Identifying Those Early Memories

While  I muddled through trying to find a topic on which to post tonight (since, for once, I’m not either working or sleeping), I wandered all the way through old posts, back to 2011 and our post on the anniversary of the Challenger explosion.  I was re-reading an exchange in the comment between reader, Teapot, and Kristy about how Teapot, as a kid born in 1981, really didn’t remember Challenger like those of us born in 1980 (or earlier).  Kristy’s comment pointed out that in her research, so far, anyone post 1980 really did not remember Challenger the same way, and that the next really big world event was the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I thought, “I should have replied back and asked Teapot if the fall of the wall in Berlin was her first “global event” memory”  and that was followed by the thought that, Challenger was not really mine.

Prior to Challenger,  I have a very vivid, scary memory of a hostage crisis on a plane.  But I still don’t know what it really was. Read the rest of this entry »

Cammy’s First Cabbage Patch

One of the defining elements of 80s child-culture was The Cabbage Patch Kid doll.  I wanted one so bad.  I asked for one year after year, but my family was broke for the earliest part of the 80s when the dolls really exploded on the scene, and even after we emerged from the lean times, the frugality that had seen us through continued to run strong in my parents.  Those damn dolls just seemed exorbitantly high.

Originally Mom bought a look-a-like head and arm set at Wal-Mart with the intention of putting it together for me, but it never happened.  I think part of this had to do with the fact that–in addition to thinking they were over-priced–Mom never found the dolls cute at all.  I’m not 100% certain, but I’m pretty sure if I quizzed her, she would say she thought they were “funny lookin'”  And, well, they are.

But that never stopped me from wanting one.  It wasn’t just the doll part (and I did love my dolls–still do), it was having a doll like the other girls had.  By the time I was in first grade and (we were no longer flat-ass broke-just moderately busted), I was the only girl I knew who didn’t have one of these coveted dolls (even girls whose families were still flat-ass broke).  Some of them had MORE THAN ONE.

What I had was Jennifer, a cloth doll my mother had sewed, face and all (made lovingly for me during our flat-ass broke period for my 4th birthday).

Read the rest of this entry »

Musikalischer Mittwoch Making Me Wanna Make a New Dance Up

The first thing I thought of upon hearing this most recent earworm is, “Wow, shades of The Miami Soundmachine.”  And apparently I’m not alone because the very same day, CBC Radio 3 Bloggers and Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence were all voicing similar opinions of this new song from the band Hey Ocean!  It’s not a remake or anything, but the sound  brings back some great memories of “Conga” just based on the way the refrain is delivered in a kind of rapid-fire way.

On top of this, it’s very peppy and very upbeat.  It’s now at the top of my “Energize” playlist for those times when I find myself slowing down too much at work.  If you do not feel compelled to tap your foot to this song (at an absolute minimum), I recommend contacting your physician immediately.  It’s a song about dancing that actually achieves the goal of making people want to dance.

The lyrics are not overly deep or meaningful.  This is bubble-gum pop stuff, but that’s not a bad thing.  Saddling people with deep, thought-provoking lyrics would kind of detract from the way the music drives you to get up and move your ass.  Besides, Hey Ocean has plenty of other fantastic songs which have the lyrics covered–this one is fine to be fun based on pure sound.

As usual, you can hear the song at the CBC Radio 3 page, AND, at least for right now, Hey Ocean! has made this track available as a free download on their Facebook page (you can also stream some of their other tracks–I also recommend “Fish”).  Load it up, revel in the memories of 80s Miami Sound Machine Goodness in a shiny new Canadian package…and make a new dance up.

Movie Review: The Official Story (La historia oficial)

The Official Story (La historia oficial) (1985)

Director: Luis Puenzo

Writers: Aida Bortnik and Luis Puenzo

As I’m trying to clear out my Netflix queue before I cancel service this week, I’m zipping through the large quantity of foreign films I had added.  With time running out, I no longer slog through a movie that’s not worth it.  If it’s a dud, I kill it when I’ve had enough, ditch it from the queue and move on.

