I was in Walgreens the other day in search of Band-Aids with cartoons on them, because my daughter is a self-described “boo-boo catastrophe” who insists I only purchase bandages festooned with beloved children’s movie characters. As my fingers did the walking through various Disney-themed wound care products, I sensed a great disturbance in the Force. The source of my distress? The low moan of ‘80s-era Muzak oozing from the overhead speakers.
My loathing for the 1980s is almost seamless, a perfection of hatred salvaged only by the existence in that time of people like Henry Rollins and Bob Mould. There was plenty of good music to be found during that pestiferous decade if you had a pick-axe and some spare time. The bad music, being mostly pop music not created by Prince, was omnipresent and on permanent repeat. If a pop song hit big and you were foolish enough to have a radio on, you might hear it three times within a single hour. Compound that over many years and it became personally damaging, like an arterial bleed in your soul. There are many people who enjoy ‘80s music today. Many of them, I strongly suspect, didn’t experience it in real time.
The Muzak “song” I heard that day in Walgreens? “These Dreams,” by Heart. I recognized it from the first tinny note because I heard it approximately 833,912,007 times after it came out, and it came out when the ‘80s were already half over. All sorts of Seattle people are going to send me indignant emails after reading this, because Seattle people are unusually defensive about hometown bands like Heart, so let me just say that Heart is awesome, Seattle is awesome, but “These Dreams” was a terrible thing that should have never happened. You know this. Cope with the pain like I do.
Look at this album cover: It is, aptly, five ‘80s people peering through the very flames of Hell. This is what I’m talking about. “Is it cloak ‘n’ dagger / Could it be spring or fall / I walk without a cut / Through a stained-glass wall …” What in the name of God’s holy hemorrhoids does that even mean? Standing in Walgreens with a box of “The Incredibles” Band-Aids in my hand, I realized I was singing those very lyrics to myself in time with the wordless Muzak because I knew them, I know all of them, all the ‘80s songs by rote and by heart (pun intended, Seattle). I am helpless before the tide within my own skull because it was drilled into me day after day over the course of a decade that may eventually prove to be the end of us all.
Yeah, I said it. It’s the damn truth. 1980s pop music is the soundtrack of slow-rolling doom. Consider what the years 1980-1989 gifted us. Ronald Reagan’s predatory trickle-down con game remains with us to this day. Reagan’s administration also planted the seeds of September 11 by chumming it up with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, and elevated the Bush family into years of war-torn prominence. The environmental protections enacted in prior decades were eviscerated by way of brute wreckers like Reagan’s Interior Secretary James G. Watt. The evangelical Christian movement first became a force in politics during that time, thanks, once again, to Reagan.
We watched The Day After in 1983 when “Hardcastle & McCormick” was supposed to be on to see how bad a nuclear war would be. There were ominous warnings before the broadcast and panel discussions on TV afterward to reinforce the point, because after only three years of Reagan’s bombastic Cold War terrorism we weren’t already frightened enough. The decade, in large part, was an orgy of neon greed, bad hair and fear. It still stalks the hallway of history wearing pre-ripped acid-washed Guess jeans and “Risky Business” Ray-Ban sunglasses, doing damage with every step it takes while humming “Never Gonna Give You Up” under its breath.
Yes, I just Rick Rolled you. Why? The ‘80s.
Oh, and of course, the ‘80s also gave us Donald Trump, avatar of that harrowing decade and modern ambassador for all it represents. I vividly remember hating Trump back then almost as much as I hated Reagan. Trump was a creature of the tabloids, equal parts smarm and sleaze, a perfect example of everything grasping and shallow and wrong with the era. The ‘80s were also the birthing bed of modern infotainment, so I, along with everyone else, had to watch Trump cheat on his wife on the front pages of The New York Post.
Here’s a perfect example of this nausea-inducing serendipity: Donald Trump’s ghastly son Eric was born in 1984, the same year that “Ghostbusters (Who Ya Gonna Call?)” by Ray Parker Jr. was in ubiquitous radio rotation. That was the deal back then; if a movie became widely popular, its theme song was going to be in your face until you threw your radio into the river. Eric Trump is in our faces now, sneering into the camera like a leech with a bellyful of someone else’s blood. There’s something strange in the neighborhood, all right.
More than anything else, Donald Trump represents American-style capitalism which fully came into its own during the 1980s. Like Trump himself, American capitalism is largely about grand theft, smoke and mirrors, and screwing over most everyone whose bank balance doesn’t have nine zeroes to the left of the decimal. Virtually none of it is real, and yet it squats over the landscape like some noisome toad, seemingly inescapable, all the while creating profitable strife and lucrative disorder. Sounds like Trump to me.
A New York Times report published on Tuesday states that, beginning in 1985, Trump began suffering a series of catastrophic business losses that ultimately amounted to $1.17 billion by 1994. These losses were not due to fire, flood, earthquake or other acts of God. Trump blew that money because he is a con man born to wealth whose home ecosystem is a city long famous for coddling braggarts with big, bad ideas. Trump, like American capitalism, learned in the 1980s that the show is what matters most. If the paint peels, you can always slap on a new coat and then stiff the contractor.
According to the Times, at one point during that 10-year span, Trump lost more money than any other taxpayer in the country. Almost nobody knew this at the time, of course, and his ghostwritten book, The Art of the Deal, was a runaway bestseller. As it turns out, the real art of the deal is using Daddy’s money to convince people to give you more money, which you then lose in spectacular fashion while blaming everything and everyone except your own ersatz business talent.
Trump, like the ‘80s, accepts no criticism of his demonstrable awesomeness. “You always wanted to show losses for tax purposes,” he tweeted after the Times report broke, “almost all real estate developers did – and often re-negotiate with banks, it was sport.” To be clear: Trump’s argument here is that he lost over a billion dollars so he could avoid paying taxes because it was “sport.”
Not everyone finds this preposterous, apparently. Trump’s cheerleaders on Fox & Friends were positively giddy at the idea of a president squandering more than the gross domestic product of Samoa while in private business. “He’s a bold businessman,” crooned host Brian Kilmeade. “If anything, you read this and you’re like, ‘Wow, it’s pretty impressive all the things that he’s done in his life,’” gushed co-host Ainsley Earhardt.
Thus, the apex of ‘80s-style infotainment is summited.
As I have said previously in this space, people can teach you two things: How to be, and how not to be. Donald Trump, like the decade that first made him a household name, teaches us how not to be. Despite this, both remain a persistent drain on our culture, politics and economic standing. American capitalism, cemented in the ‘80s like Trump himself, is a plague upon the land. They’re getting ready to drill for oil in the Arctic because all the ice is melting, and Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is thrilled about the economic opportunities at hand. That right there is the ‘80s ethos in a nutshell.
Perhaps someday, when Trump finally passes away in a gilded bed surrounded by Fox News sycophants and snowdrifts of unpaid debt (which is how it will happen, of course), we may finally be shut of the ‘80s and all the sad baggage those years carried into the present. I am not optimistic, however. All the pennies in my jar are from that disreputable decade. Like bad Muzak tunes, they just keep turning up.