Friday, June 24, 2011

A Beautiful Dream

We are coming soon to the end of the Space Shuttle era, with only one more shuttle flight left. But long after its over, the Space Shuttles will remain a strong and fond memory for me. A gleaming flashback from the 1980s, when they were new and considered technological marvels. They would become a central part of human space travel during the end of the 20th century, and the beginning of the 21st.

I remeber very vividly when the era began, on April 12, 1981 when the first space shuttle, Columbia, blasted off from Cape Canaveral on its maiden voyage for a short mission which restarted U.S. human space missions after an absence of a few years. Columbia landed again on April 14, 1981, on a dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. I was 11 at the time, and I remember it as the very first time I ever knew of a U.S. manned space mission while it was actually occurring (the last time such a mission occurred was in 1975, when I was just 5 years old and more aware of re-runs of Lost in Space than in the real thing). It seemed like part of a new dawn then, as the '80s were beginning and ushering in a seemingly more positive era of optimism: shortly before this, the hostages had been released . . . maybe it all signalled something better ahead.

There would be a total of five shuttles built: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor. . .  even the names seemed hopeful. There would be many triumphs ahead, as the shuttle program ventured forward on missions that ranged from scientific research, to satellite placement, to assisting in the construction of the International Space Station. 

And tragedy as well, first with the Challenger in 1986, and then Columbia in 2003.

And now the final fade away to retirement.

The space shuttle era was a beautiful dream. . . one that came true for just awhile, and then left, receeding into a wonderful memory.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Second British Invasion: Madness and Thomas Dolby

The Second British Invasion of 1983 is most often associated with its most popular acts, like Duran Duran, Culture Club, Eurythmics and the Police. But the launching of MTV brought exposure to a large number of quirky bands from both sides of the Atlantic. And the new art form of music videos generated a lot of creative, quirky and fun-loving masterpieces. Heres two such examples from the UK:

The Second British Invasion of the early '80s really did open the door for Americans to access a wide range of arty British musical culture which had not made it to the USA before. A lot of it was from the various subgenres which sprung up in the New Wave aftermath of punk in the '70s and early '80s. One example is the group Madness. Madness originated in the ska reveival which took place in Britain around 1978-79, but which didn't really obtain too much exposure in the United States. Finally, in 1983, Madness joined the British Invasion to hit it big with the chipper, catchy song "Our House," a big hit in '83.  The writer Simon Reynolds, in his book, "Rip It Up and Start Again" compared this song to the Beatle's "Penny Lane."

The Second British Invasion also brought the quirky, creative synth-pop of Thomas Dolby. A good example of it is the sonf "She Blinded Me With Science," which actually became more of a hit in America than in the UK. And a big hit it was. The video is an excellent example of how creative and fun-loving video could be during the early '80s. It kind of reminds me of the Beatles films in the late '60s, with its quirky humor and smile-inducing imagery.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Little Sister": '80s McDonald's Ad

Since were on the topic of '80s commercials, here's a memorable one from 1983. This touching ad is one of the more memorable commercials for fast food, and it still brings out some emotions seeing it today. I got a little misty myself watching it.

It also fit well, both back then and today, with my interest in nostalgia which was present even when I was a young nerdy teen in middle school. I always try to guess which years each stage of this commercial takes place in.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

'80s Ant-Drugs PSA

Check out this '80s anti-drugs PSA.

There are no words . . . really . . .

Saturday, June 11, 2011

'80s Perfoming Arts Awesomeness

"You've got big dreams? You want fame?
Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying ... in sweat."
- instructor Lydia Grant, Fame

The 1980s are sometimes (wrongly) derided as a time of Wall Street greed and Alex Keatonesque selfishness, but this is simply wrong. The '80s, as is the case with any decade, has its faults, but there was so much more to the '80s than just that materialistic stereotype. Take, for example, what a remarkable era the '80s was for the performing arts, and those of us who love the performing arts.

The '80s was the decade of Fame, a wonderful program that followed the ambitions and dreams of aspiring artists at a school for the performing arts. As a former drama kid during the '80s, I drew inspiration from the characters on this show: creative young people out to show the world their talent. In the '80s, didn't we all think we were talented and creative?

