Autumnal Equinox 2020
Love Themes II: After the Break-Up
This written sequel to the Love Themes essay started as a lark last month, in the middle of August.
After editing my essay on King Lear, and not-so-fondly recalling the hideous music of the early-to mid-1980s, I decided to go online and take a closing look at the Billboard Top 100 Lists for that time frame. What a can of worms I opened! I got no further than the years 1981 and 1982, because I felt a bit queasy.
Some of the mildish nausea is due to conditions being what they are: Weeks of an overcast sky of smoky air — descending in sooty flakes — from the plume of smoke generated by grass fires that were caused by lightning-strikes to the north, south and west of my house. That sunless atmosphere of soot and smoke only added to the sense of oppressiveness from my melodic memories of aeons ago. I nonetheless performed an almost flawless military march of mnemonic music through swelteringly dry late August days and hot August nights.
A sore throat, scratchy eyes and slightly nauseated stomach persisted throughout my persistent work on this essay, but I’ve decided to chuck at least some of this bodily malaise up to my auditory-memory at work. The music of that era was oppressive. It was morosely manufactured and synthesized sound! Even the names of the bands were fabricated: Air Supply, Electric Light Orchestra, Raydio.
This sequel of Love Themes of the early 1980s has its own prequel song: “After the Love has Gone” by Earth, Wind and Fire. That band had the Sound of the 1970s down, and nothing was gonna change it — until Ronald Reagan came along!
But even Ronaldus Maximus couldn’t save the music industry in America from itself. Revive and re-invent The U.S. Economy, yes. Do his gigantic part in ending the Cold War — yes. As for American Music, it’s almost a tragic tale. For the rest of the country, it was Morning in America. For Radio-Land, the long march into darkness across the fruited plain had begun . . .
Oh, those early Reagan years!
Women, of all ages, were in the workplace, and they formed the dominant consumer market. I was a young adult at the time, and was struggling to prove my job skills and maturity-beyond-my-years, in spite of my girlish appearance. The women-over-30 were running away with all of the good jobs and good pay. I didn’t mind it, but, looking back, I can see where the Mrs, going-back-to-work after raising the kids, or going-to-work for the first time, she was Open Season where Boss-Man was concerned.
The American marketing ploy was to obviously pitch songs to the Working-Class Gal or Low-White-Collar Working Woman (the chick with a low-paying job, not a low-cut neckline). And those songs were being played ad nauseam on all of those pop radio stations in the America of the post-Carter recession. “Morning Train (Nine to Five)” by Sheena Easton and “9-to-5” by Dolly Parton are but two examples of the gal-on-the-go to the office of over-worked, underpaid women and overpaid, oversexed overlords.
The reality, however, was that a fairly large number of those women-over-30 were looking for a better deal than the construction-worker husband or casual-excavation boyfriend. There existed a subterranean scent of the female on the hunt for a better spouse. Thus, the working-woman theme songs were offset by the most lavishly overplayed fantasy songs of knights-in-shining armor, even though the loud brassy feminists of the 1970s had done their shrewish best to destroy chivalry, the code of the gentlemen, and the art of being a woman.
Hippie-dippie-trippie-quickie “free love” got done in by The Slow Hand.
The year 1981 regaled American women with “Lady” by Kenny Rogers; “Lady, You Bring Me Up” by the Commodores; “Endless Love,” the endless duet by Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie; “Queen of Hearts” and “Angel of the Morning” by Juice Newton; “Every Woman in the World” and “The One that You Love” by Air Supply. Those tunes epitomized the pie-in-the-sky clichéd romance vibes that were also being steadily pumped out on the tv: Dynasty and Dallas and Knots Landing and Falcon Crest, along with a seemingly endless stream of sappy mini-series that whetted the appetite of the love-starved “mature” woman who was chasing the illusions of love that really did not exist.
It did not occur to many “older” women entering that post-Carter-Recession workplace that the Boss was very often a wily wolf. Or maybe she did understand that reality, but thought that she, Woman of Experience, could change him!
