party-goers wait in line to get into Studio 54 in 1982
You, too, could be something that has never been...
The eighties, like most other decades, were a strange and unique time. The Flower Children of the sixties had assured us that Love could be Free and drugs were Mind Expanding, and Real Music was a thing shoved through an amplifier at ear drum shattering decibels.
Our poets were either dead, or writing for Fleetwood Mac, and Heart, and Bon Jovi, and U2, our artists were working for the special effects division of Twentieth Century Fox, the Berlin Wall was still up, and all our defenses were down, shattered by notion that the future, all our futures, was a 'slick' place.
You can't just 'jump' into 1987, You have to lead up to it, and get the taste of that decade, in your mouth. It shimmered with quianna and platform heels, and mirror balls, in the beginning, and we were told to dance more and think less.
And we did.
Rachel Carson had told us we were killing the planet, and we believed her, while we ignored her. (Silent Spring was written much earlier, but it was gaining ground, and wide acceptance, in the seventies, and the ideas from that were bleeding into the eighties.)
We were told we had to save the planet. We could barely save the rent, some months. Darn.
We might not be able to save the rivers, or the air, or the whales, but we could look fabulous, in a black wrap skirt, and ridiculously high heels, to compensate for being born short. We needed big earrings, to go with our big hair, and we wore multiple chains, to go with our low necklines. It was tough to wear clothes that were both baggy, and sleek, at the same time. But we were trying.
We needed 'designer jeans' to go with our designer lives, and Led Zeppelin soared, while the echoes of Alvin Tofler and 'Future Shock' made us afraid that population was a ticking time bomb, while Sylvia Plath had a horrible solution, (just kill yourself) for that. Damn. We suspected all of them might be a little wrong, (and we really hoped Sylvia and Alvin were, though both were brilliant, in their way) but we had no real argument, to refute them.
It's tough to know who's right, when both your sages and your idiots are telling you that life was either not worth living, close to done, anyway, or just plain unimportant, in the big picture.
It's hard to find 'Of Love and Hope' in that landscape, either literally or figuratively. The population itself was going to kill the population itself, as we all starved, wholesale, from their being too many of us. Newborn babies. Blessings or curses? Anyone? Anyone want to field that? You had to be there. It was a time. Just keep dancing, and pray we can all live through it. There was an almost manic silliness to it, at times.
M-TV was glitz on steroids, and Madonna was its queen. It's tough to think about being someone's true love, when jewelry telling you to be a 'Boy Toy' is sold in stores. Like a Virgin, Madonna? Really? (It's not that music was bad, necessarily. Much of it honestly wasn't, at the time. But the message about the lifestyle was devastating, to anyone with a heart. Even Heart.)
I think we all despaired of finding a meaningful love. It was hard enough to find a meaningful job, or a decent flaw concealing foundation. True Love? Really? I'll put it on my 'to do' list. Which was increasingly long.
We were compensating for all our flaws, back then, and we were told rigorously that we had to fix all of those. Vehemently. Now. The Self Help Movement became the Self Obsessed Movement, and Rachel could just shut up and go save an eagle, somewhere. She was middle aged, anyway, wasn't she?
Madison Avenue sold us the slick life, and it's rhythm was a pounding drum machine. Statuesque models who binged and purged to hold on to their living told us to look like them, and we suspected we should, even though that was impossible. Fifteen year old girls sold us jeans we couldn't fit into, if you had hips, and 'Heroin Chi c' was a look.
You're in a tough room when being an addict is considered cosmetically desirable.
Not many people were talking about love, then, though they were all talking about sex, loudly enough. (Sex, drugs, and rock n roll. It was on all our t shirts, in one form, or another.)
We sang about love, a lot, but I'm not sure if we felt it, very much, or knew how to find it. It's tough to do that, when you're being taught you might just want to despise yourself, a little more, for not being perfect. Or perfect enough. You can never be too rich, or too thin. Apologize for being here; you're using up the place. Well, damn.
Cosmopolitan told us that now was the time we could have The Best Sex Ever and with multiple partners, and this was a good idea, as long as you didn't contract something that would kill you. Oops. And Cosmo subtly (and then unsubtly) assured us that you were a failure, if you weren't having multiple orgasms with these people you barely met. Darn. Vogue told us that our other goal was to have as many pairs of shoes as Imelda Marcos, or Cher. Casual shoes to go with our casual clothes, our casual sex, and our casual attitude, toward all of it. Wear more, think less.
And we did.
Folk singers struggled, while synthesizers and amplifiers ruled, and techno pop (and pap) shivered hard, as the vets from Viet Nam, the generation that told us we could trust no one over thirty, and definitely no one over forty, went firmly over thirty. And over forty.
It is hard to know what to do with yourself, when you damn yourself, in your twenties.
That's okay. We were all doing that, pretty much. Even those of us who were still in their twenties, when 1987 came around.
The youth movement owned us, and it was a sin to have hair with any grey, or skin with any imperfections, or breasts that didn't overfill a cup. If you were older, you were supposed to look young. If you were young, you were supposed to look perfect. And you were supposed to be able to do that while sporting a casual drug habit and casual sex partner. Partners. Whichever.
