Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Music Feature—Issue 40, April 2014)

John Cleary
confessions of a KROQ kid

we got the beat, (the go go’s) –

you could argue new wave announces itself to america here, or I’m going to argue that. it started earlier, but this song, this album, this band, put it front and center as much as any other. we were new wave kids in my city, not alternative, we just said new wave. we made ninety minute cassette tapes (like this). we piled into my best friend’s mother’s white impala down near the end of the fm dial where we heard the station call letters that sounded like fuck you coming out of our mouths when we repeated them and we repeated them often. (parameters, the wooden floor in the old house housing poo-bah’s record store in pasadena that always seemed like it was always about to collapse and never did should be studied by architectural students).

wasteland, (the jam) –

my cousin chris arrived from birmingham, england in 1979. he brought aftershave, OMD, and the album setting sons by the jam. the jam stuck. I was given two tickets to see them in 1981 and ended up going with the only girl from my high school who could drive and had heard of the band. someone elbowed me in the eye as we tried to move past a mosh pit before paul weller said, oy, knock that off and everyone did. the horns the band brought along overpowered the mix. later we sat in the dark car outside my parents house while she explained her criteria for kissing someone on a first date for ten minutes. eventually I slipped out, my eye already turning black and blue. when she pulled away I went for a walk, waiting seven or eight years to date her younger sister for fifteen. the jam never toured america again.

world destruction, (time zone) –

this afrika bambaataa and john lydon track predicts later rap/rock records, but was also something other entirely. I never owned a sex pistols or public image ltd. record, but I believe this was the last lp version of anything I purchased. (parameters, it’s hard to explain reagan’s smiling weird evil to someone who wasn’t there. he was a bully who helped create a growing nation of bullies).

nowhere girl (extended version), (b-movie) –

(parameters, every weird extended remix without the remix tied into one, every club you hated going to, every dance floor you hoped would be crowded so you could hear the music huddled up close to all those bodies so you couldn’t really dance but that was good because you were a terrible dancer and the things you do and don’t do all have faces breaking over the piano running through the three minute build up to the otherworldly vocal breaking over some sound you waited days to respond to because you wanted to be cool, but there was no coolness in you, only homegenized milk, limestone, the different colored greens you can see from an airplane.).

ghost town, (the specials) –

I am ghostly, you say again, this time to a scarecrow, be he dark when he says he is all of our songs, all the legs you saw today that left the bosom of their families, record, play, rewind. I am ghostly, a screen test of orchids inside my chest in the shadows of the san gabriels, the 210 curve, the mountainous shawl we forgot daily, always north from wherever you stood.

my city was gone, (the pretenders) –

in the long avenues big dance drowning. behind the next building flies what could be. cluttered speak passing. bad electronic keening. gated doors in the best and worst neighborhoods. a 12” remix of trash day. romans after greeks. yes, a soft egg. will you see that as a burden caterpillar, or will you be ugly skies in all they’re talking about. hung wires in a wireless city. not when you might, give.

suburbia, (pet shop boys) –

leave summer and spring out of it. saturday itself a precipitation deal. are you sure it’s a yawn in your chest. does it matter if the seat, if empty. wood breaks, each torso a rhythm. a flatland of exchange, gracefully ugly. let me say I can’t help myself, so why can you. words unfettered, lettered by boney skeletons. they make their way to bedrooms, two by two, like animals headed for the ark. (parameters, I only wanted something else to do but hang around).

smalltown boy, (bronski beat) –

if you were a video star in the eighties, you were a star. when certain new videos came out everyone talked about them. you watched mtv the way you listened to the radio hoping your favorite song at the time would come around in the rotation. 120 minutes showed up in 1986 and we turned on our vhs machines, taped it and listened/watched each episode repeatedly. I was twenty years old when this video educated me late one night and made me cry. I knew next to nothing about gay rights. how do you apologize for the body language you were once so ignorant of.

there is a light that never goes out, (the smiths) –

loose clothing. the tissue that clings to your bones homes and hammers. immortal back alley dumpsters not unlike the way it moves through you. we built a city so we could disappear. adopted lexicon. american in our spending we were one, two and ten thousand awaiting alteration. we tore ourselves up when there was nothing else and still we looked like us. against the outside blackness the interior lights. talk your eyes into sleepy. sometimes a week is five minutes. twenty-eight seconds at the end of a song.

crash, (the primitives) –

her name was lucy, but that wasn’t her name. her and her roommate looked like lucy and ethel, so the name stuck. she put her arms around my shoulders better than anyone else who rode on the back of my metallic blue, high windshield, honda 150 scooter. she called me john savage because she had seen a movie where a young soccer player got cancer and refused to give in. she came by my room when she got drunk and she was the first person I had sex with while she was on her period. I don’t remember her real name.

a new england, (billy bragg) –

you’re at a party in hollywood, in over your head, in a bedroom next to a bathroom where two porn stars are using up all the facial cream, with the boyfriend of a girl you kissed three days earlier, sweating. he’s playing lp’s and drops the needle down on the fourth track, says listen to this. (parameters, none of this may be true, or all of it, in the way you tell a story you’re telling of the last time you told the story as well as the event).

add it up, (violent femmes) –

“what is this”.