The Official Story?  Very much NOT a dud.

The film–made in 1985–revolves around the aftermath of the Dirty War.  The fairly affluent high school history teacher Alicia begins to suspect that her (adorable) adopted daughter Gaby may have been stolen from one of the thousands of “desaparacidos“–political dissidents who were “disappeared” between 1976 and 1983 by a repressive military junta in Argentina (estimates vary from 9000 to 30,000).  Her suspicions begin with the dissatisfied grumblings of the students she’s teaching, unhappy with the sanitized history in the text books, and only grows when her class reunion brings a long-absent friend, Ana back into her life.  In a wine-soaked evening of girl-talk and catching up, Ana reveals that her disappearance years ago was not at all voluntary.  As Ana recounts the stories of kidnapping, torture and prisoners whose infant children were taken, Alicia begins to wonder exactly what the circumstances were under which her suspiciously well-connected husband obtained their now 5 year old daughter.  She meets Sara, a woman whose daughter was among the disappeared, and who wonders about the whereabouts of Sara’s child.  As Alicia presses to learn more, her husband Roberto’s connections are collapsing and the entire situation blows up in a violent confrontation prompted by Gaby’s absence and Alicia’s accusing question “how does it feel not knowing where your child is?”

It helped that I was familiar with some of the history of the Dirty War, but it’s not necessary.  Alicia–like many Argentinians at the time–didn’t really know the depth of what had happened during those years.  If you walk in ignorant of the history, it’s okay, because the whole movie allows you to learn right along with Alicia.

And even if you want to set aside the value of the subject matter, it’s just a well put together movie.  Norma Aleandro (who, incidentally, I learned was exiled from Argentina during the military junta period for her left wing views, and only returned in 1982 when the junta fell), gives an absolutely fantastic performance as Alicia.  You don’t need any Spanish vocabulary at all to get the weight of what this woman is going through.  And some of the well-played parallels (Ana’s story, followed by what happens on Gaby’s birthday;  the story with which Alicia opens the movie, coupled with the ending with Gaby in the rocker….).

Even the things that initially had me giggling–the painfully 1980s look (honestly, I kept thinking I was going to see Bruce Willis and Cybil Sheppard cruising in the BMW blasting “Beat It” with MacGyver clinging to the roof)–turned to something more sobering.  The kid in question, Gaby, is my age.  The desaparecidos (including ones like Sara’s daughter) are my parents’ age.  It’s not that I didn’t know this logically from reading articles and that one Latin American history class I took, but the nostalgia I felt at seeing the fashion and decor added a whole new level of concreteness to the situation.  It also brings home that this movie was made so incredibly close to what happened.  The junta fell in 1982.  This film came out in 1985.  You can’t tell me that wasn’t a raw wound at the time.

All in all, I give this five full jars of peanut butter.  Highly recommend this one, and I will definitely watch it again (and special note to Kristy and Mary–you should watch this one if you haven’t already).

Coffee Out of the Blue

Would we drink coffee with Debbie Gibson?

Kristy: My nine year old self demands that I say yes.  My thirty year old self realizes that could be a risky decision–after all, Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth was the first album I bought (on cassette tape–my sister already had Out of the Blue).  She was my first concert.  I seriously loved me some Debbie Gibson back in the day.  And it can be dangerous to meet your idols, because they usually turn out to be human.  I think it might be okay in this case, however, because while I still like Deborah (all grown up now) just fine, I haven’t really done anything that would qualify me as a big fan since buying Anything is Possible.  So any illusions that get shattered will be old ones I don’t really need anymore.

Besides I’d be interested to ask her a few things.  Firstly, whatever happened to the movie she was supposed to be starring in (I think it was called Skirts).  Nine year old me was really excited about that movie and loved the duet from it she sang in concert (“Love Under my Pillow” which I believe was never released on any album).  It might also be interesting to ask whether she has any regrets about the major shift in her image right before making Anything is Possible since the album didn’t do so well.  Or was it worth it to do what she wanted to artistically.  It might also be interesting to hear how she would compare solo singing to Broadway.

