American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/18/86: Dream Academy, “Life in a Northern Town”

In early January 86 I drove to St. Louis to visit my friend Mark. I spent several days at his house, getting to know his parents and siblings a little (he was the youngest of four, but they’d arrived fairly close together, in approximately 13 month intervals) and seeing some of the sights the Gateway City has to offer: science museum, zoo, botanical gardens, record stores, etc. The weather was very reasonable for that time of year—sunny, dry, and in the 30s and 40s. I brought him back to Kentucky with me, as we were about to embark on our final semester at Transy.

However, I returned home with a bad headache, one that had started about halfway through my visit. It didn’t go away, even after the semester started. Some days were a little better than others, but serious head pain became an ongoing part of my life. My parents were worried enough that they came down more than once to visit in the middle of the week, taking me to lunch and trying to make me feel better. There were a couple of mornings it was so bad that I went to a clinic down the road to see what they could do. I didn’t undergo any scans or major tests; whoever saw me didn’t see or hear me describe anything that made them particularly worried. My friends Suzanne and Kathy Jo were concerned enough to make signs for my dorm door, offering words of encouragement.

Through all of it, though, I took care of business. My grades didn’t suffer. My computer science buds and I roamed the state on several weekends that winter, lugging around and setting up PCs to be used in programming competitions by high schoolers. Over spring break, I settled on Illinois as my next landing spot. I had plenty of good times with my friends.

It took a few months, but I finally started feeling better. I’d get through some days without my head bothering me much, but then it’d come back. I went back to St. Louis that summer, for Mark’s sister’s wedding, and I remember thinking that maybe it would take going back to where things started for it to end.  It didn’t quite work out that way, but by the time I headed off to Champaign-Urbana in August, I felt more or less like life was back to normal.

What was going on? It looks like it was a combination of hypochondria and stress, with a feedback loop thrown in for good measure. My head hurt, I (dumb, I know—easy to be dumb when you’re 21) started to worry that something might be seriously wrong, and that in turn made me even more tense. Not to blame my father, but I did pick up a bit of his tendency to imagine every little twinge might be really bad news. In this case, it just took much too long to come to realize the degree of control I had over the situation. (I had another, but much shorter, bout of stress-related headaches a couple of years later one summer in Illinois. Knowing what it was very likely to be helped me navigate through it pretty quickly.)

This is one of the songs I was hearing plenty during those angst-filled days in early 86. Just starting its climb here, #33 in its second week, it would get to #7. It was the second hit song to specifically mention the end of 1963. Ten years earlier, when the Four Seasons were climbing to the top of the charts, I hadn’t really thought to reflect on what had gone down around that point in time—of course, Frankie Valli and company weren’t exactly addressing world events, either. The Dream Academy makes it all too clear, though: “…with John F. Kennedy and the Beatles.” Mom was more than six months along with me when JFK was assassinated (as it happens, one of my HS classmates was born on 11/22/63); the Fab Four played Ed Sullivan for the first time four days before I was born.

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