Monthly Archives: September 2012

The End of the 80s As We Know It

Yeah, I hated high school, but so did a lot of people. What’s unique about me is that I also hated college. Not too many hate both, only a special few.

America and the artistic community love to root for the kid who can’t fit in at high school, but puts it all together at college. That’s the kind of story we like. Similarly, we can empathize with the kid who had it easy all through high school, but then has a hard time at college.

But to hate high school and then to hate college, that really means you hate something about yourself, or should.

Hey doc, do you have a couch I can lay back on?…Some ink blots I can stare at?….Thank you, that’s much better….

You know, all this talk takes me right back there, senior year of college, 1987-88. That was the year REM released “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

I really thought REM would be megastars after that. But it didn’t happen until nearly four years later with the shiny happy people album.

Way back in 1987, when “It’s the End of the World” surfaced, MTV-nation was already signaling a new preference for a more sensitive, introspective brand of music, a shift away from soulless 80s neon towards what would become the “alternative” sound of the 90s.

Ψ Ψ Ψ Ψ Ψ

It was the end of the 80s as we knew it, and that felt fine. The new taste in music was already manifest with the 1987 breakout success of 10,000 Maniacs, and would continue in 1988 with Tracy Chapman, and 1989 with the Indigo Girls.

With the sudden fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and a raging Reagan hangover, “The End of the World As We Know It” seemed especially prescient, signaling that it was now okay for bands like They Might Be Giants to have mainstream success and for the 90s to begin in earnest.

And then there was that video.

I’m told that “End of the World” was one of REM’s first professionally produced music vids, but that the band still refused to lip-synch on camera as convention demanded. Instead, they opted for the kid with the skateboard tooling around inside the trashed house.

The kid with the skateboard

In the 90s, it was all about the kid with the skateboard: We fell in love again with slackers, heshers, and grungesters of all kinds; we looked to them for the answers after 80s culture crashed and burned.

Truth is, I’ve always been kind of disappointed with that kid on the skateboard. I expected that kid to do big things in the 90s. It seemed like all the stars were all lined up for him to cross a diamond with a pearl and turn it on the world, but instead he punted on third down.

He skated and moped and moved to Seattle, where he spent the rest of the decade staring down at his shoes and lining up the buttonholes of his lumberjack shirt until the Stiffler generation stepped in and took over.

Categories: 1980s, 1990s, Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Before and After of Molly Webber: A Very Brady Makeover

Remember the Brady Bunch episode “My Fair Opponent,” in which Marcia takes pity on a plain girl in her class named Molly Webber, and ends up making Molly so popular that she winds up beating out Marcia herself for the honor of hosting Banquet Night and being escorted by an astronaut?

Well, forget about it now. The plot isn’t important here. What’s important is what passes for a plain Jane in 1972 and what passes for a “knockout,” in the words of Peter Brady.

Look at the before shots of Molly Webber on the left. She’s shy, sulky, shoe-gazing and librarian-haired. She wears foreign exchange student glasses and a Little House on the Prairie dress.

(image courtesy of verybradyblog.blogspot.com)

In short, she’s absolutely gorgeous.

Now look at her on the right. Those are the after shots. That’s what happens when you leave a 14-year old in charge of your makeover in 1972, even if that 14-year old is Marcia Brady.

You get bad makeup; you get clothing that is both dowdy and tacky,  and accentuates the barely budding curves of femininity in all the wrong ways (the girl equivalent of the ninth-grade starter moustache.)

Hairwise, they gave her “The Jan,” with those prominent curling-iron batwings that fall at eye level and serve to draw your attention in toward the powder-blue eye shadow and heavily applied rouge.

That episode was made 40 years ago!

Today we know better. Today we appreciate the old Molly Webber.

Nerds rule!

Categories: 1970s, counterculture, television | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Vietnam Steps Into the Regal Beagle

Confession:  Three’s Company has never been must see TV for me. Unless I’m gawking at one of Mr. Furley’s denim ensembles, I rarely pay the show the attention that it deserves. But that all changed one recent Saturday while chasing my morning coffee with an episode called “Jack the Giant Killer,” enthralled by every minute of it.

