Blondie–Eat To The Beat

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Okay. This was released at the tail end of the 1979 but it’s my blog and Autoamerican and The Hunter kinda suck, so we’re going to let the decade drift backwards a couple months. “People” (our human collective, not the grocery store checkout line magazine) pretty much all agree that 1978’s Parallel Lines is the perfect pop album. It may even be, actually. But this one is even better. Because for once the group inject a little hard rock into those precious, arty LES veins of theirs.

I’m not a big fan of reviewing albums tracks by track, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, so let’s go!

“Dreaming” is dreamy–the best song they ever did. The group say hello to the 80s by having Clem Burke go berserk the minute the needle hits the first groove, while Debbie evokes such palpable saudade on top of the whole shebang you can’t help but wish she was “right there with you” as you listen.

“The Hardest Part” is either about robbing an armored car or a clumsy first-try at backdoor sex, but whatever the point is, it’s driven home just as forcefully as William Jefferson Clinton pushed Gennifer Flowers face into the cushions of a love seat somewhere in the antechambers of the Arkansas State House that very same year. It is a rock song.

“Union City Blues” is so good they made a movie out if it.

“Shayla” may or may not be about some Rosie the Riveter-type being swept up into a spaceship. Whatever the case, it’s real purty, as Michael Stipe once graciously described my lower middle appendage as we stood side by side in the men’s room of the 40 Watt Club.

“Eat to the Beat” yanks the listener forward as if on a chain once again, as that well-coiffed Brit drummer hits everything in sight in perfect syncopation and the lyrics lay out the blueprint for MF DOOM’s Mm..Food.

“Accidents Never Happen” and “Die Young Stay Pretty” are just Blondie being Blondie–a world class pop group treating hooks like they grow on freaking trees. For some, they do.

“Slow Motion” is pretty darn sublime, as Ms. Harry actually makes us laypeople believe we can “play with time” through sheer vocal timbre.

The next track brings us to the heart of the matter. “Atomic” piles on the atmospherics like a multi-colored dream coat and if it lasted four hours instead of four minutes, I’d be down with it. The soundtrack to a spaghetti western filmed deep inside the inner recesses of the Crab Nebula. Which is exactly where I’ve always wanted to dwell.

“Sound A Sleep” isn’t the most satisfying song, but it dozy pace leads neatly into the galloping “Victor,” which is basically a bunch of dicking around in the studio but the band pulls it off with no problem thanks to Debbie’s epically needy moans and a guitar solo that flashes like heat lightning.

“Living In the Real World” is a middle finger raised to our very existence and the band’s earned a little tetchiness by this point. Maybe they knew even then that they would only survive the first three years of the new decade, limping along most of the way.

In short, a great band at their peak!

Robin Williams

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He emerged in the late 70s–a stand-up comedian of an undeniable originality and brilliance. His 1978 HBO special was staggering–an explosion of lightning-speed, gear-shifting improv that elbowed its hairy way into the pantheon of great comic performances the second it was recorded. A chance meeting with Arthur Fonzarelli at a Milwaukee leather bar landed him a cameo on a dying (Fonzie had literally jumped the infamous tiger shark earlier that same season) television show and he made enough of an impression to be handed his own show, in which he excelled. As the 80s dawned he, and Steve Martin, were considered the cream of the crop of the new young comedians.

Hollywood beckoned. But even as early as 1984’s Moscow on the Hudson, you could see the cream starting to curdle a bit as Robin hammed it up and chewed on the scenery like it was so many bowls of Bugles left out by craft service. In quality, the 80s were probably his peak, as he managed to give (generally) low-key and nuanced performances–with The World According to Garp, Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society the highlights. Even the early 90s granted “us” a brief stay from the ugliness to come as he turned in some solid work in The Fisher King and the beloved zombie movie Awakenings.

