1983: A Fateful and Faithful Beginning

(For an explanation of this year-by-year cultural exploration, check out this introductory blog post)

I just missed out on being born in one of those easy-to-remember, apt to be culturally compared years when I came into the world late in September 1983, missing out by just three months on a whole lifetime of Orwellian comparisons. According to most generational groupings, 1982 is the cutoff for being a Snake Person, but let’s be honest. If you call me a Snake Person, I will poke you in the eye.

I prefer the generational designation determined by Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother fame. He calls it the Ewok Line. The line exists exactly ten years before the release of Return of the Jedi, dividing the world into two camps: those who like Ewoks and those who hate them. This is a generational division I can get behind.

Not only do I love Ewoks, as an adult with multiple film-related degrees, I cinematically evaluate the last chapter of the original Star Wars trilogy as the best. This is sacrilege, I realize, but Empire Strikes Back is far and away the worst movie to me. It can’t exist without the other two. No one can just watch Empire and have a satisfying cinematic experience. The movie starts in media res, there is no real begin. Nor is there much of an end. It is just a couple hours of myth- and world-building with no real payoff for your time and attention other than the Darth Vader reveal. I mean, half the movie is Luke running around a planet with only a Muppet to keep him company in what amounts to intergalactic Cast Away.

I feel this way about the middle chapter of most everything. The Two Towers is the worst Lord of the Rings movie, The Lost World is the worst Jurassic Park, Temple of Doom is the worst Indiana Jones, and The Matrix Reloaded is the crappiest of the three crappy Matrix movies. There are a couple of exceptions like Toy Story 2, Back to the Future II, and Godfather II (which doesn’t count because Godfather III doesn’t exist), but by and large my beef remains the same: if this movie can’t stand on its own as a quality piece of entertainment, I can’t possibly call it a good movie.

Return of the Jedi though, that is a satisfying piece of cinema. It begins by getting the gang back together with an escape caper, throws in a little romance, a little family, a lot of action, and an uprising by the most cuddly adorable bunch of rebels you’ve ever seen. I’ve spoken before about my contrarian love for Ewoks, but really Stinson hit the nail on the head: I saw this movie on the wrong side of the Ewok Line. I may not be a Snake Person, but I am definitely a sucker for Wicket.

The movies of 1983 may appeal to my youthful side, but the TV of 1983 goes straight to the heart of my old soul. The year of my birth was the end of one of my all-time favorite shows, the sitcom Taxi. Technically the show ended in June of that year, three years before I was born, but since Danny DeVito didn’t collect his final Emmy for portraying Louie DePalma until the fall of ’83, I’m going to go ahead and count it. While many sitcoms of today are praised for their sophistication and nuance, most of the shows are unabashed comedies with all of the sentimentality of the 80s and 90s zapped out of them, leaving the schmaltzy stuff for dramedies to handle. This was a show that could simultaneously be hilarious and heart breaking though. I mentioned recently Elaine Nardo’s mental breakdown. The incredible pair of episodes called Memories of Cab 804 bucks generic sitcom conventions with a series of vignettes featuring each cabbie and their favorite or most memorable Cab 804 experience. It is a remarkable bending of form with some unexpected and hilarious moments, particularly in DeVito’s section. It also features some sensational guest appearances from the likes of Mandy Patinkin and Tom Selleck.

The oscillation between pointed and poignant will always be the defining factor of my favorite TV shows. Sure, I think sentimentality can be manipulative and base, but I think shows that refuse to indulge in even a moment of emotion are cop outs.

And if you’re doubting whether or not the show is really funny because old stuff can’t be funny, just check out Jim Ignatowski
(Christopher Lloyd) taking his driver’s test:

As for music, this is probably a good time to preface this very important fact: I have terrible taste in music. I like very random bands. Many of the bands I enjoy are guilty pleasures for some that I thoroughly enjoy in a wholly unironic way (Haven’t we all seen Air Supply play live?). Then there are the bands that I came to long after they were popular. Having been raised on oldies music by my parents, it was totally normal for young me to be obsessed with Elvis or the Beach Boys or Johnny

As I progressed into my adolescence, I became infatuated with 80s music thanks to movies like Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and The Wedding Singer. I don’t know if it was the result of these movies or just a remarkable case of happenstance, but as I neared the end of high school, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin became an anthem of sorts for our generation. This was long before The Sopranos used the song for its series finale and a good decade before Glee made this one of the most popular downloads of the aughts.

A Bustle article does point to The Wedding Singer as the modern movie that sparked the song’s comeback, but I feel like it is more than just the decidedly 80s feel of this song. When I think of the songs my friends and I belted in the car in the years each of us learned to drive, they had one thing in common. They were all power ballads, songs with a chorus that repeats after the bridge, building momentum each time around, which is the key to any overdramatic teenaged girl’s heart. In my youth it was Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”. In the age of boy band pop and the rise of punk that embodied my teenage years, there weren’t that many rock ballads to choose from. I remember Eve 6’s “Here’s to the Night” and the New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give”, but really it was those songs of the 80s and the occasional one-hit wonder that blared on our stereos and we belted as loud as we could.

We were also small town girls, living in lonely worlds as we sat around Lexington, Kentucky waiting for the day we headed off to college and bigger and seemingly better things. Once there though, this song reached the point of being overplayed long before it was on The Sopranos, that I tended to write off Journey altogether and instead spent my freshman year listening to the much-maligned Chicago in my dorm room with Heather Demetrios.

Before Glee even made it on the air, I knew I would be watching it. I have been a fan of the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, ever since he launched the show Popular back in 1999. The creative mind plus the concept bearing a more than passing resemblance to my own high school experience in a performing arts high school meant Glee was right up my alley. It also meant I wasn’t surprised at all that Don’t Stop Believin was the anthem of the New Directions Glee Club, since it was our high school anthem too. But it was another song that struck me in the first season —Faithfully.

I am and always will be a sucker for a good cover song (there is so much more to explore covering a song than remaking a movie imo) that this song, which first came out in 1983, came to my attention a quarter of a century later when Lea Michele belted it alongside the late Corey Monteith.

As a girl who spent her life on the road during most of her 20s, this whimsical tune about a couple in love that has weathered the ups and downs, the new towns, and the old problems resonated with me both as something I certainly wanted in my life, but as an example of how the lesser-knowns and the B-sides can often offer so much more than the long-lasting singles.

I cite the episode of Glee with the Journey medley at the end of Season 1 as one of my favorite performances along with the Valerie medley at regionals the following season. I don’t pick Journey and the pilot or the Britney episode or the other obvious contenders, and I admire when fellow fans eschew the obvious as well. I was born to prefer the not-so-beaten path in 1983 and it is a preference I will faithfully stand by for the rest of my life.


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