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Video Dreams of the 80s

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As a child of the original MTV generation, I can definitely speak to the glory of visuality in the 80s. The 80s gave us new worlds, bright, colorful, technological, cheerful, ironic and attention-getting, assisted by disparate influences including the NYC stocks/art bubble, emerging technologies such as computer assisted graphics, video and synthesized music, and a newfound obsession with capitalism, all at the fingertips of a bursting new pop culture who consumed them eagerly.


“Plasomospace” by Kenny Scharf, 1982. Oil and spray paint on canvas, 103 x 114 inches. Private collection.'”

Modern Art. The 80s there started out with loads of bright splashy images coming from the Eastern shores. In New York, just as the stock market bubble was rising, coincided with a growing art market in the lower east side of Manhattan. Areas that had formerly been home to all sorts of freaks from ex-Andy Warhol hangers-on to the proverbial drag queens and junkies, became gentrified as street artists like Basquiet or Keith Haring found their way onto canvas, into the gallery and millions of dollars for the artists to spend on heroin or property, depending on how the wind blew. I grew up on California, where, as an eager young gallery goer, emanations from the east were the stuff of dreams. I remember going to a downtown L.A. gallery in 1986, tumbleweeds blowing down the street, and seeing Warhol silkscreens of Mao, or maybe Jackie Kennedy, eating at Gorky’s, imagining myself in Soho. But although the the neo-expressionist art of the 80s was a colorful antidote to all the earthy hippie nature that had come before, it but mostly blobby and cartoonish. still not too much different from the hippies pop culture of the 60s like R. Crum. Still, the colors had been chosen for a bright new era and it dripped down into popular culture for example, these albums by Genesis or Robert Plant.




The new York art scene gave us color and expression, but there was another side to 80s graphic images – technology. When I think of the 80s, more than anything I think of precise, bright computerized shapes, like something Mondrian or Kandinsky envisioned in paint in the 20s and 30s, and which Andy Warhol was approaching with his silkscreen processes in the 60s. Finally, personal computer and printing technologies gave us the engine to generate these shapes as they should be created, via machine, as the medium became the message.

CAD, or computer-assisted design software changed the way our environment looked a lot. CAD enabled the computer user to draw perfect shapes, lines, and pictures with the assistance of perfect computer algorithms, creating a big difference in the visual environment. Like most images from the 80’s, CAD was cheap, bright and effortless. My mothers father had been an architect in the 50s, painstakingly drawing perfect lines with a triangle and a t-square as he designed the plans for his Lutheran church and various other buildings in his community. A few decades later, CAD eliminated all that. Mom often mentioned his projects when he drew with ink and pen, like Mike Brady, or most other architects before the 70s. CAD also eliminated many drafting jobs in architecture (which many people in my family had) and the Detroit auto industry, where anyone drafting cars with a pencil and drafting paper was obsolete.

MTV! That logo changed everything. IT was bold, painterly, neo-expressionist. But it came to us through technology. It was the high-resolution graphic that grabbed all of us Brady Bunch kids in 1981. Whether it was on a flickering video screen, or a glossy page of Rolling Stone magazine, the MTV logos was meant to be seen via technology. Here it is represented as computer graphic. We are used to that now, but in the early 80s, on the flickering screen of an 80s TV, newly equipped with cable, it was bursting with energy and excitement, the MTV logo was for many, their first “video art”.




Video, more than CAD fine art, or even street art, gave American kids a brave new world of imagery. It brought art and poetry down to us (think Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video, with its shades of Fellini).



Like advertising, video promised desire and produced longing. Every week MTV brought us a new band. Duran Duran. ABC. Heaven 17. Culture Club. Haysii Fantaysii. We got to experience their visual fantasies as we immersed themselves in their music. OK they weren’t all great bands with musical integrity, but they had a strong sense of visuality, movement, fashion and they were young and knew the media. The older bands such as Talking Heads, Yes and of course Bowie got into the mix with video technology too.




grace-slaveMusicians used artsy film techniques to make mini dramas, or just post-modernist pastiches of images. Music video brought technology right down to many of us. Back in the 80s computer software was mostly unknown to me. I wasn’t a fan of video games. I didn’t know much about CAD or computer graphics (although I did know about the Cosby sweaters). But I did know abut music, and so video became my door into technology. Most of these videos are iconic to us. I don’t even need to refer to them. You just know. They are your visual foundation and you couldn’t experience the music without them. It would be like trying to experience Stravinkey’s Rites of Spring, without Mickey mouse waving his baton, or dancing hippos.