Robert Palmer assured us he was 'Addicted to Love' while backed up by a (very slick) bevy of interchangeable women. It was a cool video. They all were. Well, most of them were. It's okay, kids, it's not what you feel like, it's what you look like. We have pills to fix what you feel. But ain't much gonna hide that tummy flab, or any other physical flaws you might have. So, get to stepping.
You, too, can be 'Addicted to love.' Because this is the eighties, and addictions were the norm, of one kind or another. Liquor. Shopping. Drugs from casual to hard, and relationships the same. Everybody had an addiction. Everybody had two. And if you didn't have two, you weren't trying. It might have been a rule that you had to have as many bad habits as you had marriages, in Hollywood, and no, nobody ever connected the dots, on those.
See what I mean, by 'eating our young?'
Ah, the age of "If everybody screws up, nobody gets to be the judge." Ann Landers was getting older sounding, by the minute, and peer pressure was an anvil, down in the trenches. Down in the eighties, if you were in your twenties, or thirties. Daytime talk shows explored taboo subjects with a kind of mad glee. I think we were all supposed to be in therapy, for something. Doctors prescribed pills to fix our moods, if we were deemed un-cheerful, for too long. Five minutes was too long, in the eighties. We were very impatient, with ourselves. Ouch.
Thoughtful women had little value. Glitz did. Hair had to be permed, flipped upside down, and blown dry, and yes I did. (Then I had to take scissors to it, because the damage was past salvaging.) Vincent wasn't the only one with an unruly mane. We all had one. Only ours didn't look sexy. It just looked shattered. Nobody told us that was going to happen, when we tried to look like our rock stars, or our actresses. Dang.
Women's Day and Ladies Home Journal assured us that in the middle of our forty to fifty hour work week, we still had time to bake perfect cupcakes, or sew perfect throw pillows. Those dinosaurs.
We could have it all, we were told, and we should. Consume, consume,
consume. Jog. Run. Run harder. We were all training for the olympics, and
like a soap opera doyenne, couldn't wear the same thing twice, for any of
it. We had stuff in our closet from Annie Hall, (Catherine even wore it,
once,) next to the old stuff from Saturday Night Fever, piled on top of
the old stuff from Olivia Newton John telling us we had to get physical,
and join a gym. Thanks, Olivia. (And no, you couldn't just 'throw the
stuff out.' You'd spent a fortune, for it.)
And the 80's rolled along.
Televangelists told us they could save our souls. Faith could now be had, on a tv screen.
Then, one blessed night in 1987, it actually was.
In the middle of the Madonna age, it was easy to miss the Vincent and Catherine age.
But there it was.
Love was an emotion, and couldn't be bought from a store. It wasn't in
your wrinkle cream, or at your beautician's. You could go to those places,
if you wanted, and that was fine, but you wouldn't find love there.
The deep places in your soul, the ones that had been truly starving, the
ones you were trying to feed with all the wrong stuff, and none of the
right stuff, now had a place to go, and make you sit, and make you listen.
Love is everything. And everything is everything.
There was hope for Catherine, and hope for Vincent, and if there was hope for them, then by God, there was hope for you. It was important to be a thing rather than to look like a thing. Virtues like compassion, and intelligence, and patience, they had weight, and meaning. Roy Dotrice told is in the show, once, 'the madness is up there,' and he was right. We just needed somebody to say it to us, was all. Here was our oasis. Come in. Sit a while. Someone might read you a story. Someone was about to. Was it fantasy? Well of course it was. Every character in it is an archetype, from the Princess to the Fool. But there was just enough reality in it to make us sigh a little, and hope.
You, too, could be something that has never been, and never will be. That's all right. You had permission, now. Your virtues were in your soul, not in your face, so much. Relax. Someone would love you for you; look past any flaws you might have, and treasure you for your virtues. Catherine did. Vincent did. The World Below, did, on a daily basis. It wasn't just 'nice' to be valued for what you were, it was a the greatest, and possibly only value you had. What's that you say? Be valued for what you were, and how you were, with others? That was right?
It was a necessity, even, in the world Ron Koslow created. Whew! Nobody had told us that, for a while, or at least nobody had told us that, that way.
Rachel Carson might be right, but there was still time, to fix what needed fixing. And Alvin Tofler might be wrong. We were all precious, not burdens. We might all be consumers, but we were givers, too. Helpers. Hopers. Wishers. Magic bean buyers. Relax, a minute, and just look. Mary was precious, and listened to, and valued, and needed. Children were. Mouse was. Vincent was. Rolley was. No more fashion law for you, Cathy. Or for us.
The classics were not just dead stuff made by dead guys. They lived, and breathed, and made people care, as surely as Vincent did. As archetypes went, this one was gentle. As souls went, this one was deep. Relax. Breathe. Your true love might be no farther away than a stroll across the park. And though it might be hard to find t hat, and hard to get to it, well, chin up. Love would find a way to you. Love could do that. Love was persistent, that way; and while it might be delicate, it was very, very strong.
Your Vincent was waiting for you. Or, if you were lucky, he was there, with you in the living room, now.
Love was Everything. And Everything was Everything.
No matter where you are, in your own fairy tale, I wish you love.
Happy Anniversary, Beauty and the Beast.
NYC, subway, 1981
NYC, 34th Street, 1980
NYC, Donnell Library, 1981