Cammy: Sure, what the heck.  I, too, was a DG fan waaaaay back in the day.  Out of the Blue and Electric Youth were my first forays in to music that was not filed under country.  This was a big thing for me.  So, I kinda owe her a cup of coffee.  Of course, Anything Is Possible kinda blew goats and it would be a good couple of years before I ventured out of the purely country realm again.  Given the long-term impact, I definitely want to hear her excuse in response to Kristy’s question.  And, I’d kinda like the chance to let her know that her bubble-gum pop is not as insignificant as some might make it seem.  No, Out of the Blue and Electric Youth may not have sold in the numbers of a Brittney Spears album, but they were still part of the soundtracks of the 80s childhoods of kids like Kristy and me.  I mean, I’m still jealous that Kristy actually got to go to the Electric Youth concert.  And that kind of thing was a source of kinship when we got to college (where I will admit that Kristy and I once rocked out at a stoplight in Newport News to Electic Youth while we were out thrift-storing).  I figure that kind of thing might be nice for her to hear.

I Don’t Know Why…I Forgot This Song

Week before last I stumbled on a $5 copy of Rosanne Cash hits.  Naturally I pounced on the CD because despite my love for “Seven Year Ache” and “Tennessee Flat Top Box” I don’t actually own a Rosanne Cash album.  Here I got both those hits plus several more I recalled from the 80s.  Sweet.

I expected I would lock in on “Seven Year Ache” but instead I’ve found a new earworm in “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me.”

How in the hell had I forgotten this song?  I can only assume that the two previously mentioned tracks as well as “This Is the Way (We Make a Broken Heart)” overshadow this little ditty, despite the fact that “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me” was what won Cash a Grammy for Best Country Female Vocal Performance in ’85–beating out Janie Fricke’s “She’s Single Again” (that should get Kristy’s attention).  For added irony, apparently the hook and a portion of the lyrics were born out of Cash’s thoughts upon losing a Grammy in a previous year.

I can’t put my finger on what it is about the song that has led me to listen to it at least 30 times in the last 36 hours.  The lyrics–amusing stories about Grammy inspiration aside–are not incredibly deep.  They’re kind of fun “I’m in the right mood / I’ve got the new shoes tonight…I’ve got the new dress / I couldn’t care less tonight…”

Being the more tune-inclined listener of the MTVMPB crew, I have a feeling the secret in the attraction lies there.  It’s catchy, it’s upbeat, and yes, that is Vince Gill on background vocals.  But is it really a musical stand out?  I can’t say.  I do know it’s a fabulous pace for getting things done–it’s now on my house-cleaning rotation, and during the past two days of marathon effort on a project at work, it’s been just the right combination of upbeat without excess speed or harshness.

Or maybe the addiction for me is more personal.  The music video for this song is at the heart of a pointless, but very vivid early memory.  This music video came on and my brother, who was about 3 or 4, was totally entranced.  Stopped playing with his cars, dead halt and fixated on the TV.  As the video wound down he asked, “Who is that lady?”  Mom told him it was Rosanne Cash.  He then announced with a firmness and conviction beyond his years “I like Rosanne Cash.  I like how she sings.  And she’s pretty.”  And then he went back to playing with his cars.  For several years after that, if asked about singers he liked, Rosanne Cash was the only female vocalist he would name.

I don’t know why the song is so addictive, and I don’t know why I ever let it slip out of my repertoire, but I know I’m glad it’s here and I won’t lose track of it again.

Coffee With…A Side of Glasnost

Would we have coffee….with Mikhail Gorbachev?

Cammy:  Once upon a time, when I was very small, I never would have thought to have coffee with Mikhail Gorbachev.  For one thing, back when I was 6, he was the face of what we were still being told was the Soviet “threat.”  For another, my mother told me coffee would stunt my growth.

