Wednesday, April 17, 2013

80's Teenagers: So Bitchen

I was a kid in the 80's, as you guys know. I always wondered what it would be like to be a TEENAGER in the 80's- and now I can: There is a book out called The Eighties: A Bitchen Time To Be a Teenager! that I am about to read, because 1) I love anything 80's and 2) The author, Tom Harvey, is very funny and very cool. I had the chance to interview him, and he let me ask him everything I have wanted to know about being a teen in the coolest decade like, ever:

Q: Who was the biggest sex symbol to you and your buddies in the 80's?

A: In terms of pure smoldering lustness (is that a word?), I definitely have to go with Kelly LeBrock. She was in The Woman In Red (1984), Weird Science (1985) and, later, the Steven Segal movie Hard To Kill (1990). With her full pouty lips and English accent, she was definitely the babe of her time! I also thought Rosanna Arquette was cute and loved her in 8 Million Ways to Die (1986) and The Big Blue (1988). She had a more girl-next-door look and I thought she was mighty cute.

Q:What clothing signified COOL in your teen years? For both guys and girls?

A: In terms of fashion statements, the New Wave click definitely lead the way. Even in Central California, the people who listened to Oingo Boingo, Devo, Depeche Mode, Adam and the Ants, and The B-52s stood out. Pants with zippers all over the place, black leather jackets with zippers all over the place. Girls wore tight mini-skirts with bright stripes. The Preppies, on the other hand, wore Izod polo shirts, Levi 501s, and Sperry Topsiders. I eventually morphed from being a “stoner” (long hair, Van Halen-concert-shirt-wearing) to a Prep when I got a job and was able to buy a pair of Sperrys (they were $54 and that was a lot of money).

Q:What TV shows did you love? What were some that you couldn't stand and why?

A: Early on in the decade, we watched That’s Incredible! and Real People. We also loved the HBO show, Not Necessarily The News. As I progressed into my teens, I didn’t have a lot of time to watch TV so shows like Miami Vice, Cheers, and The Wonder Years passed me by.

Q:What are your top five movies of the 80s?

A: REALLY tough question! REALLY tough, but to honor your question and answer it literally, here’s my list: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), The Goonies (1985), The Breakfast Club (1985), To Live and Die in LA (1985), Top Gun (1986). I could easily come up with 2 dozen more!

Q:What is the main thing that you consider different now as far as teenagers?

A: Easily, technology. Back in the early 80s, the phone industry was regulated so we only had one phone in the house! If you wanted another phone, you had to go to PacBell and buy a brick of a phone for something completely outrageous (something like $100 to $200, and that was A TON of money at the time), then the phone company had to come out and activate another phone jack at your residence. By 1984, phones were available at the drug store and my 16th birthday present was a phone for my bedroom – still on the same one phone line we had – but that was monumental! My brother used to quietly pick up the kitchen phone and listen to me talking to girls. He’d then critique my conversation afterward! Argh!

        Or course social media keeps everyone connected all the time now so there isn’t the separation anxiety today that we felt at high school graduation back then. Once we graduated from high school, our lives REALLY changed. People went their separate ways and we never saw each other again.

Q:If you had to choose one music video to sum up the 80s in a nut shell, what would it be?

A: In my college speech class at Cal State Northridge (1988), a girl got up and talked about how music videos stifle peoples imaginations. After you watch a video and hear the song, you immediately think of the video. She was very persuasive so I tried very hard NOT to watch music videos so I could picture the music in my own mind. Having said that, My MOST FAVORITE video of all time is easily Herbie Hancock’s Rockit.

Q:What was the most overrated thing about the 80s? Underrated?

A: Overrated, wow that’s a hard one. I may get some flak for this but Mike Tyson comes to mind. The guy was just a pure fearless machine starting out. They’d ring the bell and he’d literally run across the ring swinging knockout punches until his opponent crashed to the canvas. I remember going to class (my first year at Cal State Sacramento) and talking to some guys who had gone to Arco Arena to watch the Mike Tyson/Marvis Frazier fight (1986) on the big screen. They were in line for beer when the bell rang and missed the fight! It was over after the first punch landed on poor Frazier’s nose! Of course Tyson resorted to biting poor Evander Holyfield’s ears later in his career when he actually needed strategy over pure strength (and, obviously, didn’t know anything about strategy).

        As for underrated, the better word may be misunderstood (at least on my part) and the tie goes to Metallica and U2. The mullets on both of these bands threw me for a loop! In 1986, Metallica appeared on a flatbed truck in the parking lot of Tower Records in Sacramento for an unannounced show and I remember thinking, Big deal! Buncha hardcore Metal Heads! (They’ve since become one of my favorite bands and they are EPIC in concert!) U2, prior to The Joshua Tree, didn’t do anything for me either. I guess I took notice when Bono cut the mullet and stopped tucking his jeans into his cowboy boots!

Q:What were your thoughts on the New Romantic guys, like Duran Duran and such? Was there a certain group at school that liked this style of music and did they dress a certain way?

