Skip to comments.Rockin' '80s define today
Posted on 06/19/2005 5:20:20 AM PDT by pissant
It's 2005, and the 1980s are almost over again.
That's right 15 years after the end of the Reagan decade, the practice of popular culture recycling its music and fashion has reached a peak.
But, given the furious nature of information consumption in the digital age, it's not likely to be long before the era of leg warmers, bizarre haircuts and synthopop drops off the pop radar screen.
"It's speeding up," said Pete Anderson, a veteran Los Angeles record producer best known for two decades of work with country singer Dwight Yoakam. "There used to be a statute of limitations: We don't mess with any '50s music for at least 20 years afterwards. Sha Na Na didn't hit until like 1969. Now the cycle is spinning faster and faster. It's down to 10 or 15 years in some cases."
Nostalgia for the '80s began in the late '90s, when, among other things, "The Wedding Singer" hit movie theaters. The 1998 Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore romance was a trip back to 1985 that hit home with Generation Xers, who were born between 1961 and 1981.
VH1 continued digging up the decade with its ongoing tongue-in-cheek series "We Love the '80s" and "Bands Reunited," which puts early MTV favorites, generally of the one-hit-wonder variety, back together for a reunion performance.
Now NBC has gotten on the '80s bandwagon a sure sign that the trend has reached the broad mainstream and, therefore, is coming to an end.
"Hit Me Baby One More Time," NBC's show that pits more Reagan era bands against each other in a competition for cash prizes to go to charity, is at the end of its month-long run on the network. It was the top-rated show among those 18 to 49 during its first week.
The appeal of "Hit Me Baby One More Time," which like many other reality shows is based on a hit series from England, might have something to do with having a laugh at the expense of some musical has-beens. But it is also deeply rooted in nostalgia.
"We all get to a point where we say, I wish I had my life back' even though we don't want to live it again," said Charles Bethea, director of the Lied Center for Performing Arts. "The longer we go, the better it looks. The music is part of that."
Nostalgia is the reason that Cinderella is leading a pack of four bands on the Rock Never Stops tour that played Pershing Center last week. And it's why Def Leppard and Bryan Adams, two of the top record-selling acts of the '80s, are teaming up for a tour of minor league ballparks that will stop at Haymarket Park in August.
"It's like nail fungus," Anderson said of the return of the hair metal acts. "You kill it, but it keeps coming back."
While the '80s rockers may be laying siege to the summer of 2005, they're not doing anything different than have acts from previous decades in all genres.
For example, the Lied Center has showcased '60s folk artists such as Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary and pop hitmakers such as the Righteous Brothers in its programming over the years. The venue has also been rented out for shows by the likes of country legend George Jones.
"It's really the same," Bethea said of the nostalgic bookings. "It's the same generation, in some cases, just people who had a different point of view. Everybody's doing the same thing, whether it's rock or pop. And country does it, too.
"I was just saying to somebody the other day, Remember when the nostalgic music was '50s rock n' roll?' It's a looping decade thing. In the 2000s, we want to do the '80s. In the 1990s, we had to do the '70s."
Nostalgia and recycling aren't restricted to pop music. Broadway shows are often revived, too.
"Chicago," for example, was first presented as a drama in 1926. In 1975, the Bob Fosse musical version of the story hit Broadway. It was revived in 1996 and continues to run in New York. The film version of the musical won the Best Picture Academy Award in 2002.
Jazz and classical performers aren't as susceptible to the whims of an audience that will suddenly dismiss an entire form of music, as happened to the hair metal bands when grunge hit in 1990. Instead, they face different challenges as they age.
"You evaluate them differently," Bethea said. "It's really more about the core of the music. You can hear them when they're young and when they're old and evaluate them in the same way. But as a presenter, I have to say that sometimes people continue past their prime. Then it's not the same. When you hear people like Isaac Stern missing notes and missing rhythm, you agonize for them."
There are, of course, pop music acts that got their start in the '80s that have continued to have wide appeal. They include U2 and Metallica, bands which have continued to tour and make relevant records for decades. Those bands aren't much different than the Rolling Stones of the '60s or '70s artists such as Bruce Springsteen.
"They build and go," Bethea said. "They attract from each succeeding generation. I think each generation starts to claim them as their own for slightly different reasons. With the Stones, you've got the '60s people who remember them from the beginning, those who remember the classic '80s show and today's generation who goes, It's Mick Jagger.' They'll always have a broad popularity."
Some pop artists in the '80s revival, including Duran Duran, Morrissey and Motley Crue, are benefiting from younger bands that have lifted the old sounds and turned them into something new.
Those young bands include critically lauded outfits such as the Bravery, Arcade Fire, the Killers and Omaha's the Faint. They've taken elements of '80s music, particularly from the "new wave" early in that decade, and recycled them for a new young audience.
Taking from the past and making it new again has been common in pop music for decades.
Anderson, who is recognized as one of today's top country guitarists, calls James Burton, who played with Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson, and the late Roy Nichols, who played with Merle Haggard for more than 20 years, his "books" and quickly acknowledges that he has lifted from them.
