Spring had arrived, but not the heat and humidity. It was glorious.
If I had had a convertible, I would have had the top down. But I did not do it. So I did what I could closer. I rolled down the windows before putting on my sunglasses.
The shifter was in the console. I engaged the transmission to drive and pulled onto the freeway from my parents’ house. I drove to my job at the radio station.
The radio was king. Working in the company has been a privilege and an opportunity. Especially for a 17-year-old kid from Ashdown, Arkansas.
In fact, I had a job that paid me to play music. And back then, music was everything.
The factory AM radio was missing from the dashboard of my gold 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. The first thing I did when I bought the car was to remove the radio and put in a high end AM/FM cassette deck.
It was as upscale as Wal-Mart #17 had to offer.
The eight-track player had dominated most of my high school years, but cassettes were smaller and you could take more in your car.
My friends and I have thrived on new music. We waited for album release dates like a new father waits to hand out cigars.
Being a disc jockey gave me first access to new music. Having played in a band since I was 14, I had a pretty good sense of new music that had an edge and had just hit the market.
It didn’t hurt that I also received free samples from the record labels.
My Cutlass became a first sound room where my friends could listen to new artists.
The late 70s and early 80s were a unique time for the way music was delivered to audiences. In addition to eight tracks, reel-to-reel tapes and cassettes, artists’ new work was also always released on vinyl, which included the now-lost craft of album art and liner notes. I voraciously read each new number, which allowed me to explain who wrote the songs and played what instruments when I introduced them to friends.
When the AC/DC album Back in Black came out my senior year, I thought it was so amazing that I cornered my mate Kent Wells and persuaded him to go to the Cutlass for a review. . When it was over, he looked at me and smiled.
On a later trip to the mall with my friend Mark, he said he only had enough money for a tape. I told him to buy the last of Journey. He looked at me and said, “It better be a great album.”
It contained “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Open Arms”.
The big album of my senior year of high school was the self-titled record by Christopher Cross.
The album cover featured a flamingo in the water, which conjured up images that matched the single “Sailing” perfectly. Cross launched the Yacht Rock music genre.
For a San Antonio native who looked more like Larry The Cable Guy than a yacht captain, he did a phenomenal job of writing and playing the soundtrack for my senior year.
In the spring of my senior year of high school, I had the whole world in front of me.
We have all done it. We just didn’t know that.
The 1980s had begun, but the 70s were still with us in many ways. And one way was music.
When you are no longer a child, but not yet an adult, you seek answers in your music.
More than forty years ago, that’s where the children found him. And after years of listening to little music, I rediscovered it.
There’s not much on TV in the middle of the night, so I often skim through YouTube’s random offerings. A video that recently surfaced was a 1980 clip of Christopher Cross performing “Ride Like The Wind” and “Sailing” live on The Midnight Special.
In an instant, I was transported back to 1980 to my Cutlass and its cassette deck.
Not too long ago, Kent told me he liked to dim the lights in his house and put AC/DC on the turntable for another listen.
For me, it will be a digital delivery by Christopher Cross. I’ll put on my sunglasses, roll down the windows and ride like the wind.
John’s new book, Puns for Groan People, and his books, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and vol. 2, are available on his website – TheCountryWriter.com. You can also send him a message and listen to his weekly podcast.