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.


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

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4 thoughts on “The End of the 80s As We Know It

  1. That still shot of him almost looks like Jeremy spoke in class today…

    • I remember Jeremy being far creepier (in an era before kids shooting up their schools became a thing) than the kid with the skateboard. To me, Jeremy was an alienated loner, while the kid with the skateboard was the child of tomorrow: marking his territory by skating atop the ruins of ‘old’ America and with enough self-esteem to do so shirtlessly.

      Now that I think about it, it turns out I’m not a big Pearl Jam fan myself. Whether they are the cause or the symptom, to me they are the embodiment of why 90s Grunge culture became calcified so early on in what should have been a longer run across the cultural landscape.

      “Jeremy” always seemed derivative of Nirvana to me. When I saw Jeremy in class, I saw an impersonation of Kurt Cobain as a child, the same Kurt Cobain you heard so clearly in Nirvana’s music and saw in photographs. Pearl Jam just figured out a way to take that Cobain visage that was so perfect in its understatement and to overstate it for pop effect.

      • Now that you say that, grunge did have a run about as long as disco, right? But Jeremy is still creepy after 20 yrs. Eddie Vedder was so over the top, he was almost a caricature of himself. Just don’t tell me Kurt was a martyr. He pulled the trigger himself, eh?

      • Not according to the insinuations of Nick Broomfield in ‘Kurt and Courtney’!
        I’m actually fairly indifferent to Nirvana, grunge, and the cult of personality surrounding Kurt Cobain. The above is probably the most impassioned thing I’ve ever written about any of it.

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