My Life’s Chronology With Music

My Life’s Chronology With Music
M.D. Wright

You know me and music — I’m always relating things to song lyrics; either from the present or using throwbacks whenever I wax nostalgic. My life has a soundtrack and it’s not being hokey when I say that, but truly — when you can encapsulate particular days, weeks, months, years and periods of time over a stretch of years — all with music in the background and the styles and trends that came with it, that is not a far-fetched assertion. Music is central to my life and I believe a great number of people share that sentiment. I’d like to take a semi-exhaustive look back to the year 1979 — although my earliest memories of music are Prince and his “1999” album, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (especially the music video).

I was born March 30, 1979, during the end of arguably the best decade of music. You especially agree with that statement if you love R&B/Soul music. It didn’t seem real anymore after that (although New Jack Swing-tinged R&B was magnificent from 1987-1997). People put their hearts, souls, hands, legs, feet and everything into their music. You could feel it jumping off the LPs, 8-tracks and cassettes.

As I said before, my earliest memories in music are late in 1982. I would always be over my maternal grandmother’s house (my paternal grandmother lived football field’s length away) or one of my uncles’ houses — he who loved funk music. That was where it was at for me. Saturday afternoons hearing music such as Midnight Star, Prince, Cameo… a little Rick James, Sheena Easton, Teena Marie mixed in for good measure… along with a few layover hits from the 70s that never got old as well (think Earth, Wind & Fire, Isley Brothers, etc.). Those early 80s were idyllic and obviously as a 4-6 year old, you had not a care in the world.

In 1984, I began Kindergarten and some of the biggest tunes ever began to drop. Loose Ends with their timeless class “Hangin’ on a String (Contemplating)”, Stevie Wonder’s “Part Time Lover”, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s RUN OF HITS during that period are indelible in my mind. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was still getting play a good two or three years later (and as it should, to this day — still gets played just as frequently no matter where you go). Obviously as a Prince fan, his Purple Rain movie and accompanying soundtrack were the best things that happened in my mind music-wise in 1984. I remember going with older cousins to see the movie when it came out and it was and still is a cult classic. Some people thought the storyline was goofy and childish, but it was a classic movie. We couldn’t get enough Prince back then.

Yes, Michael Jordan left North Carolina early to go to the Bulls, but it didn’t appear he was going to be the player he turned out to be. Anyone who said they thought he would — even the biggest Jordan supporters back then — is lying. But obviously the Portland TrailBlazers thought Clyde Drexler was going to be better than Jordan, as they selected a center instead of Jordan. Yes, the Portland TrailBlazers continue to be excoriated for taking Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan after losing the coin-flip (the last year before the first NBA Draft Lottery — more on that in a minute) to the Rockets. However, it was the right call; the Blazers had not sufficiently replaced the void that Bill Walton — himself injured just as frequently as Bowie — left when he exited to San Diego a few years prior. Bowie had consistent leg and knee problems his entire career. Poor Blazers.

The Cosby Show debuted in 1984. We instantly gravitated toward it, because as a child, I grew up watching Fat Albert and almost anything Bill Cosby-related. Phylicia Rashad was lovely and set a wonderful example for the young group of women growing up at that time to follow. People used to say my mother was a lighter version of her, because they wore their hair the exact same way and truly did look alike.

I met Jesse Jackson in Henderson with my mother. I forget the name of that street, but I could point out exactly where Jesse was and I am in a picture with him nearby. This was when he was running for President of the United States the first time in 1984.

By 1st Grade, my memory was pretty concrete. That was the year I remember watching my first Super Bowl (we had just moved to Greensboro in December 1985) where the Chicago Bears destroyed the New England Patriots — my biggest memory from that was William “Refrigerator” Perry trucking through the Patriots’ smallish defensive line; but also of guys like Walter Payton; whose legend wasn’t clear to me as a 7 year old, but I did get to see his final 2 1/2 seasons in the NFL. The Bears’ defense was fun to watch as well… Richard Dent was a sack master, Dave Duerson — who would not only win a ring with the Bears in Super Bowl XX, but also with us in Super Bowl XXV five years later and a future NFL Head Coach (albeit injured that season), Jeff Fisher.

I was a huge Prince fan. I have said it before, but I must preface it, because he was very prolific in releasing music. He had written almost every lyric on Vanity 6’s eponymous debut/only album under a pseudonym, his own “1999” and co-wrote lyrics for The Time and other acts within the same year in 1982. 1985 was odd, because Prince was coming off his first international tour following the craze of Purple Rain. Then, not long after my birthday in 1985 (Easter was around this time, if I remember properly — because I remember going to the store getting Easter candy and seeing Prince’s new album on the shelf with no announcement), “Around the World in a Day” comes out. Some of Prince’s biggest hits are on that album — “Raspberry Beret” being one of them. But to Prince “fams”, the entire album is gold. It was like found money back then, because there was no real anticipation for it nor the shift he had made in the sound for that album.

I remember thinking the Georgetown Hoyas were an HBCU when I was little, because I don’t think I ever saw a non-Black face on the team. And they were dominant. However, despite their dominance, they lost the 1985 National Championship Game to a Davidian Villanova in team that, while featuring a couple of NBA players such as Bronx native Ed Pinckney, were not in Georgetown’s league. In that game, Villanova had a shooting performance in the 2nd Half FOR THE AGES. Patrick Ewing could have EASILY gone down as the best College Basketball Player ever — and had a legitimate shot at winning 3 National Championships in the process. An errant pass (1982 — to Jordan’s Tar Heels) being the only difference in winning one, and the aforementioned efforts by Villanova ruining the other (Georgetown did win the National Championship in 1984).

