When I was in college, I believed my life’s work to consist of two major projects: 1) fundamentally questioning the epistemological prejudices of the 17th-century philosphes (pompous jerks) and 2) bringing back the ’80s. By the time I graduated, I’d seen the US beat Russia in hockey and Hulk Hogan regain the WWF championship. Goal #2 totally nailed. Goal #1 turns out to be a longer deal.
Almost ten years later, the ’90s revival is in full swing like clockwork. I like to think I play a part in this, however small (watching The Fresh Prince on TVLand totally counts). I know I can be a bit of a nostalgia snob, but without nostalgia snobbery, how will the world know it’s not too soon to dust off Hypercolor? That was a trick question, friends. It’s never too soon for Hypercolor. See what I mean?
Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea behind the headline. There’s definitely a MySpace joke in the mix here somewhere. Can you come up with a better headline sticking to these central elements: nostalgia for 2005, MySpace’s current woes, nostalgia for 1991, and something funny about a municipality throwing away everybody’s snow chairs? Do so in the comments. Hint from a nostalgia snob: the (NOT) construction is very, very tricky. As the root of everything snarky and ironically detached about our society, can it ever actually be satirized? Herein lies the problem with this headline. It’s much too late to use (NOT) in a sort of topical way, but as the original of the ironic species, (NOT) also seems somehow immune to further satirization. I’d say it’s the Chuck Norris beard of snarky catchphrases, but not even a roundhouse kick from the Chuck Norris of snark (Jay and Eric, I want you to wrestle for that title) can touch it its lovely whiskers. (NOT) is an untouchable, the great Source Wall of everything we wink about. You leave MC Hammer out of this.
The discussion on the “A Few More Things Your Kids Won’t Do, Generation X” post inspired me to follow up on a project I started a few years ago. Everyone gets those Nick Hornby-inspired Facebook memes (“15 Albums That Changed Your Life”), and as much as we identify with certain collections of songs our favorite artists put out at pivotal (I am “What’s The Story (Morning Glory?)” in case you were wondering), I think an inventory of radio singles is a much better sampling. First of all, there are more of them, and radio singles are more accessible sooner than the esoterica of record stores. (Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure we stilled called them record stores well after they stopped selling vinyl records…but that’s a whole other esoteric discussion.) So, your life in radio singles. What would it look like?
They have to be singles that you remember the release of, either on the radio or on television.
They must evoke a person, time, place or way of being whenever you hear them.
You must list them chronologically, or as Rob from High Fidelity has it, autobiographical.
1. “An Innocent Man” by Billy Joel, 1983.
2. “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel, 1983.
3. “Gloria” by Laura Branigan, 1983.
4. “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel, 1984.
*1, 2, and 4: I listened to this album all the time in the basement with my dad in the house we lived in when I was born. We had a silver analog stereo, and I remember wondering where the songs and singers went when they faded out. We watched cartoons, practiced spelling, reading, and boxing and listened to Billy Joel. I danced and jumped to the doo-wop grooves of this album and made the record to skip. This would directly lead to the need for digital audio in the Cocca household. 3: I remember seeing this performed on one of those awesome pop shows.
5. “Take On Me” by A-ha, 1984. One of the first music videos I ever saw. It was a cartoon. And it was perfect.
6. “Born In The USA” by Bruce Springsteen, 1984. My dad had this one too. I remember singing the chorus as loud as I could in my room.
7. “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker, Jr., 1984. If you were a kid in the 80s with any access to a radio, you loved this song. I had a Ghostbusters mirror from a fair in my room. It fell off the wall and broke, probably because I was dancing too enthusiastically to “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker, Jr.
Speaking of. 8.”Dancing On the Ceiling” by Lionel Richie, 1986. Dancing. On. The. Ceiling! I remember this in conjunction with being at my cousins’ house and seeing the Latter Day Saints commercial where the little boy takes a groceries to his lonely neighbor.
9. “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon, 1986. Another one I remember because of the video. And the trombone.
