I Love Junk

Archive for the ‘80s’ Category


Posted on: June 26, 2009

Edit: A bunch of other random memories keep surfacing, and I feel like I want to post them somewhere, so I’m just adding them to the end of this as I think of them.

As someone who 1) writes about pop culture nostalgia, 2) is a fan of Michael Jackson, and 3) keeps promising to write more and then disappearing, I feel the need to post something now. Except this is usually a humorous blog, and Perez Hilton’s stupid ass notwithstanding, this is not an occasion for humor. So I’m a little stuck on how to approach this. But since the loss of a huge pop culture icon certainly lends itself to a lot of nostalgia, I’ll start there. Here’s a smattering of memories of a man who always seemed to be in the background of my life, in odd little ways.

“Dirty Diana” was the first song I can remember hearing. Not just the first pop song, or the first Michael Jackson song  – this is my earliest memory that involves music at all. I must have been just about three or four, and all I remember is hearing the line about “unlock the door because I forgot the key”, and thinking that didn’t sound very safe. I didn’t listen to the rest of the song at all, and I had no idea what song it was until I heard it many years later, as a teenager, and that line sent me hurtling back in time. Up until then I’d figured the line must be from some old country song, because that’s mostly what my parents listened to in the 80s. So that’s one memory, a rare one, from the only time in my life when I didn’t care all that much about music.

By the time I heard “Beat It” a year or so later, I cared a lot. I danced my little preschool ass off to that song every time it came on Alvin and the Chipmunks, which was my main source of music at that time. Together with “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Material Girl”, “Beat It” completed my Holy Trinity of 80s Music. I’d still put it in my top five favorite songs of all time. The first time I actually heard Michael Jackson sing it was on a commercial for one of those “best of the decade” type CDs, so it must have been early 1990, and I remember wondering who the hell was this random black dude singing my favorite Chipmunks song.  To this day that’s probably my favorite “look how silly I was as a kid” story.

In the early 90s I didn’t care so much, because I spent that time immersed in music from when my mom was a kid – the Beatles, Elvis, Stevie Wonder, all that good stuff. But I remember my mom, a die-hard Elvis fan, obsessively collecting all the tabloids about Michael Jackson marrying Lisa Marie Presley. Eventually she started collecting ones that were just about Michael Jackson, hoping they’d mention Lisa Marie too. We had nightstands with cabinets and she had one totally full of these things. I thought this Michael Jackson dude sounded pretty weird, and frankly I was sick of hearing about him, and I made absolutely no connection between this pale man and my beloved “Beat It”, which I knew a black guy sang.

Then came 1997. As a preteen, I had just recently eschewed my mom’s music for more recent stuff, and had started watching MTV, mostly for stupid shit like Beavis and Butthead and Singled Out. Don’t let this fool you into thinking I was in any way hip. I wore sweatpants and tie-dyed Tweety Bird t-shirts to school, I carried a teddy bear backpack, and I made up stories based on the Babysitters Club. I was the dork to end all dorks, and I got into MTV in an effort to impress another dork into being my friend. Yeah.

So anyway, I was trying to watch Singled Out one day, except it was supposed to come on at 7, I think, and 7 passed, and they were still showing videos, which I quickly realized were all Michael Jackson videos. So. Many. Stupid. Michael Jackson. Videos. Finally a veejay came on and said they were playing a marathon of his videos because he had just become a father. “Uh, good for him,” I thought, “now where’s my show?” But I didn’t turn the channel right away, because some of the songs were kinda catchy, and I didn’t have anything better to watch, and… holy shit is that “Beat It”?! It was, and a black guy was singing it, and that black guy was the same as the “white” guy I’d been whining about a few seconds before. That hurt my head a little, but I didn’t care, because hearing that song again was like running into an old friend. And then magic happened, because the video for “Thriller” came on. I had never seen it before, and I loved everything about it. From that point, I was a huge fan.

