Monday, September 16, 2019

It wasn't only Orwell's 1984

The year was 1984.  It was the year I came out of my shell and entered the mainstream of my peers.  Fresh with a drivers licence, I was now free to travel away from our isolated house.  I was entering my senior year of high school, though I would miss the presidential election that year by one month. That summer ranks as one of the most enjoyable and beloved times in my memory.

Reagan won in one of the greatest landslide victories of all time when people saw the economy booming and realized that, contrary to the Left's hysterics, he was not going to nuke the world.   At the same time, the blame for the Ethiopian famine was laid squarely at the West's feet, even as the tragic McDonald's shooting in California began an all too often reported way for people to deal with problems.

In lighter areas, and those that dominate the mind of a teenager, Joe Montana would take the 49ers to the Superbowl in the 84 season, during one of his four dominating performances that helped make him one of the most beloved athletes of his era.  In basketball, Larry Bird's Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers, with Jack Nicholson right at court side, in a part of one of sport's most enduring rivalries.  Of course the USA swept the gold in the 84 Los Angeles Olympics.

Ghostbusters was the movie of the year, followed fast by Beverly Hills Cop, with Amadeus sweeping he Oscars.  In music,  Madonna was the breakout artist of the year, along with Wham!, while Van Halen's aptly titled 1984 bridged the gap between hard rock and pop rock, opening the gates for artists such as Bon Jovi.  Michael Jackon's Thriller was still rolling strong, dominating the charts and chewing up the media, even as Prince emerged with his rock film Purple Rain. MTV was coming into its own, breaking from mere repetitious video playlists by launching its first real 'network' event, the famous 'Lost Weekend with Van Halen' contest.

On television, Hill Street Blues was still a forces to be reckoned with, as was the more light hearted (but sometimes more topical) Magnum P.I., with the era's sop sex symbol Tom Selleck dominating the water cooler talk.  The Cosby Show was getting started, as Michael J. Fox overshadowed Meredith Baxter Bernie's vehicle Family Ties.  Dallas was still vying with Knots Landing and Falcon Crest in the night time soap department, and the sci-fi miniseries V was the miniseries everyone was talking about.

And of course, Orwell was everywhere.  Anytime anyone bucked the liberalizing trends of the day, we heard charges of Fascism, Orwell or Big Brother fly like crows.  Big Brother, in the popular mindset, was the GOP, Reagan and those Social Conservatives on the 700 Club trying to impose their values on others, legislate morality, and shut down free speech and artistic freedom, not to mention curtailing all things sexual freedom.  True, whispers of some disease associated with the gay community, and perhaps entering into the general public, was starting to percolate.  Likewise, the death of John Belushi had put a damper on the whole 'smoke it, snort it, shoot it up' attitude toward drugs.  Nonetheless, things were still pretty loose and free where personal behavior was concerned, which we imagined was good.  That freedom was what set us against those Nazi types who were clearly inspired by Orwell's vision of the world.

So what's all this about?  Just remembering.  Among many other things, MTV had reached probably its most creative high point, as well as finally becoming common in most regional cable networks, allowing more and more kids to see artists they had only seen in pictures.  I first saw MTV at my grandma's during a visit that summer.  It was a time when many acts that had hovered near the top ten of the charts, but never really broke through, were finally able to break through due to the exposure they were getting.

Just as top name artists initially avoided MTV because of its camp factor (not because of racism), but later came around when they saw unknown acts suddenly make it big because of the video exposure, so now lesser known groups were becoming known and making it to the top of the charts.  Some of these were ZZ Top, Huey Lewis and the News, and The Cars.  And herein lies the point.  I just saw that Ric Ocasek, the lead singer of The Cars, was found dead.

That just got me to thinking.  He was 75 years old.  Meaning he was already around 40 when I discovered him.  Already halfway through life, he had a chance to enjoy the limelight while I was just starting to care about limelights and those in them.  It's amazing how someone can sort of slip through your life and leave an impression.  That was a pleasant time for me, albeit a bit confusing as I emerged from my long exile in the country and was able to roam with my friends once again.  There would be other fine times: autumn quarter my freshman year of college, the summer of graduation, my first quarter at the main campus of Ohio State, my times with my wife and children, older memories.  But that particular year, especially that summer, ranks high.  And one of the endearing imprints on my memory is of Mr. Ocasek, walking on water, singing a clever tune, and joining the whole host of those who would be part of that brief moment in my pilgrimage.

RIP Mr. Ocasek, one of the many things that made 1984 a year for me to remember.

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