March 2011

Billy Idol

I didn't appreciate Billy Idol back in the 1980s. Part of the problem was that he was just so darned ubiquitous. Back then your music media choices were the radio station or MTV, and both venues had Billy Idol on heavy rotation throughout the entire decade.

But looking back, I enjoy a lot of his songs for what they were: jaunty pop music with a thin (very thin) veneer of punk attitude. I mean, look at him! Peroxide blonde (a fashionable choice for young punks, c.f. Sting) with a trademark mega-Elvis sneer and a lot more sweat than the circumstances would seem to warrant.

His 1982 video for "Dancing With Myself" was groundbreaking, and everybody knew it. It was the first music video to be directed by a "real" director - Tobe Hooper, who was already famous for directing Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist.

Capri Sun and the Juice Box

Our understanding of what it meant for something to be a "nutritional food" changed a lot in the 1980s. It was enough, then, for a beverage to call itself a "fruit juice" for parents to be convinced that it was healthy for their children. A healthy alternative to soda, even!

This is also the era when fat in foods was demonized. I remember laughing at a package of Gummi Bears that proudly declared itself "A fat free food."

And finally, the 1980s were when we began to put a high price on take-away convenience. This was the time of power suits, latchkey kids, and Super Moms. We didn't have time to sit down at the kitchen table and pour a nice glass of juice and sit there and drink it (perhaps while reading the morning paper). We were a nation on the go!

The Inexplicable Piano Neck Tie

The 80s brought us many inexplicable fashion choices. But I find few of them as puzzling - or as iconic - as the piano key necktie.

(In the year 2010 we may not have flying cars, but we have ACTUAL piano neckties, with more processing power than twenty Apple ][ computers, which play actual piano notes when touched, and cost a mere ten bucks. Pwned!)

Apparently some designer early in the 1980s tilted their head to the side and thought, "You know, a necktie is kind of the same shape as a piano's keyboard." Except not really, because a necktie is necktie-shaped with points at both ends. A necktie is also longer in proportion to its width than a keyboard.

Hungry Hungry Hippos

Noisy Noisy Board Game!

The early 1980s was in many ways the golden age of board games. Video games were still in their infancy, and for the most part, kids played board games. The fervor for same was stoked by an avalanche of commercials during Saturday morning cartoons. Supply and demand: as natural a combination as hippos and marbles.

Oh, didn't you know? It's true: the hippopotamus has an almost insatiable appetite for little white marbles. Num num!

The primary - perhaps only - appeal to the game Hungry Hungry Hippos was that it creates a godawful racket. A "your parents will regret birthing you" racket. A racket to rival a young Bart Simpson striding around the kitchen banging pots and pans singing "I am so great! I am so great!"

Members Only Jackets

The Members Only jacket is a classic staple of the 1980s wardrobe. This must have been one of the most ubiquitous fashion items - and one of the most puzzling. Much like stirrup pants, Members Only jackets were as unflattering as they were uncomfortable. And yet, we went nuts for 'em. (I begged my mother to buy me a powder blue one.)

This is also one of the 1980s items which does not seem to be rolling back into style, at least not without being heavily modified. And with good reason. The classic Members Only jacket had many key features:

United Colors of Benetton

Oh yes, Benetton was everywhere in the 1980s. In fact, for many people, Benetton ads were our first experience with the new fad for "multiculturalism." This created a big debate, at least in my high school, although earnest and well-intentioned as we all were, it should be noted that we were about 98% white.

Pro: Benetton ads normalize skin colors other than white. And look at that happy ethnic baby snuggling with that happy ethnic child! White kids playing with black kids! It was a festival of warm fuzzy feelings for Leftists everywhere.

You have to remember, these were the days when the song "Ebony and Ivory" was getting heavy air play. We were all patting ourselves on the back about how inclusive and non-racist we were. And by "we" I of course mean "white people."

Perfumes of the 1980s

The 1980s were not a subtle era in any sense. Certainly this is true for the perfumes and colognes which were popular.

This brash perfume could probably be most kindly described as "vivid." I have to admit some fondness for Poison, because my best friend wore Poison for Men cologne for several years. I can't think of Poison without thinking of him, and the brown leather bomber jacket he wore throughout our entire high school experience.

This is the kind of perfume (or cologne) that clears a path for you. For better or worse. Its oriental scents were shocking at the time, and are still a little, shall we say, gauche. But if I were attending a 1980s party, Poison is definitely the perfume that I would wear! Along with bright red lipstick, stiletto heel ankle boots, big damn hair, and shoulder pads.