Friday, September 19, 2008

The Lost 80's

The dB's--"Molly Says" (mp3)
Chris Stamey--"Cara Lee" (mp3)
House of Freaks--"When The Hammer Came Down" (mp3)
Guadalcanal Diary--"Trail Of Tears" (mp3)

Yeah, we were young, we were newlyweds, and we had MTV. It made us extremely popular with the teenager who lived in the apartment next door; her parents would not subscribe t0 such a stupid cable channel. So in the afternoons and early evenings, we often got a healthy dose of Duran Duran (her favorite), Culture Club, U2, and all of the other pioneers of 80's pop music whose careers were largely made by MTV and the rise of the video. Had we not actually been able to see Bono's anguished suffering during a live "Sunday Bloody Sunday," breath fogging from his nostrils like CĂșchulainn after battle, would we know him as the hero of all mankind that he is today?

But there was more to the 80's than that, wasn't there?

The thing I hate about oldies stations is that they reduce musical years of my life to their least common denominators--the hits. Those 1960's years of the transitor radio under the pillow listening to KQV certainly had their share of hits, but the endless cycle of songs on AM radio back then included plenty of others that were trying to be hits, but were not getting quite there. And now, plenty of those seem to be lost, even to me, unless someone sneaks one into a movie or something as an I'm-hip-enough-to-remember-this-even-though-you-didn't kind of cultural memento. I do like those, though they force me to admit to those hipper than me. Alas.

Two decades beyond, the 80's have become the same way--a limited offering of "She Blinded Me With Science," "The Heat Is On," "Take On Me," and other songs whose sheer silliness is fun if you're drunk and feeling nostalgic, but whose depth, or lack thereof, is such that the songs carry no emotional weight at all. I except, as always, "Come On, Eileen." In the early years of Entertainment Weekly, when you bought your subscription, you'd get a box set of some kinds of hits or classics. So, yeah, we've had the 80's in a box for over ten years now, "Life In A Northern Town," the Outfield, all of that.

But there was more, and I feel it slipping away from me, except on those occasions when the shuffle function on my Ipod treats me to a forgotten 80's fav.

Even among the part of the 80's I was slow to come to and quick to embrace--the Athens, GA scene--a wealth of great bands have been reduced to, basically, just R.E.M. and the B-52's. And even the B-52's themselves have been further filtered down to not much more than "Love Shack." Lest we forget, their original punky craziness arrived much earlier with "Rock Lobster" and "Private Idaho" and other great songs about nothing. Am I contradicting myself here? You remember, don't you, all of the other stuff pouring out of there? The other artists sprouted from the same fertile ground as R.E.M. and paid equal homage to Alex Chilton and Big Star. Yes, their songs were jangly, poppy, minor-key affairs, interested in girls like everyone else, but sometimes slipping off for a bit of Southern gothic a la R.E.M's "Swan Swan H."

I'm teaching Brave New World right now, and, of course, one of the sources of entertainment for the citizens in that novel are the feelies, those full-sensory movies Huxley dreamed up. But as we read about them, I remembered, wait, the Feelies were band in the 80's, the one where you couldn't hear the singer's vocals, and John had their best cd but, yeah, he said he lost it in a move.

I guess it's hard to hold on to the decade as you remember it.

The Db's and Chris Stamey are out of print, at least the cds that the above songs come from. You can find the Guadalcanal and House of Freaks tracks at Itunes.


Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly concur and would add The Silos and The Wild Seeds and The Reivers to that list and probably about half a dozen others as well. Even a half-good band like Dreams So Real could kick the ass of most stuff that finds its way to regular rotation on oldies stations. I need to resign myself to never finding that Feelies cd and just go to ebay and buy a copy.

Anonymous said...

the 80's were musical golden years to me.

So many great bands not on MTV.

Meat Puppets, husker du, Camper Van Beethoven, Jane's Addiction (Saw them at Exit Inn 88), minutemen, Jesus and mary chain, dinosaur jr., sonic youth, game theory, fetchin bones, dumptruck, let's active, flat duo jets (inspired Jack white), dream syndicate, husker du, donner party, Crippled Pilgrims, the smiths, spacemen 3, pixies, guadalcanal diary, Jason and the Scorchers, mission of burma, the fall, vaselines, rem, green on red, my bloody valentine, public enemy, beastie boys (paul's boutique), flaming lips (yes, they rocked a sewanee fraternity house in 1988 -- Looked like a flying saucer landing), and the feelies just to name a few.

2008 Feelies reunion opening for Sonic Youth in the Park.

Billy said...

Gawd, I looooved my Dreams So Real album. That dude's voice was cool and gruff. I can still hear him saying those lines "Come blow your horn / the bed is made but the sheets are torn / these are the times that try and try my soul..." (John, if you still have any of their stuff, I might rob your house to get to it.)

Fetchin' Bones had their moments, too.

But Public Enemy, MBValentine, the Beasties, the Smiths... they might not have made lame radio stations, but they were hardly under the radar. (I mostly know this because I know who they are and owned multiple albums by them, which almost automatically lands them on a larger radar screen.)

Anonymous said...

1 more feelies with better vocal mix....

wish I had seen this show..

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, that Feelies footage is da bomb. Thanks for sharing. Billy, I do think I have the DSR (two differenct discs, I believe) and you're always welcome in my home to burn whatever you want to burn.

Do I feel a ten comment post emerging? Come on, peeps, help a blog out!

Anonymous said...

For you, Billy. Enjoy the trip to back in time.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah...I forgot about The Producers. One of the hottest pop hooks from college was "She Sheila". The Producers and the first The Romantics album got heavy play at Sewanee.

Daytimerush said...

The Romantics!!!Yes...Lots of play in the midwest too.
This post brought up lots of memories and weekend conversation about what we listened to way back when.

Tommy D said...

2 words: The Cure