And what happened after the 80s? The 90s. Recession. Back to real life. Heavy metal. Rap, renouncing of cocaine habits, All the bright poppiness went away and the palette became a lot darker. Quite honestly, the population became darker too, as an Afrocentric, global mentality spread into popular culture with albums such as Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” and the emerging rap and rave culture movements. Life became more organic, more transcendent, less materialistic.soungarden-badmotorfinger I remember starting to hear about tantra, new tribalism, in the 90s due to my interests in industrial music. It was interesting, sexual and less plastic than the 80s, but also less romantic. Earth colors came back. Just think of the English Patient with it’s military hues and earthy shades of Bedouin dress in the middle east, not to mention Juliette Binoche’s gorgeous 1940s dresses and burgundy lipstick. Black became the new black again.

Graphics started to include tattoo art, dangerous thorny images and barbed wire. It was intense.


But what is to come? Now we are seeing a resurgence of the bright 80s graphics,

vaporwave by Silver Richards, youtube.

especially within the Internet contingent around vaporwave. Vaporwave kids, most born at least after 1990, try to re-imagine the 80s. The music of vaporwave sounds like mall music coming to us from a very old speaker, buried under dusty leaves of artificial potted plants. It’s the nostalgia for something never experienced that Frederik Jamesson talks about in his essays on postmodernism. Just as us 80s kids had nostalgia for a reconstructed 50s, thanks to movies and images, when Kenny Scharf loved to paint the Flintstones and we all started listening to rockabilly (and some people never quit listening to rockabilly. They remain in a perpetual 80-50s time relay).


The vaporwave kids love youtube shows such as Dan Bell’s amazing Dead Malls series, urban archeology of some of the nations dying malls, and stories of their heydays. Malls were, after all, the culmination of 80s capitalism visualized in architecture, a sort of proto-Internet,which have not surprisingly been all but replaced by it. The Internet is rich with folklore and web sites about the 80s. Apparently it’s the furthest decade on the historical horizon that any millennial kid can make out if they squint hard. Prior to that it’s all just the “nineteen-earlies” as my son would say. Who knows where all this will lead? But for now, dust off your “I Love Lucy” t-shirt, switch to that Human League video, and pretend that irony is something new again.


Duran Duran’s Decade, 1989


Written by nattie

April 21, 2018 at 2:35 pm

Posted in music, video

More Mayonnaise #7, Summer 1984

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Now you can download More Mayonnaise #7 and travel back to Summer 1984 in super-subcultural Southern California, a time when post-punk music, thrift store clothing, gloomy goth, surfers, and 50s and 60s nostalgia made anything possible and everything fun. Loads of fashion photos and an interview with Nina Hagen. Enjoy, kiddies!


More Mayonnaise #7 cover

Written by nattie

January 23, 2016 at 3:11 pm

Posted in music

No New Teenage Jesus

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Now I have finally seen Lydia Lunch.

After a prolonged train trip up to the city waiting for the bridge to
lower at Secaucus and then observing hopelessly as the cabbie
fearlessly attempted to squeeze through friday night tribeca traffic, we finally showed up at the Knitting Factory at 11:30
..the show was scheduled to begin at 11:00. Luckily the band had not
gone on yet.

My first time at the Knitting Factory. (in the past three months I’ve
been to the Gramercy and Fillmore East as well….) It has a lot of
atmosphere. I’m now getting used to the “New York club look” which to
me, seems to include ornate details such as an old copper or plaster
ceilings and plasterwork on walls, persian rugs, furniture(!) , and a
cavernous basement-like feeling. The new york clubs are different from
the L.A./Sunset strip venues, auditoriums, and bars I used to
frequent. They are older, smaller and seem more comfortable, less
institutional. Anyway I could barely make out the historic old details
of the Knitting Factory as it was PACKED…I mean serious fire hazard
packed…But it was small so we could see everything.. ..

