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June 11, 2010

A Rant Against the Music of the 80’s

MTV and drum machines ruined music. My wife is at a party tonight with all her high school friends dancing to music from the 1980’s. I’m home pouting.

MTV and drum machines, indeed, and CDs, colder than a witch’s teat.

Whatever your tastes let me reel off a few names from the 60’s and 70’s: Janis, Jimi, The Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Morrison, CSNY, Beach Boys, Creedence, The Dead, Simon & Garfunkel, The Who, Joni, Elvis, Aretha, Pink Floyd, Sex Pistols, Bee Gees, Bob Marley, Queen.

Now a few from the 80’s: The Knack, Kiss, Madonna, Prince, Spandau Ballet, The Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, The B-52’s, Aerosmith, Blondie, Boy George, Simple Minds, The Bangles, New Kids on the Block, Adam Ant, Wham.

Point made or not? Young people in the 80’s, not only girls, rightly just wanna have fun, but most of their songs turned out as jokes. So what? What’s wrong with a decade of comedic music? Oh, did I forget Devo? How could I forget?

The best album of the decade, Paul Simon’s Graceland, was a serious opening to world music, but look at the texts. They’re bizarre and funny, weird and coy. Still some sort of joke.

I can imagine the early years of music videos filled with directors yelling, “Dance around, honey, do something colorful. This is video! You’re not just singing songs anymore!” The actors got silly out of take-75 boredom (And since when was music ever boring? Don't like it, turn it off. No need for funny hats.) Then the MT videos got choppy and neurotic, and the line between a commercial for a song and a commercial for cornflakes disappeared.

Now we have these Gaga mega-concerts with disturbing flashing lights, dancing girls and boys, dancing singers, sets, costume changes, smoke fog and bubbles. If you don’t like to go out and pay money, it’s all over invasion tv too. As if that were music. That’s Ziegfeld’s Follies, Cirque du Soleil. Often it's soft porn. But is it music? What’re those empty words they're chewing on? Is the drummer playing with his hands or a memory card? Anyone under 50 remember Leon Redbone, who plays sitting down, singing softly?

Can someone—pick a card, any card: Maria Muldaur singing Midnight at the Oasis—do it for you without the tricks, give you the love that songs are for without any medicine show con-artist mirrors and distractions? Somebody like Christina Aguilera has the pipes, but is she singing a song or just shouting: Look at me, over here, everybody, check me out!?

Here’s a good song. A really good song.
By whom?
Not interested.
No sexy video either.
Double not interested.

Here’s a good song from the 60’s and 70’s: Let It Be
Here’s a good song from the 80’s: Walk Like an Egyptian
(What? 80’s music, jokes? Says who?)

Nirvana came along and saved us all. Pearl Jam. Dave Matthews. Ben Harper. Natalie Merchant. U2. Green Day. Dido. Chili Peppers. Black Eyed Peas. Oasis. Shakira. Plenty of decent stuff came after the 80’s. I’m not stuck in my high school/college years, too much. Okay, we all are to some degree [I posted Born to be Wild on my YouTube channel], but if you can consider my point without nostalgic prejudice, I may be onto something.

Or I may not. I may just be trying to provoke any reaction, because I don’t get much response to my blog, and I’m wondering whether I should continue writing if no one’s reading. My brother says: if you can’t be good, be controversial. I’ll be watching the comments box for infuriated 40-somethings who feel their beloved music’s been offended. Give me your best shot.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: He does like trouble.
Jeff: Masochistic retrograde song terrorist.
Mutt: Got a poem for you, my man.
Jeff: Have at it.
Mutt: Here.
"The attributes
Of bathing suits
For lasses of lithesome limb
Make me inquire
If this attire
Is worn to slink or swim."
Jeff: For the love of Mike, that’s a zinger!
Mutt: ... well?
Jeff: Okay.
"A bachelor is a cagey guy.
He has a load of fun.
He likes to check out all the chicks,
And never Mrs. one."
Mutt: Oowah! You win. Uncle! I can’t stand it anymore.


Your little brother said...

