I bike to work most days and listen to old podcasts; today was the summer episode of NPR’s “All Songs Considered” in which Bob Boilen, Carrie Brownstein, and other assorted Anglos dissected the movies of the 1980s. It was surprisingly glib. Hosts who can pull apart the intricacies of new records and trends with ease (particulary Brownstein calling 2008 “the year of the bearded retreat”) got awfully trite about the 1980s. Synths were boring! Fake drums were icky! “We Built This City” is a pretty bad song, as songs go.
Now–this is their right. They survived the 1980s, and came of age then, and I didn’t. In 20 years perhaps I’ll be unable to appreciate the nuances of “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” or “How You Remind Me,” both terrible, terrible songs.
But I didn’t come of age in the 1980s! The decade, for me, has been re-sealed and re-packaged by SPIN, Rolling Stone, VH-1, Mojo, Rhino Records, and other cultural recyclers–I have a colored view of what was good and what wasn’t. I can read the top 10/top 100 lists from every year and see what people were really listening to (ie, Whitney Houston) versus what the critics liked (ie, The Replacements), but it’s too late. I have already been told that Pop Singer X was crap, while College Rock Band Y was mind-blowing, influential, directly responsible for that one song on that one Death Cab record.
My heavily colored view is that… the 1980s were pretty goddamn great. Prog rock mutated into the avant garde of Robert Fripp’s projects and the pop of Phil Collins and Trevor Rabin. Hardcore happened, and happened everywhere. Hip-Hop got awfully close to its peak, as far as the popular stuff goes. (The underground stuff is a different matter, but that’s a cop out.) Most importantly, from the perspective of my record collection, those white college kids who made Nuggets in the 1960s and terrible wank rock in the 1970s made fantastic music in the 1980s–power pop, pop-goth, 60s pastiches, guitar jangle.
Look, kids! Proof!