Join 3,516 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Why was I not alive and making music when there was a Black catagory?"
September 9, 2012 6:07 PM   Subscribe

Every so often, the editorial staff at Grantland e-mail 25-year-old Rembert Browne a video from the 1980s that he hasn't seen before. Ladies and gentlement: Rembert Explains the 80s. My personal faves:
The 1985 American Music Awards: "LOOK. AT. LIONEL'S JACKET."
Bob Dylan Rehearses 'We Are the World': "I have to remind myself not to lose sight of the fact that Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Quincy Jones, and Lionel Richie are in the same room making music together. Oh, and Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick are shooting dice and smoking Virginia Slims in the corner."

Duran Duran's “Hungry Like the Wolf” Video: "They are the only white guys in this village. Are they on a study abroad program? What is this?"

Ricky and Alfonso Break-dance on Silver Spoons: "OK, there's a living, breathing skill gap. No disrespect to Ricky, because Carlton is a child prodigy, but wow, it's hard to look at the left side of the screen."

Small Wonder: "Dad just stormed through the house. NOT IMPORTANT, because I just noticed the mom is wearing the flyest one-piece jumper. Yeah. I'm in love."

Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson's "Say Say Say" Video: "Mike and Paul got their girls. Big surprise. I wonder if the ladies know they're in for a life of orphan crime."

Bruce Springsteen's 'Dancing in the Dark' Video: "I just imagine him standing up for six to seven hours while a team of seamstresses created jeans on his legs. It's like the ships in those fancy bottles. How did they get there? Does anyone know? I don't. Anyway, Bruce Minaj has junk in the trunk, but it's so comically packed into those pants, it doesn't really wiggle."

Don Johnson's 'Heartbeat': "OK. Officially confused. They just showed a fire and soldiers and some evil-looking leader. What is this? Is this on the soundtrack to some movie? Is this some '80s political song? Is Don about to get real on me right now? Is that guy a final boss and is Don going to defeat him at the end? I'm pumped if that's what's in store...This looks like Michael Bay's film school midterm."

Even more: Airwolf, Max Headroom Interviews Sting, Mary Lou Retton's Perfect Vaults, Baltimora's 'Tarzan Boy', The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Murray Head's One Night in Bangkok, David Bowie's 'Magic Dance' From Labyrinth, Kids Incorporated, Out of this World, Rockwell's Somebody's Watching Me, The Wuzzles, and many more.
posted by Diablevert (110 comments total) 73 users marked this as a favorite

 
I watched the first 2 minutes or so of the 1985 AMA, and then scrolled down to read the 25-y-o's comments, and I'll be darned if they weren't the same things I was thinking. I am glad I don't have to read anymore to know it's not just me.

That said, every decade looks hilarious through the lens of another decade. Even the 1990's take on the 60's in the 90's.
posted by not_on_display at 6:17 PM on September 9, 2012


Man, what WAS the deal with Small Wonder. It was the awfullest most awful thing even at the time to a tween like me. The only remotely saving grace (ha!) was the next door neighbor who was, if I remember, later Grace in Ferris Bueller. Why was that show a) so terrible and b) on TV and c) watched by anyone with anything else to do on Sunday afternoon and d) remembered?

I just noticed the neighbor mom, GRAAAACE, was written out after Season 2. That show really was a perfect storm of terrible. The only thing that made me not want to literally murder the tattletale neighbor girl was that any time anyone at all talked I wanted to literally murder them. It kind of diffused the whole thing, switching my murderous hate every few seconds.
posted by DU at 6:24 PM on September 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Prince is amazing.
posted by Diablevert at 6:24 PM on September 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can't watch any of these others (except for Mary Lou Retton). The pain. The PAIN.
posted by DU at 6:34 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is something interestingly asymmetrical about the phenomenon of a person reacting to popular culture from before their time. Their lack of context pretty much always reads as charming, but when an old person makes fun of contemporary youth culture, they're just lame and out of touch.

Goddam kids today.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:36 PM on September 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


Oh, also, I just found out the CD is 30 years old this year.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:38 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


One day, Small Wonder will be seen for the surreal masterpiece that it was. It is endlessly watchable BECAUSE of how terrible it was. I sincerely believe that, while all of the cast members might not've been in on it, certain members of the crew absolutely knew what they were doing and that Small Wonder is how it is precisely because it was supposed to be that way.

I can and have sat down and watched episode after episode without ceasing to be entertained. A good show to compare it to would be Chris Elliott's Get a Life - if you enjoy that, SW shouldn't be too far of a stretch for you to get down with.

Or, on the other hand, you are totally free to hate it. Enough time has passed that it's probably safe to say that much like Get a Life, the experiment was a failure with the general public, too weird and ahead of its time to sink in with contemporary audiences then or now. What a glorious failure it was, though.
posted by item at 6:46 PM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm gonna get so much shit for that last comment. Oh well.
posted by item at 6:48 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just watched his reaction to Murray Head's "One Night In Bankok". His comments make me realize you really had to live through the 80s to have understood any of it. Everything makes perfect sense to me, but to anyone born in the 90s... no way.
posted by lhauser at 6:56 PM on September 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well you have incredible perception or equally incredible delusion, I also participated in the 80's and it made no sense at all, then or any decade subsequently.
posted by sammyo at 7:02 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Super Mario Bros. whatever the hell it's tagged as is one of the worst shows ever. The only reason I let my son watch it on YouTube is because I know I wasted my youth watching more bad shows than he has the time to, and because I once saw MC Hammer's cartoon. **shudder**
posted by mollweide at 7:04 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rembert Explains is pretty much the only part of Grantland I read any more.
posted by catlet at 7:15 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry. Is that it? Snark at something before your time?