10. “True Blue” by Madonna, 1986. Walking around my grandma’s development and singing it to show my older cousins that I knew a Madonna song.
11. “Luka” by Suzanne Vega, 1987. The 80’s could be effing scary.
12. “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” by the Beastie Boys, 1987. I was licensed to spill.
13. “Superstitious” by Europe, 1988. Because I decided I should start watching MTV and have a favorite hairband. I was 8.
14. “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys, 1988. Cocktail and Uncle Jesse were everywhere that year. Elementary school music class “bring your favorite tape to school day” was no exception. What a cool song. Hard to believe Mike everlovin’ Love wrote it without Brian.
15. “Make Me Lose Control” by Eric Carmen, 1988. My sister was 3 and LOVED this song.
16. “Parents Just Don’t Understand” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, 1988. The first rap song I can really remember.
17. “Nightmare On My Street” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, 1988. My cousin and I were at our grandparents’ house and called the station to request this one. We got through and got on air and listened to it on our Pop’s radio in his den. I dedicated it “to everybody.” I think it was Halloween.
18. “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul, 1989. I was in fourth grade. She was so hot. And the video was awesome.
19. “Batdance” by Prince, 1989. From the Batman soundtrack. My cousin insisted that Prince said the f-word in it. Dancers were dressed like half Jokers/half Batmen. Started watching Vh1 around this time.
20. “Cherish” by Madonna, 1989. Reminded me of The Association. Thought she was pretty. Wanted to live underwater.
21. “Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx, 1989. Do I listen to pop music because I’m miserable, or am I miserable because I listen to pop music?
22. “Runnin’ Down A Dream” by Tom Petty, 1989. Cartoon video. Awesome song. Discovered it (and Tom Petty) while looking for something to watch.
23. “Free Fallin'” by Tom Petty, 1989. Two kids singing this on the escalator at the mall. She loves Jesus? And America? I am 9 and so do I.
24. “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak, 1989. This is when I started to realize there was something inexplicably beautiful about being heartsick. Could longing be better than having? Wait, what? Nevermind. Baseball cards!
25. “We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel, 1989.
26. “Another Day In Paradise” by Phil Collins, 1989.
25. “I Wish It Would Rain Down” by Phil Collins, 1989.
27. “Leningrad” by Billy Joel, 1989.
28. “The Downeaster Alexa” by Billy Joel, 1990.
29. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor, 1990.
*25-29: I memorized “We Didn’t Start The Fire” for a poetry recital and explicated “Another Day In Paradise” for an English project. These tracks and these albums crystallized some early ideas about social justice, history, politics, longing, work…
30. “Black Velvet” by Allanah Myles, 1990. In addition to Jesus, I must now also come to terms with Elvis. Staying up late on Friday nights watching Vh1 and the Family Channel with my mom.
31. “One More Try” by Timmy T, 1990. I wonder what kinds of things people do to screw relationships up. Driving to my grandparents’ house past the municipal golf course and hearing it on the radio.
32. “No Myth” by Michael Penn, 1990. I had trouble sleeping as a kid. I used to listen to the local adult contemporary station every night and I really loved all these 1989/1990 songs. And black jeans.
33: “I’ve Been Thinking About You” by Londonbeat, 1990. See above. Sha-pop-pop. I’d often hear “No Myth” and “I’ve Been Thinking About You” back-to-back on ninety-six-one. And “King of Wishful Thinking” and so many other classics. “Wicked Game” was like a bonus.
34. “It Must Have Been Love” by Roxette, 1990. I remember hearing this in the car for the first time.
35. “Hazard” by Richard Marx, 1991. Mystical. This is one of the great narrative videos of the early 90s. I buy Rush Street.
36. “Baby, Baby” by Amy Grant, 1991. And everything else from Heart In Motion.
37. “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” by Bryan Adams, 1991. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Soundtrack. Video plays at the end of the VHS tape. This is the single greatest “couples” song ever played at any elementary school skating party. I am in 6th grade and am smitten. See #21.
