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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My 1980s

Go 1980s! There's something that's just so cute about that time. And not just yellow nail polish and 'I'm a loner.' ~ Jennifer Sky

I was thinking of the fantabulous 1980s, the awesome decade my novel, (that I’m currently writing) is set in: “the decade that brought us Dallas and DeLorean, Madonna and MTV, Chernobyl and Cats, the Tylenol Murders and the discovery of the Titanic, Rubik's Cube and Reykjavik, Farm Aid, the fitness craze…” (The Eighties Club: The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s.)

I had the very best life in the 1980s which few people know about. I went clubbing so much, danced nearly every night, had transformative relationships, worked my ass off in trendy clothing boutiques, studied, took private singing lessons, acted/auditioned and lived in Paris, France for a bit.

In my forthcoming non-fiction book ‘Who Knew?’ A continuation of ‘You Never Know: A Memoir’, I say; “I was in Toronto for graduate school and work for 14 years. I always thought Montreal was the best city in the world, very eclectic, so it is ironic that I am back here now. There are sidewalk cafés where one can people-watch over a bowl of steaming café au lait. My favorite bakery is on Mount Royal Street. I have tried the very best quiches, almond croissants and fruit-custard pies ever. I had bought a fruit-custard pie there for my brother Doug’s birthday dinner. “The borough is largely composed of the well-known Plateau neighborhood, famous for its bohemian reputation and characteristic architecture.” (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.) The bagels rolled by hand and baked in a wood-fired oven at Fairmount Bagel…do not even get me started. I used to go to a greasy-spoon on Parc Avenue (officially avenue du Parc) for Sunday brunch and I am certain they used those bagels. Le yum. After brunch, I would head on over to a slope on Mount Royal to listen to the tam-tams (drums). So colourful and unique. They still exist.

In the Fall, I would take walks around Beaver Lake (or Lac des Castors) to see the changing colours on the trees. Fresh air on my face felt so good. In the winter I would watch the children on toboggans. Rosy cheeks and runny noses were “de règle.“ If I got cold there was a pavilion nearby and I could warm up inside.

During the summer, I would watch the fireworks (International Fireworks Competition) across the water in Old Montreal. It was way before the water area was built up and I sat on a little grassy patch of land. A friend of mine would sand wooden-round tables for a restaurant during the day and I would visit. That restaurant is no longer in existence and I forget its name but I will always remember the sweet smell of the sawdust.

While studying English – as my official discipline - (I took courses which included women in film, existentialism, communications and drama) at McGill University, I used to work at a trendy clothing boutique on Boulevard St. Laurent. The street is called The Main by many Montrealers. It is the city's physical division of east and west. After going night-clubbing or writing essays, I would often go to a restaurant called The Main, for matzo-ball soup. I would drink beer and play pool at a bar near there; La Cabanne. Lux, a “resto” north on St. Laurent, was industrial looking and along with your fries and mayonnaise you could read a magazine that you bought from there.

I also love winter – I belong here. My memories of skiing and skating are kind of magical. I remember skating at Parc Lafontaine amidst light snow flurries. I felt like I was in a snow globe. While I feel there are shameful accessibility issues here, I cannot leave Montreal.”

I used to dance at this trendy nightclub called Business. A good friend of mine called the blaring music “Boomsiboom.” The many other songs I listened to still run through my head such as; Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s hit "It Takes Two," Sinéad O'Connor’s, "Nothing Compares 2 U" or Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life” (However Do You Want Me), INXS’s "New Sensation," Terence Trent D'Arby’s "Wishing Well,” Lisa Stansfield’s "All Around the World" etc. They are my music score of the decade. I will listen to an 80’s radio station when I can. I own a CD called “Danse 80s.” Not only do I know most of the words to the songs but I experience such happiness.

Top Ten Pop Music Groups from the 80s: U2, Bon Jovi, Genesis, Journey, Guns N Roses, Kool & the Gang, Culture Club, Foreigner, Pointer Sisters, Aerosmith. ( The following individual singers recorded the top 10 in-demand songs: Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, Pat Benatar, Sade, Whitney Houston, Gloria Estefan, Bobby Brown, Kenny Loggins. (

Writing about the 1980s in my novel is nostalgic and like time-travel. To be transported to that era in my mind is wondrous; “- that happy little decade between social activism and self-loathing grunge. Back when the Coreys were king and Kirk Cameron hadn't been left behind. When Cabbage Patch Kids spawned Garbage Pail Kids, and we liked it.” (80's Pop Culture)

While much of my current novel is fantasy, a lot is real such as: “Before Madonna made it fairly conventional, Voguing was a popular dance: “Vogue or "voguing" is a highly stylized modern dance characterized by photo model-like poses integrated with angular, linear and rigid arm, leg, and body movements. Popularized by Madonna's song and video of the same name, the unique inner-city dance subculture was brought to international mainstream attention.” (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.)

