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'The 80s and other reminiscences'

Started by MAtT, July 18, 2020, 12:21:12

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Quote from: SueC on August 09, 2020, 02:10:33...but he didn't start going to concerts till the 1990s himself, and he says:  "Well, the 80s were all bad.  It was a worthless decade.  ..."

Please note, it's early morning here and my husband is not a morning person.

Oh well, please ask him again when he's elated in the evening after a good dinner or so...

I can (sometimes) see why people hate the 1980s, but: it wasn't all bad.

Also: it is a matter of fact that I grew up in the 80s - and it could've been much worse! (After all, I had a good childhood in the 70s and early 80s and "coming of age" is never easy, doesn't matter so much when it happens...)

Seeing I had no choice back then, all I could do was living my life; what I can do now is look back with fondness on the good things (e.g. The Cure and so much more)!

Of course the start of the "plastic music" was terrible (I never liked "disco" much and it got worse with acid house and whatnot).

My life in the 80s may not have been "perfect" (nor was it in the 90s), but my musical taste was "formed" back then. (Okay, "rock music" might've had its "peak" in the late 60s and 70s, but there was good music later as well.)

As described above, I was "drawn" towards the "outsiders", those bands who weren't played so much on the radio or tv shows. They were a little different compared to the "mainstream". My love of (post-)punk & new wave began in the 80s and I still like many of those bands. (I also listen to tons of other music - as I already did back then, I began to dig up "influences" on those bands I listened to, which meant looking back on the 60s and so on)!
If only I'd thought of the right words...


I think he is a bit of a stirrer, @Ulrich, but I also think he really genuinely hated the 80s - the politics, the materialism, the majority of the music - particularly mainstream.  He felt way more comfortable once the 90s started.  He went to a funny high school all his teenage years and didn't have a good experience there, so it's pretty much tainted for him.  He says next to the school was a large park in which people were drunk all day long, day in, day out, and this also didn't make him feel any better (rampant alcoholism is unfortunately commonly seen in Australia, even now, over three decades later - and we've just finished watching a really interesting documentary on Australia's fraught relationship with the stuff - in this country, if you don't drink and you don't like football, many people think you're not a proper Australian).

While I personally had many bad experiences at my middle school (new immigrant, Australian racism in a backwater town), I moved schools to the city for my senior high school years and that was actually a really lovely experience for me, worlds apart from what had gone on before.  So I don't see the entire time all black like he probably does, but I also didn't like, even as a teenager, people like Thatcher and Reagan and what they were doing to the world, and the complacency with which most of Western society seemed to meet this shiitake - and the whole "greed is good" thing and the horrible me-me-me-ness that was in our generation, and still is...and it was there in the majority of our year's stated ambitions in our leaving yearbook, as well.  I often wished I'd grown up in the 60s instead, when it seemed that more people cared.  I personally didn't think the 90s were much better at the beginning, but by the end of that decade I taught my first lot of high schoolers and was so impressed with the kids in my first Year 12 class, who had a maturity and an ethic that was so much better than what we'd had at their age.  They were a particularly great bunch, but it was also a genuine pattern I noticed through the next decade and a half.  I genuinely feel that the world has a better chance once these generations replace the current people in power.

Getting back to the 80s, I too had this deep loathing of mainstream 80s music as a teenager, because it seemed to me to encapsulate all that was shallow and trashy and self-obsessed about those times, and much of it seemed insultingly immature - considering these people were supposed to be adults, from the perspective of a high schooler.  And I included The Cure in that, when I first heard Why Can't I Be You which to me seemed absurd and out of Playschool, and part of the general anaesthesia of the times (I didn't hear their more serious stuff, as you know - wasn't played on the radio stations I had access to - and these days I'm OK with many of The Cure's absurd songs).  And for instance, Wham! with their bloody Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, like a whole bunch of people partying on the Titanic, and most of the stuff that was popular with my middle school classmates at the time.  I think Brett is pretty much spot on actually, when he says that much of 80s mainstream music was like The Wiggles, only with big hair and bad synthesisers.

