1989. The Number. Another Summer.

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Just watched "The Summer of 1989" in a shameless bout of nostalgia.

It was a whistle-stop tour through the most exciting year of my youth. The last year of school, just before leaving for college. Stuck in a small seaside town, but sensing still that you were taking part in something much bigger that was going on.

Acid-House, illegal raves, the fabled M25 Orbital party scene were all quite far away. A couple of the cool kids you knew in Art class had been at a rave, perhaps, you'd heard.

Probably the cultural moment they showed that had most impact for me was the Top-of-the-pops (if you don't know, TOTP is a venerable and somewhat crusty weekly pop programme on British TV) where both The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays played.

Back in those days of four-channel, unfragmented, untimeshifted media, something like that hit like a meteor – an extinction-level event for the cultural dinosaurs around you. You knew that you and your bright-eyed, wide-eyed nimble pop mammals were now going to inherit the earth.

I did actually get to one illegal party in 1989. It was canonical stuff. Waiting in the carpark of the Swansea Odeon Cinema, for the one person who knew where it was happening to lead us in the canonical convoy up into the hills around the town.

It was in the canonical farmers field, with the bemused but happy farmer and his wife making a killing on bottled water and rather-delicious (as I remember) home-made burgers. Muddy and manic, the throng of dancing, smiley, happy people stretched for, oh, hundreds of metres – this was South Wales, not Castlemorton – assisted by speed and acid mainly it seemed – again, this was South Wales, and the new wonder chemical had not made it at least to Swansea in great quantities by then.

Your reporter of course limited his intake to the delicious home-made burgers, as he was driving the Fiat Panda full of his friends there and back again…

One other memory prompted by the programme, and a question.

The show attempted to tie (rather lightly) the cultural/political mood in the UK to the wider changes around the world: fall of the Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square, etc. There was no mention of what was happening in the USA at the time at all.

The credits rolled to the sound of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power", which along with The Stone Roses and 808 State could often be heard blasting (!) from the stereo of my doughty little Fiat Panda as it dashed around the South Wales coast full of my friends.

I don't really know what was happening if you were 17/18 in 1989 in the USA – perhaps people in my neighbourhood here could fill me in? Was there a sense of revolution (false or otherwise) in the air like there was in the UK? What was the counterculture like? What was going on for you?

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2 comments
  1. I was 20 at the time in the US. I too grew up in a rural setting on a river in Northeast Alabama. We too heard of the cool raves and such but those went on in larger cities such as Birmingham, Atlanta etc. The mood was good in the US. Race relations were improving. The debate over gay rights was starting to fire up. The cold war was almost over, jobs were up, money was not plentiful but for anyone willing to work, there was enough money to fund the parties. We had lots of woods and water around us and as such, there were always parties where we had to traipse out into the woods to get to the beer and debauchery. THe music we often blasted in our cars was Public Enemy, NWA, Violent Femmes, The Cure, The Alarm, Van Halen and Cameo. Life was pretty good and carefree in those days.

  2. Megnut said:

    I was 17 in 1989, just graduated from high school. The day of our graduation was the same day as Tiananmen Square massacre, and with the time delay it had already happened and we knew all about it. We all wore black armbands over our graduation gowns in support. I listened to a lot of BDP, NWA and Public Enemy, angry rebellious music. I wasn't yet aware of the Stone Roses or the Manchester/UK/rave scene. I always wore DMs. I remember feeling glad to be done with school, frustrated with the world in general.
    Unlike jnumber1, I didn't feel at all like the mood was good in the US. I felt hopeless after years of Reagan and the election of Bush I. I marched on Washington for abortion rights but felt I couldn't effect any change. I was too young to vote. Though Communism was failing before my eyes, I felt that socialism was better than capitalism, and that the capitalist system wasn't working. I was proud to call myself a feminist and a socialist.
    I felt like there was this whole world but I wasn't going to see it or experience. I was terrified of having to get a "real" job in the future. I deferred my entrance to university and moved to Mexico for a year and taught English. Then I got even more angry about the US and its politics.
    As a well off white girl, I don't know why I was so filled with rage, but I remember feeling like KRS-One and Chuck D were our Dylans, and that we did need some revolution. I think my friends felt sort of the same, but in general they didn't listen to as much rap.
    Mostly I remember feeling like life could be this really great thing — so much potential — but that it just wasn't, and that everything was just too fucked up for it ever to be really great. If only we could just do something!
    Oddly though, through all the teen angst, I still have positive memories of that time, and I liked high school. I loved my year in Mexico and it was one of the best years of my life. I still have socialist tendencies and I'm still a feminist. When I go to the gym, I still listen to Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" on my iPod.

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