Tuesday, April 10, 2007

They Call It, "Nostalgia"

I went to download some stuff from iTunes, and somehow I came across a number of selections that lead me on a superficial trip back about 20 years...

I thought it was funny, reading some of the reviews of such bands as Wang Chung. I love the way the present generation, or perhaps it was a fellow Child of the '80's who generally labeled music from that time as "cheesy."

I'm not about to defend it from subjective perceptions like that. I can't. Of course it was cheesy, at least the pop stuff was. Sure, every generation, every decade, has a handful of truly talented composers and lyricists that do wonders to capture the essence of a particular time. Sometimes they define it, sometimes they're just exceptions to the usual glut of gooey sentimentality and clones of a handful of other popular acts. The point is, they are few and far between, and they are often the "redeemers" of a generation from the merciless attacks of the new young 'uns.

No. Like every other decade of pop, the 1980's didn't have just one sound. Even in specific genres, there was no ONE sound, although it seemed as though if one could stop time, a taxonomist could do a doctoral thesis on trying to classify certain genres, sub-genres, and movements within genres... all somehow unique from the others.

Well, there was a certain sound quality in bands like Wang Chung, and the occasional riff from Duran Duran that suggested a certain... loneliness. "Dance Hall Days" just had this echoing quality that felt like it was being played in an empty, dilapidated hall, much like the way the accompanying video suggested. "Rio" by Duran Duran had a wailing saxophone solo that felt the same way. It is at once eerie, and a bit lonely. It seemed to ironically express a certain alienation that even the bands that specialized in angst couldn't quite convey.

That's about how I remember the 1980's. Sure, it was a time of celebration, but it was a celebration that really didn't have a lot of cause. I think as a country, America was just finally sick of feeling bad, after Watergate, Vietnam, the Energy Crisis, and the U.S. Embassy siege in Tehran. Like almost every other country or civilization that was down in the dumps, we elected a President who promised everything was going to be just fine, again.

Did they get better? They seemed to, and we seemed to believe many of our worries had just melted away. There were, however a number of problems we seemed to be sweeping under the rug, though, and they did seem to be creeping in, even as we were partying like it was 1999.

There was this problem with the homeless. There were a lot of vets who felt they didn't get the respect they felt was due them (for the most part, at least as a culture, we seemed to have addressed that, finally giving Vietnam vets at least a "welcome home," and a number of cultural tokens to cheer them up for coming back from an unpopular war that amounted to naught. But I digress); AIDS was becoming a serious health issue, although when we first heard about it, it seemed like it was just a "gay" disease, and drug use was starting to get to be more of a problem, despite our First Lady's "just say 'No'" campaign. Oh, yes. AND we had a President who seemed fanatical (and/or senile) enough to press the dreaded "red button" that would annihilate life on earth...

Maybe that was part of it, then? Despite this cheery, "let's just party" attitude, perhaps we did have a sense that all was not necessarily well, and like the indestructible homicidal maniac with the collection of mundane objects-turned-lethal-weapons, these problems were just outside the perimeter, waiting to strike.

Under the cocaine highs (this is a broad generalization. I never did coke. For one thing, I never had the money or the connections.), and just beneath the surface of the impeccable (but sometimes gaudy) fashions and the perfectly coiffed hair, in the undertones of the catchy dance beats, there might have been the slightest sense that something was wrong, like a collective depression. That would certainly explain the 1990's with all the grunge and the angry girl bands... a party that long is going to have a helluva hang-over.

In another way, we never really lost sight of it either, though. Taking dramas like "Miami Vice," and To Live and Die in L.A., that depicted a growing drug problem, and the Columbian cartels were getting stronger, and most cops who mattered were all on the take, yes, actually, we were aware of this, despite the glamorization of he situation. It seemed the soundtracks of these hopeless-feeling scenarios were reminders that, hey, this is a problem. Sure, Sonny Crockett drives a speed boat on the job, dresses in cutting-edge Armani (with the black t-shirt underneath), and looks great, sporting that eternal three-day growth of beard, but this guy is always one step away from being screwed, big time.

Sooner or later, we had to crash. We could only drown out the outside noise and numb the ache for so long before we realize we could stand to try to address these issues. Rap and Grunge began emerging right about when I should have graduated college in the first place. Well, rap had been around a while, with all that breakdancing we thought was going to save inner-city youths from violent gang wars. As for grunge, it was a new reformation of pop music. There were only so many hair band ballads and emotionless dance tunes meant to be heart-felt love songs (we also deluded ourselves into believing "Disco" was dead and buried) the half-generation behind me could take before saying, "This does not jibe with the world view I'm being fed." So, I guess, instead of further ignoring the angst like we did, the new kids chose to wallow in it, wearing it like we wore collar-up polo shirts with our 501's and penny loafers.

I imagine the nostalgia sets in when I realize the music today isn't mine. I'm not the target demographic the record execs are aiming for. Matter of fact, the record execs really don't know what to do with themselves, anymore. But instead of being able to retreat to these same sounds that were my shield from my parents way back when, and my cushion between me and my peers, and the insulation that filtered out news of the "Doomsday Clock," the music seems not to convey alienation, but it is now someone else's shield from me. It now alienates me, leaving me to wonder if and when I ever had a common thread with these people after me.

Nostalgia, however, is a dangerous drug. They retreat behind THEIR music, I slink behind mine, and before we know it, there are TWO walls between us. No wonder generations cannot relate.

I had a point to this, but I seem to have run out of steam.


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