Iconic ’80s Possessions

Authentic ’80s Experiences

Something kind of neat that one of my friends from the ’80s groups I follow reminded me of:

In my office sits an original script for St. Elmo’s Fire.

I worked at Columbia Pictures in the late ’80s, my first real job out of college. I did script research and had access to a library of hundreds of scripts at the offices in New York and in California, which was where my bosses worked. I was kind of the East Coast end of the script research department. Although I didn’t work on this script (it filmed before I was hired there), I had my bosses send it to me because I identified with it, having just graduated. It was not one of my favorites at the time.

It’s marked third draft, dated October 8, 1984, as received for archiving. My old boss’ name is stamped on it, Donna Brainard, who was head of script research in the legal department in Los Angeles. She lived in Venice Beach with Henry Colman, the producer of the shows Hotel and The Love Boat. I had drinks at their home the week they flew me out to meet the LA staff. My head was spinning at the time, at 23 years-old, only six months before having been drinking beer at frat parties, suddenly meeting Hollywood producers.

Sometimes it’s cool to be the kind of semi-hoarder who keeps absolutely everything. I also have the script for Spike Lee’s “School Daze” and a Jodie Foster movie called “Stealing Home.” Not sure why I kept those two of the ones I worked on– although Spike Lee was a big deal at the time and that film was a musical. (I think I had to research something about the sorority names at Howard University for that one.) These items are now 30+ years-old, and St. Elmo’s– although not exactly art–has become an iconic piece of ’80s cinema.

The daily research work at Columbia Pictures was tedious sometimes to the point of driving me to the brink insanity (which is one reason why I left), but it had certain advantages.  My boss in California got me an autographed photo of Tom Cruise in Top Gun one day when he was on the studio grounds, because they knew I was obsessed. There was a screening room in the building where the staff could view movies once a week, before they were released to the public, so we could see the results of the work we were doing–even if it took more than a year to sometimes see the final product. They showed other studio’s movies as well there, since we were in fact educating ourselves about the competition in watching these films, too.  I saw Oliver Stone’s Platoon there, Fatal Attraction, La Bamba, The Big Easy (I worked on those last two), a thriller called Sea of Love with Ellen Barkin that was popular at the time.

Now and then, someone famous would come through the building. We employees had our own little network wherein we’d call and alert each other when someone was aware of a celebrity passing through. Me and my buddy would then ride the elevators up and down repeatedly trying to catch that person. I took a ride with Dustin Hoffman once, and Kevin Bacon. My buddy caught Michael J. Fox. Similarly, if one of us saw someone famous on our lunch breaks, we’d call up to the rest of the girls in the building, and everyone would come out to see. Me and the girls followed Sylvester Stallone down Fifth Avenue one day when he was shopping for engagement rings for Brigitte Nielsen.

I rode the elevator up and down for about an hour the day Tom Cruise was rumored to be on-site.

Back to St. Elmo’s, below you’ll see the page with the moment that I ironically related to most closely at the time. It’s where Jules (Demi Moore) sits rocking on the floor of her empty apartment, wrapped in a sheet (and in Rob Lowe), and says…

“I’m so tired, Billy. I never thought I’d be so tired. At 22.”

New Adult angst at its finest.

This also resonated with me, just out of college, since at the time I had a bit of a
Demi Moore look going on, one of the few times people ever said I looked like anyone famous. You can kind of see the parallel in the following rock-and-roll headshot, and a clip from Demi Moore in “About Last Night.”

A few more pages for your viewing pleasure:

 

 

 

 

Love this scene, where Wendy brings Billy to dinner at her house with her  family and her franchisee brothers-in-law.

Mrs. Beamish:Where did you and Wendy meet again?  Billy:*Prison*

 

 

Title page, closer view.  Not a bad perk at all.  Wish I had taken home 20 scripts.

