By Tom “where’s the beef” Waters
Nov 16, 2003
The ‘80s gave birth to the first fifty versions of Madonna. She was a the female Ying to Max Headroom’s Yang, empty, computer generated, and completely pixilated.
I’m overjoyed to report that we’re poised on the brink of a retro ‘80s pop culture movement. In a world that cannibalizes its own trends every twenty to thirty years, I can’t frigging wait. I’ve been planning for it since January of 1990. Now that grunge, super-pop groups and the second run of death metal in the form of watered down, techno-laced Metallica symphonies are all over and gone, we’re finally ready. Slap on your low top casual shoes, throw the blue blazer on along with some ripped, stone washed jeans and cue up some Huey Lewis on your CD/DVD/Tivo/Mind-Meld entertainment center and enjoy the ride. If you need some help, just follow me.
Perhaps you haven’t noticed the recent signs. Just yesterday, Saturday Night Live gave Hall & Oates a send up in one of their sketches. Converse All Star sneakers have been resurrected through the miracle of sweat shops in the South Pacific. David Letterman is still on TV. We can’t seem to get rid of Alf. The music, the attitude, and the lifestyle are swinging back around with a vengeance. Do you remember the comforting horror of the Russians? They seem so distant and tame compared to those smelly Talibans, don’t they? The decade long death rattle of Communism, presented to you by the Gipper. Reagan never shtupped the interns. He was too busy dealing arms overseas and funneling tax dollars into big, nasty armaments in the sky to get lil’ Bonzo into any sort of national trouble. Which leads us to the Iran Contra hearings. Remember watching them in between reruns of “Family Ties” and changing the channel again?
And of course there was the music. Light, fluffy, and completely lacking a clue. The disco enema from the late seventies (along with the four year musical burp that was punk) was thrown away and replaced with Pop. New Wave. Hall & Oates paved the way for Mr.Mister. Mr.Mister passed the torch to Ah-Ha, and Ah-Ha moved it along to Huey Lewis. Huey was kind enough to give it up sometime during the turn of the decade to Robert Palmer (god rest his soul with his lipstick lesbian videos), and Robert Palmer held a few hits until Peter Gabriel came back from the dead. And nearly a decade before the Spears and Timberlakes of the world passed their syrupy, hit-making pap smears off as forgettable hits, we were lucky enough to hear Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Samantha Fox, Rick Astley, and Outfield come in with a roar and out with a where are they now? The ‘80s gave birth to the first fifty versions of Madonna. She was a the female Ying to Max Headroom’s Yang, empty, computer generated, and completely pixilated.
MTV not only stood for music television, they played music on television. Videos and concerts had been done before, but never had they been marketed so well. Us fogeys remember seeing “Thriller” for the first time, or “Hot For Teacher”. Diamond David Lee Roth tap danced his way across the stage for Van Halen before he got booted and Sammy Hagar pretended that he was bringing the band to a new level of respectability. Leaving your band to start a short lived solo career was all the rage in the ‘80s. Ric Ocasek left the Cars after “Heartbeat City” blew up. Phil Collins, under the impression that he could sing after coming out from the drum kit, went out and made some solo albums. Peter Cetera left Chicago after 17 and the band went jesus freak while he won us over with his theme song to “Karate Kid II.”
And who can forget those wonderful movies and the dozens of sequels they gave birth to, wriggling and crying on theater floors like retarded still borns? “Friday the 13th 1-58,” “Mannequin1-8,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” and so forth. Even “Weekend at Bernies,” a movie about two guys parading around their dead boss, marched on for a sequel! The auteurs from the ‘70s went into hiding. The self important jackasses from the ‘90s hadn’t reared their Sundanced heads yet. It was all fluff, and it was all good. Buddy cop movies. Kid/cop movies. Dog/cop movies. Three dozen films starring Jim Belushi as a street-smart wiseass who overcomes adversity on his terms. Charles Grodin played the straight man in a comedy every three months. Plus there was the supernova spawned by the Brat Pack. Estevez, Sheen, Ringwald, Sutherland, McCarthy, Lowe and so forth. Doe-eyed innocents who partied their asses off in L.A. and won our hearts over on the big screen. John Cusack was just breaking his teeth on the concept of angst. John Hughes was pumping out high school dramadies like some manner of Woody Allen with a yearbook...O.K., so that joke fell flat. I’m not Elmore Leonard, for chrissakes.
Network television was still on top. People tuned in feverishly every week to “Miami Vice,” “Hill Street Blues” and “The Cosby Show.” Believe it or not, late night talk shows used to get better ratings than test patterns. Johnny Carson finally retired and Jay Leno stuck his gigantic chin on the tube. Dave Letterman, Bob Costas, Joe Franklin, Arsenio Hall, and yes, Pat Sajack all had late night shows. Sitcoms hit their stride with a new golden age, or some facsimile thereof. Children or midgets passing as children captured our attention. Webster, Punky Brewster, little Ricky Schroeder, and future California candidate for Governor Gary Coleman wise-cracked, jive-talked, and learned valuable lessons about life in zero to thirty minutes. Networks used to air cartoons on Saturday morning, if you can believe it. The Smurfs, the Snorks, Plastic Man, He-Man, G.I. Joe, The Transformers, and Fraggle Rock rocked our world.
Stand up comedy wasn’t a forum for politically correct horseshit. Straight white males were allowed to tell jokes (instead of being the butt of them) and some of them were actually good. It was the last time that stand up comedy would be. Eddie Murphy went big with “Raw.” Robin Williams perfected the post-rehab, child-rearing schtick. Howie Mandell made a career out of being a smelly Canadian. Dennis Miller told the same jokes for five years straight and landed himself an anchor job on SNL’s “Weekend Update.” Elayne Boosler, the only funny comedienne in history, enjoyed her heyday. Emo Philipps, Steven Wright, and Sam Kinison all found their niche. Observational douche bag George Carlin balanced out the universe between Gallagher specials. And, like a very cruel and malicious joke at the end of the decade, Andrew Dice Clay shocked the nation with a new kind of nursery rhyme.
Video games, along with cable boxes, were popping up in family households. Pac Man blew up in the arcades and sold a lot of Ataris. Galaga, Q-Bert, and Donkey Kong were on lunch boxes, jean jackets, and trucker-style baseball caps (before that jagoff Ashton Kutcher started wearing them). A little show called “That’s Incredible” held a Dragon’s Lair competition. The entire market crashed in 1985 thanks to rushed translations and a monstrous bomb known as E.T., and Atari stock got buried out in the desert along with a few million cartridges featuring a turd with a square head. After a few years, the Japanese won us back over with the Nintendo Entertainment System. The first official Super Mario game (in a legacy of thousands) wormed its way into millions of homes. The Japanese had perfected yet another electronic device.
Donald Trump and Bill Blass were big names. Friendship beads, Cabbage Patch Kids, and skateboards were purchased and neglected. Weird Al Yankovic was king. It was a magical, beautiful era where Western civilization worried rarely and lived life to the hollowest. Music didn’t try hard to be angry or pretend to be deep. Christ, but I miss it. There are a million other details, bands and fads I’m neglecting, but that was the gist of it. That was my ‘80s.
The ‘80s was my ‘60s. Instead of tie dyed shirts we had little stitched alligators. Since the ‘70s aren’t coming back no matter how hard jeans designers try, I’m buckling up again for the ‘80s. Me, Ralph Macchio, and Belinda Carlisle. all stand to make a bundle from it.
Here’s to wishing that Sting was on the Challenger.
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