The Older Woman was not always as perceptive as were the younger girls of my peer group who kept a sharp eye out for the sheep in wolf’s clothing and the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Perhaps it was a matter of having been on our own to survive that Nixon-Carter economy, but we younger broads knew better than to expect Boss-Man to marry his Devoted Secretary, or Dr. Kill-dear to propose that long-term commitment to Nurse McKiss, or Mr. Restaurateur to round-up the wedding ring for his favorite Dewy-Eyed Waitress.
The lame lyrics of this co-dependent epoch were creepily atrocious. No boundaries whatsoever! The need to be needed was getting filled, along with a modest paycheck, by “mature” women who transferred mothering skills to the business world. Nature was going berserk, and so were these dames who had found new flames at the water cooler!
I left Office-World because my work began to resemble that of an Office-Nanny, but those nurturing and nagging women were still there, working away, plugging in, plugging out of salaried-positions with benefits and retirement. Retirement later felt to most of these women as if they were being kicked out of their own house. They were suddenly Homeless!
It was all very weird. The post-Disco clothes, the gigolo films, the young-stud-fiction, the makeup (Doe Eyes of Death), the chunky gold-plated jewelry (neck chains were in!), the shoes with the killer stiletto heels, the driving, pulsating syntho-techno sounds that marginally mimicked music — the market penetration of mid-life women was deep. Those were the days of Department Store Queendom. Mall-mania happened every weekend!
Those Mature Babes were dressing up like Krystle Carrington, or donning Power Suits. All I wanted was the wardrobe of Della Street in the original Perry Mason! For retailers, it was a completely unexpected and un-forecasted windfall, that sudden surge of selling success after the dreadful decade of the Hippies — the dullard drugged-out cheapskates who declared it was all over at 30!
Wholesale, Wide-Scale Selling to the Older Woman thus began!
A #1 song by country singer Ronnie McDowell entitled “Older Women” made the case, in compellingly truthful terms, that Older Women — are Beautiful Lovers. One line of the lyrics melodically stated: “Everybody seems to love those younger women from eighteen on up to twenty-five. Well I love ‘em too, but I’m tellin’ you, Learnin’ how to really love, takes a little time.”
The Corporate Suits had those demographics covered! That future “femmie” market of pre-adolescent girls was already being eyed, and lasciviously, I might add.
Fem-vertising was designed around the concept of the Empowered Woman, the Independent Woman, the Woman of the World, in the center of the room, in the center of the world, her world. This strategy connived and contrived to get as many of those disposable dollars as possible from the purses, designer and designer knockoffs, of the Older Woman Bringing Home the Bacon. Except Bread-winner Husband, the much-maligned macho male, then found himself alone, very alone. He eventually found Another, a honey who didn’t want to make money, but wanted to make love. The soundtracks of those rocky romances entered the heart-break fray.
Long before the Trophy Wife, there was the Humble Younger Lover. That much reviled sweet young thing was, according to the piqued point of view of the Wife who had flown the coop: The Husband-Snatcher who had wormed, worked (ha!), weaseled, or even innocently stumbled, her way into the lovelorn life of this Abandoned Other-Half. After Philandering Wifey already found Future Hunk at the Cheatin’ Heart Health Club, and kicked her long-suffering working-class Hubby to the curb, she then felt outraged that some waitressing angel of mercy picked him up off the emotional floor while pouring him coffee at the Lonely-heart Cafe!
This helper-help-mate also needed to be needed, but her needs were to simply BE with Mr. Eighty-Sixed. She paired up with the cheerless past of a worker-bee guy, more than with the guy himself, who’d married a gal who somehow became another person, a totally different woman from the one he’d married— one he did not recognize.
The mournful fact is that the Newly Liberated Woman didn’t recognize herself either; but that thrill ride of playing Office Wife and Department Mommy was a powerful ego trip for her. Her love journey usually ended with strains (of more than one kind) by that “classic” rock group, Journey. Their songs were not necessarily aimed at the newly-arrived but misguided Career Woman, but cross-purpose music was all the rage in those days. Quite a few purposes were being crossed on those radio waves!
