Throwback Thursday: Def Leppard and Riding a Bus to a Desegregated School
As the traffic inched down the freeway, I sang along at the top of my lungs with the lyrics I still know by heart nearly 30 years later. It's one of those songs that is on the soundtrack of my high school experience.
My high school was desegregated by busing two years before I got there. Kids from my mostly black, blue collar and middle class nieighborhood were bused out to a school in a predominantly white, well off area. My cousin was in that first class of black kids who were bused in, and he told me the tales of how he'd head to school, ready to learn, and see "go home n#%*%@'s" scrawled on doors and desks. Then he would get on the bus at the end of the day, with bus drivers who usually thought that kids from our side of town were nothing.
When I was a freshman, Def Leppard ruled top 40 radio and many of the white students at my school loved them--or at least acted like they did. But most of the black kids didn't listen to Def Leppard. And that style of music--the whole rock/hair metal/glam band scene became just another example of how we didn't fit in.
Once a student asked our bus driver to change the radio station to something more R&B or hip hop oriented like most of the kids on the bus wanted to hear. We were told that the music wasn't appropriate for a bus ride.
It made us mad that the drivers would never mix it up and play something new. They acted like every hip hop group was NWA. And so, as much as Def Leppard absolutely rocked, I started to hate them. I hated what our bus driver made them stand for: A white rock group was acceptable and seen as normal but stations that played black artists--R&B or hip hop--weren't.
Four years later at the end of my high school career, Def Leppard was still insanely popular, but danceable tracks from Jody Watley, C&C Music Factory, Bobby Brown, and Bell Biv Devoe had all become hits--and a black guy bused in to desegregate the school became the homecoming king.
Nowadays I will crank up some Def Leppard, but as much as I can belt out their hits, I've never forgotten how they became this strange symbol of the racial tensions in my high school and town.