It occurred to me upon publication of my previous article, Reflections On Writing About The 1980s, that I left out several parts about the bad writing that paved way for the good wriing. Whether it was a website that served as a source for my early raves about the 80s or another forum where I wrote about the 1980s with a passion that wasn't exactly shared by the majority of the posters, some parts of my writing life were left out of my previous piece. This article will rectify that.
I begin with a website called inThe80s.com. Before either incarnation of the 80sxchange, before the 80s Movies Rewind, before RetroJunk and Retro-Daze, before Pop Geeks, there was In The 80s. I discovered that website in the late 1990s, a very dark period of time that was only lit up by my growing fascination with the 1980s. I was so tired of the great majority of what was popular culturally in the 1990s, and how it reflected the darkness of my own life at the time, that I latched onto the pop culture of the 80s to cope with it. On In The 80s, I wrote the following essay about being a Child Of The 80s in 1999. I was 16 going on 17 years old when I wrote the following, and you'll be able to tell that from what I wrote.
"I've written many times before about the 80s, but I feel like I can write my "Child Of The 80s" essay now. As you may or may not know, I was born in 1982. When I was younger, I listened to "Muppet Babies" records, and I always enjoyed watching the Disney Channel. "Alvin and The Chipmunks" was really fun and my brother enjoyed watching "G.I Joe" and "Thundercats". As you can guess, when I was younger, all I watched were cartoons. Fast-forward to 1996-I'm just getting off a horrible school year. My mom has finally hooked up the Internet to our computer. One day, I decide to look up "80s" on a search engine. I enjoyed the sites I went on, and that eventually led to my 80s obsession (Animotion!). Although I have Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit in my collection, I also enjoy many 80s artists. Run-DMC were the kings of rock ("Walk This Way" and "It's Tricky" were killer tunes). Michael Jackson may be weird, but "Thriller" is one of the best CDs I own. Madonna was the Material Girl (I don't like her spiritualty thing now. She'll always be the Material Girl to me), and Cyndi Lauper just wanted to have fun. So did Wang Chung, and The Beastie Boys were Fighting for the Right To Party. Poison, Ratt, Winger, Whitesnake, The Scorpions, Lita Ford...Hair Metal kicked ass! Belinda Carlisle and Rick Astley were singing songs about love. Bruce Springsteen was always good. Frankie Goes To Hollywood was enjoyable. "Weird" Al Yankovic dared to be stupid. Tiffany and Debbie Gibson could take on Britney Spears and win. The Clash rocked the Casbah. I can cut "Footloose" with no problem. Prince made us all party like it was this year (1999). Duran Duran was "Hungry Like The Wolf". Hey, Men At Work...What is a vegemite sandwich, anyway? Boy George made great music with Culture Club. Karma Chameleon was excellent. I'd want to know the Caribbean Queen that Billy Ocean sang about. I could go on forever about the music, but let's move on to movies. "The Blues Brothers" is one of the funniest movies I own. I wanted to fly past the moon like "E.T", or go traveling through time in a Delorean. "Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads!". "Little Shop Of Horrors" was a great musical. Who were we gonna call? Ghostbusters! The Gremlins were cute, until you broke the rules. Number 5 is Alive! The Muppets took Manhattan, and Roger Rabbit was framed. Eddie Murphy was your worst f*cking nightmare when he wasn't in Beverly Hills. "The Breakfast Club" was a great movie. Wasn't Molly Ringwald great-looking? "Spaceballs" was flat-out funny. "I see your schwartz is as big as mine"! "Bueller? Bueller?" Ferris Bueller, The Icon Of A Generation. "I know you are, but what am I?" TV was fun. ALF was enjoyable, and "Saturday Night Live" was great. Yeah, That's The Ticket! What you talkin' 'bout, Willis? Hulk Hogan was good when he was with the WWF. I think the fashion was better in the 80s. I wonder if a Valley Girl would ever like me. Of course, it wasn't all joy in the 80s. AIDS hit us like a bomb, but that was a product of the disco era. There are others that I'm forgetting, but I like to concentrate on the positive parts of the 80s. The 90s can do without me, also! I am a Child Of The 80s! "
Looking back on that essay as a man of 40 years old, I see a teenager on the autism spectrum who had only a surface understanding of the pop culture of the 1980s. I didn't know that there was more to it than what I saw at 16. For example, as I mentioned in my very first 80sxchange article, I had no idea that The Beastie Boys intended Fight For Your Right To Party as a satire of hedonism. I took it at face value as a great song about partying and having fun. I think a lot of people made that mistake in their younger years.