I was also really, really embarassed about that, because if you were going to become a squeeing MJ fangirl, the late 90s were not such a good time for it. At the time I didn’t know anything about the allegations against him, but I did know that kids at school made fun of him, and I was dorky enough without admitting to being a fan of his. So I kept the whole thing secret – even from my parents, for some reason that existed only in my head, because they never really said anything about him to make me think they’d disapprove. Occasionally other kids would hint at being fans – we were all born in the 80s, after all – but none of us directly admitted it. Being a fan of an extremely popular musician seems a strange thing to have as a dark secret, but peer pressure is weird like that. (Today, I find it much more embarassing to admit that I once watched Singled Out.)

It wasn’t until last year that I started freely admitting to listening to him a lot, even to my own friends. First I posted this, admitting I owned a copy of Thriller on vinyl. And then a couple months later I was at my mom’s cousin’s house in Arizona for a week, and she had Off the Wall on vinyl, and I played it while she was at work. And I was like “this is a fucking good album, and I am gonna fucking buy it, and I’m gonna put it on my computer, and then I’m gonna fucking listen to it.”  And I did, and I put Thriller and Bad on there too, and put some of the songs on my iPod. I don’t know why I thought my friends would care when they saw the songs on my “now playing” message on MSN, but of course they didn’t. That whole ridiculous fear was just in my head. Hell, many of my friends had some of the same songs.

And you know what else? I might not have most of those friends if I hadn’t been a Michael Jackson fan. It was because of him that I started watching music videos and stand-up comedy (because comedians often mentioned him), and those things are what made me who I am. All the humor and knowledge of pop culture I picked up from those sources is what made me actually become a social creature. I became a nostalgia geek because I spent 1997 wanting 1983 back (despite the fact that I hadn’t actually been born then). And without that first big music obsession I wouldn’t have gotten so interested in music or at all interested in dance, and I might not have ever picked up a clarinet or a guitar or a piano. (Okay, I’ve never picked up a piano, but you know.)

I don’t know anything, for sure, about what Jackson did or didn’t do in his personal life, and I don’t especially care. History is full of weirdos with seedy personal lives – Lewis Carroll, also accused of being a pedophile, comes immediately to mind – and that never changes the fact that they were brilliantly creative people who spread immeasurable amounts of joy through their work. I really hope history remembers Michael Jackson that way. I know I will.

A few more random memories:

-Driving home from work, the day after Election Day 2008, and hearing a remix of “Man in the Mirror” with Obama quotes added in. I was extremely emotional that day, and I don’t think anything could have hit me quite like that joyful gospel choir singing “make that change”. It just so perfectly captured everything I was feeling at that moment.

-Watching the “Ghosts” video, with Sabrina, when it first premiered on MTV.  It was pretty bizarre, and we mostly joked about it, but we had a great time.

-Seeing my cousin’s band play “Beat It” on my last night in Arizona. I’d been reluctant to dance all night, but one of my cousin’s friends insisted: “You have to dance to ‘Beat It’!” She was right, and so I did.

-Going to Walmart a lot late at night a couple years back, because I live in BFE and Walmart is the only activity sometimes, and I swear to God every single time I went in the store “Say, Say, Say” came on over the speaker system. It was surreal because I’m pretty sure I’m one of like, five or six people on Earth who even know what song that is. I have literally only ever heard it on Pop-Up Video and in Walmart and Kmart.

-The storm of insanity around 2002 or so when somebody leaked the Freddie Mercury/MJ version of “State of Shock” on the Queenzone forums. This was back when a rare track actually was rare, before you could just go to Youtube and listen to any song in the universe, so collectors were pissed that people were getting it without making any effort to track it down. (For the record – it sucks. I was thinking hearing two of my favorite singers on a song together would be mind-blowing, but really, their voices just sound terrible together.)

-And finally, on Inside Joke Theater, something only Sabrina and I knew: Michael Jackson did not live at Neverland, but in a pineapple under the sea.