A: The introduction of what we called “New Wave” was definitely an alternative to “heavy metal/rock.” As I fell in the latter category, we listened to individual songs (ie, I remember liking Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys” and Depeche Mode’s “People Are People”) but couldn’t (or more likely, wouldn’t) admit to being a fan of these “punk rock” bands. The B-52s “Rock Lobster” was a huge hit in the early 80s and when the “punks” danced to that song, most people watched from the sidelines unsure of what to think. They were definitely their own group – the New Wavers – via zippered clothing, Converse hightops, cropped hairdos. The dudes with Mohawks and Butthole Surfer t-shirts were VERY hardcore. They’d come to school with clothes covered in random words written from permanent markers. Really “out there” for the more conservative times!

Q:What did you think of the 80's rock bands, like Van Halen, Def Leppard and such? Was there a certain group at school that liked this style of music and did they dress a certain way?

A: I took my musical cues from my brother who was two years older than me. The first concert we went to was After The Fire opening for Van Halen (now there’s a pairing) and then Night Ranger (Dawn Patrol tour) opening for Sammy Hagar (Three Lock Box tour). We definitely fell into the “heavy metal/stoner” group with our long hair, moustaches, and concert shirts with the ¾ sleeves. Since you mentioned Def Leppard, they’re one of my all-time favorites! Saw their Hysteria show front row at Arco Arena in 1988 and, 25 years later, saw their Viva Hysteria show at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. They still rock hard!

Q:I was a big WHAM! fan, but I was only a kid. What did the teenagers think of them back then?

A: George Michael of WHAM! really was a big hit. Their songs “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and “Careless Whisper were great songs to dance to. They were definitely considered “pop” – not heavy metal and not New Wave. I didn’t know anyone who didn’t like WHAM! When George Michael went solo, I used his song, “I Want Your Sex” in my stripping mix-tape. Let’s just say it worked well!

Q:What movie really got it right, as far as portraying 80's teenagers?

A: When you think of 80s teenager movies, you have to think of John Hughes and his trilogy: The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink. And while I love those three, the two movies I can watch over and over are Matthew Modine’s Vision Quest (1985) and Tom Cruise’s All The Right Moves (1983). These are clearly “guy” movies with sports and coming-of-age as central themes.

Q:What was the best 80's junk food in your eyes?

A: Back when I had an 18 year old stomach, I loved Big Macs and anything from Burger King. Also loved green burritos from Del Taco (green as opposed to red burritos, also available). As for candy, Pixie Sticks were little tubes of brightly colored pure sugar. I loved the cigar-sized Chick-a-Stick but absolutely could not stand Pop Rocks. Pop Rocks gave me a raging headache but they were a big hit when they came out. There was an urban legend about a kid’s head exploding after eating Pop Rocks and downing a soda!

Q:What were the top ten songs of the 80's in your eyes?

A: Yet ANOTHER nearly impossible question to answer! So I’m going to give you the ten that immediately come to mind in no particular order: Back in Black (AC/DC – 1980), Lucky Star (Madonna – 1984), Relax (Frankie Goes to Hollywood – 1984), Fascination (The Human League – 1983), Need You Tonight (INXS – 1987), Keep On Loving You (REO Speedwagon – 1981), Open Arms (Journey – 1981), Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop) (Def Leppard – 1983), Beat It (Michael Jackson – 1982), Don’t You Forget About Me (Simple Minds – 1985). So many good songs! I couldn’t even squeeze in Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Ritchie, Air Supply, Paul Simon, Whitney Houston, etc., etc.!

Thank you Tom for answering my questions and for giving us some insight into your brain!

Buy his book here on Amazon- Again, it is called  The Eighties: A Bitchen Time To Be a Teenager! A Memoir by Tom Harvey. Here is the description below- doesn't it sound awesome?

The decade of the 1980s has been called the Decade of Decadence. Decadence is defined as "the act or process of falling into an inferior condition or state; deterioration; decay" or my favorite, "unrestrained or excessive self-indulgence." For a decade that brought us Cabbage Patch Kids, Garbage Pail Kids, leg-warmers and New Wave, was it really a state of deterioration?! For one kid growing up in the Central Valley of California, it was a time of self-discovery . . . a transformation from a kid, to a teenager, to a young adult . . . his growing up years. At times utterly hilarious, at times poignant and powerful, Tom relives his teenage years in this true-to-the-last-word memoir. Where were you when John Lennon died? When the Space Shuttle blew up? When Lawrence Taylor ended Joe Theisman's career on live TV? When the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked Game 3 of the 1989 World Series? Tom will tell you where he was and what it meant to him. You'll also hear about first kisses, first loves, a joke about your Uranus, avoiding fistfights, the joys of minimum-wage jobs, college roommates, and WHOLE LOT MORE. If you're one of the 70 million Americans who can claim at least one teen year in the decade, you can relate to the era . . . if your kids can't understand your fondness for your Breakfast Club and Princess Bride DVDs, this book may teach them a thing or two about YOUR growing up years. Go ahead, say the word "bitchen" outloud. Yeah, it was a bitchen time, the Eighties . .

Til next time, folks!