Rebel Rebel, Torn Your Dress

1976 – 1982

The area was full of newly rich people, very status concious and very conservative. At the time the ‘preppy look’ was ‘in’ and it was not just the look – but how much you paid to get it that counted. Only some brands were socially acceptable. Boat shoes were de-riguer, but not just any – they had to be Sperry Topsiders.

Polo shirts were ‘in’ but not just any – they had to be Izod LaCoste or Ralph Lauren or you were not ‘cool’. If yours looked similar but came from a cheap store, you might as well wear a paper bag on your head. Jeans had to be Levis 501 button fly or Calvin Kleins. That was it. Wool Shetland sweaters with turtlenecks or oxford shirts with dumbass designs like small whales or hearts made me want to gag but I wore them in my freshman year in an attempt to fit in.

Girls at my school would actually turn over your collar and check the label on your shirt (if it was not a brand with a logo already pasted on the front) before deciding whether or not to compliment you. Only the expensive name brands. Which were more than we could afford. So I then never fit in with looks, or clothes. I was told that other years were not as bad as my year, and truly my brother and sister did not seem to have the same issues I did.

I had teachers keep me after class to apologize at what I hard time I was having, and to assure me it was not like this everywhere, and that this was the worst class year they’d seen come through. The teachers were great, and the level of education was very good, which was the saving grace of the Forest Hills school district (especially compared to the Delta Mills school in Lansing, which was my first experience of Michigan).

To escape from the lack of social life at school I spent my time on long walks in the woods, reading about Indian ways and survival in nature, obsessively reading about horses and later riding horses (but even then, I could not afford to buy one – I took lessons each Saturday), listening to David Bowie, punk and new wave music, becoming more left-wing and reading books like The Anarchists Cookbook, and constantly, constantly writing stories and making drawing and as well as making up elaborate fantasies in my head of ways to escape from Ada – first as I rode the school bus each day and later as I worked at the first of my many wage-slave jobs – the fabulous Coneland (now no longer in existence). From my job at Coneland I was able to save up to buy a horse, and that was another good escape, but at the same time a hardship as I had to work long hours to pay for the boarding stable and thus had less time to ride.

I also got a job (due to excellence in English) as a student intern at the Grand Rapids Press – my first foray into journalism. I did record reviews and small articles on subjects that affected youth. The record reviews were great, and my chance to really dig into the new music that I loved. I also started to realize just how much control editors had over the content of your news stories, and how they would even change sentences around and manipulate things to change the whole slant of a story – into something it was not. Hmmm. That started me thinking of all the news stories I’d ever read, and how they must have first passed through the filter of the reporter, and secondly through the filter of the editor before seeing the light of day.

In high school I changed the spelling of my first name, so that I would be more memorable since there were already 4 people in my class with the same first name. It hurt my mother’s feelings, but for me it was also a way to separate from the identity that others in school had given me and to re-invent myself and my personae. I briefly tried speed, in an effort to keep up with my two jobs, school and horse riding. 

Taking cues from the punk revolution I’d started to follow, I became rebellious and stopped trying to fit in at school, realizing that if I pretended I did not care, it was the same effect as truly not caring. If I pretended to be self-confident, others looked at me as if I was. It was a new found power, and I was able to disarm the girls who’d teased me, even embarassing them in class with my responses to their banter.

Eventually I carved out a personae for myself amongst my peers at school by my unabashed sense of uniqueness and outspoken opinions (it was also 99% Republican and very conservative) as well as by my intelligence (despite the lack of a typical social life, I did very well in school). I graduated wearing green spiked hair and a bright red not quite dress with safety pins for earrings. I still had no true friends, but at least I’d kept my self respect and started to see what kind of power an image could have on those who percieved you.

My senior year of school and the summer after graduation, I managed to find the only haven in Grand Rapids for punks or new wavers. It was very a small scene, and centered around the UICA (Urban Institute for Contemporary Art), The White Rabbit club (which we punks and new wavers shared with the gays in town) and a Polish music hall which the local bands like Nice Lawn and Gina and the Modern Men used as a place to play. For a short time one of the old movie theatres in town started to book concerts, and there I saw X and The Clash.

I was taken under the wing of a girl musician 8 years my senior in a local band whose first words to me were ‘I like you, you’re cool – let’s hang out.’ Which we did for the whole summer. She brought me to visit other local artists and musicians in towns, and we went to rock shows together. And I am still friends with her today. It was in this small scene that I found that I was attractive and found my first friends, and realized that in fact it was simply the boorish new money snobbery of my high school’s families that caused the strange behavior of my peers – that I was in fact perfectly capable of finding others like me and forming friendships. A strange thing to discover finally at the age of 17.

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21 comments

  1. Hi, I stumbled across this post when looking for a little history on Delta Mills School, my elementary school, with Bud’s barber shop and the Methodist church rounding out the “town” of Delta Mills–that thriving metropolis. Hey, at least the barber shop had a pop machine.

    Reading this post, it sounds like you and I are about the same age. I didn’t have the required Sperry Top Siders. I think mine came from Kinneys–not cool. I know this era well.

    Anyway, I was at Delta Mills from about 1976 to 1981. My family moved away after that. My name is Sherry and I was freakishly tall and tom-boyish in elementary school. I’m 38 years old now. I’m curious if we knew each other.

    Drop me a line, if you feel like it, and we can exchange full names.

    Thanks for your time.

    Sherry

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  2. Hi Sherry,

    We were not at Delta Mills at the same time – I am a bit older than you, and went there for only 1 year (we lived in some housing development I barely remember except the street was called Poney Trail) then moved to Ada, near Grand Rapids.

