I had the good fortune of living in New York City (well, actually in Queens, NY) during the punk and new wave explosion of the late 1970s at just the right age. Until 1979 though, I was largely unaware of it, and satisfied myself with Boston, Aerosmith, and Fleetwood Mac, because in those pre-MTV days, that’s what was getting all the radio airplay (along with disco, of course).
On New Years’ Eve, 1978, I met a young man through a friend and fell head over heels in limerence with him. Never mind that he turned out to be a narcissistic jerk (they all were), for the first half of 1979 we had blast. Mark was what today you might call a hipster–he was a Jewish art student who wore skinny ties and trench coats, and he had an earring when they were still a novelty on men. He ate organic food, rode a bike everywhere, listened to obscure music and he adored punk and New Wave. He hated what I listened to and proceeded to give me a music education.
He used to take me downtown to the East Village, and it was like a carnival. Young people everywhere wearing Mohawks, black leather with safety pins, ripped T-shirts, cheap eateries on every corner, second hand record stores. And of course, a multitude of smoke-filled hole-in-the-wall music clubs, the most famous one being CBGBs.
New wave and power pop bands that would become famous during the early 1980s got their start there. Probably the most famous of all of them was a nerdy looking young Irishman named Declan McManus, more famously known as Elvis Costello.
Costello had a hiccupy, neurotic voice and a spastic dance. He wrote songs with deep, almost indecipherable lyrics and incredibly catchy music with melodies that stuck to you like caramel sticks to your teeth. You were never sure if he was sincere or sarcastic, but no matter–all his songs sounded great and you found yourself singing and bopping along.
His biggest hit was a little ditty called “Accidents Will Happen.” Although my life then was no less shitty than it ever was, I always associate this song with good times. It’s impressive for how far ahead of its time it is. It sounds more like a song that would have been popular in 1986, not 1979. I never grew tired of it, and enjoy it as much today as I did when I was 20.