I was in a Voguing show at Business where I had to cut suits off of drag queens who subsequently Vogued in sequined outfits. I was dressed like Charlie Chaplin: A black suit, white shirt, bowler hat. It was so much fun. I really enjoyed watching Voguing in the clubs. It was like a secret hand-shake or being in an exclusive circle. When Madonna’s Vogue came out I loved it but it changed everything.

All of this was before home-computers and cell-phones or texting. Rap music was just becoming popular. American Idol didn’t exist and the trend known as Grunge hadn’t happened yet. Raves were a future event. We were on the brink of a cultural evolution and all I wanted to do was dance.

It is kind of like looking through a photo album – the memories! I’m not sure but this decade feels kind of under-whelming pop-culture-wise, eh? There was a lot of great stuff for me in the 1990s but frankly it paled in contrast to the 1980s.The 70s were before my time but Disco seemed great to me. I would have gladly been Warhol-esque in the 60s. The repressed 50s would have been hard for me. Although Italian fashion… “While French couturiers like Christian Dior and Jacques Fath were pairing down their couture designs and championing them as ready-to-wear garments for American department stores and New York boutiques alike, only Italian fashion artists understood the desperate need for more accessible, comfortable, and yet equally refined and tailored collections.” (Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. “Made in Italy: Italian Fashion from 1950 to Now.”)

I worked in a hip clothing boutique on St. Lawrence Boulevard a few doors down from Business: “The shops are known as much for their interiors as for fashion, and the trendsetting Parachute boutique on Montreal's newly stylish St. Lawrence Boulevard is a sparsely decorated, airy space with a rough concrete floor, ceiling and walls, and rusted steel shelving. The heavily textured silk, cotton and woolen clothing, much of it worn by men and women both, is displayed on sloping banks of stainless steel”. (The New York Times. “In Montreal, Where to Find What's Au Courant.”) It no longer exists.

I’d see many of the same people at nighttime as during the day. Many customers would buy clothes from our store to go clubbing in. I would usually get amazing soup for lunch ‘to-go’ across the street at Shed Café. I made some amazing friends at Parachute and most were French-speaking. I had the opportunity to speak French socially and at work.

In my non-fiction book ‘Who Knew?’ I say; “Montreal is both French and English speaking. While the French language has a dictatorial quality to it (language “police” exist) I adore French. I lived in a quaint apartment in the predominantly English West-end in the 1980s, Notre Dame de Grace (N.D.G.). I breathed the East-end so it felt like a little retreat. My place had a little balcony and I would stare at the garden below in the Spring while sipping on a cold, sparkling gin and tonic. There was a lush forest-like feeling to my “retreat” and I often felt that I lived in the country, not a city.”

So, the yummy 1980s…I am very glad I was an adventurous spirit then. That decade enabled the best parts of me because it had a vast repertoire of available fun. I took advantage of it all. Cynthia Payne (“…a retired English party hostess who made the headlines in the 1970s and 1980s when she was accused of being a madam and of running her brothel…” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia) said, “When I look back at the 1980s I pinch myself. Did I really do all that?” I can relate. Now I have the greatest memories – really. They not only sustain me but I find them spectacular.

Beyond the very influential book ‘Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture,’ we are a ‘lost’ generation but there is so much pop-culture to be found that we might need to reconfigure our major presence now. Compared to the Baby-Boomers we were kind of invisible but now they’re aging. It is finally our time. I’m convinced of it. ('The Shebytches Articles' blog: December 18, 2009)

I was watching the film I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009) and the context is graduating from high school. The most evocative songs re: graduating were from the 1980s – I swear and without bias. The first time that I heard a RAP song was in the 80s. Imagine. I remember being under-age, going to a night club and dressing up in ‘New Wave’ clothes (“In the 1980s in the United States New Wave became a catch-all term that applied to new music acts in general and synthpop and British acts in particular.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia) Further, Boy George and early Madonna were fashion icons and radical. An article on Gen-X culture says; “This past summer [2009] saw the untimely deaths of a trio of icons: Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and John Hughes. They were baby boomers, sure, but became famous as creators of Gen X cultural touchstones.” ( . “Don’t look now, but [G]eneration X is middle-aged.”)

