Introducing My Kids to Music from the 1980s

Introducing My Kids to Music from the 1980s


We don’t want them to copy us in our teenage fashion trends or hairstyles or our 80s and 90s eating habits. We want them to surpass us and move beyond us. Except when it comes to music.


My twins turned fifteen recently and I decided it was time for them to listen to some good music. By good music of course, I meant music that I liked and music that was not from this century.

When I was a kid, in the 1980s, the music options available to my generation were what was on the radio or what was available in music stores, mostly whatever was currently popular. We didn’t have the entire spectrum easily accessible. Now because of iTunes and Pandora and Spotify, people can design their own listening experiences, access music from any decade, and ignore what they don’t like.

For my twins’ fifteenth birthday, I decided it was time to broaden their musical horizons, to introduce them to whole new genres and bands. I asked on Facebook: What older songs and artists are important for teenagers to know? I searched online and through my memory. I stirred up hours of nostalgia and musty memories of high school dances and sweaty palms and raucous bus rides and of my mom singing in the kitchen.

Some music should die, this is good and right. But some music should live on and be re-enjoyed by fresh generations. That’s the music I was looking for, along with a Bonnie Tyler song my husband sang at our wedding even though it, too, probably should have died.

I was pretty sure my kids wouldn’t like all the songs I picked but my hope was that by introducing them to some new artists and sounds and possibilities, they would choose a few highlights.

Because we live in east Africa and are far from the world where streaming songs is a regular activity, I purchased the songs on iTunes, loaded up their iPods while they slept, and gave them a printout of my chosen music. I titled the playlist, “Mom’s Music.”

The kids laughed when they opened their gift and saw a list of songs they didn’t recognize, artists they’d never heard of. One of them may or may not have rolled their eyes. I told them I stole the idea from Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy but not to worry, there were no intergalactic travelers in our family and I wasn’t planning to die any time soon. I wasn’t sure I would ever hear them play the songs.

There was the song that led to a vicious argument between my husband and I about whether or not current musicians could ever be as mind-blowingly awesome as musicians from the 1980’s.

There was the one that no one really understood but everyone screamed the words to at school dances.

There was the one that makes me cry every time I listen to it and the one that makes me laugh.

There was the one that meant I will love you forever and the one that meant I know we have lived in several countries but you can always call me and our family ‘home.’

In many ways parenting is about launching children into the big, wide world to experience fascinating and wonderful new things. We don’t want them to copy us in our teenage fashion trends or hairstyles or our 80s and 90s eating habits. We want them to surpass us and move beyond us.

Except when it comes to music.

I would dare to venture that most parents are pretty convinced that music was better before. The specific years of the present and the before aren’t exactly relevant, only the fact that music was better before.

So while we don’t want them to roll their pants like we did or use as much hairspray as we did, we do want them to sing like we did. Or at the very least we want them to know who we are channeling when we respond in certain ways.

Like: when they say, “Mom, can we leave (this boring party) yet?” And we respond with, “Should we stay or should we go now?” Or they say, “I’m going to soccer practice at 7:00 on the bike tomorrow.” And we say, “Wake me up before you go go.” Or when they are moving into their freshman dorm and we say, “Don’t you forget about me.”

I admittedly know very little about music but here are 20 songs from the 1980s that I listened to on the school bus or on mixed cassette tapes from friends or in the basement while wearing legwarmers and making up dances. These are songs that creep into conversation every now and then and they are songs that parents, if they are at all like me, raised in the 80s want their kids to know.

(In all honesty, my list included songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s so this isn’t the exact list I gave my kids. I marked ones I included.)

  1. Eye of the Tiger, by Survivor, 1986*
  2. Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey, 1981*
  3. Total Eclipse of the Heart, Bonnie Tyler 1983*
  4. Every Breath You Take, The Police, 1983
  5. Should I Stay or Should I Go, The Clash, 1982*
  6. Livin’ On a Prayer, Bon Jovi, 1986*
  7. Billie Jean, Michael Jackson, 1982
  8. Straight Up Now, Paula Abdul, 1988
  9. Walk like an Egyptian, The Bangles, 1985
  10. Material Girl, Madonna, 1984
  11. Don’t Worry, Be Happy, Bobby McFerrin, 1988
  12. Now I’ve Had the Time of My Life, Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, 1987
  13. You Got It (The Right Stuff), New Kids on the Block, 1988
  14. Free Fallin’, Tom Petty, 1989*
  15. It’s the End of the World As We Know It, R.E.M., 1987*
  16. What’s Love Got To Do With It, Tina Turner, 1984
  17. I Think We’re Alone Now, Tiffany, 1987
  18. She Works Hard For the Money, Donna Summer, 1983
  19. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Cyndi Lauper, 1983*
  20. Don’t You Forget About Me, Simple Minds, 1987*


Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband and three children: 14-year old twins and a 9-year old who feel most at home when they are in Africa. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, FamilyFun, Babble, and Running Times. Visit her at: Djibouti Jones, her Facebook page or on Twitter @rachelpiehjones.