Similarly, the 16-year-old me viewed Men At Work's Down Under as an exotic song, not understanding that it was a critique of nationalism and a song of mourning. It took an actual Australian to hip me to what Vegemite was, and he said it wasn't exclusively 80s. That's true, as the product has been around for over 100 years. I think this correction was where I started to really focus on a song's words. I do that with pretty much every song I hear from every decade now. It's the writer in me.
The writer in me also should have recognized at the age of 16 that The Clash's Rock The Casbah was intended as an anti-war piece. Hell, I misunderstood the entirety of Combat Rock as a young man. For example, I love the song Overpowered By Funk, but it took me quite a while to understand that the song was a criticism of imperialism. I just heard an intense hip-hop-influenced groove without looking at the lyrics. The naivety I possessed as a teenager is startling to look back on with decades of hindsight.
As to that last part about AIDS being a product of the disco era, I can't believe I was that ignorant. I was still many years away from identifying as part of the LGBTQ+2IA community, and this wasn't a surface-level misunderstanding. This was a half-inch of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool misunderstanding. As I grew older, I would become familiar with 90s, 00s and New 10s projects like And The Band Played On and The Normal Heart (the New 10s TV movie adaptation of a 1985 play), and I would come to see the horrifying reality of what it was like to be dealing with AIDS back then. The generational loss was tremendous, and I regret reducing it to "a product of the disco era". 16-year-olds nowadays are more knowledgeable and understanding than I was back then.
On In The 80s, users could create lists of their Top 10 favorites in given categories (favorite songs, favorite movies, etc.). I made my share of those lists in my teens, but again, it was clear how unstable and in need of help I was in that time period. For example, in one list, I mentioned two 80s songs that inspired me, Take On Me by a-HA and St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion) by John Parr. I mentioned a lyric from thee latter song, "You broke the boy in me, but you won't break the man", but instead of mentioning how the lyric inspired me, I shared this story that happened to me when I was 17:
"I went by the park where the skate punks hang out. The skate punks made fun of me many times in the past, but I hoped that things would change. I went past the skate park and 2 little kids who probably didn't even know me threw a bottle of Mountain Dew at my bike. I returned later and I apologized because I said "Go to Hell, you little sh*ts! F*ck You" after they threw the object at me. They said okay. We introduced ourselves to each other and I thought I made new friends. They then called me a j*rk-off. I said "I knew it! Greenwood Lake kids are the scum of the earth and you're the next generation"! One kid threw a rock at me and the other started chasing me. I hope those little b*stards burn in Hell!".
I was still a boy, albeit a teen boy, when that happened, but I thought that 80s music had a sense of maturity to it that perhaps I could obtain by osmosis. Of course, I see now that nobody is mature when they're a child, a teenager or in their 20s. If we could cross paths, the 40-year-old me would tell the 17-year-old me that a harsh truth of life is that there will always be nasty people in the world. What matters isn't what they say, but how you react. You can lower yourselves to their level, or you can be as mature as possible about it in the moment and then discuss it later with a therapist and/or trusted friends. The latter is the better option, but it took me a long time to realize that.
Speaking of long times, you know how I said in the previous article that I viewed the 80s as the 80s and the 90s as the 90s, not seeing how others see the early 90s as still the 80s? I didn't always think that way, and another list of favorite 80s songs I made is proof of that. I listed Wilson Phillips' Hold On as a favorite 80s song, and had the following to say about it:
"Now hold on a minute, you're saying! This song came out in 1990! This is an 80s website, ya moron! Well, let me say in my defense that I have a theory about the 90s. I feel that the 80s continued right up to and including 1992 in terms of music, movies and so on! This song reflects that spirit! That's just my opinion, though!"
As hindsight is always 20/20, I can now see that the reason why I thought as a teen that the early 90s were still the 80s was because I associated the 80s with positive times, and the early 90s were the last positive times I would have in my life until the 2011/2012 time period. For me, the trouble with the 90s really started in my 3rd grade school year (1991-1992). The issues of my autism spectrum disorder were making themselves known in the worst ways possible, and nobody knew how to deal with it at the time.
