I dropped out of high school in January of 1989, in the middle of my senior year. Though personally it was a chaotic moment for various reasons, I now realize it was the best way to begin a year that would transform my life in many positive respects. Everything seemed to change drastically for me during those months: how I looked at myself and the world, my decision to live in poetry (whatever that might mean – I still don’t know – and regardless of the consequences), an awareness of music’s transcendental qualities, the acceptance of nomadism as an inheritance and a choice.
1989 provided the necessary space and context I needed to abandon certain patterns and to acquire tools of self-investigation. Which is partly why I’m looking forward to reading Joshua Clover’s book on that year, 1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This to Sing About (University of California Press, 2009), that he’s been excerpting recently at his blog. I didn’t try ecstasy until 1992 but I recall the inspiration I received from events in Manchester, mostly through albums like New Order’s Technique and The Stone Roses, or in a more local vein from Paul’s Boutique or Nothing’s Shocking (while I know it was released in 1988, it permeated much of my 1989). 1989 isn’t static, it bends.
I was permanently affected by the images of Tiananmen Square in the late spring and early summer, watching students my age being massacred on TV. It left me with the mistrust and disdain I still feel toward any type of power, from governments on down to my own in the classroom. Oddly enough, the fall of the Berlin wall was a footnote for me at the time, though I now attribute this to my own ignorance as an 18 year-old with scant awareness of the globalized age the planet was entering. The anonymous Chinese student who famously stopped a platoon of tanks by standing in their path, before being taken away to certain imprisonment and death, represents the spirit of that brief age for me. Whatever his dreadful fate might be, I admire and remember his simple, brave actions.
The global, psychic, generational, political, cultural and personal aftershocks of 1989 would influence me for years. For instance, 1989 was when Gregory Corso published his final book, the magnificent selected poems Mindfield (Thunder’s Mouth Press), which I’m happy to see is still in print. I bought the book sometime in 1990, at what was Tampa’s best book shop Three Birds Bookstore and Coffee Room in Ybor City, which could always be counted on to provide excellent new and classic titles (such as Katherine Silver’s translation of Martín Adán’s 1928 novel The Cardboard House, published by Graywolf Press in 1990). So 1989 resonated within me via Corso’s book, as in these lines from his poem “Power”:
“In a playground where I write this poem feeling shot in the back
Wanting to change the old meaning of Power
Wanting to give it new meaning my meaning
I drop my unusual head dumb to the true joy of being good
And I wonder myself now powerless”
A note from Richard Lopez tonight reminds me of a pivotal album for so many of us in 1989 & environs (how could I have forgotten it when I first wrote this?), which is Sonic Youth’s masterpiece, Daydream Nation (1988). The moment I heard that record coming through my speakers for the first time in the summer of 1989 was a psychic hinge (“Spirit desire / We will fall...”). It’s a prophetic work of art that simultaneously registers an age. I was blessed to find it when I did. A season (“O saisons, ô châteaux!”) of personal transformations that happened to coincide with what Richard describes in his e-mail as “... the year that the 20th century was beginning its transformation to the 21st.”