Saved by the Soundtrack by K A Laity

I will probably never get over the feeling of missing out that comes from growing up in the hinterlands, far from where all the cool things start—even if that was never really true. But the big cities famed in song and story seem to be where everything breaks. I do recall the evening news spending a few minutes on the Sex Pistols final disastrous tour: my mother making a face while I tried to memorise everything about those brief clips.

I read a lot of music mags. Grateful to Trouser Press for the flexidisks, Then there were films: punk and new wave-filled films almost never made it to my remote location. Midnight movies were Rocky Horror Show and Gimme Shelter or Woodstock. Eventually Tommy and The Kids Are Alright made it up our way so I sat through the latter easily a hundred times (go on, test me). But we lagged behind what was new.

But mostly I relied on soundtrack LPs that I found in the bins at the cool record stores on the other side of town near the college campus. I’ve still never seen That Summer! but every beat of its soundtrack is etched in my brain: Undertones, Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric, the Only Ones, Mink deVille, Patti Smith (of whom I knew because of her incendiary performance on Saturday Night Live). Some of the songs were beginning to filter into FM play locally, but most were not.

We didn’t have John Peel. We might have had college radio but I didn’t know about it and it didn’t reach to our side of town. Some times at night you could get Detroit stations.

Sometimes we got both movie and soundtrack: Rock-n-Roll High School was a lifesaver. The Ramones were a reviving injection of aural energy. When I finally went to the Roxy in L.A. a few years later, it was like stepping on holy ground. And the soundtrack had more than just the Ramones: Eno, Nick Lowe, Devo and more.

A grail for me for a long time was Times Square. I obsessed over the soundtrack which had a brilliant mix of Ruts, Ramones, Gary Numan, XTC, Talking Heads, Suzy Quatro, Patti and so much more. I made the movie in my head, a surreal punk adventure; when I finally got to see it, that’s pretty much what it was. Two teens, misunderstood (of course) and dismissed, find each other and make punk history in the rapidly gentrifying Times Square. Tim Curry is a DJ. Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado are magnetic. It all goes to hell of course, but they get a last performance on a rooftop. The film bombed at the time: older male critics just sneered. It rocks. There’s even some grifting.

I suspect that there’s a #metoo story in what happened to Robin Johnson. In any case the Stigwood Organisation treated her abominably (he was a piece of work) and Stigwood himself hacked up the film to stuff more music in, so I can dream of a director’s cut.

Long Live the Sleez Sisters. 

Bio: K. A. Laity is the award-winning author of White RabbitA Cut-Throat BusinessLush SituationOwl Stretching, Unquiet DreamsÀ la Mort SubiteThe Claddagh IconChastity FlamePelzmantel and Other Medieval Tales of Magic and Unikirja, as well as editor of Weird NoirNoir Carnival and the forthcoming Drag Noir. With cartoonist Elena Steier she created the occult detective comic Jane Quiet. Her bibliography is chock full of short stories, humor pieces, plays and essays, both scholarly and popular. She spent the 2011-2012 academic year in Galway, Ireland where she was a Fulbright Fellow in digital humanities at NUIG. Dr. Laity has written on popular culture and social media for Ms., The Spectator and BitchBuzz, and teaches medieval literature, film, gender studies, New Media and popular culture at the College of Saint Rose. She divides her time between upstate New York and Dundee.

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