I guess it’s not surprising that, like much of my generation, the 1980s left an indelible imprint on how I see the world.
Within this context almost nothing invokes stronger memories then the music of that time. And the most powerful music is what I tend to think of as “Sleepaway Camp Music.”
This was the music that we listened to during the hottest hours of the day while lying on our bunks and thinking about the future. Any time I hear Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”, Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and dozens of others, I’m instantly transported back to my bunk with its broken bed springs, itchy wool blanket and well seasoned mattress. For me, no other playlist so effectively captures the zeitgeist of a season within an era, touching upon both excitement and ennui.
My first radio appearance occurred at the age of 12 as a “Guest DJ” on my camp’s half-watt radio station. The station couldn’t be heard beyond the confines of the camp’s boundaries, but even so I learned the hard way that while certain words might be tolerated during certain times of the day, they weren’t deemed fit for the airwaves.
The camp radio only broadcast sporadically and therefore we mostly depended on two other delivery devices: the “Sony Walkman” cassette player and the legendary “boom box.” The Walkman was geared towards solitary listening, but the boom box fostered community and was typically employed at larger gatherings when motivation took precedence over the need to rest. During these times, nothing motivated more then Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
Now, three decades later, I watch nostalgically as my own son Henry, goes off to camp each summer. And a lot has changed in the camping experience over the last 30 years. Many camps now prohibit all electronic devices and cell phones, which in our tech laden world is inevitably a good thing. At the same time, although there are allowances for musical instruments, the lack of popular music delivery devices makes the camping experience somewhat different – since there is something to be said for the cohesiveness of popular music that binds us together.
So now that the first bookend of summer has passed and school is rapidly winding down - before utter chaos overtakes us, to paraphrase the immortal AC/DC:
To those about to rock at summer camp - we salute you!