Then it all went pear-shaped. His inability to turn his hyperkinetic zaniness “off” was probably pathological. It certainly didn’t do the guy any favors. Witness his enormous three decade body of work as an insufferable, out-of-control talk show guest. If you can. I simply could never watch these psychotic episodes for more than 30 seconds before switching over to QVC’s baseball card show or Tony Little’s latest miracle body-swelling implement infomercial. Whether Robin really was coked up or parodying someone coked up doesn’t matter a bit–leaping around the set treating both the host and any other guest(s) who happened to be around as pieces of furniture while screeching out non sequiturs in the same rote half-dozen “funny voices” he had cooked up in 1975 (flamboyant Stonewall-era hair dresser, stentorian Big Brother/God type, hybrid of the witches from The Wizard of Oz, panicked pilot in a nosediving fighter plane, addled Slavic peasant, feces-flinging monkey gifted with the power of speech) hardly qualified as humor. He simply wasn’t funny. Just sit still and answer the question in a succinct and coherent manner, sir!! But he couldn’t.

As far as his movies go, his greatest shortcoming seemed to be an inability or unwillingness to turn down any script or cinematic concept that came his way, no matter how wretched it was. For every One Hour Photo there were five or six Jakob The Liars. For every Good Will Hunting there were seemingly TWENTY Old Dogs. As long as he got to “do his thing,” as long as the role called for him to be insane, mawkish, vulnerable, uncontrollable, childlike, madcap, tearfully sentimental, filled with unfathomable wonder, or any combination of such, he was all in. The very lowest point was something called Patch Adams–cited by one critic as the worst crime against humanity since the dark days of Europe in the early 1940s. I actually just spent 15 minutes on IMDB and determined that 80% of his filmography is completely unwatchable. This must be a record of some sort. Tor Johnson, the poster child for appearing in worthless dreck, clocks in at only 60% on the same exact scale, for Heaven’s sake!

But back to Robin. Innately talented? Yes. Good-hearted guy? It certainly appears that way. National Treasure? Give me a fucking break.

Rain Man

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Are there real-life “Rain Men” who actually walk among us? And just what is a Rain Man, anyway? If we can agree it is a generally hopeless person, who is still able to do one thing, and only one, superlatively well, then, yes, it can be said that there are real Rain Men. Let’s take a quick look at just, who, back in the 80s, might have served as inspiration for the now world-famous movie character that Barry Levinson created.

Greg Ginn–Plays guitar well. Has problems with “everything else.”

H. Ross Perot–Good at making money, not so good at making sense

Michael Richards–“Kramer” is apparently so golshdarn funny they paint oil portraits of him. It’s a shame the person who portrayed him is so maladroit in nearly every other phase of his existence, up to and including stand-up comedy.

Joe Piscopo–His Sinatra imitation was impeccable. When he’s not doing that, he’s about as charming as the guy slipping roofies to your sister on her L.A. vacation.

Oliver North–Had a sharp eye for picking attractive secretaries. Not entirely certain what other purpose he served.

J. Mascis–Plays guitar well. Has problems with “everything else.”

When original casting choice David Byrne dropped out of the project after only one week (citing “religious differences” with co-star Tom Cruise) Dustin Hoffman stepped in. And he ran with it–all the way to the Oscars, where, unable to break character, he dropped the statuette on his big toe and fell into the large Japanese Temple-shaped cake that had been baked to commemorate Akira Kurosawa’s Lifetime Achievement award. All whilst cawing “Don’t burn the baby!!!!” like a deranged mynah bird.

Of course not–what kind of person would scald an innocent baby??

Stupid, stupid Rain Man.

Motorola DynaTAC 8000x Cell Phone

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The Brick. You would have had to have bricks in your head not to desire one of these in the latter part of the decade. With one of these in your grip, you could do anything. There was a kid I knew in college who had been bestowed with one by his rich parents and he got laid every night by a different girl. Because of the phone. He’d set it on his desk in class and when it would ring the teacher wouldn’t even yell at him but patiently put the lecture on hold until he was done. (Most of the calls were related to making plans for getting laid.) Restaurateurs would give him a window seat and a free meal, just so potential customers could see that his place of business attracted the most well-heeled clientele in town. Policeman stuffed already-written drunk and disorderly citations into their back pockets, choosing instead to drive this kid home in their squad car with just a verbal warning–all for the trade-off of allowing the officers to call their wives with the phone and ask “Guess where I’m calling you from?”

