So here’s the thing - there’s a point in your life when you decide who you’re going to be. When you stop listening to your parents’ music and start listening to albums that you picked out yourself, paid for with your own money that you want to devour, over and over again, like an entire pounder bag of Peanut M&Ms. And when you reach for the next album, you usually end up making a choice -- are you going to stay in the mainstream, or are you going to be indie? Play it safe, or take the more difficult road? If you were coming of age in 1983, when Thriller was continuing its two-year dominance of radio, a new chick named Madonna was being shoved down everyone’s throats, and Tom Cruise slid across the foyer in his tighty whiteys and a pair of sunglasses to the opening piano bars of Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll,” the choices could not be more stark. “Flashdance” or “Scarface?” Pick a side, bitches, or say hello to my little friend.
On the deeper, darker flip side of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Karma Chameleon,” 1983 gave us some of the most influential bands of the nascent independent music scene. Wrapping your sweaty palms around the self-titled debut LPs from Violent Femmes or Suicidal Tendencies made you immune to pegged jeans, leg warmers, rip-and-tear sweatshirts, jelly shoes, and horrifying haircuts. You were free to sport black denim pegged jeans, rip-and-tear t-shirts, Doc Martens, and equally horrifying alternative haircuts, and you were listening to much better music while doing it.
U2 released War, which was dark, brutal, and brought the political and cultural conflicts of Belfast to American teenager consciousness, even if we couldn’t find Ireland on a map. “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” was certainly meatier, more difficult to digest than Madonna’s “Holiday,” and the almost embarrassing wealth of choices beyond the mainstream could color your life outside of your headphones as well.