1980-1989: Pop Goes the Decade

“Everyone hanging out on St. Marks used to look like a Dr. Seuss character. Now St. Marks looks like a movie version of St. Marks. The East Village is turning into a giant mall.”


Car 54: Wherever You Are, Stay There

Eddie Gorodetsky spent most of the last decade collecting comic books, buying records, and making people laugh. In person, Eddie is not a man of modest proportions, and neither are his accomplishments: his comic book library (a word that perhaps does not suggest the Leaning Towers of illustrated erudition that line his East Village loft) long ago outnumbered his record library, which he underestimates at 10,000. 

His comedy-writing résumé is similarly excessive: it includes SCTV (Second City Television), Late Night with David Let­terman, Saturday Night Live, film and TV specials for Penn and Teller, and Night Music (formerly known as Sunday Night). Most recently, he has conned HBO into hiring him to be the chief writ­er for their new 24-hour, seven-day-a-­week Comedy Channel. Eddie Goro­detsky, 32, is a bonafide pop culture arbiter, and while some people may recall that he once worked oh-so-briefly for HBO’s rival, MTV, as a videojock, a less­er known feat is his narration on Peter Wolf’s album Lights Out of a song entitled “Mars Needs Women.”

Late one recent afternoon he cut work and, like a homing pigeon, headed for the downtown Tower Records. It was here, he said, where he could effectively summa­rize pop culture in the ’80s. Definitively stout, with a receding hairline, an ear­ring, and wearing a black leather jacket adorned with a red star and a Warner Brothers logo pin, Gorodetsky has a rum­bling voice that is not quite so gentle on the ears as, say, an early-morning sanita­tion truck.

He points to Tower’s largest display, which is dominated by some new but mostly repackaged work by Rod Stewart, Carole King, Billy Joel, Steve Miller, Eric Clapton, and a singles collection by the Rolling Stones: “What is this — ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth?’ Everybody on these racks is either old or inoffensive. Kids buy this stuff and they get a false sense of security because they think they’re getting the musical version of the World Book Encyclopedia!”

Picking up the latest issue of Rolling Stone, he glances at the cover and says witheringly, “Tom Cruise. He’s Erik Es­trada with credibility.” Then, after nearly fooling a bleary-eyed cashier, who asks him the price of the magazine at the bottom of his pile of acquisitions — “I hear it’s free with any purchase,” says Gorodetsky sweetly — he repairs to the Great Jones Cafe to rail against ’80s pop culture and its evil creation: the CD.

Real People Listen to Records

CDs ARE SO precious! They’re smaller, and they come in a container called a jewel case. Every time I buy one I feel like a mynah bird — you know how mynah birds are distracted by anything shiny on the ground?

People say CDs sound better than the records do. But that’s like saying, “Well, you hear ‘Satisfaction’ now and it’s what it really sounded like in the studio!” Well, the studio version is not what it sounded like. I mean, when It’s a Wonderful Life was shot in the studio, the people were in color!

CDs remove context. Twenty years from now, when people want to hear the hit of record, so to speak, they won’t hear on the CD that spiky, trebly guitar on “Satisfaction” that came out of a little speaker! But that’s what it sounded like when it came out over the AM radio you had shoved underneath your pillow!

Broadcast Blues

THERE ARE TWO kinds of radio right now. One plays New Age, you know, Zamfir, the Master of the Pan Flute, which is just lilting, melodic Muzak with better press. The other plays classic rock. A lot really were great songs 20 years ago, but as Keith Richards said during the last Stones tour, you can’t have old songs without new songs.

And no one is willing to play new songs. There are 100 great rock records that came out last year that no one will ever hear. There’s no place for the gener­al market that plays new songs. And so the marketing people have found a way to make you buy your old records again — ­and that’s what CDs are all about. The age of complacency. Sit back, push the remote control, and you don’t even have to get up to change the record.

Glenn Miller, Meet Jimmy Page

THOSE DAMN BABY boomers, of which I’m a part, refuse to grow old, or even grow up. They’ve become eternal adoles­cents: “We liked Bewitched, you’ll like Bewitched!” People are lulled into such a sense of complacency by constantly see­ing the familiar. What “Stompin’ at the Savoy” was for our parents, now it’s like, “Oh, honey! It’s ‘Kashmir’ by Led Zeppelin!”

Every generation has its own Glenn Miller, but this generation won’t let it alone. It’s as if our parents had said, “Oh, you kids don’t know anything about mu­sic, so we’re only going to let the radio stations play Glenn Miller, not Elvis or the Beatles, and we’re going to keep on making only Glenn Miller records!” We’ve turned into a pop culture gestapo. We’re not letting teenagers make their own mistakes, or have their own rock ’n’ roll or TV.

And that’s why I hear kids at Tower Records saying, “I’m buying Rod Stew­art’s records because I like Rod Stewart and my mother likes Rod Stewart.”

If everyone’s sitting around the telly watching the new Phil Collins video, that’s really sad. I mean, shouldn’t you be staying out late and listening to live mu­sic and making your parents worry? I’m not advocating juvenile delinquency exactly, and I’m all for Good Relationships Between Parents and Children, but you know, parents are parents and friends are friends.

“It’s 4 a.m. here on WHIP. Do you care where your parents are?”