Stay tuned for my upcoming Tumblr/Twitter/Pinterest multiplatform extravaganza:
Edwardian England: Whut Up Wit' Dat?!
posted by the sobsister at 7:16 PM on September 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


There are at least eleventy-nine people on Metafilter who are way funnier than this clown.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:20 PM on September 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well, yeah, One Night In Bangkok makes a lot less sense when you don't realize it takes place in the middle of a goddamn musical about chess.
posted by maryr at 7:21 PM on September 9, 2012 [22 favorites]


PS: the sobsister: I would so read Follow and or Like that.
posted by maryr at 7:22 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stay tuned for my upcoming Tumblr/Twitter/Pinterest multiplatform extravaganza:
Edwardian England: Whut Up Wit' Dat?!

Which will be following my 9-years-in-the-making "Artaxerxes Was Actually Not the Great Peace King of Classical Greece... BUUUUURRRRRRRRRRNNNNNN!!!"
posted by item at 7:24 PM on September 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is that it? Snark at something before your time?

Yeah, I wouldn't have come in myself to snark at this post, but now that the door is open, I don't see the appeal of either side of the equation as shown here.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:27 PM on September 9, 2012


Tagged as: ohsnap
posted by maryr at 7:28 PM on September 9, 2012


maryr:

I'm on it!

Projected first entry: King Edward VII. Like, is that a person or a brand of pipe tobacco? "Hey, do you have King Edward VII in a can? Well, you better let him out because otherwise you run the risk of asphyxiating him!"
posted by the sobsister at 7:30 PM on September 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


re: "Say Say Say" video: I don't remember Paul McCartney ever looking like John Cusack. I had also completely forgotten about that song.
posted by smirkette at 7:39 PM on September 9, 2012


This is satire, right? (Genuinely asking.)
posted by Wordwoman at 7:42 PM on September 9, 2012


When I first saw this I could have sworn it said Rembrandt Brown, and I was looking for the Sliders references.

Now I'm just confused by any attempt to make sense of Hungry Like the Wolf's video.
posted by Mezentian at 8:12 PM on September 9, 2012


because I once saw MC Hammer's cartoon

Ah, yes: Hammerman. The show that made me realize that, at the age of ten, I had officially outgrown the Saturday morning lineup.

I guess the people who made that show felt it had to be more than a simple "touring musician runs into some trouble every week" sort of thing (the New Kids On The Block had already done that, in their dumbed-down -- yeah, you heard me -- Jem ripoff), so they made it this bizarrely convoluted...thing.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:14 PM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man, what WAS the deal with Small Wonder.

I was confusing this with Wonder Years for about 10 seconds. Ugh, yeah, I did not hep onto that show at all. Then I looked up The Wonder Years and found out that Danica McKellar, who played Winnie Cooper, has an Erdős–Bacon number of 6.

I thought the reviews were kind of cute, being twice his age, I didn't get some of his references.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:25 PM on September 9, 2012


My only reaction to this wave of youtubey retro cartoon nostgalia is to be insanely jealous of kids today. Seriously, this is a fucking golden age of animatiion for kids, like the only reason to have kids is to have an excuse to get into Adventure Time and not seem totally insane.
posted by The Whelk at 8:30 PM on September 9, 2012


We had at least one really good one 20 (yes, 20) years ago.
posted by Decimask at 8:35 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah but kids now get that and the brave and the bold and everything else. It's NOT FAIR.
posted by The Whelk at 8:37 PM on September 9, 2012


I'm sorry. Is that it? Snark at something before your time?


Eh, if you don't think it's funny you don't think it's funny. Personally I find the image of Diana Ross chain smoking slims while she hustles Dionne Warick at poker amusing.

A lot of the stuff he's covered I remember from when I was a kid, and it is amusing/terrifying to watch a glimpse now and see how terrible it was. (Plus racist. Seriously, some of those videos, eesh.) But as far as the snark level goes, he's pretty affectionate about the whole thing. At least that was what I took from his riff on Prince's acceptance speech.
posted by Diablevert at 8:42 PM on September 9, 2012


the only comment my oldest daughter had was "They actually gave an award for the best black pop song? Did they just say that?"
posted by vozworth at 8:42 PM on September 9, 2012


....The 80's cannot be explained. They could only be survived.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:45 PM on September 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


I recommend the movie Zombie Nightmare for a truly staggering slice of 80s cheese.
posted by The Whelk at 8:50 PM on September 9, 2012


My favorite surreal '80's experience was I went to a Prince concert at the Superdome on a whim. I am guessing '84. The Purple Rain tour. It was on a Friday night and we were at happy hour with 8-10 people and getting pretty drunk and this guy suggested we all go and I was the only one who took him up on it. Everybody else thought it was a stupid idea to do that. So we went. I think it was 20 bucks or something for the ticket. And when we got inside there were 50 000 teenage girls wearing a minimum of clothes. At least 10 000 of them were wearing nothing but slips. Sheila E was the warm-up act. I am sure Prince and Sheila E put on a decent show but I did not spend more than ten seconds looking at the stage.

Come to think of it that might have been my only good '80's experience. Popular culture can be bleak.
posted by bukvich at 9:13 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, man. As someone only a few years older than this guy, all of this stuff is like some half-remembered dream. I actually remember seeing these videos on MTV (and/or random pop cultural moments) and being equally mystified by them, except that I was under ten years old so I assumed there must be some piece of information that would make it all make sense.

