The Compact Disc

070816_cd2_hmed_3p_grid-6x2

The technology of music recording is well over a century old–dating back to the late 1800s when ingenious pioneers used spools of wire to record the astonishing abilities of Caroliner the Singing Bull. Audio fidelity quickly progressed from those primitive methods, but at every step of the way, the pricing for pre-recorded music media always stayed within reach of every citizen with two ears to listen with. But in the 1980s, this all changed.

In 1983 anyone receiving income from a job, allowance or even a monthly welfare donation could easily afford to purchase a double-sided vinyl record (called an LP or “long player”). They listed for $8.98 and quite often the “street price” was even a dollar or two lower. Suddenly, from overseas, there came these discs—one-sided, mind you, so you were already getting half of what was offered before–with a list price of $18.98. And since it was a new, shiny thing (both literally and figuratively) people couldn’t get to the store fast enough to purchase these objects, whether they could afford them or not. (And most couldn’t). Worst of all, this new media was unplayable on the then current belt- or direct-driven turntables, so every single person who wanted to hear their favorite music had to shell out HUNDREDS of dollars on so called state-of-the-art CD “readers” with luminescent displays and cheap plastic drawers that slid in and out of the faces of these machines like the infernal bird of Hell’s very own cuckoo clock. But we were the ones who were cuckoo, for letting ourselves be so willingly bullied into submission by the pernicious overlords of Holland and Japan.

In the years since this medium’s introduction, the amount of money that has been wasted on these discs and the gadgetry that plays them would have been enough to feed and clothe every inhabitant on the planet three times over. And not only that, but clothed in designer clothes and fed with gourmet food. But times are changing, and for once it is a positive change. The age of the compact disc is finished. Digital songs (often called “mp3s” or “mp4s”) are available to everyone with a computer or smart phone and the standard pricing of 99 cents per song is something that everyone can afford. Meanwhile CDs are now almost exclusively found piled up in Goodwill stores selling for $1 or $2 apiece. Their prices have finally been brought down to a reasonable level, but it is too little, too late. No one wants them. Their true value has finally been revealed. And it is nothing.

Friday the 13th

Image

It’s pretty well established that the 80’s slasher flick phenomenon started in 1980 with a shabby little film called Friday the 13th. It was a summer camp movie, just like Meatballs was. But, you see, the counselors at Friday the 13th’s Camp Crystal Lake aren’t quite the innocent and playful nitwits that Bill Murray and his fellow Camp North Star counselors are. In fact, you could say they are downright rotten. They engage in unprotected sex, smoke “doobies” (home-made cigarettes packed full of the illegal drug marijuana) and swear like Marseille dockworkers. The whole lot of them are so absorbed in rabidly pursuing their own gratification that properly looking after their flock of campers becomes an afterthought. And because of this, a young boy drowns. Well, it’s a tragedy for sure, but, hey, what can you do? Accidents happen, right? And by the way, pass over that Thai stick, maaaaan.

It all would have ended then and there except for the old camp cook–mother to the drowned boy–who knows exactly what the counselors are like, and so takes action. Many deaths result. Friday the 13th is really a lesson of sorts for thoughtless, reprobate teens. If your job is to look after kids, tend to them, DON’T sequester yourself away playing strip Monopoly and shot-gunning cheap domestic beer. Because payback is a bitch, especially when it is rendered unto you by one mean bitch with a Dutch surname and unhindered access to archery equipment. Just ask Kevin Bacon.

Mary Lou Retton

Image

A tiny dynamo who captured hearts like a—well, like a relentless, heart-capturing butterfly net, Mary Lou Retton remains unrivaled as the preeminent figure in American sporting lore. Bouncy, wholesome, and every bit as patriotic as any Founding Father you’d like to name, even hardened killers in prison wept when she won the gold. She represented us all. The larger question is, as always, what happens to these petite contortionists, these breakers of the bounds of gravity, these flexible yet delicate dolls, once their time in the Olympic sun has passed them by?  Some, like Olga Korbut, keep training and go to the next Games and win another gold before disappearing for decades only to resurface in Norcross, Georgia, of all places, on trumped-up shoplifting charges. Others, like Nadia Comaneci, “grow up” into a very fine-looking adult woman indeed, even if at least two of her parts seem to have been placed in their prominent position by a surgeon.

In Mary Lou’s case, she did what she could—and always with a positive attitude. The last three decades have found her perching on Ronald Reagan’s shoulder during a National Convention, hanging out with Leslie Nielsen in a zany movie about a bumbling police detective, and even doing her best to help revive the flagging fortunes of a universally-beloved drug store chain. She wasn’t always a success in these post-Olympic endeavors, but she always had (and still has, I would reckon) a smile on her face and that is a wonderful quality to possess. So salute her as you would the flag, because for a brief moment in 1984 she was the flag—a flesh and blood Stars and Stripes, floating in the air, yet untethered to any pole. Pure magic, I tell ya!

EASTERHOUSE

Image

If Sammy Hagar was the Voice of America (and why on earth would he title a long-playing album released under his own name just that if he wasn’t?) then Easterhouse was the Voice of Great Britain. Hagar’s America was apple-cheeked, tow-headed, red-blooded youth, Chevrolet Corvettes, Louisville Sluggers, luscious “American thighs” and ice-cold Budweiser. Easterhouse’s Britain was weedy, spotty, bedraggled communist-sympathizing proles, cars named after jungle cats that looked nice but never ran correctly, cricket bats, pointy-nosed “birds” and warm beer that claimed right on the can to be “bitter.” None of that stuff traveled well, so if you ever wondered why this band never sold as many records in the States as other imports like Bryan Adams (Canada) and Men at Work (Australia), now you know why. The Exalted Lady Princess Diana Spencer of the House of Thorpe was fine, Easterhouse, not so much.

PAPERBOY

Image

When you really stop to think about it, it’s pretty bizarre to glorify a lame-ass pre-teen job by making it into a video game, (what was next—Lawn Cutter? Dog-Washer? The Daring Adventures of a Burpee Seeds Salesman?) I mean, aren’t video games supposed to take the player away from the hum-drum realities of their daily life? In any case, this game used real handlebars as a controller and that was pretty unique. But it hardly seemed the kind of thing that was going to get the blood racing and eyes twitching in adrenalized bursts of excitement. The houses and cars and pets of the virtual world in Paperboy were like a modern-day Norman Rockwell version of Anytown, USA, but there were some real dangers lurking out there—radio-controlled toy tanks, break dancers, street brawlers, and a gang of mohawked punks on unicycles, although I may be remembering that last one wrong.

At least the parents of Paperboy fanatics could rest easy knowing their children were living out their “fantasies” by benignly chucking around rolled-up newspapers instead of mowing down people with fully automatic weaponry or blowing up planets. The nicest touch of all was the epilogue to this game when the player would get immortalized in the very publication he had been hired to distribute. If you were a good paperboy, you got your picture on the front page holding a trophy. If you were a reckless paperboy who had been mowed down by one too many Stutz Bearcats and thus died before your knapsack had been properly emptied, the banner headline would read “Paperboy Call it Quits.” If you were an incompetent buffoon of a paperboy who had managed to stay alive but lost all his subscribers due to bad aim, the headline read “You’re Fired”–always accompanied by a few choice quotes from querulous ex-customers: “Worst Ever” “Scum on Wheels” “Total Shit.” Fun stuff!