(Above: Had I seen Live Aid, I would have no doubt seen this image.)
I didn’t watch Live Aid.
Every year around this time – July 13 – someone brings up the anniversary of Live Aid, the benefit concert that took place in London and Philadelphia on that date in 1985. It was a huge musical event, representing the culmination of fundraising efforts for African famine that gave us such memorable songs as “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “We Are The World.” (For my money, the Canadians won the battle with “Tears Are Not Enough.” But we can fight that out another day.) Everyone who was anyone was either performing in the show or watching it.
Except for me. I was working at my first job, serving as a pump jockey at the Mobil gas station and garage that used to stand at the southeast corner of 159th Street and Harlem Avenue in Tinley Park, Illinois. I had gotten the job a month earlier, applying at the suggestion of my friend Carl, who also worked at the station. Brian’s Mobil was owned by a guy named, cleverly, Brian, who looked not a little like Dom Francisco from Sabado Gigante but was a lot less pleasant. My job was simple: run the cash register, take money, run charge cards, and – if someone pulled into the full-service lane – pump gas, check oil, and wash windshields. (You see kids, you used to be able to have someone put gas in the car for you. In most of the United States, this hasn’t happened in years. In Canada, I think it’s still required.) My unofficial duties included cleaning out the garage, selling cigarettes to underage classmates (including myself: it was the only summer I ever smoked, and not really for very long), and horsing around with the intercom system that talked to the people at the gas pumps.
How did I end up at a gas station? I had turned sixteen that spring, and bought my first car. I didn’t get my license until July due to the way driver’s education worked in Illinois, so my job-seeking was limited to what was close to the house or accessible by bicycle. Orland Square Mall was my first choice, so I applied for a job at a now-defunct music store called The Record Bar. I interviewed for the position, but was not chosen to make sure that people received the music they were looking for. Irony. (I later worked for Kroch’s and Brentano’s bookstore. My wife, a librarian, was rejected for work by a bookstore but hired by the Musicland group later. Double irony.) Brian’s Mobil would have to do, and I worked three days a week for eight hours a day.
July 13, 1985 was a Saturday, and it was my job to open the gas station. It was also the first time in my life I ever punched into work late. You see, that summer my mother and soon-to-be-stepfather traveled quite a bit, leaving me the house to myself. We – my friends and I – would gather in the empty house, play music loudly, drink beer, and then clean the house to remove any trace of the gathering, or so we thought. I now maintain that my mother knew full well of the parties taking place, and allowed them so that vacuuming would get done. Anyway: the party ran late that previous Friday night, and I overslept by a few minutes, which delayed getting to the gas station. As a result, I opened it late. No one knew, since there wasn’t a huge crowd waiting for gas that morning. I put in my eight at the station, barely staying awake, and then headed home at around five to clean up and prepare for what would be the next night’s party. Since there was no streaming of any kind, and the old radio in the garage was really only good for getting Sox games, I caught absolutely zero minutes of the concert event of the year. Hence, no recollection.
So, why the song that I picked? Things happen at parties. Often we don’t remember all the things that happen when we’ve had a few. There’s nothing worse than having a friend call you the next day to relive a story that causes you to say “Wait… what?” The summer of 1985, now 33 years down the road, is fast becoming a blur, save a few bits and pieces of that last summer in high school that have stayed etched in my mind. And the events of the night of July 12 – when, at a party, with the music at a loud volume out of my parents’ console stereo, I climbed up onto the cocktail table and sang along at the top of my lungs with Katrina Leskanich – are still quite clear, no matter how much I’d like for them to go away. Perhaps you now have a picture of it as well. If so, you now understand why I was late for work, and, well, my work here is done.
If there’s a table near you that will hold your weight, feel free to climb up on top of it and sing along to “Walking on Sunshine.” The video is here.