I fell down a rabbit hole on Spotify this week and spent a lot of time listening to the new wave hits of my youth. And by youth I mean that space from 18-21; the years where that freedom you were yearning for presents itself to you and you have no idea what to do with it.
1980-1983 were good years for me. I didn’t to to college until later so these were true slacker years. I worked a couple of jobs - at my father’s restaurant, in a video store, a stationery store in the mall - but nothing that kept me from fully enjoying these years. My jobs were all part time and I spent most of my days getting high while watching MTV with my fellow slacker friends. When we weren’t watching MTV we were listening to WLIR FM, which in 1982 started playing new wave and post punk music exclusively.
There was something about new wave that appealed to me, and I went head on into full fandom of the genre. Until then, I’d been on a steady diet of bands like Yes, Genesis, The Grateful Dead and some Springsteen thrown in. I started to branch out into punk, taking in bands like The Ramones and The Clash, but it wasn’t until new wave broke that I felt like I found my true music calling.
My friends gravitated toward new wave with me, and we found ourselves twice a week at a club called Spit, located in Levittown, Long Island. There they played everything I wanted to hear. New wave, dark wave, goth, post punk. I sunk my teeth into the music, and it became my entire personality.
There was an underlying darkness that permeated most of the songs I liked. The music felt decadent in a way, subversive. After 19 years of playing it straight, of being afraid to veer off the beaten path, this lifestyle felt like a real change for me. I missed out on being able to play into the early years of punk because I was too young to go into the city to CBGB’s, and my Catholic high school would not have went for the wearing of safety pins in my ears or torn clothing. But once I graduated and that freedom to be me opened itself up, I found out who I was, or at least who I wanted to be, through new wave music and Spit. By day I was a mild mannered girl who loved the Atlanta Braves and New York Islanders, who - aside from the pot smoking - listened to her parents and drove with her hands on the 10 and 2. I was safe. I was a rule follower.
At night -especially on the two nights a week that Spit was open (it was a disco called Uncle Sam’s on other nights) - I transformed. Torn fishnet stockings, black boots, black mini skirt paired with a neon blue shirt, hair spiked up with toothpaste, layers of makeup that I never wore during the day. I felt like a different person when I was dressed up for new wave night, and when I got into the club and the music started something came over me. I was such a shy, reserved person but something happened to me when a song like Duran Duran’s “Planet Earth” or the B-52s’ “Give Me Back My Man” would start up. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t just stand around and idly listen. I had to be out on the floor. I had to dance.
I use the term “dance” loosely, as we mostly stood in one spot and moved our bodies awkwardly, our feet firmly planted on the ground but our upper body and arms moving in time to the music, a human version of one of those wavy-arm guys you see outside car washes these days. I grooved to the music, I really felt the music, I became one with it. Whether it was The Cure or Split Enz or XTC or Madness didn’t matter. Siouxsie and the Banshees, New Order, A Flock of Seagulls, Psychedelic Furs. We danced to it all. I gave as much to Elton Motello’s “Jet Boy Jet Girl” as I did to Haircut 100’s “Love Plus One.” When I was out on the floor, nothing mattered. My stagnant life did not matter. My future did not matter. My past did not matter. I was in a groove, in the moment. I was not at the club to pick up guys, I was not there to get drunk. I was there for the music and the music only, for the way it lifted me up and made me throw caution to the wind. I was there for the empowerment new wave music afforded me, for the ability to let everything go, to become the person I always wanted to be but couldn’t pull off full time.
I truly believe I grew as a person because of new wave and Spit. I was able to reach down into the depths of my personality and pull out the parts of me I wished were more visible to everyone, the freewheeling part of me, the part of me that didn’t care what people thought, the decadent part of me. It all came out when I was on the dance floor, or even when I was in my room listening to my records. The music made me feel something that no other music before made me feel: like I belonged somewhere, like I had found myself and place to be me. I was able to obtain a confidence that had eluded me for so long, even if it was just for those nights I was at Spit or 007. Those nights carried me; the power I felt, the ecstasy, the pure joy, it was something that stayed with me, that pushed me into being more outgoing, more social, more of who I was striving to be.
Eventually new wave’s popularity waned and I went to work in Record World in the same mall where I had been a cashier at the stationery store. Van Halen, Prince, Springsteen, and Iron Maiden were the heroes of the day then. I stayed listening to new wave and everything of its sort that came after it. I never quite got the high I got those nights at Spit and didn’t bother to chase it; I knew that time was unique and I’d never be able to replicate it. I needed to let it be, to savor it as a special time. It served its purpose. I grew up during those years in the sense that I found out a lot about myself and what I was capable of.
I still listen to new wave, I have a playlist that keeps me company when I feel the need to bring it up. I will have the occasional dance party by myself in my living room and feel nostalgic for Spit and WLIR, and be thankful for those best years of my life.