Indecent Exposure

Indecent Exposure

Indecent Exposure Art“I’m afraid to let you go in there,” I tell my 15-year-old daughter Sophia as I pull into the parking lot of the Amity Teen Center. Three tattooed boys in their early 20s laden with chains, studded leather pants, and black lipstick linger at the door.

“Stay here,” I say, directing Sophia and her two friends to sit in the car.

“We came all the way here, Mom,” Sophia says. “It’s a teen center. It’s the battle of the bands.”

Heavy metal bands, I know now, seeing the crowd. This is typical of Sophia, my oldest daughter, setting me up for something I did not expect. I had promised last Thursday that I would take her to the concert. She had been grounded for sneaking out of the house and had not been out. She wore me down, somehow making me the bad one for having grounded her. Only Sophia can twist me up like this. But we’re here now and I could turn this into the umpteenth argument of the day or I could tell myself I’m trying to understand my daughter and her love of thrashing music and black hair dye.

I’m scared for Sophia; how little control I have in protecting her. She is my child who blows apart boundaries and takes unmitigated risks. Should I let her go in and mingle with these older boys? Will she come out tattooed and pierced?

I reason with myself. I’ll be in the teen center parking lot outside for the next three hours, able to go in at any moment if she needs me. I let her go.

“Come back if you need me, honey,” I say. “I’ll be right here.” The girls get out. “Text me when you get in, just so I know,” I shout. “Do you need money?” Not even the mention of cash slows Sophia down. She and her girlfriends speed walk away from me and towards the entrance. They are dressed in black, but no tattoos or pierced eyebrows in the trio. The tallest of the three boys at the entrance gives Sophia a high-five when she passes them to go in.

I wait five minutes then walk over to the boys. “You in the band?” I ask and they stop talking to stare at me. I am in white jeans and a blue button-up blouse. The boy with the ring in his nose and spider web tattoo on the corner of his eye looks at me. “We are,” he says, and he smiles, his voice normal like my son’s voice. I don’t know what I expected. “Meet the members of Indecent Exposure,” he says. “I’m Tack, this is Freeze, and that’s Jebs.” I reach out my hand for a handshake, notice the skull ring on Tack’s middle finger. I wonder how I would feel if Sophia brought one of these boys home for dinner.

“When do you go on?” I ask.

“Around 9:00 p.m. Right after Maniax, they’re awesome,” Tack says. I imagine myself in this parking lot for the next three hours. Then imagine myself going inside to see the band, which is way worse.

“Do you know if there is a place I can get a bite to eat while my daughter’s in there?”

“Subway, four shops down,” Freeze says, his tall grasshopper-thin legs straight and endless.

“You brought your daughter,” Tack, says. “Where from?”

“About an hour from here” I say.

“That’s cool.”

“Can I take your photo?” I ask.

Sophia would kill me. “Sure,” Tack says. I snap a photo with my phone and wonder what Tack’s mother said about the eye tattoo. What was she thinking, letting him do that to his great face? I laugh at myself and the way I fantasize that a mother has that much control over her teenage kid.

“Good luck tonight,” I say, “I’ll pop my head in at 9:00 p.m. to watch.”

“Hey thanks,” Freeze says, turning to go inside.

In the car, I feel a little reassured after talking with the band. They were nice boys, kind of regular. Still, I wonder how Sophia, my 96-pound metal head, got into this crowd. The way she ventures as far from me as possible, and the way I still think I have some control over her.

“All good?” I text Sophia. No response from my rebellious little black sheep, who is no doubt inside projecting her tough image, despite her small figure, beautiful green eyes, and long dark hair that shines like seal skin.

The music is so loud it vibrates my car, quickens my heart rate. I eat my 6-inch turkey sandwich and text the photo of Tack, Freeze and Jebs to my brother Tom. “Here is what I’m up to” I text. Ironically he is at the One Direction concert in Chicago, a bubble-gum pop band, with my niece, who’s the same age as Sophia. “You’re a better person than me, LOL” Tom texts back. He knows I have struggled with Sophia ever since she was born over a 38-hour time frame. Ever since she became my self-declared vegetarian at age seven, and later my budding Buddhist, then my ball of rebellion once she hit high school this year.