You know, reading back over this post again I just realized none – not one single one – of these memories were actually dependent on him being alive. When someone dies the immediate sense is “shit, it’s all over”, but these memories are all based on stuff he did years or decades ago, so it’s not like they’ve come to an end now. I was curious to see what his comeback would’ve been like, and of course it’s still horrible for his friends and family. But the 80s kid within me feels a lot better knowing that Michael Jackson-as-an-icon is pretty much immortal.

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed that a few pretty awesome people have linked me on their blogs. And I’ve had a few of you hint very strongly that you’d like to see me writing again. So I feel pretty bad that I haven’t been blogging, and I figure at the very least I owe you an explanation.

I started this blog early in 2008, with a new digital camera and a dry-erase board full of awesome ideas for articles. And then I wrote, like, four or five before completely failing to update for most of the year. The problem was that 2008 turned out to be a pretty serious year for me. Oh, nothing bad happened or anything, but I spent the year going through a lot of philosophical and emotional changes. I got wrapped up in politics, and educational theory, and redefining my life choices. I even got into prog rock, which is not without its own special brand of hilarity, but is still a far cry from my usual diet of campy 60s and 80s pop. 2008 for me was kind of like spending a year meditating up on a mountain, except I was just here in my room. But in any case, while all of this contemplation and change was good for me personally, it wasn’t really conducive to blogging about toys and candy. Not that I wasn’t still into that stuff; it just wasn’t at the forefront of my mind like it is during more lighthearted times.

And it’s not like I never thought about this blog either. I planned lots of entries, but I’d get all perfectionist and either the appropriate timing or the inspiration would pass before I got anything much written down. Basically I had this model in my head of what I wanted the blog to be – pretty much X-E Lite – and anything that didn’t fit that model got scrapped. Short blog posts weren’t good enough, posts without pictures weren’t good enough, anything that I didn’t have to spend money on wasn’t good enough. So of course that meant if I couldn’t think of a thousand words about a topic, or if I was broke, or if what was really interesting to me at the time wasn’t the kind of stuff other XE-ers typically blog about, nothing got written at all.

Happily, my cocoon year is over and I’m ready to emerge as a glittery, Care Bear-toting, SNES-playing, synthpop-loving geek of a butterfly. And I’m going to write whatever the hell I feel like, because even if I write something that doesn’t totally resonate, that’s still way better than writing nothing at all.

And just so this post isn’t devoid of nostalgic fun, here’s a photo of me as a baby, with my parents in their hilarious 80s getups. I promise my father is not as creepy as he looks in this picture.

I follow a lot of different nostalgia sites, and there is one piece of my childhood that always seems to be missing from them. For reasons I don’t fully understand, being obsessed with Care Bears and Goosebumps is still totally acceptable, but there is just not the same love for the Babysitters Club. Looking back, I can sort of see why. The stories were contrived and cheaply written, the characters were unrealistic goody-goods, and major facts were constantly being retconned because the ghostwriters didn’t bother reading what the others had written. Still, these books were a huge fad that spanned over a decade, so I know there are lots of women out there who grew up just as obsessed with Stoneybrook and the BSC as I was.

Here’s my little tribute to the BSC, presented as a countdown of the top ten club members. (Conveniently, there were exactly ten total members of the BSC.) I’m also assigning them each a Spice name, because I’m cheeky like that.

#10: Shannon Kilbourne (Posh Spice)

Remember Shannon? No? Yeah, I’m surprised I do either. Shannon sucked. If you don’t remember, Shannon was Kristy’s snobby-ass neighbor whose main contribution to the series was to give Kristy a goddamn dog. I’m pretty sure “Shannon the puppy” was mentioned 800% more frequently than “Shannon the person”, which makes sense, because I’m sure the dog was 800% more loveable.

The only reason “Shannon the person” was even included in the club was as an associate member, because she was too busy taking French classes at her snooty prep school all the damn time. The best part is, the one or two days a year when enough parents went off to fuck, that they even needed to call an associate member, Shannon was still busy. Why did they even include her in the club? Bitch never did shit. Even her story in “The Babysitters Remember” was lame rich-girl crap, something about hanging out with bitchy girls who had fucking fountains in their houses. Yawn.

