My Trust in God & Man

Every loss is unique as it is something unique and irreplaceable we lament. David Robert Jones, better known as David Bowie…Ziggy Stardust…the Thin White Duke…was “one of a kind.” Those aren’t my words. They actually belong to my mother, a woman not known for deep appreciation of rock and roll. Yet even she is not beyond the influence of modern music’s greatest chameleon. On January 10th, 2016, Bowie’s legacy was forever cemented. Artist. Icon. Global treasure.

Retrobacktive serves to chronicle the 1980s. Bowie’s music as a whole is timeless, yet his many personas and experimentation can be easily compartmentalized due to his ferocious focus and deft ability to reinvent himself. In honor of him, Retrobacktive pays memorial by considering some of Bowie’s finer points during the 80s.

“Ashes to Ashes” (1980)

 

“Ashes to Ashes,” from the 1980 album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was described by Bowie as “wrapping up the seventies really.” He considered the song a modern nursery rhyme that seems to deal with the artist’s own recovery from years of drug abuse. Both the song and album went to No. 1 in the U.K. and the video (co-directed by Bowie himself) is considered a landmark in the then burgeoning video music landscape.

“Under Pressure” (1981)

It might be the greatest collaboration in rock history. Officially released as a Queen song on their 1982 album Hot Space, controversy still abounds as to which musicians contributed to what parts of the song. As far as the lyrics are concerned the consensus generally points to Bowie as the primary writer. Regardless of the minute details the song’s juggernaut crescendo has few rivals in pure rock majesty.

Let’s Dance (1983)

After a roller-coaster decade of successes and setbacks in the 1970s, Bowie reached his commercial apex in 1983 with the U.K. No. 1 album, Let’s Dance. Focusing on a hybrid of synth-pop, blues rock, and funk, the album produced some of Bowie’s most popular hits, including the title track, “Modern Love, and “China Girl.” Bowie himself, however, often felt stifled by the album’s success, telling David Fricke in a Rolling Stone interview, “I had every intention of continuing to do some unusual material after that. But the success of that record really forced me, in a way, to continue the beast.”

Live Aid 1985

In addition to a high-energy performance at Wembley Stadium for the televised, multi-venue 1985 Live Aid concert for Ethiopian famine relief, Bowie and Mike Jagger debuted their video for the song “Dancing in the Street,” with the single’s proceeds going to the charity. It was another top ten hit for Bowie.

Labyrinth (1986)

Never confined to a single medium, Bowie made more than one venture to the silver screen, but perhaps outside of The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie’s most memorable cinematic performance was as Jareth, The Goblin King, in Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth. While not a box-office hit upon it’s release, the film has since gained a cult following and for many Gen X’ers this was their first introduction to the late, great David Bowie.

“As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three: how long and what do I do with the time I’ve got left?”

Bowie released his final album, Blackstar, two days before he died. Peel away all the layers – and there are many – at his core Bowie was a prolific musician as dedicated to his craft as any artist before. Despite an 18-month battle with liver cancer he carried on gracefully and left the world with a final gem in one of the most colorful catalogs of creation the world has ever seen. He leaves a great void in our world where the stars, indeed, look very different today.

 

 

 

 

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Then & Now

Since its inception virtually all of Retrobacktive’s feature posts have focused on some tangible relic indelibly interwoven into the fabric of Generation X. Movies, albums, celebrities, even fruit juice have shined front and center as the perdurable stars of the show. Suspiciously there has been little attention to those esoteric components of the decade. The soul of the 80s, if you will.

It’s not a coincidence. Retrobacktive was cultivated in the catacombs of classic journalism where the word “I” is shunned and only hints of advocacy are allowed to permeate the context of the story. It’s a terse, matter-of-fact style; some might even call it boring.

But then there’s that voice. The inner firebrand, hand at the holster, ready to say, “you know what, this is how it really is, and you’d better believe it.” Might not fly on the front page of the New York Times, but this ain’t the Times. Are you here for the Times? You made a wrong turn on the Internet.

So here’s a thought: what’s changed since 1989? A lot, undoubtedly; we’ve covered this. But is it better or worse? Modern conveniences hold a powerful sway over society, but there’s a virulence to nostalgia with a way of luring people from their Apple-Ikea bliss. The past, after all, lives in a vacuum where only the good survives. Oh, there’s more than enough room for an “Everything Awful About the 80s” article. But for now let’s focus on the good old times, and what truly made yesteryear so bitchin.’

