I wake up to music every morning. It’s not coming from a clock radio; I don’t have one. And it’s not students performing at the School of Music, within earshot of our house, during early-morning practice sessions. Not that early. This is music no one else can hear—it’s playing in my head. Sometimes it’s a tune I’d heard on the radio the day before. Sometimes it seems to have mysteriously welled up from my unconscious, a memory sparked by an unremembered dream. Sometimes the song expresses something I worried over as I drifted to sleep the night before, or a challenge in the day coming up. It might be the repetition of a provocative lyric. Or it might just be a melody that gathers into a rhythm, pulsing out the beat as I stride down the street (like John Travolta in “Staying Alive”), or accompanying my gaze as I pan across a room. Music seems always to be playing in the bones of my fingers and toes, flowing through my veins. At least it feels that way.
So when I was invited by Nick Kontogeorgopoulos, Puget Sound International Political Economy professor, to guest DJ on the radio show he hosts on KUPS with Professor Jeff Matthews of the School of Business and Leadership, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Nick and Jeff call their show “Back in Black.” It’s a celebration of rock and roll, focusing on material from the 1980s—a seminal decade for rock music. This would be fun.
To come up with my list of eight or nine songs, I narrowed the field by choosing a very personal set of titles that might form a soundtrack of my life for that period. I picked only artists I had heard perform live and who had some significance for me. I knew I had to start with Bruce Springsteen and end with Bob Dylan. Neither could be considered an ’80s artist, of course, yet the decade was immensely significant for them. Plus I had seen them play at least a dozen times each, and, as different as they are from one another, they are my all-time favorite live performers. The dynamic Bruce needs no explanation. The more mercurial Bob often does.
Springsteen was the perfect artist to begin a look at the past because he is so immersed in nostalgia and sentimentality, both indulging in it and recognizing its futility, sometimes even making an affirming anthem out of a critique (as he does in “Glory Days”). And Dylan offers the perfect coda; the dream-logic of his songs is cryptically cynical and sarcastic and anti-sentimental (captured so eerily in “Series of Dreams”).
As I filled out the list, it seemed to gradually form on its own: the Pretenders (“Back on the Chain Gang”), Elvis Costello (“Brilliant Mistake”), U2 (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”), the Police (“King of Pain”), the Ramones (“I Wanna Be Sedated”), the Rolling Stones (“Waiting on a Friend”). I could see a theme emerging from the disparate group of artists I selected. They were all singing about longing, desire unfulfilled and undying, the search for something else.
It rang true. The ’80s was a time of searching and transition for me, too—of growing expectation, a mixture of triumph and disappointment, moving from graduate school into my first academic appointment at a major research university and finishing my first book. Then back East to a liberal arts college, where my career took another turn (and where I found Mary, my muse and soul mate). This was the score for my road movie of the ’80s.
That theme might also inspire the soundtrack for a movie about Puget Sound in the ’80s. It was a period of finding what we had been looking for, as we moved from being a good regional comprehensive university to a first-rate national liberal arts college, earning in our centennial decade a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, a Rhodes scholar, our first Fulbright scholar, a MacArthur Genius Award, and our first endowed distinguished faculty chairs, among other benchmark moments.
That’s the movie we are still making today at Puget Sound, or maybe it’s a sequel we’re in, even better than the original, with visions of greater things (and a bigger budget). We are still finding what we are looking for at this university, and it seems to me our glory days are just ahead.