new wave / new me

new wave / new me

Life is long, and there is lots of music to listen to all the way through it, but there will always be a special place in my heart for the music I listened to as a young adult, having freshly landed in 'the real world'—much like a baby giraffe falling six feet and crashing into the ground at the moment of its birth. The music you listen to when you're first starting out, free of institutional strictures like "parent's house" and "school," simply hits different.

That's the theme of today's guest post, written by the incredible Michele Catalano, who you may know on Twitter as @inthefade, and whose work you may have read on various websites and blogging platforms since she started writing for the internet in 2001 (she's currently over at Buttondown, writing a newsletter called "going it alone").

Michele wrote a beautiful piece for I Enjoy Music about getting into new wave music on Long Island in the early 1980s as a postgrad twentysomething, and breaking out of her shell on the dance floor. Reading it, I'm convinced that going out and dancing to whatever rhythmic music happens to strike your fancy is one of the best things you can do for your soul at any age; Michele's writing is instructive on this matter. Okay...a quick spray of Aqua Net to secure your hairstyle before going off to dance at Spit...

photo source credit: Stacy McMinn

there's a new wave coming

by Michele Catalano

It’s been said the music you listen to in high school is the music that stays your favorite forever, but I’m here as proof that this is not necessarily true. I graduated high school in 1980 and spent the next three years cultivating an entirely new personality based around the music I was listening to.

I didn’t go to college until I was in my mid twenties, so the years after high school  were true slacker years. I worked a couple of jobs—at my father’s restaurant, in a video store, a Sanrio store in the mall—but nothing that kept me from fully enjoying those years. My jobs were all part time and I spent most of my days getting high while watching MTV with my fellow slacker friends. When we weren’t watching MTV we were listening to WLIR FM, which in 1982 started playing new wave and post-punk music exclusively. 

I listened to WLIR more than any other station. They played some of the same stuff as WNEW or WPLJ: the occasional Springsteen, the Police, Steve Winwood. But what they were doing that other stations weren’t was interspersing these rock songs with punk and dance songs. After “Hungry Heart” you might hear Missing Persons or Split Enz.

In July of 1982, they made the switch to all new wave all the time. I was good with this. I had a feeling my real rock days were over. This music—this new wave of music—was what I was after. When Kim Wilde sang “New York to East California, there’s a new wave coming I warn ya” on “Kids in America” I really felt it in my soul (though I had no idea what “East California” means).

There was something about new wave that appealed to my true self, and I went head on into full fandom of the genre. Until then, I’d been on a steady diet of bands like Yes, Genesis, The Grateful Dead, with some Springsteen thrown in. I had started to branch out into punk, taking in bands like The Ramones and The Clash, but it wasn’t until new wave broke that I felt like I found my true music calling.

There was an underlying darkness that permeated most of the songs I liked. The music felt decadent in a way, subversive. After 19 years of playing it straight, of being afraid to veer off the beaten path, this lifestyle felt like a real change for me. I missed out on being able to play into the early years of punk because I was too young to go into the city to CBGB’s, and my Catholic high school would not have gone for torn clothing or safety pins in my ears. But once I graduated and that freedom to be me opened itself up, I found out who I was, or at least who I wanted to be, through new wave music.

 By day I was a mild-mannered girl who loved the Atlanta Braves and New York Islanders, who listened to her parents and drove with her hands on the 10 and 2. I was safe. I was a rule follower. But at night—especially on the two nights a week that Spit was open (it was a disco called Uncle Sam’s on other nights)—I transformed. I had been frequenting small time Long Island clubs to see a friend’s band play (RIP Wink) but Spit was different. Spit was cavernous and flashy and was almost all dance floor. I dressed for the occasion; torn fishnet stockings, black boots, black miniskirt paired with a neon blue shirt, hair spiked up with toothpaste, layers of makeup that I never wore during the day.

I felt like a different person when I was dressed up for new wave night, and when I got into the club and the music started, something came over me. I was such a shy, reserved person but something happened to me when Duran Duran’s “Planet Earth” or the B-52s’ “Give Me Back My Man” would start up. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t just stand around and idly listen. I had to be out on the floor. I had to dance.

I use the term “dance” loosely, as we mostly stood in one spot and moved our bodies awkwardly, our feet firmly planted on the ground but our upper body and arms moving in time to the music, a human version of one of those wavy-arm guys you see outside car washes these days. I grooved to the music, I really felt the music, I became one with it. Whether it was The Cure or Split Enz, or XTC or Madness didn’t matter. Siouxsie and the Banshees, New Order, A Flock of Seagulls, Psychedelic Furs. We danced to it all. I gave as much to Elton Motello’s “Jet Boy Jet Girl” as I did to Haircut 100’s “Love Plus One.”

When I was out on the floor, nothing mattered. My stagnant life did not matter. My uncertain future did not matter. My past did not matter. I was in a groove, in the moment. I was not at the club to pick up guys, I was not there to get drunk. I was there for the music and the music only, for the way it lifted me up and made me throw caution to the wind. I was there for the empowerment new wave music afforded me, for the ability to let everything go, to become the person I always wanted to be but couldn’t pull off full time.

Around that time, I ended up lucking into a “job” with WLIR. I would head to the studios three nights a week to answer the phones, taking requests, bantering with the listeners, and handling the contests. That was where I first heard U2’s Boy, where program director Denis McNamara held the album up to me and said “this band is going to be huge.” When I later heard “I Will Follow” at Spit, I knew Denis knew what he was doing. He turned that station into a haven for those of us who subscribed to the new wave credo. 

I truly believe I grew as a person because of new wave and Spit and WLIR. I was able to reach down into the depths of my personality and pull out the parts of me I wished were more visible to everyone, the freewheeling part of me, the part of me that didn’t care what people thought, the decadent part of me. It all came out when I was on the dance floor, or even when I was in my room listening to my records. The music made me feel something that no other music before made me feel: like I belonged somewhere, like I had found myself and a place to be me. I was able to obtain a confidence that had eluded me for so long, even if it was just for those nights I was at Spit or other new wave clubs like 007 or SPIZE. Those nights carried me; the power I felt, the ecstasy, the pure joy, it was something that stayed with me, that pushed me into being more outgoing, more social, more of who I was striving to be.

At the end of 1983, I went to work full time at Record World in the same mall where I had been a cashier at the Sanrio stationery store. Van Halen, Prince, Springsteen, and Iron Maiden were the heroes of the day then. I stayed listening to new wave and everything of its sort that came after it. I used all my Record World bonuses to purchase 7” imports of bands like The Jam and New Order.

Time marches on and clubs close and radio stations change formats.  I never quite got the high I got those nights at Spit and didn’t bother to chase it; I knew that time was unique and I’d never be able to replicate it. I needed to let it be, to savor it as a special time. It served its purpose. I grew up during those years in the sense that I found out a lot about myself and what I was capable of.

I still listen to new wave often. I have a playlist that keeps me company when I feel the need to bring it up. I will have the occasional dance party by myself in my living room and feel nostalgic for Spit and WLIR, and feel grateful for those best years of my life.

Thank you Michele!! Subscribe to her newsletter please. And thank you so much for reading I Enjoy Music. If you like it, tell a friend about it—and if you have a hankering for writing about music, email me at with your idea(s), I would love to hear what you'd like to write.