Pretty sure incomprehensible 80's pop culture is what made me a naturally curious person.

I'm still looking for that one thing that will make Falco, "Say Say Say", and Troop Beverly Hills make sense.
posted by Sara C. at 9:34 PM on September 9, 2012


The important thing to know about the eighties, which younger people might not fully grok, was that RADICAL! and OUTRAGEOUS! were actual words people actually used all the time to refer to things they liked. Such words proved so encouraging (in a "please don't encourage him" sort of way) that they eventually had to be banned internationally.

Peak eighties -- around 1988 by my reckoning -- was the point at which absolutely everything had been rendered synthetic and its surface either fluorescent, metallic, acid washed, or some blinding combination of the three. All just jacked way the fuck up 'til the knob snapped off. Everything big and bright and sparkly and plastic and completely dumb as shit. Everything. At that point, the whole world was like, whoa, maybe we should lay off the bold allcaps exclamations.

And also all the cocaine.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:42 PM on September 9, 2012 [12 favorites]


Also "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick".

And bangs.

Not to mention anything David Bowie did in the entire decade. "Waitin' on a Friend?" Labyrinth? The video for "Let's Dance"?

I remember asking my parents heavy questions like "What's communism?" and "Why are they so excited about a dumb old wall?", and their answers enabled me to understand things that were happening halfway around the world.

And yet nobody could ever explain The Dark Crystal.
posted by Sara C. at 9:42 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick".

Just slow down there, junior. Say what you want about the clothes and the politics ( remember we were under Ronnie R the whole decade), but Ian Dury was genius. The song was actually released in 78, if that changes anything.
posted by Isadorady at 9:51 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't dislike Ian Dury, I just DONT GET IT.

It just seems like something I would have to be on mountains of coke to have any real grasp of beyond "oh hey this is a pop song"

Interesting that it's from '78, though. The aesthetic is so 80's.
posted by Sara C. at 9:56 PM on September 9, 2012


I think the real answer here is mountains of coke. Everything was so shiny! The Cocaine Cowboys down in Miami where running huge expenses on the bands used to tie together the stacks of hundred dollar bills.
posted by The Whelk at 10:05 PM on September 9, 2012


I think the "Peak Drugs" theory (not actually a thing yet) would be a good way to explain the mass movement of unusual aesthetics within a culture.
posted by vicx at 10:21 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think this is a good idea, but not as well-executed as it could be. I don't find the second-by-second, frame-by-frame responses very revealing (though they are certainly Twittertastic, and appropriate for our age). I'd prefer more holistic reactions, perhaps in paragraph form, compiled *after* watching the videos, rather than during.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:40 PM on September 9, 2012


I don't dislike Ian Dury, I just DONT GET IT.

There really isn't anything to get. It's just a beautiful string of rhyming words with images that makes you want to get up and dance, whether fueled by coke or not.

And I am not sure what is so incomprehensible about the 80s I remember-Bands like REM, Sonic Youth,Souixxie,X,The Smiths,Cramps, Robyn Hitchcock,XTC. You didn't have to have drugs to get into them.
I will admit that television sucked, but no one I knew watched it anyway,except for maybe Pro-Wrestling. Not even MTV- which amused us for about a year. The videos just weren't as important as they might seem.
posted by Isadorady at 10:45 PM on September 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


thee is this odd time-delay lag going on where early 90s Cable TV didn't have anything to show except old 80s stuff so they just put it on in a lop so latchkey kids got inundated with oceans of 80s cheese (Pop Up Video!) without any context for it.
posted by The Whelk at 10:52 PM on September 9, 2012


If you were a kid in the 80's, you didn't have the tools to just snark and put on a Sonic Youth tape and ignore the ridiculous. The ridiculous was all there was. We couldn't go out and do anything else -- all we had was TV. And toys crafted around TV shows. And music with videos shown on TV. And movies on TV on weekend afternoons. And video games played on consoles plugged into the TV, with tie-in cartoons on TV. And outlandish neon colored breakfast cereal advertised on TV. Even when we went outside to play, "play" was choreographing our own dance routines to Madonna and this bizarre LARPish homage to the original My Little Pony cartoon.

Everything was like this mad recursive loop that always came back around to Television, if it was 1987 and you were six years old.

And The Whelk is right, usually it was presented unsupervised so there was nobody to shepherd our delicate aesthetic senses. In fact I remember a recent AskMe about someone wanting to know Best Practices for introducing their kids to Star Wars, and I just couldn't wrap my brain around it. Because my parents didn't "introduce" me to anything. They just threw me into the deep end of cable TV and went to work.

The first decade of my life was just complete abject mystification at everything, all the time, mostly fueled by television and the fact that my parents either couldn't or wouldn't explain any of it. Even now, watching some of these clips my brain just rolls over and mutters OMGWTFBBQLGBTOPECHIVWedidntstartthefirebutitwasalwaysburnin...
posted by Sara C. at 11:09 PM on September 9, 2012 [15 favorites]


From the We are the World one- it works better with the screenshots of Lionel Ritchie, but-

8:48 I need to talk to my mom. I might be related to this dude.
...
He looks like a fancy but poorly groomed pup at the Westminster Dog Show. THAT'S THE ONLY WAY I'VE EVER DESCRIBED MYSELF. I need to wrap this up so I can call home and get to the bottom of this.


