Song of the day: "How Soon is Now?"

30 Jan

Eric and I were just out of high school, and we weren’t close, but we liked each other and got along. It was the late mid-1980s and we were on a road trip to a gaming convention in Los Angeles.

We were both punks. Eric much more so, with his leather jacket and heavy motorcycle boots with spikes. Being punk in Las Vegas in the 80s was frustrating. Music venues closed almost as soon as they opened. Having the wrong hair or clothes, or carrying the wrong album under your arm at Tower Records, got you sneered at and maybe fucked with.

For oddball teenagers in Vegas back then, Los Angeles was the Holy Land. We’d go there to suck up as much underground music, art, clothing, books, culture, and atmosphere as we could before coming back home.

Eric and I were also geeks. I mean, gaming convention, right?

That weekend, whenever we got tired of gaming we’d head out to see what L.A. had to offer. It wasn’t much. You have to know where fun is in L.A. It’s not just lying around waiting to be picked up.

ERIC: (To bellhop) So are there any good clubs you can recommend?”
BELLHOP: Do you like jazz? There’s some great jazz clubs.
ERIC: Uhh. Yeah. Jazz is…cool. Thanks.

Melrose Avenue, yeah, we knew about Melrose. Locals claimed that it had become a haven for yuppie scum – the real epicenter for punk rock had gone elsewhere, someplace secret. But it was still a hell of a lot cooler than anything we had back home, and we spent hours there. But that was pretty much all we knew.

So for the rest of the time we simply drove around with the radio on. Because the other thing we knew about L.A. wasn’t a place, but a radio station: KROQ, home of the legendary disk jockey Rodney on the Roq. KROQ was the station that broke a lot of the bands that we loved – the Circle Jerks, X, Fear, Social Distortion, the Adolescents, the Vandals. Rodney’s compilation albums were awesome. We’d just barely missed the glory days of L.A. punk, but by listening to KROQ we could have just a taste. That was enough for us, because we were parched.

One night that weekend Eric and I followed some street signs with familiar names, and ended up in the Hollywood Hills. Fog blanketed everything. The beams from our headlights lit up the rolling clouds in front of us. The road snaked back and forth. Every so often there’d be a break in the trees and we’d catch a glimpse of the lights of the city. The only light inside the car was the green glow of the radio dial.

I’m sure they played a lot of songs on KROQ that night, but the only one I will ever remember is the one that played as we wound our way through the hills of Los Angeles in the fog: “How Soon is Now?” by the Smiths. Whenever I listen to it, that’s where I am.

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