I like having been an authentic part of this era, and having memorabilia that has seasoned into something that’s meaningful to people. And having memories and experiences of pop culture that were more exciting than I gave them credit for at the time.

 

 

 

Harry Potter, Gloucester Cathedral, & Me

Harry Potter, Gloucester Cathedral, & Me

When I did my semester in England back in the mid ’80s, the first thing they did to acclimate us was send us on a “homestay” weekend with a family in the countryside. A bunch of us were sent to a town called Gloucester, where several families had volunteered to entertain us for the weekend. I stayed with a lovable family who chose me because the parents had emigrated from Italy, and they saw I had an Italian last name, plus their daughter was only a little older than I was. Her name was Nancy, and she was a nurse.

Nancy took me to Gloucester Cathedral, an 800 year-old Gothic church that is famous throughout England for its gorgeousness, despite being located in a sleepy little hamlet, lost amid miles and miles of anonymous rolling hills. It truly lived up to its reputation… walking through its spired interior took my breath away. Just the smell of a structure that was older than my whole country made me swoon.

Yesterday I was looking for an lovely photo to jazz up my Tweeter feed, so I looked up Gloucester Cathedral.

Maybe this is a kitsch-y and shallow reason to get excited about having been there, in light of the eight centuries of history the cathedral has endured, but…

Turns out they filmed parts of the Harry Potter series in Gloucester Cathedral.

Maybe if I weren’t a writer who sat on my bed reading hours and hours of these novels to my daughter, this wouldn’t mean as much to me…

But it freaking does!

Sentiment aside, it was probably the most beautiful man-made place I’ve ever (gingerly) set down my feet.

Who knew what Hollywood and the world of middle-grade literature had in store for it?

The 1980s Video Challenge

The ’80s Video Challenge

 

I was challenged recently to post my choice of videos from the 1980s. Boy, did they pick the right girl. I thought I’d share my selections along with my commentary, for those of you who maintain a sense of nostalgia for the best decade in musical history. Enjoy.

Don’t be envious, Millennials. We’ll continue to share our sensibility with you.

The Police: King of Pain, 1983

To start us off, from The Police’s Synchronicity album, tpolicehe above is some rare Australian video for this song, complete with a stuffed goat and a flaming dial telephone. This kind of eerie, Imagist camera work was considered artsy and cool at the time.

I went to the acutely famous concert promoting this album that took place at Shea Stadium, Flushing, NY, in the summer of 1983. I was 19 years-old. The LIE was transformed into a parking lot stretching across Queens, and I was twice rear-ended waiting in near-stop-dead traffic. We were so late to the event that we missed both opening bands, REM and Joan Jett, respectively. I didn’t even know who REM was yet.

According to Internet reports, it was after this one-night-only show that Sting decided to break up the band and go solo, because playing Shea Stadium (as did The Beatles) was a performance epitome for him, so he decided to move on to other pastures, where, say, the Blue Turtles roam.

Anyway, just listen…

Echo and the Bunnymen: Lips Like Sugar, 1987

Here is a quintessential ’80s dance song, although I don’t think I ever saw this video at the time. Remember, friends, there was no YouTube, and MTV had actually just emerged. Not everyone even got cable TV. So we mostly viewed these videos in the background as we danced at clubs. I hope the end of this one was supposed to be campy, because it’s as bad as some of the Godzilla films my son watches. However, the song is AWESOME, still. One other thing the rest of you ’80s people might experience:  These guys all seemed so mature and intimidating at the time. Yet viewing them now, they look like babies. Oh my Lord, the perspective of a 22 year-old.

And dig that hair.

Talking Heads: Once in a Lifetime, 1980

Presenting the lead track to the movie of my life, and the theme song for my crew of girls in college. We made up a poster that had lyrics from the song magic-markered on it back in our dorm. We taped it to the ceiling, so that whenever one of us awoke on the rug the morning after a party, we’d see the lyrics staring down at us:

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?!”