I dunno, I think that's pretty funny.
posted by hap_hazard at 11:20 PM on September 9, 2012


As someone who did not do drugs in the 1980s, the exposure to all the neon, hairspray, and shiny plastic may in itself have caused lasting brain damage.

If not a causative factor, exposure is at least a strong correlate with the enjoyment of Dog Boy (Parts Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten)
posted by zippy at 11:23 PM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Small Wonder was awful, bad enough that even as a pre-teen with sometimes questionable taste in TV I recognized how horrible it was. But to its credit, it did once feature the future Governor of Minnesota
posted by The Gooch at 12:06 AM on September 10, 2012


There are at least eleventy-nine people on Metafilter who are way funnier than this clown.

Having now read this entire thread, I am sad to report that I must retract the above assertion. Dark days indeed, babies.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:59 AM on September 10, 2012


Edwardian England: Whut Up Wit' Dat?!

Ummm...these sites already exist all over the place. Making fun, in varying degrees, of weird old clothes, hairstyles, inventions, views, etc.
posted by DU at 2:36 AM on September 10, 2012


Let's be fair to the guy, I was in college in the 80s, I saw the musical Chess, and I still don't understand Murray Head's One Night in Bangkok.
posted by interplanetjanet at 5:30 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had no idea that rashida jones was the daughter of Quincy jones and the diner owner lady from twin peaks. this is like
posted by camdan at 5:51 AM on September 10, 2012


Not to mention anything David Bowie did in the entire decade. "Waitin' on a Friend?" Labyrinth? The video for "Let's Dance"?

"Waitin' On A Friend" wasn't Bowie, it was the Rolling Stones.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:00 AM on September 10, 2012


You know what's amazing? The dreck that was Small Wonder ran for four seasons. That's before the 500 channel, specialty cable environment we have today.

(And yet Manimal only got eight episodes. There is no justice.)
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:47 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you're looking for more Rembert, here's some popular posts from an old blog of his: http://500daysasunder.wordpress.com/category/10-most-popular/
posted by Aizkolari at 6:50 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Prince is perfect, though. So he's right about that.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:25 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The ridiculous was all there was.

This needs to be repeated. And written on very large billboards in any major city where the indie rock scene is obsessed with '80s synth pop. And read as a public service message ahead of the broadcasting of that new indie synth pop on hip radio stations. This shit is not cute. The children of the '80s barely survived with their critical faculties intact.

I was an adolescent (and also what we now call a tween) in the 1980s. I did not live in a big city. All I knew was a vast sea of bland, toothless, gutless, market-researched, focus-grouped, mass-produced, genericized gruel. Bon Jovi seemed edgy in this musical universe. Kirk Cameron's character on Growing Pains seemed vaguely hip. There was no snark, and none of this was ironic at the time. The video for "Hungry Like the Wolf" was dead serious. Don Johnson's music career was taken at face value. This was the absolute nadir of 20th century pop culture. I was in my late teens before I learned of the existence of not just that one weird video on late-night MuchMusic but an entire parallel universe of interesting and diverse culture out there.

Point being it's fine for Rembert to snark. Maybe it's for the best. In any case, the '80s deserve all the ridicule we can muster.
posted by gompa at 7:31 AM on September 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


So, like did the soundtrack to Drive kill a whole bunch of people or something?
posted by The Whelk at 7:49 AM on September 10, 2012


No, but the credits kicked my head in after giving the soundtrack a passionate kiss.
posted by maryr at 8:09 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just emailed Rembert to suggest that he write one of these about the Sparks video for "I Predict".

(Which incidentially is NSFW. Go find it yourself...if you dare, muhahaha!)
posted by pxe2000 at 8:14 AM on September 10, 2012


The kids from Small Wonder:

Harriet (Emily Schulman): Grew up, got married, has kids, teaches acting in Connecticut.

VICI (Tiffany Brisette): Grew up, became a Christian, works as a nurse in Colorado.

Jamie (Jerry Supiran): All his money stolen by a stripper, lives under a bridge.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:14 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah yes, pop culture.

During the late 70s I attended a small, rural college. Anyone adopting the prevailing fashions of the time (and yes, the 70s were a sartorial disaster) could expect to be the object of ridicule should they sport that look on campus. Yes, there were feathered bangs and printed polyester knit shirts around, but the really hard-core 70s disco-wear was right out. Most of my friends shopped at Sears or L.L. Bean, affecting simple straight-cut jeans with shirts and sweaters layered over it, a woodsy-preppy, antifashion look championed by the Talking Heads.

We all found late-70s fashions laughable and still do. Just because you live through an era does not mean you must succumb to it.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:19 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just because you live through an era does not mean you must succumb to it.

However, it's easier to resist the pitfalls of an era when you are surrounded by people who are all doing it with you.

If you're not -- or, even if, as I was, you have no exposure to any alternative whatsoever - it gets mighty hard. (I lived in a total radio wasteland - all I could get for stations was my local AM station, a couple Spanish-language stations, a classical station and a top-40's station out of Hartford. One of the state schools was in my town, but they had no radio station. As a result, I never even learned of the existance of the B-52's or Sonic Youth until I was about to go away to college, or if they had their one little crossover hit that fought their way onto MTV in between the endless Whitney Houston/Bon Jovi/Michael Jackson/Flock of Seagulls/Duran Duran cycles.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 AM on September 10, 2012


Just because you live through an era does not mean you must succumb to it.