For one example, starting in the Fall of 1991, my parents strictly limited my sugar intake because they thought that sugar was one of the reasons I was acting out. All those snacks and sweets that kids who grew up in the 90s enjoyed were limited only to certain special occasions for me. Even then, in 1991, when I turned 9, my cake had carob bean frosting as opposed to actual chocolate frosting, and I could taste the difference as I'd had regular chocolate frosting on birthday cakes in previous years. Even after my mental hospital stay in 1996, where I was formally diagnosed with my autism spectrum disorder, my sugar intake was still limited by my mom until the last few weeks of 1999. Although it may seem trivial, that's another reason why I don't look back fondly on the 90s.
Finally for this section, another example from an In The 80s list of how my writing about the 80s wasn't really good in the late 90s/early 00s was this comment I made about the Duran Duran song Notorious:
"When Puff Daddy ripped off this song, he only gave himself another ticket to Hell. Violent, hypocritical and foul-mouthed (much like the entire rap industry), Puffy is going to Hell for sure. Open memo to the entire rap industry: If you're all good religious people, then stop the vulgarity, violence, and misogyny, ditch the Bentleys, trade in the Cristal for the blood of Christ, and actually live up to your beliefs, you hypocritical fungus. As for the original "Notorious", all I can say is that it is eminently more danceable than whatever vitriolic swill it was ripped off for!"
Oof. Yes, I really wrote that as a teenager, and I cringe when looking at it as an adult. There are several reasons why. One of them is the young person's idea that being a good person means being religious and abstaining from things like cursing and anger. As an adult, many of the most loving and kind people I know of are of diverse religious beliefs, and quite a few of them don't have any belief system at all. With their open-mindedness and kindness to the downtrodden, these friends are more kind than many who say they believe in God.
As an adult, my own idea of God is now a more liberal and humanist vision. The God I believe in does not view the LGBTQ+2IA community as sinners. The God I believe in doesn't view women who get abortions as monsters or murderers. The God I believe in knows that there are those who are atheist or antitheist, and doesn't judge those ideas. Basically, my liberal, humanist idea of God is the idea that showing kindness to everybody, no matter who they love, what decisions they make, or what they believe or don't believe in, should be the way to live. Looking back on it, what I wrote didn't live up to what my own interpretation of God is in the modern day, and I'll always regret that.
I also look at what I wrote about Cristal and the "Blood Of Christ" and I recoil. I haven't gone to church regularly, but how could I have forgotten that what's served during Communion is wine? In addition, the paragraph looks like I'm saying that Christians are like vampires. "Christian" behavior in many ways is horrible, from the abuse of children in the church to the disdain for the gay community to the ways people like Joel Osteen behave, but to the best of my knowledge, Christians aren't drinking actual blood. I wrote this when I was a teenager, and I had a very black-and-white view of the world then. It took me a long time to see shades of grey, and to love the rainbow.
Another reason why I look back on that paragraph about Notorious and cringe is one that connects to a further discussion of the first incarnation of the 80sxchange. As a young 80s fan, it didn't make sense to me that the same people who held the original music of the 1980s in disdain were falling all over themselves to enjoy the music of Sean Combs and the artists on his Bad Boy Entertainment label, 90s music that took a lot from 80s music. I wasn't able to express this calmly at the time, so a lot of what I wrote as a teenager and early twentysomething about Sean Combs was angry and bitter.
Some of my fellow Xchangers came of age in the 1980s, but loved, and still love, Sean Combs' music to the point where they actually prefer some of Combs' 80s-sampling material to the original 80s music they came of age with themselves. That didn't make any sense to me, but I wasn't able to explain at the time why I felt that way. Because of therapy and medication, I am now able to explain in a calm way why I have such issues with Sean Combs' music and, by extension, that of the artists on the Bad Boy Records label.
I know that rap music is based on the concept of sampling, but to me, as I wrote in a Facebook post a few years ago, good sampling understands the lyrics of the original song and utilizes that as a base to explain a rapper's concepts. For me, an example of good sampling is Tupac Shakur's Changes, which samples Bruce Hornsby And The Range's The Way It Is. Both songs deal with the matter of inequality on multiple levels. From the economic to the personal to the racial, both The Way It Is and Changes discuss how inequal American society is, but both songs also express a sense of idealism and hope for a better future.