The Free-at-Last Older Woman got taken for a ride, perhaps even a few rides, and with each spin of the wheel of her fantasy ego-merry-go-round, she was serenaded by just about the most empty, trite lyrics and synthesized reverb’d sounds known to womankind — and mankind.
The weaponizing of avenging sex, The Revenge Affair, experienced its first all-out, full-frontal target marketing during this abominable era of women exploiting men. This record initiation into the battle of the sexes was broadcast on multi-media: tv, radio, films, and live, on-stage. The entire Chippendales lineup stripped as tit-for-tat. In the early-mid 1980s, hordes of husbands were being dumped after the kids were grown, and America became the epicenter of the Angry Woman. The Angry Man was supposed to just shut up. I’m not sure he did; he was simply ignored and he went fishing for fun in quietly un-advertised arenas.
Too many marriages of the 1960s did not survive the Misery Index of the 1970s, but too many women at that time were creating their own misery in marriages that, all of a sudden, felt too confining and oppressive. Liberation-Envy was cynically hawked to a group of chronologically maturing women who ought to have known better, but their emotional maturity had somehow lagged their life experiences of marriage, child-bearing, and child-rearing.
Women who came of age before the “societal unrest” of the bratty Baby Boomers had bought a false bill of goods from their mothers: the message that warned them not to give-it-away before marriage. Sell yourself for security, and hold out for those durable goods.
How love gets reduced to a ledger-sheet, and how a provider equates to a ball-and-chain, I am still trying to figure out.
After-the-Breakup, an incredible amount of emotional carnage needed to be cleaned up. The songs of the late-1980s were produced to soothe the souls of the heart-broken women who had supposedly loved and lost, and might never love again. “Country” made a comeback, partly because the entire recording industry had shrunk as a result of manufacturing those hair-sprayed and moussed hits to women flexing their financial muscles for the first time.
Mood-music was provided on the airwaves for the dumped spouse, the jilted lover, the spurned boyfriend and, on the flip side of the changing-partners coin, the betrayed wife, the done-wrong sweetheart, and the spiteful dragon-lady who turned out to be more dragon than lady. Splitsville Songs included the comforting tones of “The Winner Takes It All” by ABBA, “Passion” by Rod Stewart (a guy who re-defined the word, break-up), “Hungry Heart” by Bruce Springsteen, “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen, and, my all-time moaner favorite: “Crying’” by Don McLean.
When that song was being played so repeatedly on the radio, I was working as a word processor for the federal government. Two radios were positioned, one at each end of the spacious workroom, their volumes turned up and blaring to be heard over the hubbub of half a dozen scratchy digital printers. By mutual consent of the radio-owners, the tuned-in stations were always the same, alternating at times between County and Pop. Two men had been hired to word-process at stand-alone units, amidst the throng of female workers inputting text at their terminals. One guy was a stringer for The Sacramento Union; he worked part-time. The other was a full-timer, a very funny guy. When Don McLean worked up to his caterwauling finale, these two men began to howl along with him.
Such a sound only the male vocal chords could make, and the effect was hilarious. I am still unable to hear this version and not recall the caterwaul by Don and his dog-dudes helping him out (The original version, by Roy Orbison is, in my opinion, sublime.)
The decade of 1980s music did come to end, and the dreadfully mechanistic monotones of “music” of the 1990s began. I returned to listening to the melodies I’d much earlier listened to, on a brown box radio, during my adolescence: songs of the 1940s and 1950s. Some of this auditory work was in concert with musical research for writing a novel that would be entitled THE DAWN. At that time, however, I was not always aware of where those divine dulcet tones were leading me.
I also did not realize back then that the same parting of the ways had taken place among major segments of the listening public in America. Oldies Stations subsequently rose to prominence on radio stations playing hits of the 1940s, the mid-1950s, and the late-1950s to the mid-1960s. Any time frame would do just fine, as long as it pre-dated “rock” and its massacre of Motown, adult easy-listening, or pop, as in popular standards. If rock’n’roll had been detested by the adults of the 1950s, rock was loathed by adults of the 1960s, largely because that dreadful din put an end to any fun, or even pleasant, songs on the radio.