I’M NOT GOING to let college radio off the hook. Listening to college radio is like being a Freemason. It’s like a little secret society and you almost always feel like an outsider when you’re listening to it unless you’ve mastered all the secret handshakes and catchphrases. Of course there are ex­ceptions. But mostly they preach to the already converted. Six songs by the Con­nells and then the Reivers. Who cares?

From show to show, it’s so splintered and incoherent, and caters only to narrow interests: it’s like choosing electives in college. “I’m majoring in Power Pop!” or “I’m majoring in Velvet Underground­–Inspired Drug Songs!” People fall for col­lege radio being Hipper Than Thou.

But in its own way, that’s complacency too. College radio says, “We’ve turned our backs on mainstream culture and we’re just going to go further out.” But if you really want to turn people on to good music, ok, play “Kashmir” — and then play a brand-new record they’ve never heard. Give people a way to get into it­ — don’t be such a self-important ghetto.

Roomful of Sweat

THE WORLD HAS become style over con­tent. Everyone has access to the same technology, on records and on TV, and they feel obligated to use it. So every­thing looks like a sports commercial or a Macy’s-Bamberger’s ad. Everything is be­ing art-directed to death.

Strip that away! Get rid of the guy playing alone in a room with his sequenc­ers! Give me a record where two people look across the room at each other… they exchange a sly moment with their eyes… and they speed the beat up just a hair there… that moment, that urgency. You never really get that from a machine.

I want to hear a roomful of sweat, that feeling where you know people are really working together. To me, so much enter­tainment feels like processed meat.

Grandmaster Rap

BUT THE SAME technology is what makes rap music great. That’s what makes it folk art. The sampling, all that, you don’t have to be a musician to do it. The idea is that it can make every person an artist and it’s the only way to get out of certain places, be it a ghetto or being the kid in high school that everyone made fun of.

Rap is close to the blues. It’s a bunch of street-smart guys bragging about their love affairs, and small independent labels selling the records from the trunks of their cars, waiting to be ripped off by big business, so that hey! all white music will sound like it in 10 years. Rap music is the only thing with a breath of life, and that’s why you hear so little of it on the radio.

This Life Is a Reenactment of a Made-for-TV Movie

EVERYONE HANGING out on St. Marks used to look like a Dr. Seuss character. Now St. Marks looks like a movie version of St. Marks. To a certain extent, the East Village is turning into a giant mall. Over by the NYU dorms at 9th and Third, there’s a whole tidy neon strip with a pizzeria, a Ben and Jerry’s… these kids might as well be in Idaho!

Don’t Mind Me, I’ll Just Take a Little Nap in My Rocking Chair

I WOULD LIKE someone to kick me in the butt and say, “No, this record is selling more than Elvis ever sold and it’s loud and annoying!” Or maybe it’ll be some­thing quiet and weird that I just can’t get a handle on. That would be great! But instead it’s like, “Oh, calm down, you want to go listen to McCartney at Madison Square Garden?”

I would love the luxury of thinking of myself as an old fart. Of sitting around and thinking, “Aw, those were the days.” I’m saying, “Let these days be the days for someone else, and let those days end!”

A Reconsideration and Appreciation of My Mother the Car

PEOPLE HAVE BEEN complaining about commercial TV for 30 years; there’s noth­ing new about that. But you know what’s happening now? Cable is saying, “Remember those shows we thought were really bad in the ’60s? Well, now we’re going to show them to you again, all night long.” That’s what Nick at Night is all about. Cable was supposed to be an alter­native, but it’s more and more like com­mercial TV. And TV has just become a mixture of titillation and nostalgia.

The Way We Weren’t

EVERYONE WANTS this nurturing thing. But it gets reduced to pop psychology­ — they’re going to change our national an­them to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

I want to tell people, “Contrary to what you think, there are no easy answers and life is sometimes hard.” Save a moment in your day to laugh, really laugh, not as a conditioned response, but because some­thing strikes you as funny. But don’t think for a minute that you shouldn’t worry and things are going to be all right.

The older that people get, the more settled in their ways they become because they’ve climbed to the top of their moun­tain. And their friendships change from being about the thrill of discovery to be­ing about sharing past experiences. That’s how friendships are run now: “I remember this, do you remember this?”

That’s why you have too many people in a bar singing the theme of The Brady Bunch. They manage to turn all new ex­periences into reflections of things past. That’s why so many single guys in their mid-thirties have such a hard time dealing with a woman. Being intimate means you have to change. These guys just want to sit back in their chairs and push the remote control button.

Past Imperfect

OLDIES SHOULD BE an inspiration, but to create something new, not to be the last thing you ever hear. It’s the same for all kinds of pop culture — books, TV, films. You should have a very healthy respect for older stuff: Picabia, Yves Tan­guy, Budd Schulberg, Charlie Parker, Bob and Ray — thank God they’re all there. But you build on that. You don’t ignore the past and you don’t try to make the past all that ever existed.

Like a Prayer

GEORGE MICHAEL is the Bobby Rydell of the ’80s: good-looking but ultimately sexless. Madonna is the Shangri-Las of the ’80s. “I Can Never Go Home Any­more” is as much about teen angst as “Papa Don’t Preach.” I like Madonna. She’s sexy and exciting, but she’s an obvi­ously manipulated media image, and she’s not going to change the world.

I hope something comes along and kicks America’s butt, something that catches the world’s imagination. I’m still waiting for a Cultural Messiah. ■


From Counterculture to Culture: The Meaning of the ’80s
by Kathy Acker

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 4, 2020