The band:
Lydia Lunch on guitar
Thurston Moore on bass
Jim Sclavunos on drums.

The set was short and loud and very….uh…disciplined. My impression of
post-punk is that everything is very timed and orderly yet aggressive,
like a negative marching band. There is a lot of well-timed silence as
well as noise. Between the perfectly timed drumbeats you could hear
conversation at the bar. It’s not the unrestrained noisy rollercoaster
chaos of bands like X or psychedelic punk bands like the Butthole

But within the no-wave order there is chaos, like when Lydia would
suddenly make some ear-splitting loud roar on her guitar or when
Thurston broke a bass string and Lydia screamed “he did that because
he HATES YOU!!!!!!” She screamed a lot of vitriolic poison out to the
audience the entire night in a deep angry New York accent. “FUCK YOU
YOU!!!!!” etc etc. Always followed by silence or some loud noise on
her guitar. The audience would reply with some words and she had a
well-timed response for every one. It was beautiful and I assumed it
is part of Lydia’s routine. She had command of the entire audience and
all eyes were on her throughout.

They played for about 24 minutes. After that they picked up and left.
No question of an encore. They hated us, after all.

Creatured – I had a great time!

Written by nattie

October 12, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Posted in music

The Origins of Record Collecting

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Records line several walls in Steve\'s homeThe Internet is a musical sea, and we are all sailing upon it, collecting music as if it were fish or treasure. There are those who indulge in the perverse delight of fitting thousands of songs on a small solid pearlescent square which can be fit into the pocket. There are the “pirates” of the musical Internet, who spend hours downloading bootlegs, and enjoy sailing off into the uncharted territory of unreleased demos, unauthorized interviews, and obscure forgotten artists who were dropped from the catalogs years ago. There are ebay bidders, who might hop up from the dinner table, and bolt down to the basement to catch the last auction minutes of that rare single. Then there are the ordinary sailors, like me, who just buy an occasional disc from amazon…not really caring if it’s rare or import – just more music for the journey.

Steve Propes in his vinyl element

But long ago, in the 1950’s and 60’s, before this high-tech music world was mapped, when the recordings were all on vinyl, and when vinyl was relatively new, there emerged a whole generation of young kids who wanted to rock-and-roll, to cruise, make out, but most importantly to buy, every record they could find, that is. These were the first collectors, hard at work amassing and trading vast empires of vinyl. I recently spoke to Steve Propes, a collector in Long Beach, Califronia who started in the 50’s and told me how music collecting began…

Steve Propes lives happily today in a sunny ranch-style house with his wife, daughter, dog, many old books, furniture, cholo and weird thrift-store art, old roadside signs, and most importantly – a collection of at least 39,000 records.Saving for records for a long time

Propes’s records, shelved neatly on high bookcases throughout the house and in his rock-memorabilia filled office, chronicle the entire history of American teenage music. They include blues, RNB, jazz, rockabilly, rock-and-roll, punk, heavy metal, new wave, and countless other genres not least of which is Steve’s own personal favorite – doo-wop. It was the harmonious sounds of doo-wop and 1950’s Rythm and Blues combined with the smell of oil and rubber that first infected Steve with the collecting bug:

Bobby Darin and Bill Haley 45\'s“It was 1960. My high-school friend Bill Soon had a 1956 Chevy Bel-Air and we’d go to various drive-in diners in Long Beach – Hody’s, Oscar’s, Grissinger’s and The Clock. Everyone had their own sounds going in their cars, just like in American Graffiti. You tried to sound different and make your own sound, which could be slow or fast. Certain artists became popular through the cruising culture – Dick Dale, and Link Wray for example. We listened to Johnny Otis’s show a lot.”

But the turning-point moment – which transformed Steve from a car-radio-listening music fan, to an obsessive, or at least enthusiastic, collector of vinyl records, was not far away…..

“I started collecting between high school and college. We found out about Bill Braden, a Long Beach cop who would sell records out of his house every Saturday to college and high school kids. The records he sold were cut-outs (recordings which have been drilled or cut by dealers to indicate that they have been sold at a discount price and prevent full refunds). I think Bill would go into thrift stores in his uniforms and ask for records for charity.”