The revival of traditional country music during the late 1980s to early 1990s was exciting, but short-lived. Basically, the Corporate Suits and Demographic Experts killed country music. It went Hollywood, and that move, during the 1990s, was most definitely suicidal for any entertainment industry.
The over-paid, under-talented yes-people decided during that decade to peddle an unholy mess of manufactured sounds to teens and pre-teens in chopped-up, phonied-up focus-grouped socio-economic categories. The Older Women of the 1980s, a fast-money market, if ever there was one, had been chasing illusions in those mawkishly contrived songs. The Pre-Women of the 1990s fell for illusions of illusions broadcast to a rapidly-shrinking radio audience, ghoulishly peddled by the Suits to increasingly smaller and smaller audio markets. The productions were now Images more than Voices. The studio-assembled, techno-pop-generated sounds did not even require real musicians or — real singers.
Two words summarize the abysmally schlocky schlock: Milli Vanilli.
Cross-over hits were rendered unheard of — there was no music to cross over to, and no music to cross over from. There wasn’t even a river to cross! This sliced-and-diced “business” model of boringly meaningless drum-machine-syncopated noise remains stuck in a very weary, very dreary, sluggish, witless, melody-less groove that markets digitized tones to pre-teens.
This demise of real music began with those dim-witted twits who ran the discs down to digital dust that went with the wind! However did such an ill wind wage war on music?
I mentioned this lament to Dear Husband: When a big chunk of manufacturing labor in America was out-sourced, beginning in the mid-1990s, one consequence was an ever-shrinking blue-collar market for music.
Barista songs, anyone?
Dear Husband smirked, then grinned. And then he tried to suppress a laugh. Finally, he coughed up these facts:
“There is a station on Sirius XM for those songs you want to forget. It’s called Yacht Rock.” The kind of rock that doesn’t rock the boat! It’s smooth. (Get it?)
And so, in the resilient spirit of all bad things, coming to an end, I offer this finale of a musical sampler of the moods for Fully-Grown Adults who’d had to endure the bumpy ride that was the year of 1981. Followed only by 1982, the year when the break-up really got going!
1981: “Love on the Rocks” by Neil Diamond, “Take It on The Run” by REO Speedwagon, “The Break-Up Song” by the Greg Kihn Band, and, ah, yes, “Whip It” by Devo.
1982: “Physical” by Olivia-Newton John; “Hurts So Good” John Cougar (before he attached the Mellancamp); “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell; “Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash; “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” by Hall and Oates; “The Other Woman”, the infidelity anthem of the year, by Ray Parker, Jr.; “You Could Have Been With Me” by Sheena Easton; and “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle” by Deniece Williams.
It was gonna take a miracle to get over all of that Hit-Parade moaning, but I think I did it; and I think a lot of other people did too. We’ll try to forget about Flashdance, the welder by day, dancer by night, in Pittsburgh, that rusting rust belt, where the owner of the steel mill falls in love . . .with this aspiring ballerina who somehow excels at exotic dancing.
An entire third sequel could handle the ticking of the musical clock — past those profound lyrics, “Let me hear your body talk”, and on to those few magical moments of Whitney Houston, while we try evermore to ignore the painful wish fulfillments of Madonna. The advent of Soft Rock, oxymoronic and just plain moronic, whispered the awful truth that Hard Rock had blasted out too many eardrums. The Millennium then showed up, and the moaning started all over again, this time with writhing, squatting, jerking, and pole dancing without a pole — and Hit Songs performed by Auto-Tune!
It’s an automatic loser where real music is concerned.
As for me, I am heading out of the chokingly ash-filled air and advancing toward the pristine purity of Wi-Fi Hi-FI! My daytime skies may be dark, but wherever there is good music, there is abundant light.
Stay tuned — the sequel to this sequel is in the works, though it’s not yet in the audiophile-can!