I’ve been noodling around on Youtube recently, hopping from song to song, and I noticed a couple of weeks ago that an improbably high number of them were first released in 1983. What’s with that?
1983 is a looong time ago now. A whole other century. I was 13 going on 14 and in my second year at high school. Rob Muldoon was the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Sunday trading was still 7 years away and Saturday trading had only been in effect for 3 years. Petrol was still leaded and a gallon cost $1.76. And a loaf of bread cost about 60 cents. It was the year before the financial shocks that lead to the deregulation and consequent devaluation of the currency and the wholesale dismantling of New Zealand’s public service. Unemployment was still low, and the ‘cradle to the grave’ welfare system set up in the 1930’s was intact. In hindsight, 1983 marks the end of the post-war era and the beginning of a rightward move in the country’s politics and policies.
At the time, I knew nothing about any of that. I lived in a small hydro village in the hills behind the Taieri Plain, just south of Dunedin. All the houses were owned by the Dunedin City Council and everyone worked for the Council as well. There were similar villages all over the lower South Island. But the age of large public works is long over and the houses have been sold to holiday makers and people wanting to escape the city. Last time I went to Waipori, it was a shabby looking place full of the kind of people who come out to shake their fists at you for driving past their houses. Very depressing, because it was a wee slice of paradise for a child.
I knew everyone and everyone knew me, and it was a pretty egalitarian place to be, almost like a commune in some ways. I had no idea about the tricksiness of class and financial status until I invited a friend to stay (possibly in 1983 even), and her first comment on coming in the front door of our house was, “This is pretty nice,” pause. “For a state house.” I also had no idea about how limiting life as a city girl could be. I took my friend down to the river because I thought she’d like to leap across the rocks with me and check out the water from the middle. She had no idea what to do and stood helplessly on the bank while I jumped around like a lunatic in a vain attempt to demonstrate how easy it was.
While I was figuring out what it meant to be a middle-class girl from small-town New Zealand, I had good access to music and to books (or as good as it could be in those pre-internet days). And it turns out that 1983 was a pretty good year music-wise (which is why I’ve been thinking about 1983 in particular). As I will explain tomorrow…