38. “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. One of these arty grown up bands they’re playing on Vh1 when I’m 11. More of this, please. I hear it walking past the Tilt-A-Whirl at Dorney Park.
39. “Motownphilly” by Boyz II Men, 1991. I don’t think anything needs to be said about this song. I borrowed the album from my cousin and dubbed it. They came to the Allentown Fair that year with Hammer and TLC. I was not allowed to go.
40. “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” by Boyz II Men, 1991. See above. These guys were the real deal.
41. “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men, 1992. See above. Still waiting for theuppityupalexvanderpoolera.
42. “Just Another Day” by John Secada, 1992. Remember Adult Contemporary? Do you miss it as much as I do?
43. “Jesus Is Still Alright” by DC Talk, 1992. Samples the Doobie Brothers, Madonna, and Snap! The video on that Christian station out of Bethlehem makes me want to grow a goatee. Nathan Key turns me on to Free At Last.
44. “The One” by Elton John, 1992. And we’re back to see #21 above.
Redaction: I forgot “Into The Great Wide Open” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, 1991. The early 90’s music video aesthetic is something I miss. Petty was dressing like a hippie pirate at this point and I first heard this song on SNL. When you’re a kid, and you’ve sort of grown up on a certain album by a certain artist, and then you start getting a little older and that artist releases something new, it’s sort of like John on Patmos. This is a great track with a great narrative video on a great album from a great artist. When I was 11, this is what I was listening to instead of Nirvana.
Part 2 forthcoming next month.
Nick Hornby image via Wikipedia. Billy Joel image via Wikipedia, fair use. Bruce Springsteen image by werejellyfish via Flickr. JJ/FP, Phil Collins, and Boyz II Men images via Wikipedia, fair use.
“If you’re roughly my age, we may share some of these academic distinctions:
last or close-to-last class of students to attend various Cold War or pre-war era schools before their 90s and 2000s-riffic renovations. (Elementary school, high school, college)
last or close-to-last class to take a typing elective where actual typewriters were used. (9th grade, but I didn’t really learn to type until I started using AIM the next year.) Possibly the last class to even be offered a typing elective.
last class to run DOS in a computer applications class. (10th grade)
last class to run DOS-based email and instant messaging on campus servers. (college)”
What I didn’t mention was that before I learned to type (and before my family got our first home PC) we had a Brother word processor, a fantastic 80’s device that combined the functionality of a computer with none of the fun. Still, as a budding writer, I was mystified by the green and black interface and by the mechanical goodness of the printing process, which pounded out every word and punctuation mark with austere, efficient resolve. If you love the visceral feel of typewriter mechanics and, for whatever reason, the ability to edit typos before they actually print, brother, these things were for you.
I saw a featured post on the WordPress homepage today that took me back to the days of digital input and ribbon printing. Dr. J asks, and thankfully answers, the defining question of word processing’s transitional age: “Mr. Owl, how many spaces really DO go after the period?” One, he says. Just one.
Sir, I think I must respectfully disagree. See what I mean? Too close. Too close for comfort. My sentences need room to breathe, friend. Like this. And this. Maybe not this, though I was first taught to do three spaces. This just feels wrong. This is the good stuff.
Because I wanted to include a picture of a Brother word processor in this post, I found this excellent Craigslisting:
Brother Portable Daisy Wheel Word Processor – $35
Brother Word Processor WP- 2600 able to save document on discs, print, & see other worksheets, etc on the screen. Great for someone beginning to learn keyboard typing & doesn’t have access to computer. Prints & saves documents.
Whisper Print ultra quiet daisy wheel system
Standard 3.5″ 720KB disk drive for MS-DOS file compatibility with PC’s
Allows transfer to ASCII files
Allows conversion of spreadsheets to LOTUS 1-2-3 WK1 files
Double column printing
Icon main menu
Dual screen capability
Allows you to view two files simultaneously and exchange information between them
Easy to read 5″x9″ (15 lines by 91 character) CRT display with contrast adjustment
GrammarCheck I with “word-spell” 70,000 word dictionary and 204 programmable user words
45,000 word thesaurus
Easy access pull down menus
On screen help function
Uses Model 1030 correctable ribbon and Model 3010 correction tape
Bold and expanded print
Automatic “Word-Out” and “Line-Out” correction system erases a single word or a complete line
Automatic relocation after correction
Direct and line-by-line typing to handle labels and envelopes
Full line lift-off correction memory
Disk copy allows you to copy text from one disk to another
I’m not too enthused about the ultra quiet daisy wheel print system, but this post does a great job of showing us all the features that made these things practical for people who didn’t want or need a personal computer back in the day. What a fantastic hybrid of nineteenth and twentieth century innovations, you are, Word Processor. Even if you have no place in the 21st century market place, you’ll always have one in my heart. Shine on, you crazy diamond!
In honor of you, and of the icy, wintry mix outside, I offer proof of how badly we needed you:
Saturday’s entree to this topic talked about Nickelodeon and the Power Rangers. One of my favorite comments came via Facebook: “I saw the commercials myself. [My son] even looked at me and said ‘That looks cool, dad.’ I said, ‘it’s actually the exact opposite!'”
The key to the success of the franchise was Saban‘s crafty decoupage of cheap footage, martial arts, dinosaurs, and robots. Today’s post seeks to mimic that same spirit by sharing two links recently added to my Friends, Conspirators, Etc. page: Paleo-Future and UniWatch. If you love sports branding minutiae and get as depressed as I do about the fact that we don’t have flying cars or moon colonies, you’re going to love this post, as seen here.
Paleo-Future and UniWatch are united in their subtleties: you can’t look at old flannel baseball uniforms or hopeful, dated predictions about the future without resigning to the larger truth that everything was much, much, cooler before you were born or when you were young. It’s not your fault that this is true, and it nicely explains your love for all things old school. These websites fill a need. We need better visions of the future (and actual goals) and better art in sports. Do your part by wearing a coat and tie and fedora to your next ball game, won’t you? Buy your child a telescope, friend.
United in understated yearning for the glory days that were and the glory days that weren’t, the paring of Paleo-Future and UniWatch is, in other ways, a study in contrasts. P-F is run by one very creative person (Matt Novak) while UW has at least two (Paul Lukas, Phil Hecken). P-F updates often, but not as often I as check. UW updates all the time. Both sites have enough back catalogue to keep you occupied for hours.
I’ve considered for some time whether nostalgia is actually cynicism. These days, I don’t think so. The resurgence of the postmodern Phillies “P” on 20 and 30somethings around Citizen’s Bank Park was, before the late 2000’s, an homage to the last great Phillies era but also a celebration of childhood context. It’s what the Phils wore when we were kids. It’s a cultural artifact, but the fact that it’s what the Phils wore when we were kids is enough to make it important to us now. The celebration of context is the reason that any design aesthetic 20 years old or older has immediate traction now. On a long enough timeline, even the ugliest stuff becomes beloved.
While UniWatch curates what was, and encourages readers to submit their own designs for what should be, Paleo-Future has a mission that’s fundamentally more unsettling. Here, Matt Novak shares what he and his readers have discovered about a world that (mostly) should have been but wasn’t. Spend more than a few minutes on P-F and you’ll start really wanting every technological advance the early Post-War period promised. I’m not talking about robots that do everything for you, either. I’m talking about sustainable, green infrastructures and food supplies, efficient, inexpensive travel options, human outposts on the Moon. The hope in most of the images Matt shares jumps right off the screen and makes we wonder if William Hanna and Joseph Barbera shouldn’t have served as undersecretaries of NASA, reporting to Gene Roddenberry and Walt Disney.
These are both fantastic blogs. Send them love.
UPDATE: I just found this old P-F inspired post in my offline archive. I just moved it back online, as I’m periodically doing with other old posts. This one is a free-association writing prompt from one of Matt’s pictures and the thoughts that followed.