The age of mobile communication had arrived. It would evolve slowly at first, then ferociously snowball into the 24/7 “wired in” society we live in today. Some would say this clumsy device was the first step towards things “all going wrong.” I mean, sure we can email our boss that all important PowerPoint presentation from the top of a mountain we’ve just climbed and yes, girls and guys can both send racy pictures of their body parts to close friends to help break up said friend’s otherwise moribund day. But it’s not all good. No, not at all. I’ve seen raw footage of kids as young as five years of age literally tear a family Christmas tree apart when they realize they haven’t received the iPhone they had asked for. I’ve sat next to mental midgets watching UFC fights in a wooden pew during Midnight Mass. I’ve watched helplessly as a person was mowed down by a car while they were texting while crossing the street. And, oh my God and all His angels, have you ever heard about what a fella can get up to using an app they call Grindr???

Watching Gordon Gekko wielding his DynaTAC 8000x as a blunt instrument to break apart some regional airline company seems almost quaint now…

Satisfaction

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This is a tough one to write. I mean, Mallory Keaton (born in 1966 as “Justine Bateman”) obviously means the world to me and after her TV series ended, well, she had to do something, didn’t she? Apparently, she scrawled her John Hancock on the first script to come across her kitchen table, and in hindsight, it wasn’t the best choice she could have made. They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but Mallory’s first post-Family Ties footstep sent her in the completely wrong direction and her subsequent career ended up being a voyage of about six or seven meters, a fair measure short of a thousand miles.

Okay, it may have been that she was bound and determined to shed her vaguely prep, barely sentient (but still so very, very hot) Midwestern good girl image, but for her to attempt to portray a rebellious rock n’ roll singer right out of the blocks was just too much and too sudden of a jump. Did we see Shelly Long hamming it up as Nancy Spungen in Sid and Nancy or Erin Moran breaking out the electrical tape to play Wendy O. Williams in The Story of the Plasmatics? No, we did not. I remember I happened to stumble upon this movie while it was playing in the background at some party during the scene where Mallory’s character is trying to stir things up by shouting out some anti-authority slogans during a high school graduation ceremony and instantly bursting into tears at how wrong it all was. It got even worse when she ends up being the lead singer in a “rock band” since neither she nor the people writing and filming the movie have the faintest idea of what a rock band, or even rock music, is. It’s all as genuine as margarine and just as sickening, I’m afraid, reaching a low point when Mallory starts banging on a cowbell with all the earnest ridiculousness of some bell-bottomed member of Foghat.

The entire project isn’t helped by having Julia Roberts slinking around its edges–playing bass guitar in mom jeans, of all things. I have never for a single second found this woman sexy, lovable, charismatic, or even a halfway decent actress. America’s Sweetheart?? You have got to be joking. I mean at least she’s tall, but I’ll take Sigourney Weaver or even Wendie Malick the next time I want to look up at a famous actress as we leave a fine restaurant hand in hand after enjoying a delicious meal I haven’t paid for. In fact, I blame HER for forever sullying Mallory’s good name. Sometimes, it’s okay to be irrational.

The Noid

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The Noid was a vicious little bugger. For decades, pizza chains had written off his baleful shenanigans as a “cost of doing business.” Big names like Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s, Shakey’s and Round Table cowered before him and if you were a “mom and pop” pizza shop, forget about it–your kids were going to school shoeless. This long-eared, blood-red bastard’s ability to impact a business’s bottom line was that pervasive. His tricks of the trade read like a veritable laundry list of disruptive practices including hampering the performances of easily impressionable teenage delivery drivers by providing them free joints and hip flasks of Popov vodka, calling in false orders at staggered times and disparate locations in order to keep drivers ping-ponging all over town, unplugging refrigeration units causing precious meats and cheeses to spoil, introducing vermin into food preparation areas during closing hours, rewiring “hot sleeves” so that they actually cooled pies instead of keeping them warm, and spray-painting anti-pizza graffiti all over public buildings and even some private homes.