#9: Kristy Thomas (Sporty Spice)

Yes, I put Kristy way the hell down at number 9. But she’s *gasp* the PRESIDENT!! How can I not like the PRESIDENT of the club?? I’ll tell you how: she’s an asshat. Yes, she came up with a few “great ideas”, but she also threw a tantrum whenever anyone else came up with one, which actually happened quite frequently. And she always tried to shove BSC advertisements into projects where it was totally inappropriate.

Her only admirable quality was her willingness to fight for anything she believed in – at least, this was admirable sometimes, when she fought for an actual worthy cause. Most of the time she fought for such things as her right to tack up chore charts over pictures of someone’s dead grandma. Yes, this actually happened. You suck, Kristy. The only thing pushing you ahead of Shannon is that you were the most likely character to grow up and become a dyke.

#8: Logan Bruno (Boy Spice)

Logan, famous for being the booooy in the club, was another associate member. However, he actually showed up to help with shit, mostly because he was chasing Mary Anne’s poon. (Yes, I referred to a 13-year-old’s poon. They’re fictional characters, deal with it.) I actually sort of liked Logan. He was a boring character, and a stereotype (a Southern boy who has manners and likes football, how original!), but at least he was helpful most of the time, and unlike Shannon, he actually fucking babysat. Bonus points for putting up with Mary Anne’s constant whimpering and his little brother’s neverending “sidus idfection”. Between the two of them I’m sure Logan spent way too much time wiping snot off his shirts. Poor Logan.

#7: Mary Anne Spier (Baby Spice)

Okay, we get it. Mary Anne’s mom is dead. We got that after the first 80 times it was mentioned in the first, like, five books. This fact is repeated about every five seconds throughout the series, supposedly as an explanation for why Mary Anne is so “sensitive”. Personally, I don’t buy the “sensitive” thing. Yes, sensitive people cry a lot, but crying over everything that ever happens to you ain’t right. Mary Anne was fucking bipolar or something.

That said, she did have redeeming qualities. On the rare occasion that she found her balls and told someone where to shove it, she was awesome. And she rarely acted like a bitch unless someone pushed her pretty far. Still, in the end she was a milquetoast, and milquetoasts are boring. The word milquetoast is awesome though. Milquetoast.

#6: Stacey McGill (Diabeetus Spice)

Depending what point in the series you jump to, Stacey was either “sophisticated” or “the bad girl”, or sometimes just “the unlucky bitch with diabetes who pees the bed”. Apparently in Stoneybrook, wearing a black skirt or going to a rock concert made you a sophisticated badass who was way cooler than everyone else. That’s a sad testament to how fucking lame people were in this town.

Anyway, Stacey was okay. She never interested me much, but she did seem more mature than Mary Anne or Kristy, and smarter than Claudia. Stacey could be pretty damn stuck-up, though. Oh wow, you’re from New York City! You and like, 8 million other people. Shut the fuck up already. Oh yeah, almost forgot, Stacey was the treasurer. That’s pretty boring.

#5: Mallory Pike (Geeky Spice)

Let’s face it: Most of the kids reading this series were quiet, bookish nerds with few friends. Or at least I was. Maybe you weren’t, you lucky bastard. Either way, Mallory appealed directly to nerds, because she was the biggest nerd ever. She wanted to be an author, she wore things like loafers and plaid skirts, and everyone ignored her 98% of the time.

She also had about a million siblings because her parents never stopped fucking. You gotta feel bad for a kid whose parents never stop fucking. Mallory could be a whiny bitch sometimes, but I’d be a whiny bitch too if my parents kept popping out babies and expected me to spend all my free time chasing down their escaped hamsters. She was pretty cool overall, though: Mal was smart as hell, and was one of the first people to not act like a total racist ass to Jessi. She also managed to land herself a hot Australian boyfriend despite only being 11. (He was 11 too, not a pedophile, you pervs.) Score!