The aesthetic of the 1980s was really kitschy in retrospect (shoulder pads!) but every decade has a style. The hair was too big, the make-up too thick, colours too bold etc. “In early 80s, the New Romantic fashion styles kicked off the decade with great hair experimentation. For a while there seemed to be a competition to see who could build the tallest hair, have the strangest angles, or a favorite of this site - how much plastic, metal and mousse you could fit into your hair and still keep your head upright.” (“80's hair styles: big hair.”)

To me, it was about ‘the grand.’ Everything seemed very obvious and ‘in your face.’ I think it was ironically a very real decade because what was fake wasn’t hidden – there was little hypocrisy. Most everything from fashion to furniture was bigger-than-life, much was Camp. A friend said, “It’s great that our generation saw through the illusions of society. We were able to detach ourselves from the materialist world and question everything that came at us. Plus, we had a lot of fun along the way.”

In my research for some of the pop culture of the 80’s I found the following:

Where's the beef?

One of the biggest catch phrases during the 80’s came from a Wendy’s commercial slating the phrase “Where’s the beef?” The phrase seemed to catch on not because of the words themselves, but rather because of the commercial itself and the grumpier old lady asking “Where’s the beef?” I heard a wav sample of that commercial the other day and it got me thinking about other key phrases that were said during the 80’s. Often, it was not the words that were being said, but the people that said them that made the phrase so significant.

Here are just a few.

1. Trickle down economics
2. What you talkin’ about Willis
3. I pity the fool!
4. Hasta La Vista Baby!
5. Read my lips. No new taxes!
6. Don’t have a cow
7. Take a chill pill
8. I have the power!
9. I want my MTV
10. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up


The movies…iconic. The Breakfast Club was my favorite. In Sixteen Candles (1984) the Molly Ringwald character says: "I loathe the bus. There has to be a more dignified mode of transportation." Ha! Or, “I can't believe my grandmother actually felt me up.” Man, she was all over the place!

Trivia: “The Brat Pack that took Hollywood by storm in the 1980s consisted of the young actors who starred together, in some combination, in films such as St. Elmo's Fire, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Less Than Zero. For a few years Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, James Spader, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore and Robert Downey, Jr. were the hottest items in Tinseltown. (Some film scholars claim the Brat Pack should also include Charlie Sheen, Matt Dillon, Sean Penn and Tom Cruise.) These flamboyant and sometimes self-indulgent stars made headlines on and off the screen. They lived life in the fast lane. They had the Yuppie Look and Attitude down pat. According to Mike Dilien, they wore designer jeans and cool sunglasses, shopped Rodeo Drive, cut deals at Spago's and drove sports cars.” (The Eighties Club: The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s.)

In St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) the Ally Sheedy’s character says: "Men... Can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em." OMG. From Back to the Future (1985) Marty says: "Doc, you built a time machine... out of a Delorian?" In Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), Keanu Reeves’ character “Ted” says: “Be excellent to each other & party on dudes!" or Patrick Swayze’s character in Dirty Dancing (1987): "Nobody puts baby in the corner". Ghost Busters (1984) Winston Zeddemore: “Ray. If someone asks if you are a god, you say, "yes!"

I could go on and on, the lines were simply fabulous.

TV - A-Team, B.J. & The Bear, Cagney and Lacey, Cheers, CHiP'S, Designing Women, Diff'rent Strokes, Doogie Howser M.D., Family Ties, Fantasy Island, Golden Girls, Hill Street Blues, Knotts Landing, L.A. Law, Married with Children, Moonlighting, Mork and Mindy, Quantum Leap, Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Cosby Show, The Facts of Life, The Incredible Hulk, The Love Boat, The Wonder Years, Three's Company, etc. Feeling old?

I’m not the same as I was in many ways, but people change. I am sooooo glad I had my 80s.

80s Culture: 80's hair styles: big hair

80's Pop Culture

A-Team. Creators: Stephen J. Cannell, Frank Lupo, Stephen J. Cannell. Productions. 1983-1987.
Back to the Future. Dir. Robert Zemeckis. Universal Pictures. 1985.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Dir. Stephen Herek. De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG). 1989.