Have you ever watched Ashes to Ashes?  It's a time-travelling drama from 2008 where a contemporary person was thrown back into the 80s, and it was great fun:

...precisely because you could now look back on this stuff as an adult.  It's funny how the fashions and the mainstream music and the general attitudes were actually just as bad as I remembered them!  :lol:  The series really milks these things to the maximum.

And that's why I was drawn to alternative music in the 80s - people who weren't partying as the ship went down, people who thought differently, who thought seriously, who actually cared about the quality of what they were doing, and why they were doing it - instead of producing chloroform in the guise of music.

I think when I was young I always felt like a person who was from a different planet and had arrived here by accident, precisely at the wrong time in history.  But, it was nice to discover that there were other people who didn't just blithely go along with the herd.

In hindsight I see more than I did at the time, as you'd expect.  It's actually really interesting to sit in midlife and look back through a telescope at the history you lived through.  And these days, I don't loathe 80s mainstream quite as much as I did - because I'm looking at 20-somethings from the perspective of someone twice that age, and I see them as so young, when as a teenager they seemed so terribly grown-up!  :)

PS:  To be properly fair to 80s mainstream music, I'd have to investigate how it compares objectively to mainstream music before or since, and I've not systematically done that (and I don't think it would be a very enjoyable task).  I will say though that Top 40 radio at any time of my life so far has never been inspirational to me and I'm always turning it off if in a position to, and thinking about taking earplugs to the supermarket etc.  Yeah, the odd good song makes it onto popular radio, but mostly that medium seems to contain a lot of music that is rash-inducing to me.  Actually, in the last ten years I've heard some stuff on the radio that's arguably even worse than the average 80s mainstream music - and at some point I vaguely noticed there was an 80s revival and it seemed to sound even worse than the original stuff too (while alternative music keeps producing listenable stuff).  I read an interesting article recently that argued that music is actually getting more simplistic, losing both sonic and lyrical complexity.  I might have to dig that up for this forum, it actually analysed these things in-depth.
SueC is time travelling



Greed and Protest

So, this topic has me thinking a bit more.  Clearly, the teenagers of the 80s didn't invent greed, materialism etc - it was being projected at us from mainstream culture, by people who were older than us - the next generation up was into driving expensive cars and general ostentation and thoughtlessness, you could see that, but it went further than that - not just Thatcher and Reagan's neoliberalism, but something that had always been there in human nature - just look back at the disposable 50s in America where they thought it was a great idea to throw out plastic plates instead of doing dishes, and to start using disposable nappies that have sat in landfill ever since - and even at the Roman Empire with its feathers and buckets so you could throw up and keep eating.

But although the teenagers in the 80s didn't invent that, they were also pretty happy to go along with it, on the whole (many in my class saved up so they could wear Reeboks, for instance) - it was a minority who objected to that strongly, and to me it seemed that the teenagers of the 60s hadn't gone along so easily with the idiocies presented to them.  Of course, to complicate matters, some of the teenagers of the 80s were the children of those teenagers from the 60s, and some of those teenagers from the 60s were the ones now driving around in red Ferraris and Armani suits.

While the proportion of teenagers protesting idiocies in the 1960s was greater than the proportion of 1980s teenagers doing this, I'm sure part of the glow of the 1960s to someone who wasn't personally there is because in retrospect, these things are probably reported through rose-tinted spectacles as well, which a person experiencing them would not necessarily have been looking through.  Also, accounts of history carry bias and editing...

Back to music - mainstream 80s probably wasn't any worse than mainstream before or since, but the 80s was when mainstream music was most inflicted upon me by circumstances beyond my control - and subsequently I could mostly avoid it.


I'm going to think about it in terms of the radio stations we grew up with in Perth - we actually had a pretty decent radio station in 96fm at the time, whose presenters talked like normal human beings, not like shrill megaphones.  They were thoughtful and respectful and friendly, and would always give you a bit of background on the music they were playing.  They never tried to sound "cool" and they never sounded like they were up to their eyeballs in amphetamines, either.  If they interviewed a musician, they didn't gush or titter or act stupidly, they just had decent conversations with them.  For those of you who know Australia's Triple J, the presenters were basically very much like Richard Kingsmill in the 90s (by which time 96fm had been bought up by Triple M, and was therefore effectively killed).

