 and my indulgent and long-suffering (with me) parents kicked in the rest.
When I got home, the only thing I knew was I never wanted to live in St. Joseph, Missouri, again, and after that the summer of ’84, I never did.
In college, I started writing arts and entertainment stories for the school paper. One of my proudest moments was when I mentioned to my editor, who was a junior and therefore super cool, that I liked Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Like any journalist, he followed up with a question: “How does a kid from St. Joe know about the Velvet Underground?”
The short answer was the Rolling Stone Record Guide, but the longer answer was that I had long enjoyed, and prided myself on, knowing about music that was diverse and beyond the mainstream. Yes, the summer of ’84 had been filled with Born in the USA, Purple Rain, and Heartbeat City like everyone else’s, but Tusk, Street Songs, Alive She Cried, And Howlin’ Wind were also in heavy in my rotation. Not import bin stuff, but more interesting than radio.
That fall I also met a girl named Andrea, who was an art major and a Lou Reed fan, too—The Blue Mask was her jam. We were just friends, but we spent a lot of time together. One night she suggested we go to a midnight screening of The Hunger. I’d never heard of it but it sounded dangerous and cool and David Bowie was in it, so off we went.
When “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” started playing, I about lost my mind. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I loved it, so dark and mysterious and menacing. Andrea and I we listened to it a lot that fall, but it didn’t send me down a Goth rabbit hole.
In fact, I didn’t get around to owning any Bauhaus until five years later when their collection Swings & Heartaches: The BBC Sessions came out. I had just started grad school, and additional two hours from homw, and this, plus cassettes of The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits, Sade, Book of Days and a “hip-house” show, taped off the college radio station, were the soundtracks for those innocent days.
Oh youth … when creepy tales of a dead monster movie star could bring new feelings scratching at the moldy lid of small-town conformity and conservatism … undead undead undead …