But my fear of the man with the Kool-Aid® stain on his head collapsed right along with the Soviet regime and my belief that Mom was telling the truth about coffee.  He became an innocuous figure in the collection of “World Leaders Of My Elementary Years,” kind of like Reagan.  In fact, I kind of feel like there ought to be novelty salt and pepper shakers featuring Gorby and Reagan.  Oh, and Margaret Thatcher (maybe as a cream jug?).

Today this old fellow seems to have popped onto my Google feed out of the total obscurity in which he’s been dwelling since sometime in the 90s to talk smack about Putin.  I’m thinking coffee is a fabulous idea.  First of all, anyone who’s willing to call a man as f’ing scary as Putin on his shit is worth buying a cup of coffee (after all, it could be his last).  Second….what does he think of Russia now?

We’re more than 20 years since the wall came down in Germany, and it won’t be long before we’re whipping out the retrospective footage of that incredibly awkward Olympics where the Soviet Union was gone, but there was really nothing certain in its place.  And where’s the former world power now?  The situation is scarier than it was in 1985– in a totally different way–and every bit as shaky as in the 90s–but in a totally different way.

And what does Gorby think of all this?  He was the first of the USSR’s leaders to have been born post-revolution.  In an effort to try and revive the Soviet economy (which was circling the drain at a vastly accelerated rate), he began introducing radical reforms, additional freedoms, and moved to De-Stalinize the country.  In the end, it didn’t prevent the end of the Soviet Union.  Does that bother him?  He’s still very much a socialist, so the rampant capitalism in Russia has to grate.

I think this could be a multi-pot-of-coffee type of conversation.

Kristy:  Definitely.  Like Cammy, I’d like to get his take on Russia now.  Not just what he thinks of it, but what he thinks can be done, if anything.

I’ve got another reason for wanting to have coffee with him, though.  The one factoid that always sticks out in my brain about Gorbachev is one my Russian prof told me years ago.  Evidently he had a strong southern accent, and for that reason people made cracks about him being stupid.  It seems that the stereotype of southerners being slow in more ways that one reaches beyond US borders.  However, my prof swore he was one of, if not the most intelligent leaders the USSR ever had.  So yeah… I’d like to discuss the impact of stereotypes and see his take on it.

What 80s Kids Remember 25 Years Later

If you are a child of the 1980s, today is the anniversary of a unifying event for many of us:  Challenger.  By the time Challenger launched, shuttle missions were becoming old hat and–only because of the inclusion of teacher Christa McAuliffe with the Teacher in Space Program–the overwhelming majority of the people watching were schoolkids.

It’s been 25 years now.  We’re along way away from the rug in kindergarten (or the Florida playground) where we were assembled to watch, but we can still picture the shape of the plume of gas from the deflagration perfectly.  We remember the awkwardness of the adults around us trying to figure out how to explain to us what they couldn’t figure out themselves.  We may not think about it constantly, but, on a day like today, when it’s mentioned in the news, we find that it’s all right there.

Kristy:  I grew up about fifteen minutes from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  We used to watch the launches live–not live on television, live.  I remember once when we were there they did a night launch and my family walked down to the beach to watch; it was one of the most beautiful things I’d seen in my whopping five years of life.  My sister and I would stay up late the night after a launch, hoping to catch a glimpse of the orbiting shuttle in the night sky.  I’m not actually sure now whether what we were seeing was the shuttle or just air planes, but we certainly thought it was the shuttle.

The day of the Challenger launch my kindergarten class went out to the playground to watch.  I remember it was cold.  Keep in mind that at that point the furthest north I had ever lived was Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, so cold was a relative thing.  We stood their waiting for the shuttle, not nearly as excited as we should have been.  We’d all seen this before and we didn’t really get the whole Christa McAuliffe thing.  The shuttle started to rise in the sky and suddenly something exciting did happen.  It split in two and for a moment there were two shuttles climbing up in to the sky. Several of us, I don’t know if I was one of them or not, in memory this moment has become completely collective, excitedly called out, “There are two of them!”