And the '80s was the decade of Cats (1981). An unusual musical based on a T.S. Eliot poem, Cats was an example of the quirky creativity of the '80s, and showed a sensibility that was at time in awe of life and the world, at times melancholy and aware of life's sadness, and at time quite uplifting. In the '80s, didn't we all have a more wonderous awe of life possibilities?

The '80s was also the era of Flashdance (1983), a movie about a dancer, and her hopes and dreams. Of course, its always easier to dream that to actually make reality conform to your desires, and perhaps one of the faults of the '80s is that it was all too easy to dream amidst such hopeful pop culture. But what a wonderful set of dreams they were while they lasted.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

MTV and The Second British Invasion Groups: Culture Club

The 1980s were an era of colorful, quirky music qroups. Early in the decade, MTV went on the air, initiating the era of music videos, and exposing American culture to the quirky musical subculture called New Wave. New Wave dated to the late 1970s, with the emergence, in the wake of punk, of arty, quirky musical acts like the Talking Heads, Devo, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and Blondie. But its comibation with the new media of MTV in the early '80s exposed it on a large scale to the American public, and turned it from a oddball subculture, into mainstream culture. And America ate it up.

A large number of the groups given exposure by MTV came from Britain, and thus, in 1982-83, was initiated what was called the Second British Invasion... the first being the 1964-65 invasion of British musical groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Hermans Hermits, and the like. The Second British invasion of 1982-83 was similarly a cultural and musical invasion and included the likes of very popular multi-hit acts like Duran Duran, the Police, Culture Club, Eurythmics, and the Human League and lesser lights such as ska revivalist Madness, catchy celtic tinged popsters Dexys Midnight Runners, and synth virtuoso Thomas Dolby.

Culture club was one of the more memorable groups to come out of this invasion. Emerging out of the Bowie-inspired theatrical New Romantic subculture, Culture Club was an easily recgnizable presence during the early '80s, due in large part to their gender bending lead signer, Boy George.

The very first big hit for Culure Club in the U.S. was 1982's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," which really hit big the following year. I still remember vividly watching this video, and just being amazed at this andogynous character singing this remarkably catchy tune. This was also around the time I started getting into music videos, itself still a new medium, and it was also when I really started getting into music in a big way. It was my early teens, and my sense of being an adolescent was growing strong. This new, shiny quirky catchy music just captured my imagination.

Culture Club would have many more hits in the '80s, all this catchy soulful pop punctuated by Boy George's rather rather appealing smooth voice. Among them, "Karma Chamelion," below, which is another wondeful example of the music video medium, and the optimistic catchy popishness of the New Romantic/New Wave era.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Welcome to my blog/ labor of love

Welcome to my new blog.

This blog will be devoted to the popular culture nostalgia, in particular, but not exclusively, the culture of the 1980s. The '80s are the decade I came of age, and a period of time that I have great affection for.

Weren't things more hopeful then? Take, for example, '80s Sci-Fi Movies. The '80s were a time when the horizon seemed broader, dreams seemed bigger, and those damn aliens seemed a whole lot nicer. (You never saw E.T. kidnapping anybody!!)

When things got a little too rough, I could always hide out at the movies w/ a Cherry coke, a buttered pocorn, and a Speilberg movie on the screen.

Or, how about '80s Teen Movies. I mean The Breakfast Club, Heathers, Ferris Beueler, etc. In '80s teen flicks, they took the thoughts and feelings of teenagers seriously. And, they usually had their priorities right: Nerds usually won, bullies usually lost, and everything was always cool. And by the end of the movie, you at least got a few laughs in, and fun was had by all.

Or how about the music. It was all so much more hopeful and optimistic then. Everything seemed to be neon colored and full of enthusiasm. and creativity and diversity were blossoming everywhere. Whether you liked the arty synth-popish style of New Wave, or the hard rock of heavy metal, or the more down to earth style of traditional rock'n roll, or the soft gentle sound of ballads or the rebellious sound of punk, there was always something for you in the '80s.