And because of the choices she’s made, and the boulders we’ve hit head on, I toggle through the guilt that falls somewhere between my feeling like the worst mother ever and feeling that she is a difficult teenager. Even when she was a toddler, she danced her own way (in spirals), ate her own way (chopsticks), and talked her own way (“I prefer not to”). But the truth is I loved her early show of independence when she was little, as much as it frustrated me, and I often admire her ability now to jump into situations, unthinking, yet confident.

It’s after 9:00 p.m. Sophia has not replied to my texts. I have to go in. Sophia sits on a ripped leather couch to the side of the stage, rocking gently, smiling, happy in her little spot, a girl with a shaved head sitting next to her. Perhaps she has been looking for a place to fit in and she has found it, in the midst of loud music and other kids who orbit differently – though not necessarily in a bad way.

She sees me as I move toward the five or so other parents who have braved the onslaught of sound and are standing against the wall by the foosball tables. Sophia seems unmoved by my presence. She doesn’t care that I am here and I admire that, knowing if my mother showed up at a concert when I was 15 I would have been mortified. Sophia accepts me, and I need to do the same for her I think.

In the center of the room, dozens of kids let their long hair fly, or their spiked hair redirect, drumming their heads against imaginary posts. Tangible teenage angst, the same as I felt as a teen when I rocked to The Who’s Teenage Wasteland. In that moment, I see myself at all those rock concerts in my past, not quite fitting in until the music started and we were all bound together by sound and lyrics.

On stage, Tack, Freeze, and Jebs have summoned movie star personas. They’re more than a little scary under the black and blue stage lights screaming violent lyrics over the sound of amped guitars.

Two songs in and I’m caught on the periphery of a mosh pit. Something Sophia mentioned once. A dozen boys and a few bold girls form a square on the perimeter of the stage floor then start to run toward each other, meeting in the middle, slamming their bodies into each other with some force, picking each other up if one falls. Please God don’t let Sophia get off that couch I think. Tack has jumped off the stage and fallen. But a mob of people help him up.

Sophia walks over to me. “Moshing, Mom?” she screams in my ear as the crowd disperses back into a stance facing the band, the moshing seamlessly ended. This scene has put some fear in me now; my stomach is trembling. I’ve had enough.

“We have to go,” I say. “This is nuts.” She tells me she is having fun, then pleads, “Just one more band, Mom. Oath of Insanity is next. It’s all good.” She turns toward the restroom. I don’t follow her in. I decide she can stay, or did she make the decision by walking away?

“Come out when it’s over. Immediately when it’s over,” I say, giving her my stern look and voice, which I know mean nothing.

I return to my spot by the wall and she eventually comes out of the bathroom and begins to dance, by herself in the crowd, her friends off playing ping pong now. A boy with a blue-haired crew cut and gauged ears dances in time with her. I sense the future, all the potential dangers as I let her go on being herself. As she dances, her long hair sails. She is raw and unadorned. She is my daughter, though not the daughter I expected.

She is way better.

Author’s Note:  Some months after this concert, I took Sophia to see The Who. “They’re really old,” she said.

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Tuesdays with Nirvana

Tuesdays with Nirvana

By Heather Dundas

Art_NirvanaEvery Tuesday night at 7:00 I spend an hour listening to Nirvana at top volume. It’s not nostalgia and I’m not at a club; I’m at my 14-year-old son’s drum lesson in a loft in downtown Los Angeles. Teo sits on a platform behind an enormous drum kit and plays along to the songs in Nevermind. It’s loud. So loud that Kurt Cobain’s voice expands like a wet sponge, filling all the space around me and inside me, driving most thoughts out of my head. I love it. This is one of the few opportunities I have to uninhibitedly stare at my son, and every week I give in to the luxury.

I don’t want to embarrass Teo; I bring my laptop along and tap away studiously during the lesson. But he doesn’t need to know that I’m just playing computer solitaire. And watching him. It’s amazing that someone related to me is capable of mastering the ultimate symbols of adolescent machismo, especially since I was the one who hummed along to Tchaikovsky through my youth, who knew all the words to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, who embodied girl geekdom in high school. With his long blonde hair and ripped jeans, Teo is undeniably cool behind the kit.