Didn't succomb. Nirvana saved my mortal soul. I do, however, remain eternally vigilant, lest a nostalgic Reagan-style postmortem attempt to sanitize the reality of the sea of tepid shit that was pop culture in the '80s.
posted by gompa at 9:03 AM on September 10, 2012


Just because you live through an era does not mean you must succumb to it.

I think there is also an issue of nostalgia for an era that one did not live through. Although the '80s was in many ways a horrible flashing neon-sprayed Nagel painting of a decade, it wasn't as bad as some people make it out to be (and in other ways, it was much, much worse)

I personally would like to see Rembert expand his oeuvre to include early '90s music videos, because what the fuck was up with that?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:09 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think there is also an issue of nostalgia for an era that one did not live through. Although the '80s was in many ways a horrible flashing neon-sprayed Nagel painting of a decade, it wasn't as bad as some people make it out to be

Short-shorts and nylon mesh sleeveless crop tops were in style.

For boys.

And no one batted an eyelash. It really was a weird time to grow up. Really.

It's literally a wonder we survived. Our clothes and hair were incredibly flammable, and the idea of not smoking was only just starting to catch on.

Granted, though, the colours were indeed often more pastel or neutral than fluorescent, especially in the early years.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:35 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I graduated from high school in 1986, and I think I had a very different experience that many people are describing here.

Yeah, sure, all the Don Johnson/Huey Lewis horribleness was going on, and my friends and I knew it was horrible, but we were so deep into our cultural exploration of the fringes that we were happy. We had Nightflight and Friday Night Videos, REM and The Ramones, thrift shopping and dumpster diving, Black Flag and Fugazi, Baudelaire and Bukowski, RE/search publications and Maximumrockandroll, hard-won copies of NME and Melody Maker, The Birthday Party and Einstürzende Neubauten, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, Repo Man and The Smithereens.

The mainstream nadir of pop culture was a small price to pay when you had all this amazing fringe culture to consume you.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:41 AM on September 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


I have two words: Chess King.
posted by zippy at 9:48 AM on September 10, 2012


Which became Merry-Go-Round and went bankrupt in 1996
posted by zippy at 9:50 AM on September 10, 2012


The mainstream nadir of pop culture was a small price to pay when you had all this amazing fringe culture to consume you.

If, not when. And that's a big if.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:59 AM on September 10, 2012


"Waitin' On A Friend" wasn't Bowie, it was the Rolling Stones.

Wasn't the "friend" David Bowie?

Or am I thinking of the "Dancin' In The Street" cover?

I could have sworn there was a video from the late 70's or early 80's that featured a collaboration between Bowie and Mick Jagger.

I am NOT thinking of the Bowie/Queen collaboration on "Under Pressure".
posted by Sara C. at 10:01 AM on September 10, 2012


If, not when. And that's a big if.

Aw, sniff.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:07 AM on September 10, 2012


Wasn't the "friend" David Bowie? Or am I thinking of the "Dancin' In The Street" cover?I could have sworn there was a video from the late 70's or early 80's that featured a collaboration between Bowie and Mick Jagger.

You are indeed thinking of "Dancin' In The Street." A video done for Live-Aid.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:10 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


However, it's easier to resist the pitfalls of an era when you are surrounded by people who are all doing it with you.

It's also easier if you're a college kid as opposed to a kid/tween.

I see pictures of older friends' high school and college lives in the 80's. This was also the dawn of the college rock scene that would spawn alternative, grunge, and indie rock. I get that. I know intellectually that the 80's had its moments.

Shit, I was an older teenager and college students in the similar pop cultural nadir of the late 90's and the first Bush term. And I didn't listen to any of that dreck, didn't dress like a moron, didn't drink the political koolaid. So I get all that.

But the kids who were born in 1990? I can't exactly fault them for liking the Backstreet Boys and not Sleater-Kinney, because it's not like they had any real way of knowing about that whole alternate universe unless their parents were record producers or something.
posted by Sara C. at 10:12 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


it's not like they had any real way of knowing about that whole alternate universe unless their parents were record producers or something.

Really, why? I was into all the stuff I listed above, and my parents weren't record producers, I lived in Tucson fucking Arizona, and it was long before the internet. I got cool stuff mailed to me from pen pals in England I found in the classifieds of zines! I made my own Nick Cave shirt because you sure couldn't buy one in Tucson. If you were born in 1990, you could've been all over learning about cool shit on the internet by the time you were 10!
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:22 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


We had Nightflight and Friday Night Videos, REM and The Ramones, thrift shopping and dumpster diving, Black Flag and Fugazi, Baudelaire and Bukowski, RE/search publications and Maximumrockandroll

See the way that worked in North Bay, Ontario, is you'd see a Sonic Youth video on the MuchMusic alternative show (City Limits), and you'd go to both record stores and ask about it and draw blanks. Then you'd make a 5th-generation copy of your friend's mixtape with some Forgotten Rebels and Dead Kennedys on it and listen to that till it wore out.

Then you cued up Master of Puppets for the 1000th time and counted off another day closer to the day you could go to university.
posted by gompa at 10:28 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Short-shorts and nylon mesh sleeveless crop tops were in style.

For boys.

And no one batted an eyelash


That is completely untrue. However, mullets and stonewashed jeans did not have eyelashes batted at them.
posted by DU at 10:31 AM on September 10, 2012


Oh and Squeak Attack, here's every kid in North Bay in 1990, speaking as one: "What the hell is a zine?"

