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Thursday, December 29, 2016
Art & Entertainment ... Personal Reflections ...

Being a quintessential Baby Boomer, the 1980s were a pivotal time in my life. So much happened, so many memories that stick with me. I mostly enjoyed growing up in the 1960s, but the 1970s were kind of a drag; and as to the decades following the 1980s, I can’t say too much. They just didn’t stick in my head the way that the 80’s did. The 1980’s were in so many ways a fun time for me, and yet there was the sadness of my failed attempt at marriage (which at least came to an amicable enough-ending in a mutually agreed-upon divorce). But then again, there were so many good people around me who helped me to get through that time. And thus there was even some fun in that process. I really doubt that I’d have anything like that to help me thru another major trauma, which becomes more and more likely as I get older.

So I was saddened to hear about the deaths last week of actress Carrie Fisher and singer George Michael, both within a few days of Christmas. Those two figures played significant roles in my 1980’s memories. Ms. Fisher, of course, will always be known for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the first 3 Star Wars movies. Of course, the first Star Wars film came out in 1977, but its techno-pomposity and intoxicating entertainability helped to set the mood for the coming of the 80’s, a promise of an escape from the slow decay of the post-WW2 suburban order that the 1970’s represented. The next two were products of 1980 and 1983, and they really helped to cement the new mood for the times. To be honest, after the first 3 Star Wars films, I didn’t pay much attention to Ms. Fisher’s career. But she was a surprisingly prolific actress, with roles in the original Blues Brothers, Agnes of God, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Wedding Singer and When Harry Met Sally.

For better or worse, however, Ms. Fisher also showed up in some rather forgettable films, including Hollywood Vice Squad, an Austin Powers episode, Drop Dead Fred, Charlies Angels Full Throttle, and Scream 3. But she definitely left us on a good note; in 2015, she reprized her Princess Leia role in Star Wars The Force Awakens, and will also appear in the upcoming Star Wars 8.

As to British singer George Michael — he probably didn’t maintain the same level of public notability as Ms. Fisher did after the turn of the century. Nonetheless, he is ranked by Billboard Magazine as the 40th most successful artist ever. When I think about the music of the 80’s, one of the first songs that pops into my head was Michael’s 1984 hit tune “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, during his days with “Wham”. It just was a silly song about young folk getting ready to go out dancing early in the evening. The opening “jitterbug” chant over a wailing organ just caught the feeling that so many young adults shared in the 80’s. I myself never patronized the dance clubs, but my brother and his friends did, and I remember their early-evening bubbly exuberance on Fridays and Saturdays, even Thursdays and Sundays sometimes.

Times were pretty good, jobs could be found (although the Volker double-recession did make that a bit harder up through 1982), gasoline could be bought once again late into the night even on Sundays, and an ever-expanding platter of silly but habit-forming pop music videos were available 24/7 on M-TV. Dance clubs were once again the place to be for young adults, and George Michael managed to capture the mood of it via pop (and not another dance song in itself — no one at these clubs danced to Wham, although I could be mistaken since I was rarely in such places).

To be honest, I hardly remember anything that Michael did after Wake Me Up, aside from Faith and Careless Whispers. Of course, he did have a long and prolific career, but he never seemed to “catch lightening” again. In a way, that’s the trouble with starting out with a big hit — you can put out a lot of very good songs, but most people will measure them against your first one and then generally push them aside, as they can almost never be as good.

Back in the 80’s, I thought of George Michael as a “more wholesome” version of Boy George. (Interestingly, actress Sarah Geller recently confused these two “Georges” — she tweeted an RIP tribute to Boy George after hearing of Michael’s death). Their voices were fairly similar; but IMHO, Boy George had a really fantastic voice, and Michael presented a more-than-adequate but not quite as craftworthy version. As with Michael, I don’t really remember much of Boy G’s work, aside from his 1982 hit with Culture Club, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”. At the time, Boy George was quite flagrant about his gayness (and give him credit for his brave attitude, as a lot of leftover social trends from the 1950s still lived on in the 80s; the Gay Rights movement still had a long ways to go yet); while Michael came on as just another “sexy dude”. Interestingly, Boy George and Michael seemed to get along fairly well despite reports of early feuding; they performed together several times (most notably at the 1984 Band Aid Christmas concert), and Boy George offered a sentimental tribute to George Michael following his death.