96fm played mostly a mix of what they called classic rock, and alternative music.  They did not play gormless dance music, they didn't play country and western, and they didn't play rap (with the odd exception, if it was intelligent stuff, on some of their late-night music shows).  Their playlist was pretty extensive and broad, but managed to mostly exclude the trashy stuff being played elsewhere on screamy Top-40 stations.  I've got to take my hat off to them, because they remain the best contemporary station I ever heard anywhere in Australia, and yet sadly they were sold off soon after I left school in the late 80s, and to the best of my knowledge, there's not been another station like that since, or I really would still be listening.  They covered both history, and current experimentation.  I rarely had the urge to turn them off, and I often heard really excellent stuff, both from before my time and from odd corners of the world - they did a fair bit of unearthing, and introducing their radio audience to things they'd not otherwise have heard.

Triple J, later on, at its best, was an OK station, and unearthed a lot of local Australian music, and played some of the stuff you could no longer hear on other stations once 96fm had been killed off, but they also played a lot of tedious music, and I honestly had no desire to listen to tunes like Too Drunk To F*ck.  That would just never have passed 96fm's IQ test, and rightly so.


Growing up in the 80s with the concomitant worship of material possessions and the self, it was such a nice contrast to the general anaesthesia in popular music to hear songs with thoughtful lyrics, and with actual passion.  96fm, while they existed, provided this regularly - through artists like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, Suzanne Vega, etc etc, who embodied actual social conscience.  When I was 14, I went to the university library to check out the bookshelves, and was drawn to the social philosophy section, and then spent most of a day sitting in a cubicle breathlessly reading Martin Luther King's classic on social change and nonviolent resistance.  It changed the way I thought.  And they'd put a bullet in him and that was that.

And on the airwaves at the time, like a breath of fresh air amongst all the plastic bubblegum music, this song embodied all the grief and all the outrage of that so perfectly:

This song has such dignity, and was such an enormous contrast to the general self-absorbed atmosphere of the 80s...

(Bono, like me, grew up in a war zone, and had much childhood experience of violence.)

While we're there, we may as well listen to the next song on the album, one that few casual listeners have heard but is such a gem:

Those Synthesisers

Penultimate subtopic for this post:  The 80s and bad synthesisers.  There were quite a few songs spoilt by this phenomenon, to me even when I was in the 80s.  I mean, it's easy for people to hear that now, but it stuck out like a sore thumb for me even then.

Let's take what I consider to be a decent act, Howard Jones, who was actually rendered more lightweight than his lyrics suggested, just by those darned keyboard sounds, and by some of the vocal delivery at times.  What he's singing in both the songs below is well-considered and positive, and I'd give you an odds-on bet he's a really nice person, but though I never turned off the radio when he was on, I've never bought one of his records either.

That one actually isn't too bad, as he's mostly set this to piano.  But this earlier one has those 80s keyboards...

You see, on the surface that's exactly like the kind of 80s music I didn't like, but he redeemed it by writing considered lyrics and emanating a lot of antidote to the disposable mentality of the time.  This last one, for instance, is NOT another, "Hey stranger, let's shag!" type song - although the chorus may seem to imply it, if you want to read that into it - if you don't believe me, go look up the lyrics, because it actually presents a very different kind of message to the use-and-dispose attitude of the time.

He's still at it, by the way, and good on him - and it's nice to see he's actually improved some of the sounds since the 80s.  Also, I love how he turns choirmaster at the end of this track, and gets the crowd doing harmonies. :)

Another band played on 96fm I didn't turn off, but never bought anything from either, is this one.  This is another example of what I consider awful keyboard sounds:

There's sounds like that on some Cure songs from the time as well, like in Let's Go To Bed (which in my innocence, when I was 12 and first heard it, I thought was about getting some beauty sleep).  And OK, so that song is apparently a parody, which explains both the words and the sounds, but when you're 14 and your BS sensors suddenly turn on, this is going to be in the firing line.  Parody like this is similar to U2's 90s "ironic" rock star claptrap, and for me, equally hard to like - I prefer more intelligent parodies...