And like many collector discontented with contemporary sounds, Steve started turning back to R-n-B and not until several years after the recordings were made:

“I was collecting U.S. 45’s, mainly black music, so I overlooked a lot of rockabilly, country, garage, and surf. Black music was just the coolest thing on the radio. There was also a new interest in “teen collecting” – stuff like Frankie Avalon and Fabian. I hated that.”

Today thrift stores and record stores are decreasing in number. But back then they were plentiful and contributed heavily to Steve’s collection.A 1950\'s 45 rpm record player in Steve\'s office

“I’d go to Wallich’s Music City in the Lakewood Center. Hody’s was right across the street. I’d also go to Wenzel’s in Downey. There were stores specializing in black music, such as “Flash”. I knew John Raino, the counterman at Flash and we stayed in touch until he died two years ago. Flash had 5 turntables set up to play new releases throughout the store. But more often this would cause the song to end up playing out of sync. Other records stores in downtown Long Beach included Humphries on Pine, Morey’s, and Badarat. There were record stores in Compton where you could buy stuff real cheap out of the back room.”

Those who remember record stores remember their distinct culture of coolness, where music experts gravitated as they now gravitate to Yahoo music discussion lists. Steve describes the early record store scene:

“Record stores were a cool place to hang out and show knowledge about music. Jim Lamarand worked in the jazz department at record/instrument store Wallich’s. One night he was on his way out to dinner when a black cadillac pulled up. A black chauffeur opens the door and out steps Ray Charles. Charles comes in, starts looking at organs, sits down, and plays for 45 minutes while all of the customers are watching. A few months later Charles came out with an album of all instrumental organ songs: “Soul+Genius=Jazz” on the Impulse ABC jazz line. In the 1960’s a lot of labels had their own jazz lines.”

A 1950\'s cheesecake LP coverRecords could also be found in thrift stores and less likely places, as Steve recalls:

“My parents went to the Salvation Army on Alamitos near Anaheim St. in Long Beach. I hated it when they went, until one day I started looking at 45’s. There was a record on Red Robin which was always there. I shunned it but one day I brought it home and it was great. Every New Year’s Day and every 4th of July Thrifty drug store (now Rite-Aid) would put out big tables of 45’s at 10 cents each. We’d go to every Thrifty and buy lots of records. One guy named Claude found a phone number on one of the Thrifty’s tables, contacted the distributor and went to their warehouse the next day. This was rock-and-roll and R-n-B, stuff that Thrifty’s didn’t usually sell.

When did Steve decide that he was a collector and not just another kid buying records?old music magazines and a Doo Wop sticker\

“When Wallich’s was about to sell out on a record, they would put up a cardboard sign saying “no longer in stock.” That’s when i realized that every record would not be around forever.”

He then goes onto describe an unexpected fringe benefit of collecting:

“When I met my future wife Sylvia in college, I had a few thousand records all in one side of my room. She liked my collection. A lot of guys wives didn’t like it, but she did so I considered myself lucky.”

Of course it wasn’t all smooth sailing. I asked Steve what was the worst moment in his record collecting experience. There were a couple of bad ones –

“I once came home a bunch of good thrift store records. I left them on the dash and they melted in the California sun.”

Another story Steve tells is quite amazing:

“We’d go to parties and bring records with our names written on them. I brought a copy of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie” that had been misprinted as “Louie Lovey”. Misprints were very rare and valuable but I left it at the party and never got it back. Then, one day my friend Jim called from the mountains where he was at the house of a woman who was getting rid of a lot of records. There Jim had found the copy of “Louie Lovey” with my name on it so of course he brought it to me.”

I asked Steve what he thought of record collecting today:

“Record collecting remains today. It’s stronger than ever but there are fewer record collectors. Good 78’s like jazz or rock-and-roll can be worth as much as 45’s or 33’s. I don’t really know how you can collect a computer file like an mp3.”

