Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I Love The 80s, Sort Of

Yesterday I was at the gym and the 80's station was on and I heard "Video Killed the Radio Star" followed right up with "What's the Frequency Kenneth?"

These are some goofy and kind of cute songs. And like countless middle-aged people before me, I thought, "Ah! The time of my youth was such a kinder and gentler era!"

I've had this thought before. The funny thing is, during the 80's, I remember thinking that it was a time of real cynicism and non-playfulness. It was a time when people stopped listening to Sly and The Family Stone and got into Madonna and Michael Jackson. The sexuality seemed contrived and competitive; the mood seemed dark and foreboding.

The feeling seemed to be, OK, enough fun, now we've all got to make some money, start worrying, and start impressing one another. Cocaine and crack instead of pot and LSD. AIDS and condoms instead of free love.

I remember reading in the news in the 80's that some clothing company, like Polo or something, had changed the hairstyles in their men's ads from a little long to corporate-short, and I thought: how 80's can you get.

Weirdly, though, I also remember knowing that, in the nature of things, the past always looks innocent when compared with the future. So I used to try to imagine what the future would be like that would make the 80's seem like a golden era.

I couldn't really do it, but of course with hindsight it all seems so obvious.

The late-80's movie Heathers is about high school students who kill other students then plot to blow up a school. It's a comedy. I love hip-hop, but even the most ardent fan gets weary of pimps and hos all the day long.

A still form the movie Heathers. Check out the fashions! Who knew the 80's were a million years ago?

Mostly, though, I think it's not so much that there's something new, as that the same things that made the 80's seem sad have just gotten more extreme. To play the game you gotta make money, work out, have expensive cars or shoes. There's no time for pointless goofing around.

And that's what the best 80's pop promised. Endless, deep, goofing around. I think it's why interest in 80's pop has stayed strong, even though the songs aren't very sophisticated or interesting. They promise a kind of light-heartedness we're a little short on these days.

Speaking for myself, I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. I like 80's pop as much as anyone, but I hate the feeling of nostalgia. Sometimes hearing these songs makes me feel awful: my own youth, lost forever.

While writing this piece, I googled the songs and found that "What's the Frequency Kenneth" is from 1994 and "Video Killed the Radio Star" is from 1979. That'll teach you: not only can't you predict the future, you can't even really remember the past. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Thank God for Wikipedia.


Captain Colossal said...

Yeah, I was reading along thinking What's The Frequency, Kenneth is totally a nineties song. But, of course, the only reason I know that is that the gap from 1984 to 1994 was so enormous and unmistakable, given my ages at the times in question.

I've been told by multiple sources that what I think of as the sixties was actually the seventies. So I guess there's this kind of historical slippage all over the place.

Do you remember when the nineties came around and there was this weirdo re-dedication to earnestness and environmentalism and feminism and Sassy told us that nobody wore polyester anymore? In some ways, a less fun time than the eighties, but kind of appealing.

Somebody in my building is smoking pot. It's 9:18 in the morning. It seems like a spirit of the nineties thing to do.

Captain Colossal said...

By the way, I went to a junior high school known for its Science Olympiad team and general "good kid" vibe and Heathers was shown at every sleepover that I attended for those three years. Now there would be interventions.

I think it's also time for a mention of that other "youth in trouble" Christian Slater vehicle Pump Up The Volume. In which a girl putting her pearl necklace in the microwave is seen as a positive step forward.

The Secretary said...

To play the game you gotta make money, work out, have expensive cars or shoes. There's no time for pointless goofing around.

What's the game?

Noko Marie said...

Song-wise I clearly got tripped up by thinking "REM" which was a big thing on my college campus in the 80s. But 1994? I didn't know.

That is awesome about your Olympiad team. What a crazy movie.

"the game"... I just meant that the way income gaps have widened and real estate in cities has skyrocketed, living a sort of fun urban life has gotten very expensive; people in various jobs are working more hours than ever; more people opting into various status symbols makes it more of a statement to opt out of them. College students, for example, used to be mostly pretty poor, but now it seems they pick on one another for not having the right gadgets, clothes, etc.