I watch Teo, and I wonder about the enduring popularity of Nirvana. Why do I enjoy it? Certainly the lyrics with their proto-emo teen angst have very little to say to me – my angst is undeniably middle-aged. Maybe it’s that the wrist-slitting lyrics seem to be undercut by the lively beat? Is it the irony, the juxtaposition? I ponder this as long as I can, but it’s not long until the song reasserts itself in my brain, and I find myself nodding along to the bouncy beat: oh well. Whatever.

Every now and then Teo’s eyes glaze toward me – I can’t tell if he’s actually seeing me or not. As he plays, one foot is visible under the hi-hat; Teo’s sporting his father’s cast off shoes, the ones he’s been wearing exclusively for a year. I gave Teo two pairs of sneakers at Christmas, in an attempt to get him to wear something other than those black clodhoppers. He finally took one pair to school so he could play PE in suitable shoes. But otherwise, he’s wearing his dad’s shoes, now split at the seams because they are-suddenly–two sizes too small. If his father and I hadn’t divorced, would Teo still want to wear these shoes day after day after day? I allow the music to push the thought away.

Dopily, I try to imagine how loud it is behind the drum kit, where Teo sits. It must be deafening. “Hearing loss” floats through my head, but looking at him, skinny shoulders just showing above the snare, his mouth pursed and eyes vacant with concentration, his entire being absorbed into the music, I can’t work up a real sense of danger.

Already he’s had “gigs.” At the first, a middle school dance, girls screamed. At the second gig, another school event, Teo learned to flip his hair around and collapsed at the end of a song in mock exhaustion. Girls screamed louder. Parents came up to tell me how cool my son is. How did this happen? My own son, one of the band.

Teo is my second. His sister, now eighteen, leaves for college in a few weeks. He’s my youngest child, my last. He was my blonde baby, the little boy who loved red cowboy boots, the child who fell asleep next to me on the couch more nights than either of us care to admit. And now – there he is, master of the universe.

There are days when the drum lesson doesn’t go well: Teo’s beat is either a little ahead or behind, and no matter how hard he tries he can’t hit the time exactly. It’s immensely frustrating. I can see his face get redder and redder as he chews on his lips and tries to keep the beat.

“Lower your elbow! Use your wrist!” his teacher yells at him. Chris is closer in age to Teo than me, member of a bonafide band that plays real gigs. From where I sit in the loft I can only see the back of Chris’s head, but Teo is attuned to his every movement. Chris clicks his sticks together and they both nod. Chris beats out a rhythm on his knees and Teo plays along softly on the drums.

“No, man,” Chris says, “you flam it here.”

“Oh,” says Teo, “like that?” They parse out differences that I can’t hear. Some days the lesson devolves into a tedious repetition of a few beats over and over again, as Teo struggles to coordinate his feet with his hands. These are the hardest lessons, when Chris turns the music off and Teo pounds out tom (beat) tom-TOM (beat), tom (beat) tom-TOM (beat) for minutes on end.

Today Chris is sporting a fresh black eye.

“You have to be tough in rock and roll,” he says, as though this explains it. Teo nods, as though black eyes were common in his experience. I want to know more, but I won’t interject too much motherly attention into the conversation. I know I’m only being tolerated here.

I congratulate myself that Teo and I like the same music. I like Nirvana. Teo likes Nirvana. Therefore…what? I remind myself that in Teo’s world, Nirvana is an oldie, on a par with the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin. Next year it’s just the two of us in the house…how are we going to manage that? He moans at the thought, hurting my feelings. (Oh, how I am going to miss his sister.)

“Next up is Incubus,” says Chris. I’ve never even heard of them. What I’m trying to ignore is that Teo is learning a completely new language, one that leaves me behind.

Never mind, drones the song. Teo, red-faced and sweating, keeps up with the tricky rhythm. The stage is a boat, holding only Teo and Chris, and it’s pulling away from me. I wonder – is this ship just beginning to sail or did it leave months ago, when I wasn’t looking? When does he stop being mine? Was he ever?

You have to be tough in rock and roll, I think. And like a happy, besotted groupie I settle back to watch my growing son master the shifting beat.

Author’s Note: Teo’s drum lessons were pivotal in his evolution from struggling pre-teen to successful high school student. He played in his school’s jazz band for four years, and his love of one art form gave him the confidence to explore others. Upon graduation from high school, he received an award for his contribution to the artistic life of the school, and won scholarships to study painting and creative writing in college.

About the Author: After a career in theater, Heather Dundas is now studying at the University of Southern California for a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing. Her story, “Trivial But Numerous,” was published last year in PMS: PoemMemoirStory 11. An earlier essay, “Mull Mermaid,” was published in Brain, Child in 2006.