That\'s me in my dad's record room. My favorite band is Roxy Music!Steve Propes’s record collection will live long beyond him and I expect that it will be well-preserved and cared for. This is because Steve has a couple of daughters who love him and his music – even if they had to share a room until they were 10 so that he could have a record room. How do I know this? I, Princess Cornflakes, am one of these daughters.Steve's granddaughter Camilla may someday understand this

Written by nattie

March 9, 2008 at 7:57 pm

Posted in family, music

Penthouse and Pavement

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I’ll admit that I’m completely enamoured by early 80’s synth music. Some of my favorite acts are: Heaven 17, the Human League, ABC, and New Order and Ultravox. This was music that seemed futuristic back in the early 80’s. In general, I like the 80’s postmodern new-wave version of the future – a cool neon-lit place with gigantic cities and skyscrapers where everyone rode on fast subway trains or drove scooters and video art was projected all over the walls – better than today’s future of catastrophic flooding and relentless heat and terrorism and total war. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that I hide myself in the neon dreams of that decade.

But back to music. In particular I’ve been listening to Heaven 17. I dug up an old tape of “Penthouse and Pavement”. The synthesizers sound so pure and strong, “planes” of electronic sound like planes of color in minimalist or abstract art. They are not broken up into a bunch of fragmented beats as in today’s techno. I think that the 70’s and 80’s pioneers often used synthesizers as a replacement for guitar or other instruments, which is why they sounded so strong. It is as if musicians were unapologetically rejecting the folkiness and organicness of the guitar, and daring to replace its exact role and function with something electronic, which is probably why all the rock and rollers hated new wave so much.

And the lyrics. Just take a look at this excerpt from “Who Will Stop the Rain” from “The Luxury Gap”:

A global affair in big house U.S.A.
A moving violation angels over Broadway
The next voice you hear will be the main attraction
The next time we love standby for action
Meet me tonight and love me for ever
Let’s be happy let’s be famous whatever the weather
The rain must fall and night time is calling
Golden boy and golden girl it’s a great day in the morning

I love the references to globalism and cosmopolitanism “meet me tonight and love me forever…let’s be happy lets be famous”, and optimism “golden boy and golden girl it’s a great day in the morning”. These are typical of early 80’s pop’s sophisticated ironic take on capitalism. All of the quality early 80’s pop musicians acknowledged and criticized capitalism in subtle ways. The title – “The Luxury Gap” is a criticism of the “have and have not” reality of capitalism. But lyrics about penthouses and nightclubs and skyscrapers and optimism acknowledge the temptations of wealth and pleasure. 80’s synth-pop bands realized the double-sided nature of life and weren’t satisfied just to complain and and issue vulgarities and spit on the rich, as punk bands did.

I just located some Heaven 17 videos online at youtube. It was great to see “Let Me Go” again, which it’s images of lead singer Glenn Gregory (a Draco Malfoy double if ever there was one) wandering through the streets of Italy dressed in euro-tailored suit and long coat, like a scene from a 1940’s Italian film. The video was stunning, but for some reason the version that played in my memory since watching it at age 13 was different. My memory version always has them walking along the edge of a freeway on against a gloomy sky on the outskirts of some bleak looking place, instead of along the well-manicured streets of an Italian town. I wonder, am I remembering another Heaven 17 video? Perhaps. I think my [sub]consciousness is well-stocked with clips from early 80’s music videos and I probably confuse them at times.

Written by nattie

July 21, 2006 at 6:42 pm

Posted in music

Heaven or Las Vegas

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I really like this album by the Cocteau Twins. Yeah, I know it’s a later one and early stuff like “The Pink Opaque” or “Blue Bell Knoll” is thier canonical best. I like just about everything by them. But the light poppyness and ethereal vocals of “Heaven or Las Vegas” really suits me right now. I can’t take my music too dark or intense these days as I’ve got small kids and life’s intense enough.

Anyway, Camilla is proving to have good taste in music, and this is the other reason I write about HOLV. Whenever I put on the album, she starts swaying and dancing! This is not something she does to all of my music. She doesn’t do it to Brian Eno. But she likes the Cocteau Twins! Maybe it’s because of Liz Fraser’s light, high-pitched voice. Perhaps it appeals to babies. Maybe it’s because the Cocteau Twins music is so angelic and Camilla (like all babies) is a little angel. Whatever it is, it’s very cute. I hope Camilla grows up having lots of tastes in common with me.

Written by nattie

February 27, 2006 at 5:11 am

Posted in music