God only knows the kinds of wickedness he would have spread had he ever had the chance to sign up for a Yelp account. But that’s just the point. The Noid never made it to the age of Yelp and Foursquare and UrbanSpoon. Because there was a certain Christian warrior named Tom Monaghan from up Ann Arbor, Michigan way who had seen enough of The Noid and decided his company would be the one to exerminate him. For the good of all.

Now, nobody has ever claimed that a Domino’s pizza has ever been anything but a mediocre pie, but the company’s willingness to confront this diabolical villain was admirable and the determination they demonstrated to defeat him (it took 8 years) absolutely heroic. The Noid hasn’t been heard from since.

Journey

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There are YouTube video clips you (or anyone, really) can watch wherein jettisoned Journey vocalist Steve Perry uses some goofy hand towel to lead an entire baseball park of unbearably smug start-up yuppie bros, socially hopeless programming nerds and reeking, sidewalk-shitting homeless zombies in a rousing rendition of his former band’s FM radio staple “Lights.” By the “end”–meaning when it’s time for the pitcher to start the next half inning by throwing a pitch, meaning that the person running the PA is required to stop the music, he’s basically going berserk, desperate for the song, his song, not to end. It’s easy to see how much he misses it. The adulation, the cheers, the attention.

Meanwhile, his former buddies–still legally permitted to go out on tour using the instantly recognizable brand name “Journey,” are off somewhere at a casino theater or State Fair or outdoor package tour alongside bands like REO Speedwagon and April Wine and Bang Tango ROCKING OUT for hours at a time–driving people into a frenzy using electrified musical instruments and microphones and light shows and hell, maybe even scoring a quick BJ from some fiftysomething groupie after the show while being paid actual real money to do so. All this while Steve’s got maybe 90 seconds tops on the Jumbotron, waving around that hideous black and orange scrap of cloth in one hand while psychotically brandishing his Giants baseball cap in the other like it’s his very own ticket through St. Peter’s gate, his face a mask of neediness, his damaged soul already bracing itself for that terrible moment when the music cuts off like a light switch and that aforementioned pitch brings everyone back to the business at hand of World Series baseball–forgetting en masse almost immediately the pathetic sideshow he’d so briefly been the focal point of. It must be hell on earth for him. But such self-torture may, indeed, be poetic justice, because just think of the hell on earth both he and his now estranged mates subjected ALL OF US to for so many years back in the 80s.

Donald Trump

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Donald Trump in the 80s was quite a different kettle of rotted fish from the TV personality we (cough) “love” now. First off, he was relatively new and hadn’t yet been given enough time to do much damage. Even then, though, there was already something cartoonish about the fellow. Start with the name, which sounded every bit as manufactured as Stuart Goddard telling some coked-up MTV VJ his name was “Adam Ant.” Ridiculous. Except the Trump name was real–Donald was the baby prince of an already established scuzzball empire built by his father. The surname is an anglicized version of the Low German word “Drumpf.” And yes, just as you might have guessed, that translates to “toadstool” in English.

His two great accomplishments this decade were the construction of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and the 1989 release of the board game Trump: The Game.  The Trump Tower is everything you’d expect from something that was unveiled in the go-go 80s–tons of the “world’s finest marble” and heaps of the “planet’s rarest brass” all slapped together in the public areas to no memorable effect, but the black monolithic exterior does have a dozen or so live trees growing out of it, so you can give Trump credit for being a brave pioneer of sustainability if you want to. As for Trump: The Game, not enough people ever played it for history to record whether or not it was any fun, but I can say that as far as its name goes, it doesn’t hold a candle to the one released last year by a certain LA rapper called The Game: The Game.

His woman of choice for this decade was Ivana and she was very blond and very tall and liked to tell little fibs about being on the 1972 Czechoslovakian Olympic ski team. I don’t think she ever accomplished anything other than bringing three more Trumps into the world (readers can decide for themselves whether that is an actual accomplishment or something more akin to a criminal act) but her first name does comprise exactly one-half of my all-time favorite drag queen stage name: Ivana Koch.

