My Totally 80s Pandemic

At the start of the pandemic, we watched all eight Harry Potter films over consecutive nights. The pandemic, unfortunately, outlasted the marathon. What next? When Deb and the children moved on to “Game of Thrones,” I watched a single episode and thought, “I can’t commit to this.” Terrible people doing terrible things in primitive conditions? If I wanted to see that, I could have gone shopping at the height of the toilet paper panic.

Instead, I tackled all seven seasons of “30 Rock,” which I followed with Bossypants, Tina Fey’s memoir, purchased months previously at Value Village for 50 cents. I then watched her one-hour Letterman interview on Netflix. Years from now, whenever someone says “Liz Lemon,” I will step back six feet and feel an urge to wash my hands.

There are things many of us intentionally set out to do over the last three months. “If I’m in isolation,” we told ourselves, “might as well do something practical.” Sourdough was big. People started planting gardens. Working out. Getting divorced.

But as in all times of life, some things just happen. Organically, as people say. (Those people should be pummeled.)

For me, this pandemic has become all about 80s music and, as a corollary, recognizing that, after a good run, I may be done with new music.

This is tough to admit. My forties coincided with the explosion in indie music and the vast availability of music. Whole musical worlds opened up for me. In 2011, I attended my first and only Osheaga festival in Montreal and had heard (or at least heard of) a good half of the acts slated to perform. Over the past nine years, the lists of acts have become, like my eyesight, increasingly fuzzy.

At the start of the pandemic, I feel like I was keeping on top of things. There was the new release by Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, which was weird and stunning and of this isolated moment. I dug right into it; it’s outstanding.

And then I stopped. I tried listening to someone named Charli XCX, but I discovered the first X stands for “Xtremely boring. The second X stands for “X was an excellent 80s punk band and they just released a new album!” (The C stands for “Charli Again,” boringly.)

Instead, what drew me back to the 80s was a series on the website Stereogum. They are reviewing in sequence every Billboard Number One. It’s glorious and insightful and includes the nicest music-loving commenters I’ve ever read online.

The lockdown began on March 13, the day Stereogum posted one of the first Number Ones of 1980, “Rock With You,” by Michael Jackson. It hit the top spot on January 19 and stayed there for four weeks. Stereogum gives it a 9/10. In January 1980, I was 14 years old. I was a 5/10.

This week we’re up to October 1982, and John Cougar is singing a little ditty about Jack and Diane (8/10). At the time, I was six weeks from turning 17 and oblivious to the bleak outlook of that chorus: “Oh yeah, life goes on / long after the thrill of living is gone.” I wasn’t paying attention to lyrics; I was probably thinking of girls.

I’m sure that’s partly the allure of this music, the nostalgia for those teenage yearnings, memories of unrequited crushes. “Hold Me Now” by Thompson Twins, for instance, makes me think of a girl I was sure I was in love with. (Spoiler: I was not.)

Nostalgia is the middle-age version of hormonal urges. It’s puppy love for old dogs. Given a taste via Stereogum’s dive into the mixed bag of 80s Number Ones (many jokes about wishing “Abracadabra” would disappear; 1/10), I wanted more of that old drug. But not Huey Lewis’s “New Drug,” thanks.

In fact, I’m not much interested in the usual 80s suspects—your Billy Idol, your Madonna, your Stray Cats. I prefer less-traveled alternative and new wave. The Stereogum commenters often point to forgotten songs that were released then or were “on the punk side of town” or big in Poland, setting off clicks of early music videos drenched in cheese. Do you remember “Crazy” by Icehouse? I completely forgot about Icehouse. And Icicle Works! Vanilla Ice I unfortunately remember.

After wading through hours of 80s alternative on YouTube, I stumbled on a Spotify playlist called “80s Deep Cuts” filled with obscurities and B-sides from this musically diverse decade. 83 hours worth! And I have discovered an important thing: a lot of 80s music was really, really bad. And yet I continue to listen.

Maybe I’ll be back to new music once this is all over, but for now I’m drawn to that awkward time in my youth when I didn’t know what was in store. Now I do know what was in store for me then, and it turned out okay. It’s comforting to look back when you have that kind of reassurance. That comfort is what we seek right now at a time when absolutely no one knows what’s in store. We can’t say, “Hold me now,” so we might as well sing it.

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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27 Responses to My Totally 80s Pandemic

  1. beth says:

    I totally get this, and I have a little blog up my sleeve that is right up this music alley. p.s. something I did during my quarantine – recharged my vacuum cleaner, not committing to actually using it, but it is now charged if the mood ever strikes me or someone comes in from out of town for a stay.