Of course, Michael was indeed gay, but wouldn’t come out about it until 1998, and only then after being arrested for lewd behavior in California. Well, today it seems to mean so little, but back then we hetero people often felt a bit more comfortable about George Michael and his “just like us but moreso” image as opposed to Boy George (what we didn’t know wouldn’t hurt us — and not at all to our credit). OK, so the 1980’s were far from perfect; some things clearly are better today. But I still miss those days — it’s largely a part of getting old and counting my blessings for having “fun times” like the 80’s. Too many people never had many good times to look back on — so many people lived such broken lives. So thus I note the passing of two figures who helped in a way to define my own experience and memories of a decade when fun almost seemed to be an inalienable right.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:57 pm      

  1. Jim, I would agree with you that the 1980s were not bad as a decade. I think it might have been cuz the chaos and trouble of the 1960s and 1970s that seemed to never end finally did seem to come to some cessation. Or maybe it was that people just had had enuf of all the chaos of the earlier decades and decided to take a “rest” for a period of time and allowed the decade to quiet down for a while. Now I’ve often tho’t that the 1960s have returned in the 20-teens; in a somewhat different way; but nevertheless, chaos and nothing but serious problems and trouble have returned and the 1960s are constantly on my mind again.

    Can’t say I remember much about George Michael, except that I always tho’t he was gay (probably a lot of people did) and that I admired for its honesty the song “Careless Whisper” and it’s line, “guilty feet have got no rhythm” always caught my attention for its honesty somehow; very few such pop songs are so honest, except in a superficial way. “Careless Whisper” seemed to have a bit more depth in its honesty.

    Re Carrie Fisher I read her bio which came out, I can’t remember when. In that book she notes that at the time she is estranged from her mother, Debbie Reynolds. Carrie specifically noted her mother somehow always managed to upstage her daughter. Carrie would perform at some party where a lot of celebrities had assembled; and before she knew it Debbie had taken over the stage and had the audience on its feet. Carrie felt (and probably rightly so) upstaged, resented it, and was angry enuf at her mother to refuse to have much, if anything, to do with Reynolds for a long period of time.

    Well, surprisingly, when Carrie Fisher died, I read she had become very close with her mother in the last few years before she died. THEN, on Christmas day, (was it the very next day?) Debbie Reynolds died­­and all I could think of was that, once again, even in death, Debbie had upstaged her daughter; all the talk was of Debbie having died of a broken heart due to her daughter’s death and Carrie’s death was somehow lost in the discussion. Once more Carrie was upstaged by her mother.

    I find myself wondering just how karma had repaid something in the past or was karma in the future to “fix” this last “upstaging” of Carrie by Debbie.

    And one more thing about Debbie Reynolds: I think it must have been in the 1970s that Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher did to Debbie Fisher what Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt did to Jennifer Ansiton (sp?). History repeated itself there too. In her day Debbie Reynolds was the Jennifer Aniston of later decades, a broken marriage, a “love” that would never end, until it ended. I can’t say it surprised me when Jolie and Pitt announced they were divorcing; it was karma all over again. (And even Aniston commented when asked about the situation: “Karma is a bitch.”)

    The marriage of Taylor and Fisher and that of Jolie and Pitt ended the same way in a bitter divorce.

    Is it history repeating itself in these people? Or is there something else that is working itself out among these individuals and that is played on a world stage? MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — December 30, 2016 @ 2:50 pm

  2. Hi, yes, the 80’s really were a fun time for some people. But lets’ not forget that there was a lot of bad stuff happening too back then. Hard to say sometimes if things are better or worse today.

    Comment by James Fovell — December 31, 2016 @ 2:13 pm

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