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Lit and Crit
A Guide to America's Worst Decade
by Kevin Salveson
I'm in the car on a hot sticky summer Sunday late last year and K-Earth 101 FM in Los Angeles is mocking me. I don't think it's deliberate or meant specifically for me, but it hurts just the same. Because it's an 80's oldies flashback weekend.
Couldn't they at least have a little consideration and empathy for the weak and nearly invalid who might be operating a motor vehicle? Thanks a lot, President Trump.
Listen, I generally abhor the 1980's, ok? Loathe and despise them, with a revulsion in my gut one notch above nausea. I lived through them once and I'm not willing to do it again, for Spaghetti's sake.Yet, here is the radio telling me that the music of my teen years just a few scant decades ago are now "oldies!" And it's threatening to make me endure it all not once, but twice. Or maybe forever for the rest of my godforsaken life.
There is nothing more humiliating that being told you are over the hill by a canned announcer who seems positively chipper to proclaim that it's "an 80's flashback wateroarding torture session weekend!" All interminable lweekend without cease, forever and ever This is cruel and unusual punishment in my book, like an acid flashback I never wanted from a drug I never took, like an ice picking from Jason Bateman while he's telling you why Huey Lewis' "professionalism" is what makes him great.
I will not be mocked.
Let me put a few things in context. First, I'm not old yet, ok? Let's just extablish that up front. I still have a fairly full head of luxurious hair, and almost no grey, if I pluck them out. Second, "Oldies" will firmly and forever refer to the early rock and roll era of the 1950s and 60s. Another way to understand it: anything between the late 40s to modern music's Pre-psychedelic era. You can't just go around changing the definition of what oldies are, because they are golden. Let me explain: Bill Haley and the Comets: golden oldie. Boy George: fool's goldie. It's simple.
Listen, I was actually alive and aware during the 80s. I assure you, it mostly sucked. It may best be represented, I think, by that 70s have a nice day smiley emoji with the bullethole bleeding from its temple. Yes, faux 1980's prosperity and Reagan optimism as religion: just shoot me.
I won't go into it too deeply here because it's a whole chapter of my forthcoming book, but suffice it to say that it was the dawn of the Reagan epoch (in which we still live). That means it was the era in which the humanist gains of the 60s were rolled back by a tide of prefabricated disposable plastic people and consumer products, exploded by fresh wealth envy and pre-sweetened disinformation.The organic, humanist and sustainable were disdained as dirty and replaced by the bright pastels of inoffensive aspirational white prosperity worship without conscience.
Dynasty replaces the Jeffersons. No more exploring the grit and struggle of the have-nots. It's their own fault God did not bless them. Movies questioning the doubtable past are replaced with action heroes and Schwartzeneggar. Actors will now often go on to be politicians, becuse the fantasy was always more powerful than reality. (Though Arnold isn't half bad at the job, he has other character flaws endemic of the Boomers). No more looking for deeper meanings. Fuck equality, fuck fairness. It's all surface from here on out and we are all expected to stand happily in a puddle pissed on our pantlegs in which we can see shimmering the track-light dimmer-switch reflections of posh penthouse suites high above our stations in life. The American dream: empty as a Mylar balloon twisted into the shape of a dog these days. Who shot JR? But in the end...it was you and me.
The bar was lowered one more notch, the haves twisted into knots, the promise of the second coming of supply side Jesus was fulfilled. It was a regressive fantasy of a Victorian era morals. America was to be a covered-up and bonneted church BBQ amidst a sea of fur coats and clutched pearls, with the men in cowboy hats and big shiny belt buckles like it was still the 1800s. That, instead of European style education, liberty, peasant sundresses and dreads, beach bonfires and funkiness freeing your mind.
It was in the 80's that the Republicans started in earnest on their project of creating and then weaponizing ignorance itself under the cover of a Hollywood actor at the helm. Before that, they had tried but not many people were buying it given the cultural noble savageness of the 70's. Since then, it doesn't have to make sense for them deep down, it just has to impress with its crass peacocking pose, proving that making more money that your neighbor is the entire purpose of human existence. It was the time when the robots first started to rise and we stood by and did nothing but welcome our new masters..
Well, ok, there were really two Ninteen Eightieses, if I can add some nuance. There was the shallow Reagan revolution in the moneyed classes and thus the media, therefore also on the pop charts and in the movies. Yet underground there was still real art being made, as you do.
While the Warrants of the world were crassly cashing in on faux porn rock and dumb double entendres from within a cloud of bouffant hair, purple eyeshadow, and macho-feminite posturing, bands like the Husker Du punks or Public Enemy were calling out the fakes and repping for the real, and Prince and some others were keeping decent pop rock music alive.
Listen, there's nothing inherently wrong with politesse, or making money, or having class and taste, or leadership, or confidence, or with even having a Texas ranch estate. As long as you're not releasing greenhouse gases. And there's really not so much that separates Kip Winger from Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, for example. Every musician who picks up a guitar or positive minded rapper who picks up a pen should get some props just for attempting to write a line in the great symphony of time. Heck, a lot of it is even catchy.
Obviously much of it had basic musicianship and a lot of glossy reverby polish, or it wouldn't be what it is. I have a soft spot for the bands Van Halen and the Thompson Twins, for example, regardless of how overdone their hair or arrangements were. But not at the expense of the Cocteau Twins or Jane's Addiction, not at the expense of basic good taste, not when the sweet smell of flowering art should never be overpowered by the brute sting of flourocarbonous grooming products on the air.
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