Bad sampling doesn't understand the lyrics of the original song and utilizes that as a base for a song with no real connection to the original material. For me, an example of bad sampling is Sean Combs' I'll Be Missing You, which samples The Police's Every Breath You Take. Every Breath You Take is a song about stalking someone. Stalking leads to all sorts of things, from restraining orders to even death, and Every Breath You Take is a reflection of the darkness behind stalking.
As a teenager and early twentysomething, I expressed this puzzlement in an irrational way. As a forty-year-old, I now view it this way: If you're going to pay tribute to a fallen friend by sampling a song, try and make it match thematically. If Combs had sampled, say, Eternal Flame by The Bangles, the younger me would probably still have gotten upset, but the older me would see how that could make sense. By sampling a song that wasn't about love, but instead about hate and anger, I feel that Sean Combs negated what he was trying to say about his brotherly love for The Notorious B.I.G..
To extend on the ideas of good sampling and bad sampling, another way I view things is this: If you're going to sample songs that don't have any relation to the ideas you're trying to communicate with your original lyrics, then try to make sure that your lyrics are fun ones. For me, this is why The Bloodhound Gang succeeded in the late 90s/early 00s where Sean Combs and the artists of Bad Bad Entertainment failed.
For one example of what I'm talking about, listen to The Bloodhound Gang song Mope. It samples, among other songs, Falco's Rock Me, Amadeus, Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax and Metallica's For Whom The Bell Tolls, but The Bloodhound Gang's original lyrics have a sense of naughty humor to them that can make you laugh when listening to it. The Bloodhound Gang were let loose in the record store and had a real wingding of a time there. Put succinctly, if you're going to misinterpret the original song intentionally, have fun with it. Don't be dour and don't be serious. That was Combs' and Bad Boy's failing...He was too serious.
Moving to a different website, in 2001, the year I joined the 80sxchange, I also joined a website called the Home Theater Forum. In the late 90s, several people, including my girlfriend at the time and friends our family made on our yearly upstate vacation, introduced me to DVDs. I was so enraptured by DVDs that I sought a player for myself, and would get one as a Christmas present in 2000, even though I was so excited about it that I was purchasing DVDs before I even had the player.
As befits my love of the 80s, I purchased many 80s movies on DVD, and I looked for online communities that were about DVDs. That led me to the Home Theater Forum in Fall of 2001, a place where I would often express my love of the pop culture of the 1980s, much to the amusement and/or bemusement of many other users, most of whom were adults who saw the 80s firsthand and had a different look at it than I did. Again, I wasn't always writing about the 80s in a mature way.
For example, do you remember from my previous Reflections... piece how I regretfully wrote that I was glad Kurt Cobain was dead? Although I said that on the 80sxchange, that actually originated in a thread on the HTF, a few weeks into my time on the site, about things that suck. I said that my father's death sucked, and followed that up shortly by saying that "Kurt Cobain sucks, and I'm glad he's dead". Another user followed that up by saying, "The fact that Frances Bean Cobain is growing up without a father sucks. Hypocrisy sucks".
In 2001, I was so out-of-my-mind with disdain with grunge music that, in the moment, I forgot that grunge musicians had families that were impacted by the rather large death toll the genre has had over the course of the past 35 years or so. Quite a few children were left behind by the deaths of so many leading lights of grunge, but I was so intent on trying to convince people that the 80s were a good time for pop culture that I undermined that position out of sheer anger.
Many years later, while I'm still not a fan of grunge music, or any 90s alternative rock, for that matter, I have come to admire grunge artists as people since they fought for noble causes offstage. In fact, I think that, in many cases, they were better people offstage than, in many cases, the 80s pop-rockers whose music I *DO* enjoy. Of course, if you want to listen to a genre of music that combines the party spirit of 80s pop-rock with the noble ideals of 90s grunge rock, dance music is your best bet. Guitars may not be prominent, but you'll get the best of both 80s pop-rock and 90s grunge rock without the ickiness of the former offstage and the latter onstage.
Another 80s-related foible during my time on the Home Theater Forum was, again, writing about my love of the female celebrities of the 1980s. I even came up in the early-to-mid-00s with a tournament I called Lovely Ladies Of The 80s. I didn't run the tournament properly, though, as I matched celebrities at random instead of in traditional brackets. The winner ended up being Elisabeth Shue, but if I had run the tournament properly, the winner could easily have been a different 80s personality.