"If you see something you like, a really talented person will steal it," Anderson said. "Maybe you'll learn it note-for-note, but more than likely you'll absorb it and build on it. The less talented will do it note-for-note. It's robbing it as opposed to imitating. A good musician is going to figure out how to make it work for him or her."
Decade recycling goes well beyond music in our culture. For example, some of today's youth fashion has a distinctly '80s look.
"Womens clothes, at places like Hot Topic, from the past summer on, have been like 1982 all over again," said Johnny Robidoux, a Lincoln Internet blogger who frequently writes about pop culture and fashion.
"They have fashions that feature Debbie Harry's image from back in the day on pink shirtdresses like they had back in the day," Robidoux said. "The little '80s-style mini-skirts are back the flouncy little cotton things they had in the '80s."
Vans, the black-and-white checkered canvas shoes popular in the early '80s, are now ubiquitous in stores that cater to youth, he said. Members Only jackets are also making a comeback, particularly among girls involved in the emo rock scene. Even the little rubber bracelets popularized by Madonna 25 years ago are back.
But those bracelets, shoes and dresses don't have the same meaning today as they did in the '80s. Nor does the '80s-rooted music of the Bravery or the Faint.
"They don't come back as is they come back transformed," said Daniel Siedell, curator of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery. "They come back a little different."
Borrowing and transformation has long been a part of the visual art world.
"It's been particularly acute since the '80s, with the rise of post-modernism and the end of art' idea proposed by (critic) Arthur Danto that the art world isn't run by movements and isms any longer," Siedell said. "There's much more eclecticism and pluralism now. And much of that is drawn from the past. But artists aren't working in a vacuum and musicians aren't working a vacuum."
Sampling in rap music provides a perfect example of post-modernist transformation of material, Siedell said.
Hip-hop producers take sounds from the past, such as the popular James Brown riffs, or from the present, a la Coldplay's soundscapes. But what results is a fresh, often innovative use of the sampled sounds.
"That's what high art does," Siedell said. "It's not unoriginal. On the contrary, it's highly original."
In fact, Siedell said, no art form emerges out of nothing hence the need for borrowing in everything from poetry to pop.
"Originality needs to have context," he said. "It needs to have a history and rules to have a context that makes its actions both expected and unexpected. You have to set up conventions to undermine them."
In music and art, digging up the past brings artists who were lost to history back to the forefront and often raises the esteem in which they are held in the present.
"The present does influence the past," Siedell said. "That's the thing that post-modernism has driven home. In the triumph of abstract expressionism in the '50s, painters like Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko were singlehandedly responsible for reviving the Hudson River landscape painters in just that way."
Similar revivals have happened in pop music for decades and continue today with the return of the likes of Morrissey and other artists who began their careers in the '80s.
That list now includes Curt Kirkwood, who led the '80s band the Meat Puppets and is the most recent signee to Anderson's Little Dog Records.
Kirkwood largely disappeared from the pop radar screen again after teaming with Krist Novaselic in the short-lived Eyes Adrift in 2001.
Although Kirkwood has run into some hard times, Anderson said, he remains a vital artist. "He's a Picasso when it comes to lyrics," he said. "All we need to do is get some splash for him when his record comes out."
It remains to be seen whether the musician will get noticed when his disc comes out this fall.
By that time, '80s nostalgia may have begun to seriously wane.
After all, next year is the 15th anniversary of the release of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana's world-changing grunge rock anthem. So it's nearly time to fly the flannel and revive the early '90s.
That's a darn good thing!
Gen X'er pingy
"It's like nail fungus," Anderson said of the return of the hair metal acts. "You kill it, but it keeps coming back."
I agree with that assessment. Except that I prefer nail fungus. :)
Pete Anderson, a veteran Los Angeles record producer best known for two decades of work with country singer Dwight Yoakam
I grew up in the 1970s. I prefer the 1980s from a US historical perspective, no doubt.
late 80'were great
Ping list for the discussion of the politics and social (and sometimes nostalgic) aspects that directly effects Generation Reagan / Generation-X (Those born from 1965-1981) including all the spending previous generations (i.e. The Baby Boomers) are doing that Gen-X and Y will end up paying for.
Freep mail me to be added or dropped. See my home page for details and previous articles.
I found the 60's music nostalgia in the late 80's more powerful than the current 80's music. Most of my peers (born mid 70's) did as well. It was a time to tune out Whitney Houston and Wilson Phillips and return to the raw musical talent of the 60's. Luckily, the politics of the 60's didn't stick.
Rock On Metalheads!
Nothing wrong with a little hair metal...fun, fast, and catchy. Much better than the "I-hate-myself-and-want-to-die" grunge acts of the 90s, or the "My-music-sucks-so-bad-you-want-to-kill-yourself" music of this decade (see: Spears, Britney).
Please...no grunge revival. We need that like we need another Jimmy Carter.
The best music to come out of the 80's was Stevie Ray Vaughn.
I'd rather listen to some of the worst hair bands of the 80's (Winger), than most of today's junk.
Although I prefer the 70's through mid 80's stuff better. AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Van Halen, Montrose, as well as Southern Rock like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, and Molly Hatchet.
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