I guess it was bound to happen. For eons now, the music of my youth — 80s music — has been considered retro. Ultra hip. Totally cool. Able to transcend generations and stay relevant even though it was more than 20 years old. (Or that it sounded like a Casio keyboard having a seizure.)
But I got a shock to the system the other day. I was in the car listening to National Public Radio when someone said that 80s music is no longer retro. The “new retro,” they said, is now 90s music.
I was floored. Flabbergasted. I nearly crashed into a telephone pole.
How could 80s music be out of fashion? It was always ABOUT fashion (bad fashion, but fashion all the same.) How could this be? Was there a vote? Had anyone consulted with us, the children of MTV.
I tried to come to terms with this realization, but found myself thinking back to my grandmother. She listened to those elevator music radio stations. You know, the kind that hospitals often used when they needed a substitute for anesthesia. They had a way of turning sappy songs into sappier instrumentals that became the musical equivalent of Cream of Wheat.
I wondered if MY music would now face the same fate.
I guess every generation goes through this. But I didn’t think it could happen to mine. There was something special about the 80s — something totally vain, totally self-absorbed and totally out-of-touch with just how utterly ridiculous it was. The music epitomized that.
It was an incredible time. Think of this: With all the hair spray, rayon and high-intensity lighting, only one performer that I can think of (Michael Jackson, rest his soul) ever caught on fire. Need I say more?
Even if you didn’t grow up in that generation, you have to admit it was a unique decade with groundbreaking music. Shoot, think about how you stared in awe as your kids dyed their hair blue and went around looking like they were some kind of mutant alien spawn. That was all thanks to 80s music!
Rap was something entirely different than what we know today. Electronic burps and bleeps created a musical landscape that was like nothing we had ever heard before. And music videos opened up a realm of theatrics and fashion that millions of teens had to copy.
I remember going out in parachute pants, an Ocean Pacific tank top and neon-colored sunglasses. Man, I must have looked good! Especially considering the fact that I was so skinny and scrawny that when I flexed, my muscles actually retreated like turtles into their shells. Wire hangars filled out clothes better than I did.
Parachute pants, for some unexplained reason, epitomized cool, and the more zippers you had on them the better. I don’t know why they had so many zippers, although looking back, it was probably to allow for air circulation. That nylon was like being in a boiling bag, and when I would take them off, steam rose from my legs. But musicians wore them, and so did we.
Everything revolved around music. It defined our generation in so many ways, although you could argue it also rotted our brains. Every conversation with a kid in the 80s was some variation of this: “Like, oh my God, it was so totally tubular that I was like, ‘this is so awesome, because, you know, it’s like rad in a way that’s, you know …’ ” and that would be it. We couldn’t go on. We were exhausted from trying to turn gibberish into something comprehendible. Kids would literally pass out at the dinner table while explaining what they did at school. Blame the music for that.
But 80s music also taught us something inspiring: That even dorks and geeks could rise out of the shadows and be considered “cool.” Even get chicks! That was something that gave us all hope, because we knew the vast majority of 80s pop stars had at one time been on the chess team or led their school’s Star Trek fan club.
Through all the bad hair and synthesized gobbledygook, the music spoke to us. It sounded like it had the answers to our everyday problems. (Of course we came to find out much later that most musicians were just high and writing about socks or grape jelly. But at the time it seemed profound and deep.)
They were our heroes — our musical heroes. Proof that any doofus in parachute pants and a Members Only jacket could one day break out of his grade school funk to make it big. And if we used enough hairspray, we might even get chicks.
So, rock on, 80s music. You’ll always be retro to me.