Does Tuscon by chance have a good-sized university in it?
posted by gompa at 10:34 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


See the way that worked in North Bay, Ontario, is you'd see a Sonic Youth video on the MuchMusic alternative show (City Limits), and you'd go to both record stores and ask about it and draw blanks. Then you'd make a 5th-generation copy of your friend's mixtape with some Forgotten Rebels and Dead Kennedys on it and listen to that till it wore out.

Then you cued up Master of Puppets for the 1000th time and counted off another day closer to the day you could go to university.


This is how it also was in Willimantic, CT from 1982-1988. Except most of the time the only record store in town was the one in the mall, and the person at the record counter was that snooty bitch from your chem class or that weird guy who sat at the back of the cafeteria and stared at you all the time, so sometimes you didn't even bother asking them. So then you'd check the Columbia Record Club mailer to see if there was anything good in there, which usually there wasn't. (Except the back catalogue for Genesis, which was actually one bright spot in comparison.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:34 AM on September 10, 2012


I was into all the stuff I listed above, and my parents weren't record producers

Yeah, but:

I graduated from high school in 1986

That's just it. You were the generation that was doing the really cool stuff in the '80s.

In 1986, I entered kindergarten. Sara C. seems to be about my age, too. Our eighties were not your eighties, and yours not ours. We got Star Search, you got the Smiths.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:36 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Squeak Attack, were you six or seven years old when you were doing this?

Didn't think so.

There are HUGE differences between how young kids consume pop culture and how teenagers and young adults do. Saying you were in high school and you had a pen pal and learned about Nick Cave is just drastically different than the reality on the ground (internet or not) for an elementary school kid during the same period.

I, mean, you can even extend this back in time. My parents were born in the late 50's and were tweens when Woodstock and the Summer Of Love and all that were going on. I've dug through their record collections from the 60's, and it's not the Dead and the Velvet Underground and the "cool" stuff we all think about when we think of that time. They had lots of early poppy Beatles, The Mamas And The Papas, etc. The stuff that eight year olds liked in the 60's. It's a little different in hindsight because even the schlock has kind of a veneer of cool.

But then, maybe in 2035 people will think it's legitimately cool that I had the Wilson Phillips album.
posted by Sara C. at 10:39 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rembert Explains the 80s.

Baltimora's 'Tarzan Boy'

No he doesn't, because "Tarzan Boy" is inexplicable. And majestic.
posted by chavenet at 10:46 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, going forward in time and thinking about kids now and the internet:

I'd bet money that your average American under the age of 12 with access to iTunes or a bittorrent client or whatever is downloading Ke$ha rather than the new Animal Collective album. Except maybe for a tiny subset of really clued-in kids who live in Williamsburg or have a cool older brother or their dad owns an indie label.

I mean, I know someone who is 19 and whose father owns a concert booking company. She's fucking obsessed with Rihanna. She has childhood anecdotes of going to N*SYNC shows as a kid. Even now, with the internet everywhere (and thinking about someone who grew up in New York with parents in high-level media careers), some people get into alternative scenes, and some people legitimately think Huey Lewis And The News are the fucking bees' knees.

The existence of the Cure doesn't make the 80's awesome, sorry.
posted by Sara C. at 10:46 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have two words: Chess King.

One mall's very like another
When you're buying your clothes from Chess King, brother.

(What's Gap? It's a store; it's really kinda pretty
But there's one in every mall and the quality is shitty...)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:48 AM on September 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yeah, we have a university. I get it! My shithole town was better than many others' :) And I have an older perspective on the 80s than many people here.

I think what I missed must've been the increase in television and consumerism pushed at kids who were pre-teens in the 80s. It didn't really register for me, so thanks for pointing it out. I was always a strange kid, and went from being the only kid I knew in elementary schoo who loved The Monkees, to a junior high kid who loved PBS and Doctor Who and comic books about elves, to being a high school goth, so I was kinda always out of the mainstream.

I don't resent any of the pop culture I consumed at 7 or 8 years old, and I can't think that most of my peers do either, so 1975 must've been pretty different than 1985. And I do get jealous sometimes when I think how easy it has been for the past 10 years to engage in culture from all over the wold, with the help of the internet, when I think of how hard we scraped together the stuff we liked. I can see videos now on YouTube from 80s bands that I only read about in high school and like, would've died to experience at the time. Don't think we had the Smiths because they were handed to us like a Saturday morning cartoon. GOD, I sound old.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:51 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's just it. You [who graduated in 1986] were the generation that was doing the really cool stuff in the '80s.


HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA no.

And I will happily scan a couple of sample random photos from my own class of '88 high school yearbook to illustrate the dearth of cool* in my peer group.


* All the kids probably thought they were cool at the time. But...no.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:56 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The existence of the Cure doesn't make the 80's awesome, sorry.

It made them awesome for me!
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:57 AM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't resent any of the pop culture I consumed at 7 or 8 years old, and I can't think that most of my peers do either, so 1975 must've been pretty different than 1985.

A couple things.

Firstly, you really were growing up in a golden age of American pop culture. You also were growing up in the last era where people had 13 channels, max.

Secondly, I don't get the sense that any of us "resent" the 80's. We just have a special kind of ambivalent nostalgia for it which is a little less straightforward than our parents' nostalgia for the 60's or your (likely*) nostalgia for the 70's.

*Oh, come on, you KNOW you would be all over an FPP about HR Puffenstuff, Soul Train, and Laverne & Shirley.
posted by Sara C. at 11:00 AM on September 10, 2012


My work (technology sales) brings me to high school campuses with some regularity. Overhearing conversations among students is definitively a fringe benefit of the job, allowing me to experience this sort of "Young person explains (thing way before their time)" in person. One of my favorites was a couple years ago listening to a girl explain to a boy she was hanging out with how wild and crazy the 80s were, as people were constantly throwing huge "cocaine parties".