David Byrne is a freaky-amazing genius and I adore him. He better not die any time soon, as losing David Bowie was enough of a blow.

Herbie Hancock: Rockit, 1983

This breaks out of my typical new wave mode, but still fits the technotronic synth-y club vibe we all grooved to at the time. I recently rediscovered this song and played it full blast, dancing through my house, remembering how wild it was with all its funky scratchiness and such.

Even my son, whose hobby is mixing “beats” all day on Mixcraft, leaned over our stair rail to ask, Hey what are you listening to?

This video was a gas in the ’80s and one of the earliest I remember seeing on MTV. The musical artist, Herbie Hancock, is funked-out fantastic. And the guy who put together these half-humanoid, half-obscene robots, a British artist and inventor named Jim Whiting, was quite The Bomb. I recall rumors at the time that the scene in “Blade Runner” where they visit the toy maker/android designer in his apartment, wherein life-size robotic toys wander aimlessly, was inspired by this guy. Although a current Internet search doesn’t back that up. 

Not exactly Disney’s version of animatronics.

**  I just learned I can’t post The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” as an ’80s video as it was actually 1979. Dang it. Can’t use “Rock Lobster,” either. Same problem.  Argh! ** Moving on …

Buster Poindexter (a.k.a. David Johansen):  Hot, Hot, Hot, 1987

I’m going more late-’80s mainstream this time, although we didn’t know back then this song would become a wedding conga-line classic. Mostly I’m posting it because I have the real inside guff this time, as I was AN EXTRA in this precipitous piece of film making.

hot

Left: Blonde in bustier. Top right, Emma with long red curls. Orange arrow, head below Emma with dark bangs: ME. I think.

Alas, hard as I try, I can barely see myself in it. Although refer to the arrows in the screen grab to the right. That’s us at the table in the indoor concert scene at the end. For four seconds. I see the exact table where we were sitting. I recognize the blonde woman in the black bustier dress who was sitting across from me. I see a fuzzy likeness of my friend Emma who I dragged out to accompany me, and there’s my head below hers. The shot is nearly as grainy as a sonogram, but it’s us.

Here’s what happened:  I was working at Columbia Pictures as a script researcher and had to call a club downtown, the Latin Quarter, to fact-check something for a script. The manager said, Hey, we’re having a party for David Johansen tomorrow night because he’s filming a new video. Why don’t you come down? I grabbed my buddy Emma and we got painted up and trucked down to the place. I asked for the manager who had invited me.

An older gentleman in a bedazzled tuxedo coat met us at the door. He looked me up and down and said (and this was cute–not sure what he was expecting):

“Oh, sweetie — you’re much more attractive than I thought you’d be. Come with me!”

Next thing you know we were signing release contracts and he sat us against the stage. They filmed the end of the song repeatedly and shouted for us to dance, throw our hair, and scream. Which we did. It was a blast.

At the time, we thought it was some weird number that no one would ever hear of. Because frankly, it was David Johansen, former cross-dresser from the New York Dolls, in a 1950s pompadour hairdo and a formal suit singing a Latin song — not something you thought would become a major hit in punky 1987.

As it turns out, I’ve been able to tell this story at every wedding I’ve ever been to.

Tears For Fears,  Everybody Wants To Rule the World, 1985

i-ran

Screen grab from the Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran” video. Tin-foiled camera visible in mirror behind keyboardist.

I’ll sign off with this one, because the video for The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” in retrospect seems vaguely racist, and I can’t find the original video for that Thomas Dolby song. And the Flock of Seagulls video for “I Ran” is just too corny, with the cameras covered in aluminum foil, reflecting in all the spinning mirrored backdrops.

Soooo … I was studying a semester in England when I bought the album Songs From The Big Chair on cassette, because all I had with me was a SONY Walkman. I’d hide away in the tiny basement of our flats and play this, and literally bounce off the cinder block walls. When I hear it, I’m re-infused with the excitement and fear and wonder and expectation of my life finally beginning. I turned 21 years-old in London. And for a few moments, in my little head, I really did Rule the World.

