1979: A Most Bull***t Year

1979 was, in certain respects, a bullshit year in which to be born.

I’m sure there were plenty of interesting things happening in the world, I don’t really know. I was zero. I think The Clash put out London Calling? That’s something. 

Let’s back up.

There are those of us who define ourselves by the pop culture we love and grew up with.

These, by the way, are not always the same thing. 

To wit: I love The Beatles. They were ten years broken up when I was born in the aforementioned, possibly bullshit year of 1979.

Over many subsequent years (that, incidentally, I describe in breezy, winning prose here, here and here) I became a Beatles fan. They were, as the saying goes, the family I chose. 

But part of the deal with formative pop culture is that you are born into it. As with your real family, you have no choice in the matter.

So, if we can assume that 10 is a reasonable age for a child to come online, culturally speaking (I realize this milestone is probably reached far earlier nowadays), those of us born in 1979 became culturally “aware” in 1989.

Which brings me to the bullshit part. 

We were a generation that grew up with hand-me-downs.

Leftovers.

Generation Sequel. 

Consider–as we must, I assure you–the case of Ghostbusters II, released in the summer of 1989.

When we look at the hysterics over the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot while keeping in mind the actual timeline of the franchise’s existence, what we see is–well, first of all, a bunch of dorks with nothing better to do–but also a bunch of dorks rallying around the memory of a movie they are too young to actually know firsthand.

You may have grown to love Ghostbusters. It may be your chosen family, but if you came into the material world in 1979 or later, the family you were born into had Vigo The Master of Evil sitting at the head of the table, a river of slime running beneath it and Bobby Brown providing the dinner music. 

Trying to battle my boys? That’s not legal!

To quote Daniel Kaffee, any attempt to prove otherwise is futile ‘cuz it just ain’t so.

The list goes on and on.

My first exposure to The Beach Boys? “Kokomo.” George Harrison? “I Got My Mind Set On You.”

We showed up at the party too late. All the cool kids had gone home.

Yes, Al Jardine is wearing velcro shoes

Lethal Weapon–totemic buddy cop movie, right?

Right.

Cool, cool, cool. Tight, tight, tight.

The frames foremost in my mental picture show, however, involve a dude getting beheaded by a surfboard, Danny Glover taking the most perilous deuce of all time, and–do I have this right? Mel Gibson…ending…apartheid…?

I recently read a review of Gremlins II. Turns out it was a film bursting with absurdism, self-parody and metatextual reference, an overstuffed commentary on sequels and the Hollywood machine itself. 

Guess how much of that 11 year-old Patrick clocked? 

Sure, I had seen Gremlins, but the fact is, it wasn’t formative. I was too young to process it and understand it as a film significant enough to spawn a self-aware sequel. 

This next one is painful for me to admit.

The Karate Kid.

One of the greatest.

One of my all time favorites.

It came out in 1984.

I was five.

Guess which movie I was just old enough to see in the theater? 

That’s right…

So yes, I eventually assimilated the crane kick as the go-to move in all playfighting endeavors. But I didn’t own it. I owned the goofy drum punch thing. 

We share your disbelief, Daniel-San

No one wants to be born into the goofy drum punch. You want to be born into the crane kick. 

But these things are not ours to decide. 

Nevertheless, being born in ‘79 did have its advantages. 

1989–our established demarcation point–was also the year Batman came out and it was a monster; my first memory of movie as brand. The bat symbol was everywhere.

(Ever the iconoclast, I eschewed the ubiquitous Batman T-shirt and opted, the following summer, for a rather less-successful attempt at movie as brand, i.e. a Dick Tracy t-shirt. I did, indeed, look like a Dick.)

Time has not made it cooler

The first R-rated movie I ever saw in a theater? Predator (thanks, Dad!). Not a bad start. 

And of course, there is Grunge. The one legitimate artistic movement my generation can definitively claim.

I was not nearly an alienated enough kid to go full Nirvana (I was wearing Dick Tracy t-shirts for Christ’s sake) but it was clear, even then, that this was something real and it was something that was ours

Kurt Cobain got it. He too had been born into a bullshit world. 

And speaking of music, there’s the matter of Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen.

People my age love to claim these guys as their own. Well, maybe not Michael so much anymore, buuuuuut…(tugs at shirt collar, wipes sweat from brow). 

Either way, I call…you guessed it: bullshit. 

Born In The USA came out in 1984. We were five. You didn’t get Bruce when you were five. You had never worked in a factory. None of your dreams had been crushed. Stop fronting. 

And ditto Michael. Thriller came out in ‘82! We were three! Bad came out in ‘87 and that was a big one, but I think there’s some retconning going on in terms of personal connection to Michael’s music. 

I can’t help but think of Dave Chappelle’s great (though now maybe problematic?) joke about Michael Jackson’s young accusers being the wrong age to be MJ fanatics:

“This kid is 10 years-old, he don’t remember Thriller! The fuck you want to meet Michael Jackson for, honestly? That’s ridiculous, that’d be like if I’m dying in two weeks and go ‘Oh, mama, get me in a room with Chubby Checker!’” 

Now Dave Chapelle, there’s one we can claim as our own. We were 21 or so when his first great hour, Killin’ Them Softly dropped, and just a few years older when Chapelle’s Show arrived. 

Today’s kids get older, surlier, weirdly jacked, by turns sage, by turns homophobic Dave.

The wheel goes round and round.

6 thoughts on “1979: A Most Bull***t Year

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