Then I turned to look at my teacher.  She wasn’t excited.  I couldn’t understand the look on her face back then, but looking back I would describe it as horror.  All she said was, “Something went wrong.”  She said it quietly, but firmly, and they shuffled us all back to the classroom.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be an adult with a room full of wide-eyed children, faced with the task of explaining something so imaginable to them.  So my teacher did what I can’t swear I wouldn’t have done and said nothing more on the subject.  “Something went wrong.”  It actually sums the whole thing up fairly well.

It was only after I got home and told my mother something had gone wrong that I found out about the explosion.  I remember my sister, eight years old at the time, insisting that the astronauts weren’t dead.  Her teacher had coped with the tragedy by giving her students hope.  There was an escape pod.  If they’d had enough warning they could have all gotten into it.  They might be in the ocean waiting for rescue or they could have been blasted into orbit.

I remember the beach being closed as debris began washing up on shore.  I remember the horrific news that one of the astronauts gloves had been found, with the hand still inside.  This is one of several places were my memory contradicts history; I have read since then that no pieces of the bodies were ever recovered.  Was this a hoax then?  I have no idea.

Cammy: Several hundred miles away, I was in my own kindergarten class in Texas.  I don’t have the same distinct recall of everything surrounding the moment.  I’m pretty sure that my class went next door to the other kindergarten room to watch with them, but maybe they came to us.  I remember the shape of the plume and knowing it didn’t look right. I remember the sound of gasping–I suppose from the teachers.  Then the TV was turned off.  That was it.  Honestly, outside of the image of the cloud of gas splitting off into two–which I can see clear as day–the rest is there, but hazier.

What I remember more was going home and Dad explaining things to me.  Though I didn’t realize it at time, I was in a very unique position by comparison to most of my other kindergarten peers:  my dad was a rocket scientist, for real.  Rather, he was an engineer working on the design of solid rocket motors.  Though his were far smaller than those on the shuttle, the design essentials are the same.  I came home and suggested that the astronauts might still be alive.  After all, they had to have parachutes, right?  Dad left no room for hope, “No, Cammy,” he said, before taking out a trusty mechanical pencil, a pad of graph paper and his writing board.

With my three year old brother nosing in, Dad and I clustered on the living room floor around the piece of plywood he used as a writing surface when he wanted to flop on the bed or the floor.  He proceeded to give me a lesson on speed, propulsion, the operating principles of rocket propulsion and how a solid fuel rocket motor differed from a liquid fuel.  I remember how he told me that you couldn’t “turn off” a solid fuel motor.  I remember telling him that sounded dumb and maybe the just should have used liquid so they could turn them off.  Much later, after the investigation turned up the whole O-ring issue, the board, the paper and the pencil came back out again as he sketched the pieces for me.   At some point he tried to correct my use of the term explosion (it was actually a deflagration), but that part didn’t stick until many years later.

I thought this was all perfectly normal.  It didn’t occur to me that my experience might differ from anyone else’s–until I was in college and the subject came up.  While I had thought Challenger was the point in time when everyone my age learned the basics of rockets, it was, for others, a time when their parents talked to them about accidents and tragedy and how “bad things sometimes happen and we don’t know why.”  I’ve always meant to ask Dad why he responded like he did.  I don’t know if it was his need to educate and explain and make sure I wasn’t walking around with any misconceptions about physics, or if it was just easier for him to teach his kid something with facts, rules and logic than to try muddling through an explanation of death and God.

So, 80s kids, the comment lines are open, we know you’ve got a variation on this theme….

I Still Love the Muppets

Nothing dispels the evil of a rough week at work like reverting to childhood.  My kiddie drug of choice takes me back to some of my very earliest memories:

The Muppets.

