My man Jim Bartlett has written a number of times about how certain seasons from his youth still come through to him with crystal clarity, while other seasons didn’t leave many memory tracks to speak of.
(If you want to know which seasons registered with him and which didn’t, go search his archives. It’ll probably be more interesting than tonight’s post here.)
The fall of 1982 seems to stay with me more than other seasons. A couple of chance encounters have brought it to mind, so I think I’ll kill a couple hundred words summoning some of the impressions it left.
- I would have been nine years old then. As best I can remember, there was no particular reason the fall of ’82 would have left a special imprint. I was cruising happily through elementary school. There were no family events, good or bad, that changed my life in any great direction.
- I was at an age when news and ideas from the grown-up world were starting to filter down to me. Perhaps that made the season noteworthy.
I remember hearing about some of the season’s big news stories — Poland’s Solidarity movement; the Chicago Tylenol poisonings; the dedication of the stark, controversial Vietnam Veterans Memorial; and the death of Leonid Brezhnev and his replacement by Yuri Andropov.
- Or maybe my older brother’s listening to pop radio in general, and Men at Work specifically, helped fix the season in my mind. He was a huge fan of the Australian band, which came out of left field to fascinate American audiences that fall as “Who Can It Be Now?” duked it out with “Jack and Diane” for Number One.
To this day, the sound of Colin Hay’s voice has a capacity to transport and relax me that is rivaled by few other singers (Robert Lamm comes to mind.) Which must mean the fall of ’82 was a good time.
- As a baseball fan, I was quite interested in that year’s playoffs and World Series. The eternal Yankees and Dodgers, who’d done battle in October 1981, had been replaced on the national stage by the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers — two clubs not commonly seen in the Series. (The Cardinals won. My loyalties ran vaguely to the Brewers, but I didn’t lose sleep.)
Pop music intruded here, too. Game Two of the National League Championship Series, between the Cardinals and Atlanta Braves on Oct. 9, had been a closely fought affair, won by the Cardinals in the bottom of the ninth. The next day — and it could only have been one day, because the Cards clinched the series on Oct. 10 — ABC aired a promo for the third game set to Billy Joel’s then-current hit, “Pressure.”
It was an apt choice to follow a nail-biter of a game. And, while I don’t have proof of this, it struck me at the time as unique and unprecedented and cool that a network had used a hit song for an ad like that, rather than the lofty purpose-written instrumentals that usually seemed to show up as sports broadcast themes.
- Speaking of BJ, his album The Nylon Curtain was released on Sept. 23 of that year. My folks were big Billy Joel fans, and I’m sure the new album would have been on regular play in our house throughout the fall.
The Nylon Curtain arrived between the Lennonesque watch-me-rawk moves of Glass Houses and the feel-good ‘5os and ’60s pastiches of An Innocent Man, without the easily grasped pleasures of either. This was the album that produced “Pressure,” “Allentown” and “Goodnight Saigon” as singles.
Looking back over Joel’s discography — which I knew quite well as a child — The Nylon Curtain seems darker, more difficult and challenging, an outlier. And if I were sitting in front of my folks’ BJ albums, it’s probably the one I’d pull out first, specifically for that reason.
- I’m gonna cheat a little bit here. I don’t honestly associate Joe Jackson’s gleaming “Steppin’ Out” with the fall of ’82, the way I can specifically peg other songs to that season.
But I’ve always liked it; and just a few days ago, as I was beginning to nurse the idea of this post, I went to YouTube for no clear reason and dialed it up and listened to it again and again. So perhaps it is a more subliminal remnant of that fall.
I used to have (maybe still do) a Musician magazine from fall ’82 in which Jackson expressed his fondness for the likes of Cole Porter, and made fun of the monochromatic melodies of other songs on the pop charts (particularly Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra”). He was, of course, absolutely right.
- Speaking of Jackson and Men at Work, both performed that fall on season eight of Saturday Night Live, the season that introduced Brad Hall and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to the cast.
I was too young to be a regular viewer, or to get all the jokes; but I was also a night owl, and when my dad would stay up to watch, I’d often be there too. As a result, this is the first SNL cast of which I have clear memories — another sort of American pop-cultural milestone.
- The heroes of fall 1982 would go in any number of directions.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus became a star on “Seinfeld”; Joe Jackson a journeyman cult hero; Billy Joel the house headliner at Madison Square Garden.
World Series MVP Darrell Porter and Men at Work’s Greg Ham, whose saxophone heralded the beginning of “Who Can It Be Now?,” struggled with drugs and alcohol and died too young.
- A final mental image from the fall of ’82 shows the Milwaukee Brewers’ backup catcher, captured in a wire-service photograph, burying his head in his hands after his team’s Game 7 loss.
His name was Ned Yost; and tomorrow night, he will once again be center stage at the World Series, as manager of the upstart Kansas City Royals.
For Ned Yost, and perhaps for me, it might again be an autumn to remember.