Sunday, November 6, 2011

Like, totally: March 23, 2003

I think the unfairest thing (unfairest -- that can be  word, right?) about getting older is that you only do it once so everything you learn about the process is applicable to absolutely nothing. And people who are younger than you aren't interested in hearing about everything you've learned from getting older because, well, you're old. And people who are older than you aren't impressed by all you've learned because, whatever, you're not old enough to take seriously.

In any case, the 1980s: Maybe you remember them, maybe you don't. Either way, I'm pretty sure all they taught me is to avoid skinny jeans, no matter how much the fashion industrial complex wants me to buy them.

How can the 1980s be back? They just left!

    I grew up in the decade of MTV and Reaganomics, wide belts and skinny ties.

    I was 8 years old when the ’80s dawned. By the time I was 10, I was wondering what, exactly, a communist was and whether something called a Cold War was likely to get my dad killed.

    When I was 11, I bought the Michael Jackson album "Thriller" and nearly drove my parents to violence with the incessant playing of "Billie Jean." I had feathered hair and a Rubik’s Cube; my brother had an Atari.     

    When MTV first appeared in my living room, I was in middle school. I idolized the VJs and memorized the videos (not difficult at the time, as there weren’t many). My father once came home from work, switched on the television and announced that the next time he turned on the TV to find MTV on the screen, he’d break the legs of everyone under 18 in the house.     

    In high school, I had big, permed hair made even bigger through the miracle of Aqua Net, and the ankles of my jeans were tapered so tight I had to put plastic bags over my feet to get dressed.

    It doesn’t seem that long ago, but apparently the 1980s are now a distant enough memory to have become kitsch.

    There are Web sites, books, radio shows and Time-Life sets devoted to the music and culture of the ‘80s. The VJs who helped launch MTV have carved out new careers for themselves as purveyors of nostalgia. On a recent Sunday morning I heard the voice of Nina Blackwood on my radio introducing a song by the Stray Cats.

    I think it’s pretty funny that my generation is feeling nostalgic for the decade that brought us parachute pants, the Valley Girl dialect and the solo career of David Lee Roth. But I listened to that Stray Cats song and to the rest of that radio show devoted to 20-year-old music. It got me to thinking.

    The 1980s have long been derided as a hopelessly tacky time of over-the-top materialism, ugly clothes, bad music and silly slang, and it’s largely true. But it wasn’t all bad.

    The 1980s also gave us U2’s "The Joshua Tree," and great music from REM and the Police. I’m pretty sure the end of the Cold War and communism as we knew it was in there somewhere, too. And I still really like "The Cosby Show."     

    At its core, though, I think nostalgia for the 1980s is probably not really fueled by a yearning to hear Pet Shop Boys songs or watch movies starring Molly Ringwald. I suspect it’s based more on a desire to relive a time when no one had heard of Osama Bin Laden, Anthrax was the name of a band, duct tape was for ducts, and the bad guys all lived in one big country really far away from us.

    Things seem harder now, scarier, than they did then.

    I know that’s how nostalgia works — that the past, no matter how tacky, always seems safer and easier than the uncertainties of the future. And of course the world seemed safer and simpler to a 13-year-old wearing big earrings and listening to a Cyndi Lauper song than it does to a 31-year-old wife and mother worried about what kind of world she’ll leave her son.

    I guess we could all use a little escapism right about now, whether it’s brought to us over the airwaves by an aging former VJ or on a Web site devoted to ’80s trivia.

    In fact, in the spirit of nostalgia for a simpler time, I think I’ll drive out to my parents’ place and dig up some of my albums. Somewhere in their house lurks a stack of vinyl that includes the soundtrack to the movie "Footloose," several albums by Duran Duran and one by Culture Club.     

    How totally awesome.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that you should mention the Stray Cats - an article about looking back to the 80's talking about a band that was emulating the 50's