I Hate 1984: An introduction

Categories: Imported

I was 14 for ten months and seven days of 1984, which tells you about all you need to know. I hated 1984 toward the end. The year before I had become a punk rocker at Marquette Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin, which was cool. I remember being outside on the grass during gym class, and somebody giving me shit about my hair, calling me Frankenstein, and then another girl saying shut up, he's dressing punk. Once people knew what I was, they respected it. And we were in 8th grade, so there was no one older than us to beat us up or enforce the rules.

Then I entered my Freshman year at East High School near the Oscar Mayer factory, big and anonymous and working-class, where you could get seriously hurt for looking weird. I had painful acne, and at home my brothers and my sister were joining me in moody adolescence. Hating Reagan and loving music brought us together, actually, corny as that sounds. Our Episcopal church had given sanctuary to Central American refugees, whose torture scars we could see if they let us, so our family was solidly for Mondale/Ferraro, and the parents (it's complicated, but I have four of them) didn't object when the kids walked out of school to protest Apartheid.

I distinctly remember my stepmom, Peg, whose church we attended, buying us these albums to share for Christmas: Cyndi Lauper's She So Unusual, Madonna's Like a Virgin, Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A., Chaka Khan's I Feel For You, Van Halen's 1984, and Prince's Purple Rain. This was back when buying records was a big investment for me, so getting all this music at once was a big deal. Meanwhile, through my friend in punk rock, Joel, I had gotten into the Replacements' Let It Be, the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime, and Husker Du's Zen Arcade, all in a matter of weeks, come to think of it. The last of those became my first record review in the high school newspaper, for a senior named Ruth Conniff, who later became an editor at The Progressive.

So it was the year I had to show my ugly adolescent body, naked and shivering, to fellow high-school showerers during health class (where bathing after activities was required). But it was also the year I saw Apollonia naked on the big screen, and the year I began to see some of her voluptuousness in the new wave girls around me. This was the year my classmates literally cheered Reagan's reelection as the news broke (with more than a little melodramatic self-pity, I found myself empathizing with Winston Smith in Orwell's 1984, which I was reading around that time.) But it was also the year that radical, political punk rock produced its greatest art.

I hate 1984 today because it makes all the other years look bad. Not that I haven't felt much, much better in the two decades since, or that things around me have particularly gotten worse. (Communism left, the Bush clan stayed, and we've still got a bomb and could all die here today.) But I've never been so fully engaged in popular culture as I was in that lonely year. Which is to say, I've never enjoyed the culture as fully through my family, and through the friends I call family. I'll never forget watching The Terminator with my brother Matt and my stepdad, Tom, groaning "Arnold" at the screen and getting the whole theater to do the same. (My friend from well before those years, Joseph Golden, reviews the movie on Monday.) I'll never forget my sister, Jenna (then J.J.), and a bedroom full of her friends singing "Darling Nikki" together at the top of their lungs. (Tipper Gore was right.) I'll never forget my mom's enthusiasm for the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense movie, or her patience when I tried to convince her that the Minutemen were great even though they couldn't sing. You lose some of this familial perspective when you go off to make your way in the world, and  now I remember with fondness my dad's system of preferential voting for what movies we would go see as a family, and the one we all agreed about afterwards: Sixteen Candles. Things I took for granted at the time, like my brother Ben's martial arts moves, that seriousness on his face, the way a news segment about him on local TV used The Karate Kid theme--these are now some of my fondest memories.

I could also talk about the sex I wasn't having, or the first girlfriend I never tongue kissed, or the sexual tension so overworked I'm amazed I didn't jump the girl with the pink, gelatin hair the moment she threw on some Culture Club and threw me on her bed. (I ran out of there, no regrets.)

But I've embarassed myself enough for one introduction. That's right, this is the beginning of a Complicatedfun.com series: a month of tributes to 1984 starting Monday. And I have to head out of town now. So my thanks to blogger extraordinaire Brad Zellar for posting items by various contributors while I'm away. My thanks to those contributors, who kicked ass without any real help from me. And my thanks to you, whom I hope will contribute in the way of some stray memories of your own. You have my email. Last but most, my thanks to Lars Larson of D.U. Nation for designing the cool and hilarious "I Hate 1984" parody logos free of charge. This blog is starting to feel like a real zine, which is what I always hoped it would be.

Now let's go crazy.

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