Flashback: 1987 (Prelude)

1987 will undoubtedly be the subject of a lot of posts on this blog. It was, simply, that kind of year for me—in as many different ways as you can interpret “that“. In nearly every respect possible—physically, geographically, emotionally, and a few other “-ly”s—I was in a different place at the end of the year than I was at the beginning.

Before I start bringing in the music, a little exposition is necessary here—so please bear with me.

At the start of the year, I was a new college graduate, having finished my last quarter of school in December 1986. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to be doing for a job, except that I knew I wanted to put my degree in Japanese Language and Literature to good use somehow.

My girlfriend, a Japanese girl I’d first met in the summer of 1980 (though we didn’t actually become a couple until 1984, when she came back to the US to study English), was staying with friends on the other side of the lake. My then-current car, a Honda Civic wagon that I’d got after my last car was totalled in an accident the previous October, was plagued with one problem after another, so it made more sense for her to decamp for her friends’ place than it did to rely on my unreliable mode of transport. (During the six months I actually owned that stupid car, I think I got maybe two months of use out of it.)

So, as the year opened, I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands, and no specific idea of what to do next. I was basically looking for a job and hoping for the best. I did find a couple of potential opportunities, though neither would have been my first choice.

One was a job teaching English in Japan. I hated this one, but I wasn’t sure how else I was going to get there—because I did want to go to Japan if at all possible, and if the cliché of an American going to Japan to teach English was the way I was going to get there, then I would just have to give it a try. A trip to San Francisco for an interview turned out to mostly be a waste of time—the interview lasted all of 15 minutes, I clearly did not do well, and I did not get the job. (Fortunately, I did get to stay with and visit relatives in the area, so all was not lost.)

The other came about when I spotted an ad in which American Airlines was looking for flight attendants with Japanese language ability. That whole episode turned out to be an adventure of its own; though I did not get the job (probably a good thing), it was mostly an enjoyable experience. (I certainly enjoyed flying first class.)

A couple of months into the year, my girlfriend moved back into my apartment. For reasons I would learn later, things would not be the same, but it was nice to no longer be alone in my place.

While all this was going on, I was approaching an existential crisis of sorts. Thanks to my Japanese studies, I had become familiar with the Japanese concept of the transitory nature of existence, of the impermanence of things. (I realize that this is not strictly a Japanese concept, but it is a poignant theme throughout Japanese literature.) Thanks to my interest in the music of David Sylvian, and, by extension, my interest in the things that influenced his work, I became interested in the works of Milan Kundera (particularly The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and Jean-Paul Sartre (especially Nausea).

So, as my 24th birthday approached, I was becoming acutely aware of the fact that I would someday no longer be here. Needless to say, I found this to be quite a troubling concept, one which started to color my thoughts on a regular basis.

I began keeping a journal, something which I had avoided when I was younger because I thought that writing to oneself was just stupid. I framed some of my photographic collages, which I had styled after David Sylvian’s Perspectives (Sylvian’s Polaroid collages were probably inspired by David Hockney, though Sylvian occasionally added drawing to the mix). Not long after, I even began recording my own primitive music.

All of these things were imbued with exaggerated importance by my realization of the fact that these writings, photographs, recordings, and whatnot (I was also a prolific maker of mixtapes) would be the only things left as evidence of my existence on any given day.

The first musical chapter in the saga of 1987 to follow…

—April 29, 2012