Ewing was chosen #1 overall in the first NBA Draft Lottery in 1985. People say the draft was rigged (only because it was a New York team, coming off an abysmal season and seeing the legend Bernard King tear his knee to shreds just two months prior), but what have you. I remember the day like it was yesterday. King’s injury is one of those things that if you saw it, regardless of how young you were, you remember it. But Ewing’s selection was also an early memory, as it was just a few weeks later, as I stated.

1986 was memorable for many reasons. My family always loved to have gatherings and BBQs. This is when everyone who I could remember from my youth was still alive; my grandparents and their siblings, my parents and their siblings and cousins and my cousins who were my age and younger. Some of those great tunes like The Whispers’ “Rock Steady” would always be playing, some hits from not-yet superstar Whitney Houston (I remember hearing her song “Hold Me” with Teddy Pendergrass a couple of years earlier and my aunt “Suke” bought my sister and I cassette copies of Whitney’s first album — that’s how big she was when she first came out) and also the funk would still blast even until the late 80s.

The New York Football Giants were the best team in the NFL that year. No one was going to stop them from winning Super Bowl XXI and they knew it. From start to finish, aside from a couple of blips on the radar, the Giants went 14-2 and Lawrence Taylor had the best season ever from a linebacker with 20.5 sacks and mutilating QBs, RBs and running down WRs and RBs (such as Detroit’s Billy Sims a couple of years earlier) as if he was possessed. With the Cocaine that he began using that year, I’m almost certain he was. But anyway, we’ll take it and can we knock it off with calling LaDainian Tomlinson “LT”? Tomlinson has been my SON since I stayed up late and watched him hang 406 yards rushing on UTEP back in 1999. That game was on ESPN2 if I am not mistaken; back when Tomlinson wore the visor and all. My point is, that’s my son, but THERE IS ONLY ONE LT. KNOCK IT OFF REFERRING TO ANYONE NOT NAMED LAWRENCE J. TAYLOR. Thank you.

This was also the last season of the UNC Tar Heels playing in Carmichael Auditorium. Yes, I do remember watching them play there. Manley Field House in Syracuse was also famously “closed” by John Thompson and Georgetown later that season as well.

Prince AGAIN made a shift in his sound for Under the Cherry Moon in 1986. He went to Europe and shot the movie in France. I loved the movie and the soundtrack, even if it was critically panned.

The 1986 NBA Draft will sadly be remembered for so many negative things. #1 Overall Pick Len Bias (a better player coming out of the University of Maryland than LeBron James ever WILL BE) died just hours after being drafted due to a cocaine overdose. Drugs were a huge problem in the NBA in the 1970s, and new (as of 1984) Commissioner David Stern was taking an active stance against the widely-accepted drug use that had been taking place for years before he became commissioner.

Chris Washburn was just as big of a tragedy. He could barely read, write or even speak intelligibly. But when he cared, he could actually play basketball. I remember his main season at North Carolina State. He was a monster — playing alongside guards Nate McMillan and Vinny Del Negro. Washburn could have been a terror in the NBA, but he was lazy and never cared. He barely played a full season’s worth of games for his entire career. And following his 3rd bust for Cocaine usage in 1989, he was banned from the NBA for life. By that time, I was 10 years old and knew enough about the rules and suspensions to just “SMH” at Washburn. What a waste he was.

Roy Tarpley. SHEESH. My dad loved Tarpley. And for good reason. He was ahead of his time. He could handle the ball. He was agile and had an array of moves — rarely seen from a guy 7’0″ 245 lbs. But he couldn’t leave that White Girl alone, and ended up getting banned for life as well.

William Bedford. Do I even need to go there. All I ever remember about him is seeing him standing in Pistons’ huddles when the Pistons were actually good — with his shooting shirt on. I think I saw him play twice in my life. He had been using and selling drugs for 20 years before getting busted two years ago and doing a nickel (currently).

Brad Daugherty never seemed to be healthy. The one good year he had, he was a force with the Cleveland Cavaliers — you know, when they were actually good? Ron Harper also — he was a step below Michael Jordan before tearing up his knee within 3 years being in the league.

We never got the chance to see Aryvdas Sabonis in the NBA until 1997, but he was just about done by that time. Had he come here in 1986 when he was drafted (and yes, I was saying “WHO???” at the time), he would’ve been NASTY. No one in the NBA could have guarded him, I am fully certain of this. Not even Pat Ewing.

How many great TV shows did we have back then? Golden Girls was a great show that came on Saturday nights back then. I also loved Empty Nest and Nurses. Night Court. In the Heat of the Night. L.A. Law. MIAMI VICE WAS IN ITS PRIME. I could name TV shows all day. Saturday cartoons, even if they were syndicated repeats of 40+ year old cartoons are legendary and firmly entrenched as Saturday traditions for us. I could name shows for hours and still never run out of classics.

1987 was an odd year. The NFL would see a strike by the end of the season, Eric Dickerson — who I loved to watch — was leaving the Rams. LT was busted for Coke for the first time. Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album was the salve. Did every song on the album get released as a single or what? Prince’s best album ever, “Sign o’ the Times” came out ON MY BIRTHDAY that year. Talk about birthday presents. I used to hear “Hot Thing” on the radio all summer that year and didn’t even know it was Prince for a good long time.

(Part II — Continued Later)


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