From the get-go this is a compelling tale whose central scenes remain as clear to me today as they were when it first aired on Apr. 14, 1977. What I mostly remember is the sudden and unrelenting brutalism of the episode’s guest villain, a large, imposing yachtsman named Jeff, towards gentle Jack Tripper.

Before Jack even enters the scene, the surly seaman establishes his character by boastfully implicating himself as a date-rapist and attempted murderer (he threw a woman overboard because she wouldn’t put out). Even my housemate, who overheard the dialogue while working on her computer across the room, said “ewww” and turned around to see who exactly was uttering these crass lines.

When Jack steps in to protect Chrissy from surly Jeff and his groping paws, things go from bad to worse. If there’s one thing Jeff likes better than molesting women, it’s antagonizing less imposing men.

Considering the New Zoo Revue-like feel of a typical Three’s Company script, Jeff’s unbridled aggressiveness at the Regal Beagle is all the more disturbing. Even 35 years later I wince with sympathetic fear for Jack Tripper each time the bully enters the scene.

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The episode’s middle-eight takes place in Jack, Chrissy, and Janet’s apartment, where Jack chews the scenery, agonizing through various poses of self-loathing and self-pity, acting out his newfound emasculation in full-throated anguish for his two Playboy Bunny-esque housemates, who futilely try to mop up what’s left of his bludgeoned ego.

“Jack the Giant Killer” resolves in straightforward sitcom fashion. Jack returns with the girls to the Regal Beagle and loads up on liquid courage to confront Jeff, who enters the Beagle and heads straight for the bar. Janet sees him first and goes over to whisper something in his ear before Jack can do anything.

Before we have a chance to know what Janet says, Jack steps up and gives the bullying buccaneer a verbal keelhauling followed by eight long seconds of limp-wristed judo moves and high-pealed screeching. Jeff, who has been so confrontational throughout the show, now backs away apologetically after Jack berates him for being such an awful human being.

Surprised he didn’t get slugged, Jack asks Janet, “What did you say to him?”

I told him you had a plate in your head from rescuing your entire platoon in Vietnam,” she chirped.

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Wha-wha-whaa??? I almost spit up my sanka when Janet said that. It’s the way she blurted the words so casually, flippantly even, that made me do a double take.

Vietnam was a taboo subject in mainstream Hollywood in the Seventies. You just didn’t hear it mentioned on the big or little screen until 1978, when a sudden spate of studio films about that war and its vets emerged (Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, and Apocalypse Now), and the “Vietnam in Hollywood” era was launched. Nam acquired instant TV gravitas during this time. Mentioning a wounded vet’s combat experience was a subject reserved for Emmy-winning dramas, not farce.

In later years, you might expect the “watch out, he’s a psycho-Vietnam vet” gag to be played in an edgy Fox sitcom, but it seems way too dark (not to mention complicated) for the pratfall-based plotlines of Three’s Company.

So what’s going on here?

Either Three’s Company has addressed the condition of the Vietnam vet a full year before Coming Home and the Deer Hunter famously broke down that barrier, or the writers for the show where the kisses are hers and hers and his needed a way to wrap the scene fast and came up with the plate-in-the-head-from-Nam line as if it were just an innocuous  ‘you wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses, would you?’ gag.

I vote for the latter. The allusion to Jack taking shrapnel to the cranium to save his platoon was made in that simpler time, before the abovementioned films sensitized us towards the condition of the Vietnam vet. It’s still unclear whether Jeff the bully was supposed to have feared Jack as a lethal combat fighter or pitied him as a disabled war hero, but we’ll chalk that ambiguity up to mediocre writing.

This isn’t the only scene that is jarring to the modern psyche. There is also the episode’s very first shot, where Jeff establishes himself as a would-be date-rapist who throws women overboard when they spurn his advances.

“Jack the Giant Killer” is just the fourth Three’s Company episode ever produced, but it didn’t air until the fifth week of a six-week initial season. It was as if they knew this one had problems and were willfully holding it back as long as possible.

Either way, it’s an interesting pop culture footnote and a humble reminder that even something as empty-caloried and nougat-filled as Three’s Company can be mined for valuable nuggets of historical information.

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Categories: 1970s, counterculture, television | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Know You Grew Up in the Seventies If….

You think the Golden Rule is:

 

If it’s yellow let it mellow.

 

 

 

Categories: 1970s | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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