Now let's contrast the above songs with two mostly synthesiser songs from that general era which I think are musically fantastic:

That last one is by Icehouse.

And Now, The Cure

...and of course, there's a lot of lovely stuff from The Cure like that too.  This isn't all from the 80s, but here's some personal favourites where the keyboards don't detract at all, quite the opposite:

...we were playing this in the rain driving to Denmark for our stormy hike on Sunday, and it was just picture-perfect for it, and completely hair-raising.  The intro to this song is so amazing that I'd class that amongst the most beautiful sounds ever created by any artist, any genre - so that's lots of serious competition, from people like Arvo Pärt (first movement, Tabula rasa) as well (I won't give more examples or this will take hours).  And actually, The Cure have a lot of music like this that's just hauntingly, achingly beautiful, which is why I have become a much-belated fan, having now got past the radio songs. :angel

The composition in that piece - take all the voices apart and you've got individually beautiful parts, each and every one of them - the introductory keyboards, the more staccato guitar, the sliding guitar, the steely notes, the piano, the percussion - gorgeous melodies, and such tonal beauty as well - and together, all of that becomes pure, breathtaking magic .  Music like that is one of the most profound experiences it's possible to have. ♥

By the way, my favourite recording of my favourite classical piece is now coming up on YT, so here's a treat if you've not heard it, and then we'll go on with a load of gorgeous Cure songs that are indeed in the same league.  Like with all great music, this is best listened to up loud, sitting in the dark (or at least with your eyes closed), and giving it your total focus.  This piece builds, but oh my does it build - and actually, that's something The Cure often do as well.  And, this piece demonstrates how powerful the use of silence and space can be, in music.

OK, now in the same league of amazingness is Plainsong, and I'm going to post a live version because like a lot of Cure stuff, it sounds even better live, and also because I usually prefer things transposed down by at least half an octave - I think the bass transposition is magnificent... and since we've had the excellent Hyde Park version so much lately, let's go back to a really lovely night version, with a particularly nice crowd:

That crowd I would have felt comfortable in, and that's unusual for me, because I don't actually like to be in enormous crowds, generally speaking - and definitely not when there's hysteria and bad behaviour.

On a trivial note, that was 80s keyboard, but it really wasn't.  ;)

On a less trivial note, I first heard that song around two years ago, when we ordered in Disintegration, and it blew me away - none of the live albums we had featured the track.  Trilogy was the next thing we bestowed on ourselves as a treat, after that.  I know a lot of people think this song is all sad and negative and depressing and like it because of that, but I don't read it like that myself - this music reminds me of all the very best things about being alive, and how miraculous it is to ever have a life, and how utterly astonishing the things most people take for granted are:  The shapes of raindrops, the roll of the ocean waves, the slant of afternoon sunlight through leaves, the enormous distances in space, the moons of Jupiter, what tiny ants we are, the way light refracts through a prism, the way flowers unfold, the songs of birds and frogs, human sexuality (because we're subverting it and using it as metaphor, etc etc), Rayleigh scatter (which makes the sky appear blue to us), friendship, photosynthesis, laughter, joy, gravity, the colours of a sunset, etc etc etc.  I don't think it's an accident that this song is called Plainsong.  I think this song is closer to worship than it is to tragedy.  And I also think that about the Arvo Pärt piece posted above, which a good friend of mine can't bear to listen to because to her it depicts agony and despair.

Since this bracket was loosely under the theme of keyboards not detracting from compositions, here's some more wonderful watercolour impressionism in musical form:

I may add more to this later - there's not exactly a shortage of material.  Of course, I'd be happy for people to jump in and post their own examples of gorgeous Cure tracks where the keyboards don't detract... (and no, The Walk isn't one of them...)

SueC is time travelling