  2. “Puppy love for old dogs!” Great post, but what is especially thought-provoking for me is that this music is from my older daughter’s teen years. Yikes! I did make it to a John Cougar concert in Dallas, though, which was wonderful!

  3. Gosh, that’s all I listen to, the 80s stuff. The Rap and new music of the current world scene irks me to no end (and the only time I hear it is when they blare it across their stereo system at Dollarama et al). Ugh.

    Great post, as always.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Thanks. One thing I’ve learned from the Stereogum series is that every era is crap. Popular music can by and large be terrible. In the 80s, I thought 80s music was awful. Only with time do we find the songs that actually rose above and endured. Maybe there’s hope for contemporary music. (Seriously: Fetch the Bolt Cutters…)

  4. Absolutely, pull on the leather pants, what’s a plague without 83 hours of synth rock and Cars or car surfin’ in your parachute pants, locked on the “80s Deep & Disastrous Haircuts” channel, I’ve always heard you could see a lot of mousse in Canada.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Mousse joke! All I remember about fashion in the 80s was the girls wore ugly, thick wool sweaters. Where was the fun in that?

      • Well, sweaters like that provide more exercise for your imagination. Now I’ll try to imagine liking sourdough. I’m imagining a bowl of that yeast-farting dough picking up Covid spores, growing overnight, and chasing me around like the Instant Pudding Scene in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper.” The 80s blob is humming “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” so I don’t fight it when it engulfs me.

  5. My Wife in the car: “What 80s band is this playing on the radio?’
    Me: “How do you know it’s from the 80s?”
    My Wife: “You know the lyrics.”

  6. markbialczak says:

    I think it’s quite natural and soul cleansing to retreat to the decade of music from your teen years, Ross. Hence my affinity for the sounds of the 70s. I’m quite happy when I car-radio stumble upon a Saturday Casey Kasem Top 40 rehash from my decade of choice!

  7. Trent Lewin says:

    Love this post. And I love Hold Me Now! I have a fear of losing connection with new music. I feel like I’ve evolved with the times and always found music that got to me. There’s always something identifiable, in my mind. For the last ten years, I delved into iTunes, which offers a really bottomless pit of new music, especially when you get recommended tunes going for you. But of late, I’ve been into Spotify. Have you tried it? They have a bunch of Indie categories that expose music that I would never otherwise hear. And a lot of it is amazing. I think music might be better now than ever, or maybe I have more access to it, I don’t know. But I’m totally excited about it. And on that point… try this tune. It’s funky.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I’ve been on Spotify for a while. Hey: I remember Napster! (Only briefly, then it was taken down, so I moved to Limewire.) Streaming radio, blogs, Grooveshark, 8Tracks, that other one that Google swallowed up. The Internet has kept my interest in new music alive for the past two decades. It is a rich time, musically, for sure. I read somewhere that after 35 or so we lose interest. Nonsense. I only really started waking up after 40. Thanks for the groovy tune, mate!

  8. Ah, the Thompson Twins. I’d almost forgotten about them–now that song will be the soundtrack to my Saturday. Now, the Fiona Apple. I loved her other albums so much I’m scared to try her new one. In interviews about it, she sounds unhinged. I guess I should forget my fear and give it a go!?

  9. pinklightsabre says:

    I love this voice of yours here. And of course the topic, and the sub-topic of nostalgia (puppy love, great line), and the fact you couldn’t resist that Thompson Twins gag at the end. I’ve been thinking about 80s music myself recently, and feeling so lucky to have grown up in that era. We should swap playlists on Spotify sometime. Thanks for this…and I think you missed a week of posting recently, didn’t you? Don’t, you!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I gave ABC’s Lexicon of Love a listen this week in full. That has grown in my esteem. It really was a musically diverse decade. It seemed terrible up close but I wasn’t seeing the full picture then.
      Don’t think I missed a week. Did I? Do I? (Definitely slow in responding, though…)

  10. kristawells says:

    Ah nostalgia. Been on that road a bit too. One thing I’ve done during all the FREE time is clear out my cd and cassette tape shelves. The CD player no longer works. Cassette player does, but seriously, if I want to listen to something, I go online, just like everyone else. I’ve saved a few Of the homemade tapes though, mostly stuff recorded from the radio, including one of a documentary in which my father makes an appearance. Nice to hear his voice again. I also came a cross a tape you made in 1987. I’ve taken a pic of the note in the case, but can’t seem to add a pic here. I’ll message it to you.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      My CD player died as well and laptops no longer have trays. I can’t bring myself to throw anything out, though, and vinyl still sounds sweetest. Thanks for the pic!

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