— Things That Were Awesome in the 80s —

1.) Phone calls

Alexander_Graham_Telephone_in_NewyorkSo first off, this list is only going to make sense to people who have souls. The modern world has morphed us into timid, ineffectual communication wimps. And most people are content to ideally stand by and accept Facebook as their artificial intelligence life planner. Here’s an idea: take a virtual trip back through time, pick up the phone and call someone. Thanks to all the passive forms of communication that exist today, no one has to actually own any social responsibility anymore. There was a time when that kind of flakiness was restricted to L.A. But now thanks to Facebook, email, and instant messaging, people have all the time in the world to come up with lame excuses as to why they can’t interact with you – or more commonly they can just leave any personal engagement into the infinite void of cyberspace. At least in the 80s if you were an asshole you had to be smart enough to come up with a quick lie over the phone. The world has always been full of assholes; okay, but can we at least have smart assholes?

2.) R-rated Movies

Movies come up a lot in Retrobacktive. It’s because they used to be good. Sure, there are some good movies today, those gems that poke their way out of the woodwork come Oscar season. Good movies were perennial in the 80s. Today you have to filter through the endless deluge of vapid Hollywood slop that pours off the summer movie conveyor belt. And it’s all rated PG-13. When the dollar usurped humanity as the universe’s most precious commodity (somewhere around 1999) the film industry jumped on board and said “let’s make every movie as palatable to the most amount of people as possible.” And the de rigeur MPAA rating for this new world order was PG-13. Excites kids; doesn’t offend parents. Everyone is happy… except discerning adults who would like to see Bruce Willis call someone a “motherfucker,” blow that character’s head off and actually see blood come out if it. At least we still have Quentin Tarantino.

3.) Music

No. Before you get excited, I’m not going to suggest music was “better” in the 1980s. Such a debate is an exercise in futility on par with arguing which fruit is the best fruit in the world. What was better, though, was how you got your music 20-plus years ago. Imagine going to a centralized location where all your friends are hanging out. You get to physically stand at the precipice of all your favorite artists’ cutting edge releases. Eyes and ears are intertwined as you scan the infinite aisles of invigorating artwork and listen to new and exciting tunes blasting over the PA while you shop.

That’s going to a record store, not slouching over your Mac while fishing through frustration over the digital pawnshop that is iTunes. Allow me to break my fourth wall to drive home a harrowing truth: until three months ago, I had not bought an album of music in seven years. Seven. Years.*

Call me antiquated but I never want to have to resort to tech savvy to listen to AC/DC. Music is elementally beautiful. Why must it’s delivery be so convoluted? I don’t like giving people money for anything I can’t hold in my hand and walk out the door with. Otherwise it leaves entirely too much trust in the hands of corporations and brands that have proven to be positively untrustworthy. But we’re modern people; we’re lazy and cheap, so Apple can perpetually spoon feed us shitty Taylor Swift songs then take them away every time they decide to update their software.

4.) Star Wars

Poster art by Tom Jung, 20th Century Fox

Poster art by Tom Jung, 20th Century Fox

Arguably the greatest movie trilogy ever. A bottomless well of childhood memories steeped in the immortal archetype of good versus evil. Here George Lucas architects the engine of imaginations for generations to come.

Then those stupid prequels came out. It would be bad enough to have to merely live with the memory of Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen’s emo-Anakin Skywalker, but that Lucas went and re-cut the original films to fit the narrative of the prequels sullies the whole series. This is the ultimate example of the danger in changing something for change’s sake. We get it, George; you’re a tinkerer. But even the strongest diamond can turn to dust if you chip away too long.

5.) Beer

For the record, craft beer is great! And it’s been great for awhile; the past 10 years have brought some outstanding brews to the flavor-starved lips of beer aficionados around the world. But the crest in this wave is about to break. Look, there’s always going to be room for experimentation and those outliers who push the envelope and aim for something higher. But not everyone has to buy into it.

The biggest beer breakthrough in the 80s was Bud Light. They took flavorless beer and made it more flavorless and less caloric. But it was still pretty much beer. The common thread that bonded beer in the Eighties was it tasted like beer. No one walked into a bar and asked for something “hop-forward,” unless they wanted a pogo stick thrown at them. No citrusy, piney notes, or orange garnishes, or glasses that looked like they were blown by a bunch of epileptics on PCP. And it was filtered. All of it!

Hippie Beer Rep: “We’re independent! We don’t filter our beer; we keep it pure! Whoo, go Kombucha ale!”

Me: “Dude, if I want sand at the bottom of my beer, I’ll drink it at the beach. Stop being cheap; buy a filter.”

Not sure how anyone else feels, but is all the craft beer starting to taste the same? It’s not the breweries. It’s our taste buds’ ability to adapt. You can only guzzle so much of something before it loses it’s inherent integrity. At least 25 years ago it was easy and inexpensive. Hey, sometimes beer-flavored beer is just beer-flavored beer. Good enough.

*It was Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor by the London Symphoney Orchestra. Still not sure it was worth it.