".....and I remember Bono's mullet and thinking, even at a time when a mullet was acceptable, that a line had been crossed..."
Free article today. It’s been fun to reminisce. We do that a lot here. Join us with a paid subscription? Three pieces a week, just for you.
I recently dove into the 1990s on these pages. Which now has me thinking of the 1980s. For some reason the 80s are much more clear in my head. Maybe it was the lack of real drums? Whatever. The 90s had too many distractions, and took itself way too seriously for a decade responsible for “Achy Breaky Heart”.
The 80s is the last time we played outside. For that alone it should be remembered.
The 80s were a simpler time, filled with all that hair and more teen angst than I've been able to process all these years later. The decade began with me entering high school, and it ended with me a college graduate forced to do grown-up stuff, which meant it was no longer socially acceptable to bum beer money off my parents. It was time to grow up, something I'm still working on and not very good at.
I was about as nondescript a high school freshman as there ever was. A 98 pound weakling who never quite got over the terror of figuring out how to open his locker. My hair had served as the laboratory for my sister, who was learning how to cut hair and figured my self-esteem was so low a fuck up wouldn't matter all that much. But at least the dreaded bowl cut was gone, replaced with the part in the middle and blown dry over sides that stuck out like wings when I forgot to lick the comb that was ever present in my back pocket. Just like the Fonz.
I lacked Fonzie's way with the ladies, however.
I kissed my first girl in 7th grade. Had my first "steady" in 8th. For a few weeks at least. At our graduation dance the nuns asked us to "keep enough room for the Holy Spirit" during the slow songs. But that was as naughty as I dared. In the experience sweepstakes I was probably about average for the time. One friend insisted he'd gotten a blow job from some girl down by the creek over the summer. It sounded a little too Danny Zuko-ish to us. Danny bragging about bagging Sandy under the dock in "Grease" was still fresh in everyone's mind. But nobody could prove our friend was lying. If he wasn't, well then I had so many mountains to climb.
(He was. We later discovered that he made the girl up, like on a George Santos resume)
We had a dress code in high school. Sport coat and ties for the guys. No sneakers unless you were good enough in sports. No jeans, but corduroys were ok. Your top button of your shirt had to be buttoned at all times. I saw one guy put his jacket in his locker at the end of the first day, and leave it there for the rest of the school year. It was a red blazer and he wore it every single day, color coordination be damned. By the end of the year he didn't have to hang it on a hook anymore. It stood up on its own.
The girls had to wear skirts, which were blessedly above the knee...sometimes lots above the knee. Keeping our top buttons shut was worth this.
The first girl I fell for in high school had one of those weirdo boyfriends who was 4 years older. He had just graduated high school and found out that I asked his girl to the homecoming dance. So of course he showed up at the school during lunch break to beat me up. You could do that back then….the same way you could walk a loved one to the door of their departing plane.
Having failed, he promised he'd get me another time, and for the next few weeks I was like Ray Liotta in those last scenes in Goodfellas....thinking that helicopter was following him everywhere. I'd never be Danny Zuko at this pace.
I got my first job in the 80s (lackawanna county housing authority) and saw my first concert in the 80s (Cheap Trick at the Kingston Armory) and bought my first CD in the 80s (Green Thoughts by the Smithereens) and had my first senior week at the shore, which was uneventful (nobody got arrested) and I only remember because the day we came home was Live Aid day......and we were all excited that Phil Collins was getting between London and Philadelphia to play bum piano notes during "Against All Odds" on two continents. I was already a huge Who fan at this time, and of course as soon as their set started the video feed cut off and myself and the world missed half of it. I remember watching Freddy Mercury during that creepy Radio Ga Ga thing and thinking even then "so this is what Nuremberg was like..." And I remember Bono's mullet and thinking, even at a time when a mullet was acceptable, that a line had been crossed.
The 80s is when I learned to deal with heartbreak and way too many cheap beers and it's when I and far too many others somehow thought that glasses the size of hubcaps were stylin'. The 80s were MTV and spandex and “greed is good” and double-breasted suits and a 4 way cage match on the charts between Bruce and Michael and Prince and Madonna, filled with bandannas and sequined gloves and beds onstage. The 80s is when everybody realized that the 50s was over. Being middle class now only meant that the bank wasn’t threatening you anymore.
It was the last time that cops would drive you home.
The 80s crammed so many things into so few years that the 90s came along buried the decade in the backyard.
We should talk more about this at another time.
In a bit…