Another thread in 2007 paying tribute to female icons of 80s pop culture saw me making many posts, one of which made a friend and interview subject of mine inadvertently look bad. I would apologize to this friend, the apology would be accepted, and we remain friends to this day, but in the moment, I was so upset with myself for upsetting my friend that I removed all my initial posts from the thread, leading some users to wonder what had happened to me, and whether I was still an 80s fan. I always will be, but that thread made me realize I have to be more careful with my words, something I wasn't always being in the 00s.
For a last example of that, I need to go back to the early 00s. I was reading a lot of Joe Queenan's work. While we have very different views on what we liked in terms of popular culture, I find him to be a very talented writer with a unique sense of humor. However, I didn't always see the humor in his books, and sometimes I took the sentiments in his books at face value.
That was the case for his early-00s book Balsamic Dreams, a satirical critique of the Baby Boomers, a generation Queenan is part of. I didn't know that the piece was intended as hyperbolic satire. I read the criticisms of the Boomers in that book, and I internalized that criticism, not thinking that the book was humorous, and not realizing that much of the 80s pop culture I loved was created by Baby Boomers themselves.
During my time on the 80s Movies Rewind, I saw many older users, including several Baby Boomers, speaking in celebration of 90s and 00s pop culture. I said things along the lines of "Why would you like this?", "You're not supposed to enjoy this", and "You're not supposed to relate to your kids". I even said, regarding a fan of 90s pop culture who came of age in the 80s, "Give the 90s back to us". He said, "If we give the 90s back to you, you have to give the 80s back to us. It's a two-way street". Again, I was years away from being able to properly explain why I held the 90s in such disdain.
I think another reason why I was so harsh on Baby Boomers in my message board writings during the early-to-mid-00s was that my mother was a Baby Boomer, and our relationship, which was already rough before my father's passing in 1995, was in complete freefall by the mid-00s. Again, we loved each other as mother and son, but we didn't like each other as people. Our codepent, toxic and poisonous relationship was very bad for the mental health of both of us.
When my mom would listen to my 80s funk and dance music CDs, I didn't like her singing along with them because a lot of that music was sexual in nature, and that music was one of the only ways I could safely express my sexuality without worrying about her raging at me for watching porn or using phone sex lines. When she was singing along with songs like Freakshow On The Dancefloor by The Bar-Kays, I wanted to tell her to stop, but even when I did, she continued anyway, not caring how uncomfortable she was making me feel. You don't want to imagine your parents as sexual beings, even though they are.
More seriously, she didn't have the understanding of autism spectrum disorder that parents in the New 10s and New 20s do. She saw my collecting of 80s movies, music and books, and she was always wanting me to sell off large parts of it or throw it out. A few months before her death, when giving me a very harsh Reason You Suck speech, she dubbed my room full of movies and music "a hoarder's dream". The thing I wanted to tell her was that my room held the material that fueled the intelligence she boasted to her friends about me having, even though she would often make fun of me and question my intelligence in private.
After my mom died on November 5th, 2010, I felt a sense of freedom I didn't have when she was around. I could now express myself more honestly, but there was still a lot of residual upset from what I went through in the 90s and 00s. When I started seeing my current therapist in 2011, I was still a man-child in many ways. With her help, though, I was able to learn to express my feelings in a calmer way. I reevaluated many things, including my feelings on the Baby Boomers.
I now feel that, contrary to what Joe Queenan wrote, the Baby Boomers are a fascinating and diverse generation that helped create many amazing things in terms of pop culture. I also realized that the Baby Boomers are not a monolith, and that a Baby Boomer born in 1945 had a different experience from a Baby Boomer born in 1954, and the Baby Boomer born in 1954 had a different experience from a Baby Boomer born in 1963. Many of the friends I've made are Baby Boomers themselves, and I again look back on what I wrote in my 20s and cringe.
I thought I knew a lot in my 20s because I had been through a lot before then. The truth is that there was still a lot I had to learn, and I'm still learning to this day. Every day and every new piece I write brings me knowledge of something I didn't know or understand before. Whether it's about pop culture or about life, the key to living life is to never stop learning. There's always something new on the horizon, even if it's something older, because there's a lot of things to learn about.
Thank you as always for your time in reading my work. Until then, keep the spirit of the 80s alive.