Thank you, 1980s.

Who had more fun than we did?

 

#

 

 

Will the Next David Bowie Please Put on a Dress?

Will the Next David Bowie Please Put on a Dress?

[Click to read on my Huffington Post blog.]

I’m in a state of mourning, and for more than just the loss of a music icon (or two) this month. I’m stricken by the fact that there is no one to succeed David Bowie—and I’m downright rancorous over the reasons why.

For someone who experienced college in the mid-80s, it’s particularly wounding to realize that a major creative engine of the new-wave fueled era has ceased to exist. To us post-modern, mini-skirted, artsy new wave chicks whose hair was stiff with BOY LONDON gel, Bowie was God. The Internet has since become overrun with tribute slide shows that far outnumber commentary on his contribution—especially discussion of who might continue his legacy. It is apparently easier to gather clips of his ten best videos and costume changes and movie roles than it is to contemplate the environment left in his wake. The slide show parade itself is symptomatic of why no one is waiting to take up that mantle.

Why will there never be another David Bowie? Because the current entertainment industry would never tolerate him. It has become mind-numbingly easier and cheaper to depend on recycled and homogenized entertainment than to put up with the inconvenience of nurturing an actual artist.

Genuine talent is unmanageable. It does not adhere to a contract. It is sexually confused. It throws televisions out the window and says f@ck in public. It gets pissed off at its bandmates. It will not be judged by a panel of well-styled celebrities with buzzers in their hands for the public’s general amusement.

Right now, I imagine there are a hundred Millennial Bowies out there. Instead of being fabulous, at their boldest they are mimicking contrived Disney protégés at network-sponsored national cattle calls. More likely, they’re hiding their true preferences and creative impulses so they can keep their jobs, afford their apartments and justify their unwarranted degrees. They are settling for Instagram as an artistic outlet.

Don’t think another innovator of the Bowie variety just can’t happen. As freakishly brilliant as he was, and as devastating as his loss is to popular culture, talent of this magnitude is not an isolated occurrence. Case in point:  John Lennon and Paul McCartney grew up in the same region of Liverpool. At the same time. If the world is ready to ingratiate itself to the next genius, he or she will emerge.

The deluge of online slide shows point to something deeply askew:  Rather than expound on David Bowie’s legacy, resulting in fresh insights and unique prose, the more effortless route is to embed videos or repost a collection of existing images and call it a memoriam. Such is easily digestible, and the content is free.

YouTube has become the new vocabulary of our emotions. We are a civilization that communicates via a series of regurgitated flash cards instead of thoughtful narrative.

A watershed of top ten lists is a disservice to what any genuine artist stands for: The conception of material that never existed until, magically, it is brought into reality by the sleight of the artist’s hand. Art is born, not linked.

This is why a whole generation of hipsters have devoted themselves to retro culture, rejecting the artists and even the technologies of their own era and declaring themselves aficionados of material that was conceived and produced long before they were.

I’d like more opportunity to glorify those who originate as opposed to reconstitute. Priority needs to shift back to supporting the strange and unbearable and tortured, instead of the managed and choreographed and sanitized. Until that happens, we will never see another Bono and U2. We will never see another Sting and The Police, or David Byrne and the Talking Heads. We certainly will never see The Doors, The Stones or Led Zeppelin again. Ever.

To that dormant Bowie in the audience:  Please recognize a glimmer of yourself here. Please stand up and put on a dress and dance. Write yourself out of the cultural stupor you’ve been born into. Masquerade in glitter eyeshadow and spandex and don’t care what the world thinks about it. Date men. Date women. Dye your hair. Do drugs. Shun the X-Factor auditions. Please, I beg of you—quit your day job, lay off the freaking Pinterest and spew out something amazing.

I pray this happens. But I won’t hold my breath.

Now on to the Glenn Frey slide shows …