The Music Club

The ’80s: When Substance Was a Novelty

It’s been said, “If you remember the ‘80s, you’re a frighteningly shallow idiot.” Or was it, “Those who don’t learn the lessons of the ‘80s are doomed to listen to seven CDs of its music featuring Air Supply and Eddie Rabbit in ‘Repeat’ mode”? Hey, what does it really matter what the hell anybody else said since the rather ugly truth of the matter is that you and I have already given the lost Decade of Reagan and “Beastmaster” considerably more serious thought than most of those artists who created the passing pleasures collected on this curiously compelling collection of ‘80s pop artifacts. For the record, that word there was “artifacts,” not “art” since—as a rule—I try never to use the word “art” in discussing any album that includes “Footloose” by ‘80s soundtrack god and recovering ‘70s sensitive guy Kenny Loggins. Nostalgia can’t blind me—though I did once meet this chick in the ‘80s who blinded me with science.

Truth be told, it might be easier to be full-on cranky about the ‘80s if we could cop some serious attitude from a better musical spot than the one we find ourselves in right here, right now. And you’re right that ultimately the ‘80s gave us some musical giants like Prince and the Replacements, to name just two acts from the state of Minnesota. In the ‘80s, substance may have become a bit of a novelty—but at least it existed. Unfortunately we’re living now in a era with shockingly few weighty newcomers anywhere on the downloadable horizon—with the possible exception of some kid named Elvis Presley, who’s remarkably red-hot this week thanks to Lilo & Stitch and a current techno hit—“A Little Less Conversation,” by JLX—that’s about to hit our shores from overseas. But apart from the King, things aren’t looking too substantial these days. And so it is with a heavy, shallow heart that I’ve got to agree with you that in this culturally troubled context, “Sister Christian” sure does sound mighty fine to me. (Maybe you should start calling me “Brother Jew.”) Then again, I also find myself hungering for more of the sort of late New Wave poppy-punk energy that’s here in its full glory on Scandal’s “Goodbye to You.” Take a listen. Remember kids, if only Britney Spears had the glorious pipes of Patty Smyth, maybe she’d be with a best-selling author like John McEnroe instead of trying to get over Justin Timberlake.

Basically, Davy boy, I think we’ve both got a love/hate relationship with a decade we both survived, but not without being bloodied and not without hearing “Der Kommisar” more times than we care to mention. Still, I love those unbalanced obsessives at Rhino Records. Why? Because they care as much about pop culture as I do, even about the stuff that isn’t cool even in an ironic way. And arguably because I’ve been on their mailing list since I started reviewing records for the Cornell Daily Sun sometime in the ‘80s. Actually, come to think of it, I believe that I started seriously scoring with the ladies sometime in the ‘80s, too—so after all, perhaps those were the days, my friend.

Then again, my wife did let me wear my “Sunglasses at Night” this weekend.