Monday, January 26, 2009

If there's one thing I can't stand (and there are many things, but if there's one) it's '80s nostalgia. The '80s were pretty horrible, far as I'm concerned. Here's the main thing I remember of the '80s:

I was an awkward, intelligent, alienated teenager growing up in one of the most politically conservative towns in Southern California (Simi Valley, now home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential library). I was not, nor am I now, politically conservative, far from it, and I could not stand some of the overt right-wing nuttiness that surrounded me. Like, a kid in my high school in ROTC who actually wore a shirt to school that said, "Kill a Commie for Mommy." In, like, 1984 - it may as well have been 1957. Or, a debate that was held at my high school between the head of ROTC and one of the school's history teachers, about whether war was a good or a bad thing. Hats off to the history teacher, Jim Huchthausen (not sure if I've spelled his name right), because if I remember correctly he was a veteran of Vietnam and he had the nerve and good sense to get up in front of that conservative student body and say some straight-up things about why war is hell. But the head of ROTC was as hawkish as you'd expect, and the responses he elicited from the crowd were scary. Basically, I spent the 1980s convinced that Reagan was going to reinstate the draft to fight the war I was sure he was going to start in Nicaragua, and the only really serious fight I ever had with my parents was over whether I would register for the draft (I did, but only after they assured me that if I were ever drafted, they would help me escape to Canada).

All of that said, there was some damn fine music that came out in the 1980s, some of which I write about in my book. I developed my taste for metal at an early age - bought Kiss Alive! in second grade and went from there. But it was only in high school that I really started listening to punk, and I have to admit that I belong to that group of folks (Gina Arnold is one, based on her book Route 666: The Road to Nirvana) who believe that 1984 was some kind of crazy golden year for great alternative rock music. That was when I discovered the Minutemen and Husker Du, among others, and my listening habits were never quite the same, even though I still happily listened to my Ratt and Van Halen albums as well.

The '80s are on my mind now, partly because we just got rid of a president that rivals Reagan for worst president I've experienced in my lifetime - there are a lot to choose from, and Nixon was probably worse than Reagan in real terms, but Nixon was president when I was ages 1-6, and Reagan when I was 13-21. Needless to say, my political sensibilities were a bit more attuned during the Reagan years and I hated him; but damn if Bush wasn't as bad if not worse. (Ford and Bush Sr. were also lousy but too ineffectual to ultimately be worth hating quite so much.)

The '80s are also a big part of the great recent movie, The Wrestler, which my partner Holly and I went to see the other night. The main characters in the movie, Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) and his love interest, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), both long for the 1980s, a time when they were young and hot and felt like they could conquer the world. The movie uses the heavy metal music of that time to great effect, and not just obvious songs: sure, there's "Sweet Child o' Mine" and "Metal Health," the latter of which is The Ram's theme song when he enters the wrestling arena, but there's also Accept's "Balls to the Wall" and a couple songs by the Scorpions (strangely, both from Animal Magnetism, which I just listened to today for the first time in a long while). Cassidy, a stripper, dances to 1980s metal just as Randy enters the ring to it, and they're both aging metalheads who never stopped chasing that one good time that might be just a little bit better than the last good time. But the movie doesn't let them have their 1980s nostalgia without conflict. Granted, the fact that metal stands as an emblem of their delusions of past grandeur fits too easily with cliches about metal as the music of the uneducated, hedonistic underclass. But more to the point, their nostalgia for the 1980s is shown to be a lie - it wasn't the period when life was better, it was the period when people like Randy and Cassidy were encouraged to pursue their escapist, materialist dreams to the detriment of everyone around them.

Still, it's pretty hilarious when, in one of the movie's best scenes, Randy dances and serenades Cassidy to Ratt's "Round and Round," and he and Cassidy - who wears a Motley Crue shirt - agree that the eighties were awesome, but the nineties, they sucked.


  1. The 90s are completely under appreciated. Especially musically. But I recognize that part of the love I feel for the music of this decade is nostalgia. Some of it might even be ironic. But even the music that was bad -- even the height of the corporate posturing of grunge -- was better than the Clear Channel hard rock of today. I often wonder if this is merely my own skewed perception of the years I spent in high school or if somehow that decade was actually in some way "better" musically...

    I too have great love for punk bands of the 80s (based on my own narrow definition of what "punk" is). I didn't discover the best of it until I was much older (great albums by The Pixies, Sonic Youth, et. al.). All I remember actually listening to in this first decade of my life was Prince. Who is incredible in his own right. (I recently watched Purple Rain. Still amazing. On many levels. But perhaps irony is the highest).

  2. On January 6, Axman wrote that his H.S. teacher, Jim Huchthausen, took on the ROTC instructor in opposing Vietnam. Well, this is Jim (aka Mr. Huck). Those were wonderful xomments you made Let me know more about you.

  3. Incidentallym my e-mail is