Thursday, March 05, 2015

1980's were my decade, unfortunately

It's not hard to make my hair go 80's (taken on 2/21/2015, before the party)
A couple of weeks ago I went to a 1980's party that took place at a bar downtown. The '80s were my coming-of-age decade: I was 13 on January 1, 1980 and 23 on December 31, 1989. My high school and college years happened during the '80s, so I can't dissociate myself from the era of high-waisted jeans, President Reagan and low-fat bakeries. It was MY decade.


I'm sure many people defend the '80s with everything they have. They love the 1980s because they were there, or they think they love the '80s because they weren't there but they've memorized the lyrics to "Walk Like an Egyptian." I was there, but I did not love 1980s even while they were happening. I remember going to the record release party of someone who worked with me at Rasputin's Record Store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California. I agreeably accompanied other co-workers to the bar where our friend's band was playing, even though I'd never heard his music. As we waited, we read some promotional materials that included a quote from a music reviewer. This reviewer called the band, "the sound of the '80s." It was 1987 and I knew that wasn't a good thing. Clearly the reviewer thought it was good to be "the sound of the '80s," but after reading that, I didn't want to hear my friend's band at all.

In spite of my aversion to the '80s, I decided to go to this party because I love to dance, but don't like to be up late. Of course, the best dancing happens after 10:00 p.m, so I go long periods of time without going dancing, but this party started at 8:00. I figured I'd get there at the beginning, work up a sweat on the dance floor even if I was the only one, and be out of there by 11 or so. I'm always excited by the possibility of dancing that starts before 9:00 p.m.

It worked out well. There was some good dance music that came out of the decade that was called "the '50s in color." I let loose to Prince, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and the Dazz Band. I tolerantly kept moving to Wang Chung and Wham! but left the dance floor for Men At Work and Simple Minds. I really pouted and stalked off when the DJ played Toto's "Africa." That's not dance music! The DJ was doing a good job of including the Top 40 from the mid-'80s, but the Top 40 wasn't all dance-able. He would have been fine if his job were to provide background music, but people were earnestly trying to dance to this stuff. I felt frustrated. Katrina and the Waves? I'm not dancing to Katrina and the Waves.

The bar was well populated, but there were surprisingly few people my age. I like to go out alone because it's easier to meet new people that way and I spoke to several men, but only a few of them had been in high school before 1989. Being at an '80s party made me want to hang out with people who remembered the debut of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video (which premiered on MTV in 1983 and everyone had to watch it at the same time, can you imagine?). I wanted to talk to people who could tell me where they were when the Challenger went down, but we oldsters were not in the majority that night.

Which brings me to a cultural pattern that still astounds me: the constant airplay of 1980s top 40 songs, decades after they were on the charts. How can people in their 30's (even 20's) know the lyrics to songs by Paula Abdul and Aha? Those people were about 10 years old (at the most) when the '80s ended and I sure as hell don't know many lyrics to popular songs from the 1960s and early '70s. And yet there they were: people no older than 35 dancing with gusto to "White Wedding" and "Don't You (Forget About Me)" and mouthing the words.

Many radio stations have kept 1980s music on their playlists. Having "the hits from the '80s" in rotation is a common selling point. Why did this happen? Why did the U.S. get stuck on the 1980s (and '90s) so completely that they never went away? Fourteen-year-olds in 1981 didn't know the words to Helen Reddy songs from the early '70s or Creedence Clearwater Revival lyrics from the late '60s, but people who were three years old in 1981 know The Bangles and Bananarama. Why? Why??

Maybe I'm wrong to believe the '80s were stupid. Maybe the three-inch-high hairstyles and synthesizer-dominated pop tunes were things of timeless beauty. These days I see young women wearing bows and people of both sexes with asymmetrical haircuts, so clearly some of the aesthetics of the era are back. It bewilders me. I thought if any decade deserved to be left out of the fashion cycle it would be the one that paired huge blazers with leggings and sneakers. Clearly American culture has a completely different standard than I do. It wants to hold on to the 1980s while I thought going through them once was more than enough.

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