News Article

REVENGE OF THE '80S

AMERICA LOOKS BACK IN ENVY AT A DECADE OF DECADENCE

The clock radio clicks on to the voice of Boy George and his new hit single. Before breakfast you catch Cyndi Lauper on Good Morning America, talking about her new album. During lunch you sit in the park with Billy Idol's latest on your Walkman. Back home after work you flip on MTV and find those perennially puffy glamour boys Duran Duran posing through their latest video. After dinner you debate whether to catch a new Don Johnson movie or go to the Adam Ant concert. That scenario could have been lifted from a typical day of the '80s, that now-reviled decade of corporate- raider greed, Ronald Reagan, proudly disposable pop culture, yuppies, and the terrifying rise of social ills like AIDS and homelessness. The only difference is that the year is actually 1993. Welcome to the '80s revival. ''Once a decade ends, it's not too soon to look back,'' says Bruce Harris, director of catalog development and marketing for ERG (EMI Records Group). Harris has, in fact, compiled a newly released album called Living in Oblivion: The 80's Greatest Hits-Volume 1, which features early MTV smashes like Kajagoogoo's ''Too Shy,'' the Stray Cats' ''(She's) Sexy + 17,'' and Thomas Dolby's ''She Blinded Me With Science.'' ERG has also just put out greatest-hits CDs by Sheena Easton and Ultravox. We know what you're thinking: Aren't we still dragging our bell-bottoms through a '70s revival, replete with a Brady Bunch CD and recently exhumed Charlie's Angels repeats on TNT? Isn't it a bit early for a nostalgic look back at an era that ended a mere three years ago? Apparently not. Everywhere you look, '80s icons seem to be staging comebacks: Boy George, thanks to his remake of ''The Crying Game'' for the movie of the same name; Duran Duran, back in the top 10 with their hits ''Ordinary World'' and ''Come Undone''; Run-D.M.C., former main homeboys of '80s rap, have reentered the scene with an acclaimed new album. Diva, the solo album by former Eurythmics singer (and premature early-MTV has-been) Annie Lennox, is now the CD dinner-party background music of choice. Ex-wrestling queen Cyndi Lauper is hoping to be next with her own comeback disc, Hat Full of Stars. Even the Proclaimers' hit, ''I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles),'' from this year's Benny & Joon soundtrack, was released in 1988. ''People are sick of monotonous house music,'' says Boy George. ''People miss melodies, and they want to hear songs again.'' No less than Michael Jackson has gotten with the program: The video for ''Who Is It'' is a montage of his big- budget '80s and '90s clips. The revival isn't limited to pop music, either. In March, HBO premiered its critically lauded made-for-TV movie Barbarians at the Gate, an amusing and occasionally biting look back at-what else?-the RJR Nabisco takeover wars of 1988. The soundtrack of the recent Kenneth Branagh movie Peter's Friends-an updated Big Chill-is loaded with '80s relics like Tina Turner's ''What's Love Got to Do With It'' and Lauper's ''Girls Just Want to Have Fun.'' Jay McInerney, doper laureate of the '80s party set thanks to his novel Bright Lights, Big City, is enjoying a somewhat revived career; his latest novel, Brightness Falls, actually got good reviews. And former '80s teen idols Corey Feldman and Corey Haim are costarring in National Lampoon's The Last Resort. ''The energy is so up,'' says the owner of a New York club that devotes one night a week to '80s pop. ''When songs like the Go-Go's' 'Vacation' or Nena's '99 Luftballons' come on, people cheer and scream-they go crazy.'' Crazy would be a good overall description for pop culture in the '80s. Television made a hero out of a young, money-grubbing Republican character played by Michael J. Fox; Fox became a Hollywood leading man despite not really looking like one. Middling British actress Joan Collins became a cultural heroine herself on Dynasty, which reveled in the glitz-and-chintz feel of the decade. Bruce Springsteen's ''Born in the U.S.A.'' and his blue- jean-and-headband image were misinterpreted by many as just macho American manliness-to the point where Ronald Reagan commended the singer. And pop stars engaged in charity benefits seemingly every six months. Entertainment was everywhere, bigger and glossier than ever. In 1981, a cable channel called MTV debuted, playing ''music videos'' 24 hours a day. Pop itself splintered, from the onslaught of classic-rock stations and the arrival of British synth-pop bands like the Human League (whose 1982 hit, ''Don't You Want Me,'' signaled the true start of '80s pop) to the rise of rap and the popularity of college-radio rockers like R.E.M. By the mid-'80s, the MTV-style quick-cut cinematography and up-from-day-jobs stories for which the decade is mostly remembered had all come together in the legendary F trilogy: Fame, Flashdance, Footloose. Who would want to fondly recall such a decade? ''People in their 20s are a bit nostalgic for the '80s because those were thriving and booming times,'' says ERG's Harris, who looked into studies of '80s kids to determine the commercial viability of his compilation of period hits. ''In politics, the attitude was: If there was a problem, you ignored it. So people around 25 look back at that time like being-and this was the phrase-'in a cocoon.' Back then, people didn't have a care in the world.'' In fact, for every Bruce Willis album or Tama Janowitz novel there were some great things about the '80s. On the big screen you had Amadeus, Aliens, Hannah and Her Sisters, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. On TV there was the first season or two of Moonlighting, Miami Vice, and Alf (trust us-the little guy was cool early on). All of which should help us forget Starship's ''We Built This City,'' the Willie Nelson-Julio Iglesias duet of ''To All the Girls I've Loved Before,'' the slow assassination of the vinyl LP, and those Porky's movies. In the end, the quicker, remote-control pace of pop culture may be the true legacy of the '80s. Nostalgia used to arrive every two decades or so, but at this rate we'll be pining for the early '90s before you know it. Ah, yes, remember Gerardo and raves? Remember Sharon Stone? Those CD longboxes and virtual-reality headsets? Nostalgia truly ain't what it used to be. *

Originally posted Jul 09, 1993 Published in issue #178 Jul 09, 1993 Order article reprints