You're not comparing decades. You're comparing genres. Otherwise you would've mentioned that the 70's brought us disco. Or maybe you wouldn't, because it doesn't help make your point. Almost all of the artists/bands you mention from the 80's are pop artists or new wave artists. If you want to say that you don't like pop or new wave and that you do like protest songs or rock songs, why not just say that? The 80s were also the beginning of the popularity of rap. Do you dislike that too, because it came out in that decade? How do Springsteen and Susan Vega and Tracy Chapman fit your scheme? How about David Cassidy and Bobby Sherman and the Monkees? Exceptions to the rule, or is the rule just stupid?

E. Martin Pedersen said...

The point (oh, forgot Harry Nilsson), my friend, is not what I didn't mention (forgot Michael Jackson on purpose). So what you say is valid but still weak. (Like what I said was true but ridiculous.)

Let's look at someone's music that I know that spans the period in question, the Reagan years, from the deaths of John Lennon to Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Bob Dylan's music went decidedly downhill in the 80's (his born-again period) and then got better at the end with the great Oh Mercy. Or did you think the Traveling Wilburys rivaled George Harrison's previous group?

Artists whose work spans these decades went limp during hard creative times: your favorite Van Morrison got spacey into Scientology, Joni Mitchell's wikipedia page calls the 80's "lack of success" and the 90's "resurrgence," Neil Young "difficult times" to "return to prominence," and so on.

A bad moon shone on the music world, then went away. Exceptions don't mean a rule is stupid.

And, by the by, which of my three little brothers are you, or is that just a nickname?

Your favorite little brother said...

I acknowledge that some of your favorite artists were crappy in the 80's. Were they negatively influenced by the hairbands or the synthopop? Were they too coked up to perform well and then they got clean at the end of the decade? Are you proposing that there was a musical curse in the 80s? None of those make logical sense. The only logical explanation is that the populace became enamored with music videos in the 80s and many of your favorites tried and failed to keep up. Paul McCartney/Stevie Wonder, Ebony and Ivory. Two of the greatest artists in history, who tried to please the masses with this shite and only embarrassed themselves. That is not the fault of the medium or the fault of the masses or the fault of the 80s, but the fault of these artists for trying to conform.

E. Martin Pedersen said...

Dear Sir, I thank you for helping me prove my point. I hadn't established cause, but the change in drug of choice could be the key. From weed and acid to meth and coke explains a lot. Or the pressures of the marketplace, the wild billions to be had now that MTV could practically force-feed the world. Placing the blame on the artists ignores the nuclear power of the dollar.

Let's not forget that Orwell's novel 1984 came true in this decade. (next debate topic)

enzorusso said...

io non credo che su ogni cosa si debba per forza tirare fuori il peggio. Credevo fosse solo italiano il metodo di criticare gli altri per poter affermare se stessi... Nessuna discussione si svolge più da molto tempo su contenuti concreti.
La musica anni '80 è senz'altro un livello più basso della musica precedente sia per i testi sia per le sonorità meno spontanee. Ma questo non vuol dire che ad essa ognuno di Noi abbia legato l'evolversi della propria mente unendo ad ogni emozione una colonna sonora . e proprio di questo si tratta amar la musica anni 80.. e chi ama la musica anni 80 non disprezza la precedente ne la successiva .. ne ha colto solo l'attimo fuggente per fermare i ricordi di una età che non c'è più. Ovviamente non facciamo critica e non facciamo scuola , raccontiamo soltanto di Noi in età adolescenziale.

June 14, 2010 9:42 AM

E. Martin Pedersen said...

Ciao Enzo, non prendere troppo sul serio le fesserie che sparo.

Che la musica è legato ad emozioni è il suo motivo d'essere.

Tutta la musica, quindi, che fa stare bene (o male) è valida e buona.

Io facevo un'analisi pseudo-obbiettivo e finto polemico. Un po' di verità, gin, giaccio, shakerare, un olivo verde.

Alla prossima.

Graham Moody said...

Nothing changes... it just gets different.

See....somebody's reading said...

You're right, of course. Those of your favorite artists from the 60s and 70s who were still alive in the 80s tried to conform to the MTV world and couldn't. That is to their shame. Some shook themselves and were able to rebound and that is to their credit. I'd sum it up by saying that the 80s were to music what Twinkies are to food. They're a guilty pleasure. They're not going to make anyone's list of the best foods ever, but they sure do taste good.