Where were you on July 16,1986? My parents generation knew their whereabouts when Kennedy was shot or Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the lunar surface and declared it too dusty for a master planned community. The current standard-bearer for memorable dates is 9/11, which of course is when Britney and Justin split.
Personal dates burn their way into our long-term memories, too: the births of our children, first kisses, graduations. Big dates aren’t all about Hindenburg-sized disasters.
So where were you on July 16, 1986? I was in Charlotte, North Carolina at an INXS concert.
The band was touring in support of the Listen Like Thieves album, a hugely disappointing record for me after the brilliant Shabooh Shoobah and its even more brilliant follow-up, The Swing. I just happened to be exactly the kind of fan that INXS didn’t want. The band’s management pushed them in a more new wave direction for their previous two albums, but INXS wanted to be a pop band, dance-y and accessible. They won that battle on Listen Like Thieves, making the kind of album that they wanted and I hated. Still, they were INXS and they were playing nearby. I wasn’t going to miss it.
It wasn’t all about INXS, though. The Del Fuegos were opening, one of the coolest bands of the mid-eighties roots revival. This wasn’t a Mumfords kind of thing with bands in peasant dresses playing washboards. What I’m talking about is a wave of bands that arose in response to eighties keyboard excess, bands like The Del Fuegos, Guadalcanal Diary, Jason and the Scorchers, and the BoDeans. These guys stripped it back down to guitar, bass, and a simple drum kit. It wasn’t a punk/Ramones kind of stripped down, but more of a Sun Records on eleven kind of vibe.
Lee G., his girlfriend and I road tripped up to Charlotte, me stuffed into the cluttered back seat of his Toyota. At the venue we ran into my cycling buddy and old roommate, Jarod, and a few of his friends. Within a few minutes another pod of fellow high school alumni happened along. It was old home week on the general admission floor.
We sat in a circle on the bare concrete maybe a hundred feet from the stage, telling jokes and lies and trying to impress each other with tales from our first year away from Boiling Springs High School.
“Jim?” I turned my head and looked up. There she stood with her friend, Vicky, looking even more beautiful than the last time I saw her.
“Hey, Jody, what’s up? You here for the show?” I’ve always been a smooth talker. “Y’all want to hang with us?” Jody sat down beside me and the rest of the world conveniently vanished.
“What have you been up to? I haven’t seen you at Camelot in a while,” she said.
“I live in Savannah now.”
“What’s down there?”
“Of course. I always knew you’d make something of yourself.”
“Nah, it’s just school,” I said. “What about you? Still with Johnny?”
Her hand covered her mouth and she laughed, her other hand on my shoulder. Her tiny hand felt so warm. “That’s been over for a long time,” she said.
“So who are you seeing now?”
“Nobody, just working and saving up money for New York.”
“Cool. That will be a cool vacation.”
“I’m moving there in the fall.”
“That’s totally awesome.”
I was out of things to say. The next words likely to tumble from my mouth either would be incredibly stupid or a bumbling compliment. I’d never met a girl so beautiful. Of course she was moving to New York. Where else would an impossibly beautiful woman live? Jody was limousines, Lear jets, and fashion runways. She was penthouse apartments and celebrity parties. A mere accident of birth landed her in Upstate South Carolina, but she knew where she belonged and had the ambition to do something about it. Jody was pure class and elegance.
“Who wants a beer?” I said.
“Aren’t you underage?”
“Don’t worry about it.” I trotted off to the concession stand. While I waited in line The Del Fuegos kicked off their set. When I returned the circle was gone, my friends now part of the crush pressing toward the stage.
Except for Jody. She stood exactly where I left her. “Want a beer?” I yelled, and I held the tray of drinks toward her.
We turned toward the stage, drank our beers and listened to the band. Listening turned to tentative head nodding, a subtle movement of hip and shoulder, and then a little more until finally the tray of unclaimed beverages sat abandoned on the concrete floor and Jody and I were dancing like this was our last night on Earth.
The rest of the night is lost to me except for a detail or two. As the crowd grew larger Jody and I inched farther away from the stage, finding space for our own little bubble. The venue could have collapsed around me and I wouldn’t have noticed. There was music and there was Jody and that was all that mattered.
At some point INXS front man Michael Hutchence said to the audience: “This is your party, we’re just the band.” It was the kind of throwaway stage patter he repeated every night, but at that moment no truer words had ever been spoken. This was the prom I never had, a night at The Dawg on a grand scale. This was my night and INXS was just the soundtrack.
When the show ended I walked Jody to her friend Vicky’s car, and I said, “Hey, thanks for hanging out when my friends ditched me. That was fun.”
“You’re silly. I wanted to hang out with you,” she said.
“Cool. Listen, I’m going to be in Spartanburg for a few weeks before I go back to school. If you’re bored or whatever –“
“Do you have a pen?” She wrote down her phone number, and then she hugged me. I was embarrassed by my sweaty tank top. She was so small that her blond head just reached my shoulder. I didn’t want to let her go, but neither did I want to be the creepy guy who mistook a friendly dance for something more.
And then I felt her soft lips pressing against my bare, sweaty shoulder. “Call me,” she said, and then she was gone.