Since this blog only covers a brief ten year period I am unable to discuss all the mischief he’s caused in the past 30 years or so, like trying to pave over half the Scottish Highlands or threatening to bum rush the White House every four years. He’s a hard man to look at, and recent rumors about him being the object of a new float in the 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade are worrisome. It probably won’t come off– The Donald would never cede control of his image to a bunch of mere designers and float makers, but if he does insist on “playing himself” this coming November, organizers will hardly need to pump in any helium in order to send his bloated corporeality skyward.

‘Til Tuesday–Voices Carry LP

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This group’s bass player/vocalist was savagely ridiculed during this band’s brief heyday, mostly for her python-length braided tail and childish histrionics at the opera house in the video for the title track, but it was clearly a great single that even Springsteen-addicted jocks and stoner metalheads appreciated. Dig a little deeper and you will find that as with a lot of 80s bands considered one-hit wonders, the single was merely the tip of the iceberg and was actually part and parcel of a pretty solid LP. For realz!

The stripped-down, catchy songwriting skills that granted group leader Aimee Mann a “second life” as a solo artist in the late 90s-early 00s were already in evidence back then, only glossed over with typical 80s bravura instrumentation and production. But that wasn’t a bad thing. “Looking Over My Shoulder” and “Winning the War” are catchy, driving tunes that easily could have charted. “You Know The Rest” is so pretty, Liberace covered it. And believe it or not, Aimee can really play that bass, pounding on its four strings with wild abandon in just about every song–kinda like a taller, more fuckable Flea.

As mentioned, she had a genuine renaissance about fifteen years back but then gradually slid out of the public consciousness yet again, so far out, in fact, she recently resurfaced as the object of some good-natured joking as a down and out house cleaner on the TV show Portlandia. I really thought she should have become a running character on the show, perhaps having things devolve to the point where she becomes the sex slave of the two yuppie indie-rock characters she works for, but no one in Portland ever listens to me or else the Trail Blazers would have about 9 championship banners hanging in the Rose Garden about now.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she’s officially the fourth member of Rush!! I don’t see you or me pulling that off!

Gary Hart

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“Too much monkey business” good ol’ Keith Relf sang, and you can almost picture a young Gary Hart back in 1964, snapping his fingers along to the off beat as one of his law school buddy’s copy of Five Live Yardbirds spun round at a party in some New Haven apartment, a Tom Collins in the other hand and his eyes roaming over every female in the place. With Presidential dreams already metastasizing under that thickly-carpeted scalp.

And by God, only 25 years later, it was all within reach–he had slithered and climbed his way into contention for residence in the biggest and whitest house in the land. Sure, there were some ugly rumors of infidelity floating about, but Gary, like all megalomaniacs with a lust for “high office,” considered himself beyond reproach, so he arrogantly issued a challenge to his adversaries in the press. Now, politicians have always been scumbags, even before Caligula donkey-punched his first 13 year-old concubine, but for centuries there had existed a gentleman’s agreement of sorts between these fellows and the fourth estate. Only the most egregious indiscretions were reported. But Gary ruined it for everyone–the leashes snapped and a little bit of arse-on-lap canoodling on the good yacht Monkey Business put an end to his venal ambitions.

He thankfully disappeared pretty quickly, apparently having learned his lesson, but so many others sure haven’t, from the practitioners of “wide stances” in airport restrooms to that one mentally-diseased creep who ran for New York City mayor (I refuse to type his name, although I always thought his foul-mouthed Communications Director was pretty hot and I encourage her to contact me through this blog if interested) society as a whole is still plagued by irredeemable figures determined to “represent us.”

Would Gary Hart have made a good President? I don’t think such a thing exists, and besides, who cares? Political scandals have a short shelf life (Teapot Dome, anyone?) and the handful of people who even remember this guy most certainly regard him as just another faceless, well-groomed fool.

As for the failed model/actress who ensnared him? A quick check of “Donna Rice” on the search engines reveals that she is currently the CEO of some sort of anti-pornography foundation. So, sadly, it seems she has become just like a politician herself, trying to ruin the world for everyone.