    Take care

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  3. Coneland, wow that takes me back, I used to work at the Cascade Hill Shell station on Cascade Rd. and I-96. We used to work on the deliver vehicle for Coneland so we would get our Subs at a discount. You don’t happen to remember the recipe for the Subs do you? I have tried to make them but I can’t get it right. I remember the Ham and mushrooms, but I don’t know what kind of cheese or what else was in there, but they were the best.

    Thanks
    Mike

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  4. Hi Mike, sorry I don’t remember the recipe. I do think I remember they put the sub buns on the grill before putting on the meat & cheese to toast the inside of the bread but I didn’t make subs or order the ingredients to know what kind of cheese it was – I was a ‘cone girl’ at the front counter taking orders and making ice creams 😉 . I remember liking the ‘wet burritos’ they made. I used to think it was real Mexican food until I moved away and found out it was just a Michigan thing to put sauce on the burrito! They were good too though.

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  5. If I remember the era correctly, there WERE groups of people who wore the uniform. Just as today, with Hollister-Abercrombie-etc, uniforms have always been a part of growing up. What I find irritating about your self serving writings, is that you were probably rejected by your peers for being a grating pain in the ass… not because you were special or misunderstood. Your response was to find a peer group of grating pain in the asses who, by the way, also wore uniforms for acceptance. This time the gators were traded for safety pins… the Top Siders for spikey hair. A follower is a follower, no matter how intelligent they try to tell you they are. It just took a “brightie” like you a little longer to find a trail of lemmings to follow over the cliff.

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  6. Ha ha ha ha ha. You are funny Polo Lacoste. Today you can indeed find lemmings wearing spikey hair and safety-pins to ‘rebel’ in quite a codified way and I too find that pretty funny. In 1980 in Michigan in Ada, not so — I was the only ‘lemming’ in my ‘group’. Misunderstood? No I believe they did understand me, and like their daddy republican fathers the sons and daughters of conservative capitalists will always detest those in the ‘lower rungs’ who see through their carefully constructed controlling bullshit and name names, or argue with their points of view and win on logic and intelligence alone, rather than on what ‘daddy said’ or what their money can purchase. It is the way of the upper class to then try to put down these challenges by using their money and cliques to try to ostracize any original thinkers who threatens the status quo, and thus their power base. The same things do not happen at all schools – mainly they happen at schools with a signifcant base of wealthy students and few middle to lower class ones. I have seen many other high schools with far less issues than the one I attended or with completely different issues (gangs, drugs etc.)

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  7. Hi, me again, I haven’t had any luck finding the recipe. Do you by any chance rember the name of the owners? maybe they can help me.
    Thanks
    Mike

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  8. Hi Mike, Sorry but I don’t remember the family’s name anymore! It was a loooong time ago for me (more than 20 years …). I only remember the first names of some of the people I worked with – Sue and Mike … but can’t remember the owner’s last name.

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  9. I too stumbled on this looking for more on Delta Mills Elementary. I started a group on Facebook and we are little by little adding people. Mostly from my class who finished 3rd grade when they closed down. I lived on Ingersoll from 1973-1985 and the school closed in 1982. If any of you are on Facebook and went there, or know someone who did, please join us!

    Oh, and everyone remembers the chest-like pop machine at the barber shop!

    Thanks,
    Alison

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    • Allison,

      You lived on Ingersoll? Do you recall the Moore family. Always wondered whatever happended to Wenddy Moore…

      Thomas

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  10. I went to Delta Mills for 4th and 5th Grade…then onto Hayes for 6th and 7th…moved to Chicago area in eight grade. 1980-84 time frame.

    I fondly recall the barber shop and the pop cooler. I was the Delta Mills paper-boy 1983-84ish…couldn’t stand the loose dogs though. I think I must have been bit one too many times…not fond of German Shepards to this day…

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  11. Hey, I played at the White Rabbit all the time in ’81 and ’82. I was in the band Eveready and the Batteries. I remember Gina and the Modern Men well, as well as Basic English, The Infections, etc…remember those names. Those were some fun times, I bet we were there at the same time at some point, it was a hang out for my band mates and friends…plus I could drink underage there 🙂

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    • Yes and I remember Eveready and the Batteries (not the music, sorry to say but definitely the name). How funny! I went there underage but didn’t drink, just danced. It was a lot of fun and I imagine we were there at the same time at some point.

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  12. The Clash didn’t play at the former movie theater, they played at the Civic Auditorium. Great Northern Music Hall on Division was the theater. Used to be the Four Star. Squeeze, Devo, Flock of Seagulls, and The Romantics played there. WEHB was the radio only station that played punk and “new wave” with the exception of the Grand Valley station. Members of Gina and the Modern Men (later Nice Lawn after Gina moved to San Francisco I believe it was) sometimes worked at WEHB. The shows at the halls were promoted by the New Beat Club an off shoot of the new wave show on WEHB with Paul Roese and “Whitelegs” among ohers.

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  13. Gina and the Modern Men moved to Portland Oregon in 1983, changing the band name to Napoleon’s Mistress. I joined the band in 1984, we released a self produced video which was aired from coast-to-coast, and attracted the attention of Arista, Their A&R guy arranged to have one of the tracks used as a soundtrack for Miami Vice, but due to contract disputes the producer would not release the master. Gina went on to release solo electronica material under the name Gina Noell, the CDs are commercially available.

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  14. I remember the video Roger ! It was in a car driving through the Oregon forests a lot of the time wasn’t it ?

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