#4: Dawn Schafer (Hippie Spice)

A lot of people found Dawn irritating, but I liked her. Like Stacey, Dawn felt the constant need to point out she wasn’t from Stoneybrook, but at least California was more than two hours away. She was a vegetarian hippie, and oh my god, reading about her always made me fucking hungry for health food. (Which was strange, since I’m Southern, so my childhood meals were usually butter, fried in grease and soaked in ham juice.) Fresh-picked veggies with homemade dip? Whole-wheat pancakes with fruit? I have no idea why this stuff always sounded delicious to me, but it did. Now I’m hungry, goddammit.

Anyway, Dawn. She liked ghost stories and shit. Ghost stories are awesome. And her ancient house had a secret passage, which had been part of the Underground Railroad. I never fully understood that. If you were a slave who made it all the way to fucking Connecticut, weren’t you safe by then? That’s pretty far from the Mason-Dixon. Just sayin’.

#3: Jessi Ramsey (Brown Sugar ‘n’ Spice)

I know what you’re thinking: “Boring Jessi, at number 3? Are you on crack?” I actually am, but that has nothing to do with why I liked Jessi. Yes, Jessi was boring, but that’s what made her likeable. She wasn’t a bitch, or a crybaby, or an attention whore, or a bossy dickwad. She was just pretty chill most of the time. Jessi began life as the token black character, and apparently the residents of Stoneybrook had never heard of black people before. (I guess Dawn’s tunnel really didn’t get used much, ha.)

Anyway, I had a lot of respect for Jessi. In addition to putting up with racist bullshit, she was a ballerina (holy shit, the black character dances, didn’t see that one coming!), and would practice all the fucking time. She also always took the shitty long-term sitting jobs for the deaf kid and the kid with cancer and the creepy animal hoarders. Bonus points because she had to put up with that bitch Aunt Cecelia. Extra bonus points because she celebrated fucking Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa rocks. Rock on, Jessi.

#2: Abby Stevenson (Jew Spice)

You may not remember Abby. She showed up very late in the series, because I guess after like 80 books they decided they also needed a token Jew. Abby and her twin sister Anna, who was a music nut, moved into Kristy’s neighborhood after Dawn fucked off back to California. (The black girl dances, the Jews have money, what’s next, an Asian family with a genius kid? Oh wait…) Like Mary Anne, Abby had lost a parent, but unlike Mary Anne, she dealt with it in a mature, non-whiny fashion.

Besides this, Abby just generally had an awesome personality. She acted goofy and cracked jokes all the time, and listened to Elvis and Diana Ross. Hell yes. With my backwards-ass family, where the 80s were more like the 60s, I could totally dig a character who appreciated Elvis. Plus she kept having asthma attacks and almost dying, and she still didn’t take herself too seriously. Bonus points because her handwriting is all fucked up and wobbly like mine. Abby kicks ass.

#1: Claudia Kishi (Scary Spice*)

Yes, her spelling was awful, but that was pretty much the only thing I could find not to like about Claudia. I got obsessed with her because she was Japanese-American, and I was a fucked up weeaboo child. I could relate to so much about Claudia. She was a junk food addict, she hated school, and she just wanted people to get out of her fucking face so she could paint all the time.

Her family were (surprise!) total Asian stereotypes, pressuring her to be a genius like her sister. I hated Claudia’s parents. The fuckers were so controlling they banned Nancy Drew books. I guess they thought their 13-year-old daughter should’ve been reading Leaves of Grass or some shit. However, Claudia’s grandma was the most awesome character in the entire series. I think I got almost as upset when Mimi died as when my own grandparents did. She was that awesome. Ann M. Martin is a bitch.

But I digress. My absolute favorite aspect of Claudia, not surprisingly, was her wacky outfits. Between her, Clarissa Explains it All, and Cyndi Lauper, I grew up with the impression that it was totally normal to wear as many clashing colors and accessories as possible. God, I wish that impression had been accurate. I want the 80s back, dammit.

And there you have it: my totally biased, exaggerated opinions of a bunch of characters from books nobody reads anymore. My next article won’t be in top ten format. Promise.

*Scary was the best Spice Girl and you know it

August 2020