Tonight, I’m going to an 80s-themed party. Last night, I bought Off the Wall and Purple Rain on vinyl. Clearly, I’m in an 80s mood.
Sometimes, I wish that I were in my 20s in the 1980s. I imagine that it was a laid-back time full of colors and great music. People will often criticize the fashion of the time, or say that it’s not as edgy as the 1960s or 70s. But the thing about this sort of odd nostalgia is that it’s very personal. The 80s just seem very me.
But it’s easy to wish that you lived in a different time, because the past is so well-defined compared to the present and the future. Woody Allen’s fabulous movie Midnight in Paris (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture this year) takes this concept as its theme, using both mundane and supernatural elements. The main character – from the present-day – longs to live in the 1920s. He is a writer who wishes that he could have been hanging out in Paris with the likes of F.Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. In the movie, he actually gets transported to that time and place, and falls in love with a woman. Just when he decides that he could stay there forever, he discovers that she actually longs to live in a time before the 1920s! His fantasy is her reality, and it’s unsatisfactory for her.
I think that art & culture define eras more than anything else does. Major events, wars, politics, etc. all matter, of course, but they always influence art – they permeate it. That’s why the protagonist of Midnight in Paris “missed” the 1920s – the literature, the music, the visual art. And that’s why I “miss” the 1980s – the music. Popular music then was its height – Michael Jackson, Prince, David Bowie, and Madonna were making the kinds of commercial hits that are timeless. And underground, Gary Numan was playing with electronic sounds that would influence many bands today. The Cure, The Smiths, and Queen were forming the foundation of indie rock.
It’s not like great music isn’t being made now, of course. But in our technological age, defined by the Internet, it’s becoming harder to connect with people over music. Everyone knew Prince and Bowie – everyone heard their songs on their radio. Now, some of the greatest artists are known in smaller and smaller circles, as distributing music gets easier and easier. Of course, there will be a music to go along with the 2000s and 2010s. And we do have a culture, of course. But it’s going to take some time to establish it.
Chances are that at least some of the next generation of kids will long to have been in their 20s in the 2010s.