I’m on the truly devoted side of the Muppet Gap (there’s a bizarre cultural gap between people born about the same year I was and those born just a year or two after–those damn youngsters do NOT have the same appreciation and regard for The Muppets that their elders do–I think it has to do with lack of proper exposure).  You play “Rainbow Connection” and I will stop what I’m doing.  I hear the theme song to The Muppet Show and I work hard to refrain from getting up and dancing around the room like I did when I was about 4 and watching the show in syndication on a station out of Houston.  And even with refraining from dancing, I have never successfully managed not to sway back and forth for the last few bars “This is what we call the Mup-pet Shoooooooooow!”  Everything I know about anger management I learned from Miss Piggy (“Hiiiiiiii-yah!”).  And if you want to see me tear up like a baby, you play Tom Smith’s “A Boy and His Frog”.

But vegging out with an evening of assorted episodes of the show and a few of the movies is good for more than just the nostalgic flashbacks:  it’s still quality stuff all on its own.  When I initially bought the first season of the show, I was a little worried that my fond memories of the show were the stuff of childhood and that it wouldn’t really stand up under its own power now that I was older and more discerning.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I found the show highly entertaining even without the whole misty-watercolored-memories.

The humor is clever and covers so many types, from the sarcasm of Statler and Waldorf, to the pure absurdity of Gonzo, to the musical humor of Rolf.  The musical numbers cover just as broad a spectrum of styles from classical to musical theater to country.  And all that is just the Muppets themselves.  You add in the caliber of the various guest performances (as I type this I’m getting to rock out to old school Elton John) and, damn, I’m grateful that I had this kind of cornucopia of culture influencing my formative years.  I can’t think of anything equivalent for the poor youth of today(outside of those lucky enough to have parents who are passing down the Muppet-y goodness).

If you haven’t gone back and bonded with the Muppets in a while, or if you were one of the unfortunate ones on the wrong side of the gap who missed out on the wonders of “Veterinarian Hospital” and “Pigs in Space”, spare a little room in your Netflix queue for a Pig, a Frog, a Bear, a Dog, A Weirdo & Friends.

1983–Year of Musical Greatness

There are certain years that just seem to have something special.  I don’t know if it has to do with global events or the alignment of the planets or what.  But in these years an inordinate number of influential things happen; a trend which usually isn’t recognized for many years to come.  One of these years is 1983.

I first became aware of 1983 in the realm of music.  My sister bought the CD with Billboard’s top 10 hits from 1983.  Perusing the track list should be enough to convince you of the greatness of this year:  “Down Under” (Men at Work), “Africa” (Toto), “Stray Cat Strut” (Stray Cats), “Maniac” (Michael Sembello), “Electric Avenue” (Eddie Grant), “True” (Spandau Ballet), “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (Bonnie Tyler), “Jeopardy” (Greg Kihn Band), “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” (Culture Club), and “Out of Nothing at All” (Air Supply).  There’s only one of those songs I do not have vivid memories of.  A large number of them most Americans could still hum along to, despite the fact that they’re now 27 years old.  These are songs which have endured so much I don’t think many people even realize they’re that old–at karaoke last week someone referred to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” as being the soundtrack of her middle school.  She was born in 1984.

But that CD only provides a small snap shot.  Perusing the top 100 list from the year reveals even more musical greatness:  “Every Breath You Take” (Police), “What a Feeling” (Irene Cara)(As this one probably indicates, there is a forthcoming post on the cinematic greatness of 1983), “Islands in the Stream” (Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton), “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)” (Eurythmics), and the Michael Jackson hits “Beat it” and “Billie Jean.”  And this is not even considering the country hits which Cammy will be addressing at a later date. Once again, it’s not only that these songs are good, it’s that they have lasted in the popular imagination for so long.

At first, after discovering the musical greatness of this year I got sad–I started wishing that I had been born in 1983 so that I could tie my lineage to that era of artistic flourishment.  But then Cammy pointed out that if I had been born in 1983, I wouldn’t appreciate 1983 in the same way.  Instead of being a part of my childhood it would be connected with my infancy.  So I will be content to be a child of the 80s instead of another glorious creation of 1983.

1983–We salute you for your 80s fabulousness.