Cheesiness is next to godliness, when it’s the 80’s. Tonight is 80’s Nite, and if you go to it, there’s a high probability that you will hear this song. If you’re lucky, they’ll also screen the video, in which each member of the band looks uniquely terrible and on-trend. Just relish the pure eightiness of it all, soak it all in. If nothing else, the decade remains a treasure trove of fashion fails and one hit wonders. Real Life is up there with the all time greats like When In Rome, Wall of Voodoo, and that dude who got blinded with science.
By keeping an ideal facial structure fixed in his mind…
Or somewhere in the back of his mind…
That he might, by force of will, cause his face to approach those of his ideal…
Wouldn’t that be nice? If that were true we would all be morphing and changing throughout our lives. Which we do, but only in one direction. We may not be able to change and improve our faces, realistically, but we can change and recreate ourselves by how we live our lives, which may be the harder challenge.
Rolling Stones fans are pretty thick on the ground, and in varying degrees of thick in the head, but I don’t think I know anyone who wants to sit down and listen to Mick Jagger’s She’s the Boss. I don’t particularly want to listen to that record, either, and I own two copies of it. I also only somewhat want to see Mick Jagger dance in long underwear. But, you know, that record had some high points, some pretty fun silly pop songs, and this is one that I don’t mind putting on. I don’t mind hearing Mick Jagger complain about the pains of his jet-set lifestyle and high-glam social circle, and I sure don’t mind watching Jerry Hall wear lingerie.
Do you have some Christmas lights in your house, or maybe a lava lamp? Put those on and go lie down on the floor. You can’t listen to this record with the regular lights on. You can’t listen to it from your regular comfort position. You have to create an environment that opens your mind to different dimensions of understanding. Then maybe, you know, something visionary will trickle in. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is not regular music. Brian Eno, for his part, was very much into the idea of making music for specific places and experiences: music for airports, music for moon landings, music for floating down the Nile, music for opening Windows, etc. Actually, it wasn’t so much about telling you what the music was for, but allowing the music to be unobtrusively part of your life and coloring your perceptions in a subtle way. This is not one of those experiments in ambiance. This is music you have to pay attention to. But it’s certainly good for coloring the perception.
Know what we need more of? Songs about the Kennedy assassination. Just more educational songs about history in general, because it’s a pretty thin list populated mainly by The Decemberists and Al Stewart. There are, however, actually two synthpop songs about the JFK killing: this one and Sleeping In by the Postal Service. The Human League really made their contribution to society. Their 1981 album Dare is, in my objective estimation, one of the best records of the decade, and their sound and look became a blueprint for a bazillion heavily-pomaded synthpop groups who followed. I do, of course, have a particular fondness for the genre, from its avant-garde roots through its 80’s heyday to its current second golden age. I realize that synthpop is frequently very style-over-substance, as if huffing hairspray were somehow detrimental to one’s intellectual development. So I cling to the rare perfect synthpop record that has well-written songs about a diverse range of topics, which you can dance to, and the lead singer’s makeup is flawless the whole time.
I went to David Bowie Is, now in its final days at the Brooklyn Museum, and saw – among many things – the famous Pierrot costume. It is a puffy wonderment. It is, of course, the genius of David Bowie to pinpoint a character that dates back to the 17th century and upcycle him as a figure of punk-era malaise. Rock and roll didn’t know it needed more sad French clowns, but it did. Bowie was well in tune with the times in 1980 – as always – and made a record that shakes with fear and anger. Which befits our unstable times as much as it did its own. Running scared feels like the default collective mood of right now: it’s all paranoia and insanity, everything feels like it’s cracking up.
Have you ever broken up with someone you didn’t particularly like and then felt marginally bad for not feeling worse about it than you did? Well, Soft Cell has the song for you. Marc Almond cocks a sardonic eyebrow at all the heteronormative images in his own video, and presumably music video cliches in general, and he sounds equally sardonic towards sappy end-of-the-affair ballads in general as well. SPOILER ALERT, his relationship with this girl was wrong from the start because he’s gay, but what’s your excuse? Anyhow, the real source of angst here isn’t that the affair failed, it’s the awkwardness of still being in geographical proximity with embarrassing old flames who want to act like they still know you. You’re a new you with better standards, their lives are a ten car pileup. You can’t help but smirk a little and tell yourself you’ve really dodged a bullet.