Either this was a pretty major exaggeration on her part, or I didn't get invited to any of the cool parties in jr. high and high school (a very likely scenario, having spent more Saturday nights than I care to admit eating Dominos pizza and watching "Small Wonder")
posted by The Gooch at 11:05 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA no.

Well, not the whole generation, obviously. People of that generation or thereabouts, given a particular set of circumstances, were very possibly the only group for whom it was even possible to be plugged in to alternative culture. ("A big if.")

(I am in full agreement, for example, that there was indeed an audience for ALF. A lot of us were kids at the time, but there must have been a whole lot of 18-to-30s watching too.)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:09 AM on September 10, 2012


I had the ALF computer game for our DOS PC circa 1990.

Weirdly enough, of all the pop culture products that mystified me in the 80's, I never really questioned ALF.
posted by Sara C. at 11:15 AM on September 10, 2012


Oh, come on, you KNOW you would be all over an FPP about HR Puffenstuff, Soul Train, and Laverne & Shirley.

No, but if was about Poldark, Elfquest, and after-school repeats of Alias Smith and Jones, you'd have me!
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:21 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Except most of the time the only record store in town was the one in the mall

Just take the WRTD up Spring Hill. There's a great one next to Store24.
posted by zippy at 11:22 AM on September 10, 2012


Dude, the WRTD didn't exist back in the 80's. (At least, to my knowledge.)

Don't forget, this is a town that waited until I left to get all the things I'd been wishing they had (a charter school for the arts, public buses, a coffee shop....)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:24 AM on September 10, 2012


Firstly, you really were growing up in a golden age of American pop culture. You also were growing up in the last era where people had 13 channels, max.

That's an interesting perspective, I guess I can kinda see it - I was 7 in well '73, and indeed my childhood doesn't sound like it was as TV-driven, homogenized or incomprehensible as Sara C describes. It really does seem like the 80's geared up the whole let's Poochie-ize-everything, and sell a buncha brightly colored crap- and aim it all at kids thing. (on the other hand, HR Puffenstuf- that's still a damned enigma.)

Golden age, huh. Well, if you knew where to look- and for me, there's no way I can say it wasn't luck, somehow. You had to know people. You had to know where to look, and that there was even something to look for. In the early 80's, music? Well, yeah... X, the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets, the Butthole Surfers, Black Flag, etcetc, were all playing clubs. The Clash, the Talking Heads, the Police... were all over the local Rock station. (in Phx, AZ, of all places) so there was that.

On the other hand, I never heard the Raincoats until a couple of years ago. I never heard Public Enemy or Run DMC until 1987 or so. ('twas from a punk-rock-girl, of course) And for reasons I'll never understand or forgive the Entertainment-Industrial-Complex for, Parliament-Funkadelic wasn't on the rock radio, not ever. So if I was a reasonably-hip 12-year-old right now, I could download everything I just mentioned, in the next hour or so, if I'd ever heard of it.

It wouldn't maybe 'mean' as much, or probably get me called a fag by rednecks, but maybe this is the real golden age anyway.
posted by hap_hazard at 11:47 AM on September 10, 2012


^ woops RUN-DMC were on MTV of course w/ Aerosmith, so sub Schooly D, whom I'm pretty sure never was, in the above.
posted by hap_hazard at 11:52 AM on September 10, 2012


But hap_hazard, again, you're talking about an experience where you're a relatively autonomous teenager with access to punk clubs and an awareness of the right radio station to listen to.

Being seven years old in that same environment, all you can really do is watch MTV and be confused.
posted by Sara C. at 11:57 AM on September 10, 2012


Ah, no! Sorry- didn't live in Phoenix, lived 100 miles north in Prescott. No clubs at all that I could get into 'til I moved the fuck away, because that was how you had to do it in those days. It was the only rock station we could get up there- but it was before Clear Channel, so... again, though, luck.

I was amused as hell to go back a few scant years after HS- in the early 90's- to the town where having long hair made me a FAGORT, constantly likely to get fucked w/ by cowboys, and see like *every kid* had piercings/tats/etc. Far as I can tell, that was all down to MTV becoming completely pervasve.

But luck- yeah, the weirdos in the local B Dalton's- which had maybe 10k books total, it was tiny- would stock RE/SEARCH, Burroughs, etc, and give me guidance about what I should be special-ordering. Word-of-mouth, and the fact that it wasn't anywhere near mainstream culture at the time was important to us mutants that KNEW.

Y'all can hang out on my lawn if I can pass out on yours. I'M OLD, ah needs ma rest.
posted by hap_hazard at 12:17 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everything was like this mad recursive loop that always came back around to Television, if it was 1987 and you were six years old.

Ah, that explains it. For me, Peak Eighties was pretty much achieved when we all turned our backs on REM for selling out to a major label and threw out their albums. Fucking rockstars.
posted by jokeefe at 12:26 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Peak Eighties was pretty much achieved when we all turned our backs on REM for selling out to a major label

The irony of course being that if you were outside the loop, the first you heard of a band like REM was Document (maybe) and Green (for sure), and you could actually buy those albums at your terrible major-labels-only local record store, and then you'd read in Rolling Stone and Spin about all the bands they respected and admired, and that was the only channel you had open for figuring out where the good stuff was. (By way of example, I knew to buy a Fugazi album the first time I saw one because a big magazine profile noted that Kurt Cobain had that word written on one of his shoes.)