B.J. & The Bear. Creators: Christopher Crowe, Glen A. Larson. Universal TV . 1979-1981. “Don’t look now, but generation X is middle-aged.”

Cagney and Lacey. Creators: Barbara Avedon, Barbara Corday. Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) . 1982-1988.

Cheers. Creators: James Burrows, Glen Charles, Les Charles, et al. Charles/Burrows/Charles Productions . 1982-1993.

CHiP'S. Creator: Rick Rosner. MGM Television . 1977-1983.
Coupland, Douglas. Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. St. Martin's Press. 1991.

Dallas. Creator: David Jacobs. Lorimar Television. 1978-1991.

Designing Women. Writer: Bill Kenny (series). Bloodworth-Thomason . 1986-1993.

Diff'rent Strokes. Creators: Jeff Harris, Bernie Kukoff. Embassy Pictures Corporation. 1978-1986.
Dirty Dancing. Dir. Emile Ardolino. Great American Films Limited Partnership. 1987.

Doogie Howser M.D. Creators: Steven Bochco, David E. Kelley. 20th Century Fox Television. 1989-1993.

Family Ties. Creator: Gary David Goldberg. Paramount Television.1982-1989.

Fantasy Island. Creator: Gene Levitt. Columbia Pictures Television . 1978-1984.

Ghost Busters. Dir. Ivan Reitman. Black Rhino Productions. 1984.

Golden Girls. Creator: Susan Harris. Touchstone Television. 1985-1992.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.“Made in Italy: Italian Fashion from 1950 to

Hill Street Blues. Creators: Steven Bochco, Michael Kozoll. MTM Enterprises. 1981-1987.

I Love You, Beth Cooper. Dir. Chris Columbus, 1492 Pictures, 2009.

Knotts Landing. Creator: David Jacobs. Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).1979-1993.

L.A. Law. Creators: Steven Bochco, Terry Louise Fisher. 20th Century Fox Television. 1986-1994.

Like Totally 80s

Makefive. “Best 80s TV Shows.”

Married with Children. Creators: Ron Leavitt, Michael G. Moye. Embassy Television. 1987-1997.

Memorable quotes for Ghost Busters

Moonlighting. Creators: Glenn Gordon Caron. ABC Circle Films. 1985-1989.

Mork and Mindy. Creators: Joe Glauberg, Garry Marshall, Dale McRaven. Henderson Productions . 1978-1982.

Quantum Leap. Creator: Donald P. Bellisario. Belisarius Productions. 1989-1993.




Shiller, Romy.
___________. Novel in progress. *part of this article appears in my book.
___________. 'The Shebytches Articles' blog:
December 18, 2009
___________. Who Knew? Forthcoming.

Sixteen Candles. Dir. John Hughes. Channel Productions, 1984.
Squidoo. “Like Totally 1980s Movie Quotes .”

Star Trek: The Next Generation. Creator: Gene Roddenberry. Paramount Television. 1987-1994.

St. Elmo’s Fire. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Columbia Pictures Corporation, 1985.


The Breakfast Club. Dir. John Hughes. A&M Films, 1985.

The Cosby Show. Creators: Bill Cosby, Michael Leeson, Ed. Weinberger. Bill Cosby.1984-1992.

The Facts of Life. Creators: Dick Clair, Jenna McMahon. Embassy Pictures Corporation. 1979-1988.

The Incredible Hulk. Marvel Productions .1978-1982.

The Love Boat. Writers: Buddy Akinson (writer), Lee Aronsohn (writer). Aaron Spelling Productions. 1977-1986.
The New York Times. “In Montreal, Where to Find What's Au Courant.” November 9, 1986.

Three's Company. Creators: Brian Cooke, Johnnie Mortimer. DLT Entertainment Ltd. 1977-1984.

The Eighties Club: The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s

The Wonder Years. Creators: Carol Black, Neal Marlens et al. New World Television. 1988-1993.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting blog, but it’s missing an important part of the equation: Generation Jones (between the Boomers and Generation X). Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. Here's a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones:

    It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. And most analysts now see generations as getting shorter (usually 10-15 years now), partly because of the acceleration of culture. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
    Generation Jones: 1954-1965
    Generation X: 1966-1978
    Generation Y: 1979-1993


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