“sarah mclachlan”.

“we can’t fuck with this on”.

“what are you doing”.

“I have a mixed tape in my car”.

“you’re going to your car now”.

“do you have condoms”.


“I left those in the car as well”.

blue boy, (orange juice) –

my college roommate woke up every morning, put on some music and smoked a bong. I had been very sick and his sister had just died. he told me about her waking him up one night and telling him she saw jesus in the corner of their parent’s living room, a tiny jesus. perhaps I shouldn’t write this, but we were wounded together and we quit together. I love and loved him the way you love some friends intensively for a certain amount of time. (parameters, charlie don’t surf and he thinks that he should).

bedbugs and ballyhoo, (echo & the bunnymen) –

what is it, built into us over centuries, that allows us to ignore the newest danger and go on with our daily lives. (parameters, the best songs about nuclear war were recorded in the eighties, 99 luftballoons, enola gay, every day is like sunday, party and ground zero, two tribes…).

in between days, (the cure) –

the only time I remember doing something bad to my best friend was taking back a cassette I left at his house – by accident – that he had been listening to in his car and had grown to love. on one side was the queen is dead and on the other was the cure’s staring at the sea: the singles. staring at the sea felt like an album more than a compilation. it was considered cool if you had the original release, which was titled standing on the beach. it had a picture of a fisherman on the cover that had nothing to do with the band, but it’s great album art, it stayed with you. I eventually threw the tape out the window driving down a highway in florida, I couldn’t listen to it without feeling guilty. sorry brad. (random parameters, love and rockets comics. D.M.S.R.. the mater dolorosa passionist retreat center, or as we called it, the monastery. soft cell’s non-stop erotic caberet. riding around in the summer wearing shorts and a t-shirt with the stereo on and the windows down. 2cv. 1985. black celebration. rotary phones. the eighties sax solo. top’s onion rings. I’ll give you anything, anything. a guy who tried to use everything but the girl’s first album to steal my girlfriend and maybe succeeded for a couple of nights. I might like you better if we slept together. the housemartins at the coach house in san juan capistrano. welcome to the pleasure dome. david ruffin and eddie kendricks at the palace. black boys on mopeds. marvin gaye. miss texas 1967).

the ghost in you, (the psychedelic furs) –

I am still ghostly, I am the thing I love the most measured and then who knows where the sugar cane goes, where the sampled sycopated beats of birds and and title tracks fly through tree branches louder than engines, coming through the tinny dashboard speakers, radio radio was my soul salvation. ours was the second elvis, we’ll tell the mp3 generation who leash all their birds, who stand on sidewalks to triple their savings, air and water 25 cents.

end of the party, (the english beat) –

she drove her mother’s car as lloyd cole would say, a dented green volvo, ten years old maybe, and she broke up with me in riverside, outside her house in my new truck that I bought to show her I could move on from it. she played whitney houston in the tape deck, saying it reminded her of me and it killed me because we had been through things together that nearly killed me and it dawned on me that it was only thing we had in common. (parameters, the screen is still slipping off the window, falling with its own delirium off the house on sixth avenue, lifting the white blood cells into the air, every other chest since a comparison of softness).

only you, (yaz) –

the dusty springfield of the eighties teaming up with the godfather of synth pop, how could that go wrong.

your silent face, (new order) –

whenever someone asks me what my favorite song is I think of this one first. (parameters, none).

sadly beautiful, (the replacements) –

let’s linger a little bit, the way we like to linger.

stray, (aztec camera) –

you want to answer sometimes, years. it took real years to get over, just the body, the body that made it. your father let you work for him painting houses and didn’t say a word when you walked out of college in the middle of your last class. your mother didn’t act worried when you took off, just driving, anywhere. you caught a glimpse of it on a long black road in north carolina that was bisected by disabused train tracks, vanishing points at the cardinal headings, north, east, south and west and the small island that your parents grew up on. you chased it and lost it again and found it again in the smokey mountains one morning, where you woke up early and listened and were different but also you again.