Plus also Document and Green are as good as any other two albums in their catalogue, and so it'd really be your loss if you couldn't get past the ideology to throw them on your tape deck.
posted by gompa at 12:36 PM on September 10, 2012


Some of the reactions are just snarky, but sometimes they transcend it. I like the genuine surprise near the end of the American Music Awards video:
6:31 Excuse me while I make an announcement:

THE 1985 AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS WERE THE MOST IMPORTANT MOMENT IN BLACK HISTORY.

The three Favorite Black Albums are the SAME as the three Favorite Pop Albums. Was this the moment that racism ended? Was it? Why isn't this award show in history books? Why am I just learning about this now?
posted by mbrubeck at 1:28 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, I recently had my cats declared anathema and denied communion for (among other things) apostasy, impiety, rebellion, and sloth.


I don't think they were listening, though.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:18 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aaand this is totally the wrong thread.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:18 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's an interesting perspective, I guess I can kinda see it - I was 7 in well '73, and indeed my childhood doesn't sound like it was as TV-driven, homogenized or incomprehensible as Sara C describes. It really does seem like the 80's geared up the whole let's Poochie-ize-everything, and sell a buncha brightly colored crap- and aim it all at kids thing. (on the other hand, HR Puffenstuf- that's still a damned enigma.)

I swear to god, there was an article in The Atlantic on this history of toys that I came across while researching something else that demonstrates the literal truth of your statement far better than you can know....I shall find it and post it, though the Google-goddess has rejected my initial attempts.
posted by Diablevert at 2:20 PM on September 10, 2012


That was like when the song ends and the conversation level at the party randomly drops all at once just in time for that one guy to finish his sentence, TheWhiteSkull.

(happened to a friend of mine on a 8th grade field trip. Into the silence from the back of the bus "ew, I'm not going to rub that hairy, disgusting little thing."*)

*Tom had been rather pleased with his goatee. It was a fine effort for an 8th grader.
posted by Diablevert at 2:25 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tom had been rather pleased with his goatee. It was a fine effort for an 8th grader.

Great first paragraph of a novel.
posted by Sara C. at 5:15 PM on September 10, 2012


Well, yeah, the 1980's were a time of stagnation for popular culture in America. There always will be intelligent new artists thinking up interesting things, but the venues for introducing new ideas were sluggish. Corporate America Media squeezed the golden goose a bit too hard back then, in the days when the media was mediated.

Radio programmer mastermind Lee Abrams introduced limited playlists for Album Oriented Rock and finally killed off experimental FM Radio (except for college stations, with crappy little signals). Major music record labels realized that they could increase profit margins by heavily promoting older established artists, and neglecting research and development (in the 1990's they just got indie labels to do the R&D for them). American broadcast television writing in the 1980's was mostly stultifying, and any TV exec with a new idea was beaten with a blunt object (well, there was Twin Peaks, but that didn't make an impact). Towards the end of the 1980's there was ST:TNG and The Simpsons, and then TV improved.

So I spent the 1980's not watching television, and listening to mostly English post-punk music which wasn't on the radio (among other things). One of my younger siblings was into the new hardcore-punk music scene.
posted by ovvl at 5:16 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, yeah, the 1980's were a time of stagnation for popular culture in America.

Goodness gracious, we lived through entirely different decades at the same time, then.

Popular culture stagnating? The 1980s I lived through had a rich mix of movies, music, and television which felt like it was constantly pushing things forward in various ways. Sure, there was a lot of dreck. There always has been, even when there were only 3 networks plus PBS. Plenty of crap. But I can't think of a time which was richer in innovation and blending audiences and art forms than the 1980s. Storytelling both in film and television underwent radical changes, music transformed itself through technology, entirely new musical genres took firm root, many now-classic movies (some of which were not successful at the time but have since gained acclaim for various reasons) were released during the 80s. The media landscape itself completely transformed in the 1980s in a lot of ways.

I'm not going into a list here because I don't want to make this look all ranty-ranty. But there was a lot of innovation in nearly every sector of popular culture in the 1980s, stuff which has not only withstood the test of time but which is foundational to the popular culture world we have today.

It's easy to laugh at the horrible 80s, but right there, as part of that same reality, there was a hell of a lot of awesomeness happening.
posted by hippybear at 6:41 PM on September 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


>Plus also Document and Green are as good as any other two albums in their catalogue, and so it'd really be your loss if you couldn't get past the ideology to throw them on your tape deck.

*checks post* Yeah, it looks like I forgot to turn up irony function or something, 'cause I'm guessing the attempt at nuanced, rolling eyes affection for youthful hijinks didn't come through quite the way I hoped. I figure now that missing out on REM at their peak was actually my loss, yaknow?
posted by jokeefe at 6:24 PM on September 11, 2012


Sure there were innovations in the 1980's, but a lot of it was kinda:

some of which were not successful at the time but have since gained acclaim for various reasons...

We didn't really see as many radical innovations in the forefront of popular culture at that time as before or after. On the fringes, sure.
posted by ovvl at 8:53 AM on September 13, 2012


Well, yeah, the 1980's were a time of stagnation for popular culture in America.

Those last two words are key, because here in Europe it was quite a creative decade. And even in America you had rap's first golden age.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:25 AM on September 18, 2012


« Older ...When I was around four or five, my parents spli...  |  How to grow mushrooms in bulk... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments