Throwback Thursday: Def Leppard and Riding a Bus to a Desegregated School

This morning I was stuck in hellish traffic and I found myself flipping through the radio stations, trying to find something good to listen to. I stopped the dial when I got to Def Leppard's rock classic "Photograph".

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.


Seanathan said…
I used to think Hysteria was the greatest album ever made when I was a kid.
Liz Dwyer said…
Ha! It DOES have some great songs--I think I more fully appreciate it now than I did back then.
Anonymous said…
I believe guitarist Phil Collen is on
African American wife #2 now.....
This makes me smile when I hear one of their songs.... they are a good band
Daniel said…
Los Angelista,
I never really liked Def Leppard. I was far more interested in the Scorpions, a much broader range and even a bit of social conscience with “Wind of Change”. To this day “Rhythm of Love” can, uh, er, get me in the mood (with no place to go, lol!). Now mix that with my love for the - by then – retro sound of all things Funkadelic and you were on the way to the soundtrack of my dual life. Nowadays I'm as likely to decide to cry to Melanie Fiona and “It Kills Me”. Go figure.

I too was deeply influenced by school busing. As you can imagine it was into my area upper (upper) middle class white school. I fell in love with the first girl placed in my class, lol. Even then I could have cared less what the kids said, though honesty it really wasn't much, it was just 'my thing' to others. It ended up defining the trajectory of my complete social/personal life.

Nice of you to acknowledge that in just four years some things can change.

PS: I too sometimes sing along really loud to the radio in the car, when it's a song that is a 'memory' for me. Freaked my youngest out hollerin' along (badly) to Mary J. Blige (can a married woman be my fantasy, or is that wrong?) with “Not Gon' Cry”. She told me the road noise sounded better!
Sadly, that song was my Anthem for a number of years. Guess that's why it still affects me.

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