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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Senses Working Overtime

I know you like the back of my hand, dear reader. And right through these here internets, I can feel the vibrations and emanations. Your chakra and your aura and your vibes come through, and as I lay my hand on the cpu, I can hear it, in my very bones:

what about the eighties?
Getting clearer now, less faint:
The seventies were dreadful; stop talking about them! You’re harshing my mellow!
Honing in on the signal now:
Please, god, I wasn’t born yet. No more Lulu!
OK, OK, what about the eighties? Was the music any fun?
Why yes, it was. But it takes more rooting around in it to find good stuff left over from the eighties. The most poplular song in the eighties, ten weeks at number one, was Physical by Olivia Newton John. Or as we used to call her in our little LA combo back then: Olivia Neutron Bomb, referring to her ability to clear a room, leaving only the furniture.
Land sakes, look how bad the most popular music was in the eighties:
Lionel Ritchie
Michael Jackson, post nose
Kenny Rogers
Bonnie Tyler
Kim Carnes
Madonna before pitch correction equipment, still looking a little doughy
Rick Springfield
Human League
Toni Basil
Duran Duran
REO Speedwagon
Sorry. I’m not channeling Howard Dean; it’s just that I got to that last one– whom I renamed DOA Meatwagon — and I felt the urge to plunge a number two pencil into my eardrums.
The first thing I ever wrote was twenty-five years ago or so, a review of the DOA Meatwagon show at the Providence Civic Center. I’ve never met a more loathesome bunch of people than those guys and their entourage. My friend Steve LaBadessa was a photographer, and got a superb photo of the security guards dragging some drug addled schlub out of the arena, none too gently, either. When the guards got done tharashing him, they turned towards us, saw the cameras, then decided perhaps the photos of the proceedings would be best if unpublished — and came after us. We fled like footpads, them in hot pursuit, our press credentials waving behind us like a Sopwith Camel pilot’s scarf.
Look, this isn’t going well. It wasn’t that bad. Let me show you the best of it, the encapsulation of the zeitgeist in pop music, and still damn good fun: XTC

The eighties were a time when the world was waking up from a kind of torpor, or stasis. New possibilities were opening up. The shooting wars had calmed down a bit. And the ideas from the technology and commerce side of the aisle were ascendant, and things got downright hopeful compared to the enuui mixed with depression the seventies encapsulated. My high school yearbook in 1976 had a two page spread that simply had the word APATHY in big letters across it. Hey, when you’re taking a beating, sometimes it’s best to curl up and wait for the blows to stop raining down.

Anyway, XTC encapsulates the marvelous and clever hive of activity that eighties music was, if you scratched the chrome off the arena rock edifice and looked a little deeper. They embodied the ideal of a few talented guys writing quirky, pleasant, tuneful ditties for our –and their own — amusement. It was nice to see people look like they were having fun, and not taking themselves too seriously for a change. To paraphrase Jeff Lebowski- God, I hate the Eagles.

XTC look like dweebs, and they are. The lead singer and one of the founders, Andy Partridge, canceled a whole tour because his wife hid his valium, and he was terrified to go on stage without it. He really belonged in a cubicle somewhere, or a library or something. He wrote songs about his comic book collection. His sort of Star Wars action figure collector comic book guy ugly guitar buyer home studio recorder computer geek TV Guide obsessed Avengers wannabe persona didn’t exist yet then in pop culture. Everybody’s like him now.

We dragged poor Andy out onto the stage he feared so, to distill the intellectual and the artisitic and the pop culture wag “vibe” into those toe-tapping songs. My, they were clever.

Enjoy it. I did. You’ve worn out your Talking Heads records anyway.

7 Responses

  1. “1976 high school yearbook”

    That explains it, doesn’t it?

    You’re looking at the 80s from the other side — employment, family, adult life. For me, the 80s were junior high, high school and college.

    And the music still largely sucked.

    But it was a different suckiness from the tacky 70s and the hippy-drippy pre-Watergate era. We had glam rock and Euro-pop!

    And yet, I must rise to my decade’s defense. Yes, there was a lot of bad music, but a lot of it was MTV’s fault. Creating an all-music cable channel was just like adding expansion teams in baseball — there’s not enough talent to go around. “We’ve got to put something on the air! Grab a guitar! Or better yet, a synth.”

    Here goes:

    Although he defines “Napoleon complex,” give the little purple guy from Mnpls his due. Prince is one bad cat, and a great songwriter and entertainer.

    Though his fame is mainly due to his parody music, Weird Al Yankovic really is a funny and creative musician.

    Billy Joel wrote a lot of dreck, but also some good stuff. “Glass Houses” is a very good album.

    U2 was consistently very good.

    So I think there will be some things from the 80s that people will still be listening to in 10-20 years.

    And Pat Benatar is still one of my guilty pleasures.

  2. Say it ain’t so Sippican! I love REO Speedwagon! “Keep On Loving You” is one of the top 25 most played songs on my iPod. (I know I’m pathetic.) Regardless of the overall inanity of the 80s, you’ve got to admit the Cars (love Ric Ocasek) and Tom Petty (love him!) are both timeless.

  3. tcd – Yes! The Cars and Tom Petty Definitely. And The Police.

    Sippican – By the way, I love the music posts. Keep up the good work.

  4. Boy, this is fun, isn’t it?

    OK. Let’s review. I wrote:
    Land sakes, look how bad the most popular music was in the eighties

    I didn’t write: Land sakes, look how bad most of the popular music was in the eighties.

    Big difference.

    There was more bad than good. But there always is, no matter when you’re talking about. It’s fun to sift through it, ain’t it?

    jeff- “employment, family, adult life” Well, I was employed when I was 16, so no difference. Family and adult life was the nineties for me, too. I would have been arrested for looking at Mrs Sippican funny in 1980. I was a welder in the desert playing in a garage band in the early eighties.

    I have a knack of ruining music for people- beware! You’ll never think of her as anything as “Peanut Butter” if I call Pat Benatar that.

    tcd- the beauty of pop music is that you can like what you like. It’s not a contest, and there’s no wagering. My DOA Meatwagon story is really much worse than I wrote; I ruined the show, if inadvertently. I should write a story about it.

    I think I’ll go back down the eighties rabbit hole again soon.

    Ric Ocasek of the Cars is the living embodiment of the slogan: Play the guitar, get girls. He’s married to Paulina Porizkova.

    Come to think of it, so am I. Paging Mrs. Sippican!

  5. XTC: Yes!

    Now I’ll have them running through my head the rest of the day … and since I’m not home and don’t have access to our music servers (and don’t have XTC on the laptop or iPod at present), I have no way to exorcise the worms.

    Oh, well–at least I like XTC.

    As for the Eagles, enough time still hasn’t passed for me to want to hear almost anything they ever did again. However, there was a folksinger named Kate Wolf who did a cover of “Peaceful Easy Feeling” that I loved. I think she did MUCH, MUCH more justice to that song.

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