It was generic. It was kind of lame. And it was everywhere. From the late 1970s until the late 1980s, “Corporate Rock” ruled the airwaves. But what, exactly, was “Corporate Rock”? Join me as I plumb the depths of middling rock radio with a playlist of mid-tempo rockers, power ballads, and the ultimate Corporate Rock song.
Corinne Burns is the teen girl who fronts a band who is scraping to make something of themselves. Ellen Aim is a pop star about to soar into the stratosphere until she’s kidnapped by a biker gang. What do they have in common? They were both characters in 1980s films who were played by Diane Lane. Join me as I look at 1982’s Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains and 1984’s Streets of Fire, and then talk about how someone needs to complete this film “trilogy.”
When you start reading comic books decades into a character or even an entire publisher’s existence, how do you go back and find out all of the stories that got them to that point, especially when it’s 1991, you’re fourteen, and you don’t have money, a car, or the Internet at your disposal? Well, join me as I talk about how I learned about Marvel and DC’s histories through their “official” history accounts: The History of the DC Universe, Marvel Saga, The History of the Marvel Universe, and The Other History of the DC Universe. Plus: listener feedback!
It’s the second of a two-part crossover with Required Reading With Tom and Stella. Last week, part one was our discussion of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. This time around, we’re looking at a movie that took The Bard’s comedy, updated it, and placed it squarely in the teen comedy genre: She’s the Man. Join me and Stella as we look at this classic Amanda Bynes flick!
So I’m sitting here on the second snow day of a week where I was supposed to return to teaching after a two-week winter break. I’m not exactly upset or stressed about any of that, to be honest, especially since I was lucky enough to not lose power and aside from two large branches that fell off of a tree, there’s been no huge damage to anything. Meanwhile in my closet sits the sweater I got for Christmas and was going to wear when we got back on Tuesday.
That was always a weird flex when we were in school, wasn’t it–showing off the new clothes you got for Christmas, as if you were reminding everyone of the prowess you displayed back in September when you rolled up to first period wearing what your parents had taken you to buy at the mall at the end of summer. At least, that is, if you were one of those kids who cared about such things that you had to make showing off a priority.
I’d say that this was at its worst when I was in junior high school. Oh sure, it was there in high school, college, and even during my time in the work force, but something about the insecurity everyone was feeling during those years combined with the Lord of the Flies-like pressure to come out on top (in what competition, I don’t know) meant that even when you didn’t realize it, you were constantly trying to be noticed. I’ve done enough of a post-mortem on those days to know that there were shirts I wore or stuff that I owned that I was hoping would help me score cool points (again, in what competition, I don’t know) but usually went unnoticed or got me laughed at.
So yeah, I wasn’t successful at showing off. But I was pretty observant about how people were successful at it, a combination of the right stuff, good timing, and nonchalant attitude. I could acquire the first, might learn the second, but would never have the third. Plus, they’d earned that attitude, emerging in fifth and sixth grade from the primordial sludge into the higher echelons of cliquedom while dorks like me were still completely clueless.
Sounds ridiculous? Well, you have to consider how they’d been practicing almost daily since we were kids. When I think back on my time in the public school system, especially in my hometown, Sayville, kids were always showing off, as my students used to say six or seven years ago, their swag. Let’s look at five of them.
The shirt of a “cool” brand with extra points if you were repping a “cool” local business. This started in late elementary school and wound its way through junior high school and may not have applied everywhere, but definitely was a big deal in a town like mine, which had a full-on Main Street and a number of successful local businesses that weren’t just gift shops and drug stores. Being that Sayville had one of the three large Fire Island Ferries terminals, we had shops that catered to the beachgoer. One was Summer Salt, which was a store that I guess you could call a “beachwear boutique” and that carried merchandise for just about everyone.
You’d see a few kids in the hall–usually girls–with pastel-colored Summer Salt T-shirts from time to time and they were enough to garner a momentary turn of the head, but I’d say that if you were walking around in a shirt you bought from Bunger–the skate and surf shop on Main Street–then you were a heck of a lot cooler. My hometown had a deep skateboarding and surfing community (that often overlapped) and I’m pretty sure that Bunger (or “Bunger’s” as we called it) was where they got their Vision Street Wear and Sex Wax T-shirts as well as the store’s own shirts, which at least a few people could be spotted in the hallways wearing. In fact, the store was so cool that I remember there was a painted mural on the wall of the purple side of the junior high cafeteria that showed a bunch of kids hanging out in front of the store’s entrance. That’s cache.
While Summer Salt went out of business years ago, Bunger is still in town, so for all I know there are kids walking the halls of Sayville Middle School (after 30 years, it’s still weird calling it that) in Bunger shirts, perhaps wearing their parents’ vintage ones from the early Nineties.
A Gap bag for your gym or swim clothes. Keeping with clothing, Gap was ubiquitous by the time I started junior high school in the fall of 1989 and I don’t think I’d stop shopping there until maybe the early 2000s. And man, Gap antique washed jeans are still my favorite jeans of all time. ANYWAY, I’m not talking about Gap clothes here because tons of people went to the Sun Vet, South Shore, or Smith Haven malls for school clothes; I’m talking about the navy-colored plastic drawstring bag with “Gap” on the front. On the days when you had to bring a change of clothes to school–you were switching out the stank-nasty mess that was in your gym locker or your gym class was at the junior high pool that day (yes, we had a pool at the junior high and there was a swimming unit in gym class … it’s still too traumatic for me to write about)–you peacocked a little by bringing those clothes in one of these bags.
And by “little”, I mean that this was a minor flex, a reminder that you fit in, even though the reason you brought the bag with you was because your parents had the bag lying around the house and it was sturdy enough to endure being dragged from classroom to classroom while containing a damp bathing suit and a towel. Plus, you could tell that a person walking around school with a Gap bag was trying to show off by the way they carried it, making it incredibly obvious. And yet? That shit worked for some people (read: people who weren’t me).
A Friendly’s bag for your lunch. Speaking of bags that were flexes, this went as far back as elementary school in the Eighties. Sayville has a Friendly’s and that place has been in business for at least the 44 years I’ve been alive, and unless that company completely goes under, I can’t imagine it ever closing. Too many post-school function sundaes were eaten there in my lifetime and I’ve had more than a few fateful meals with friends and girlfriends there (when, that is, we weren’t at a diner). But back in the day before the chain’s ice cream was available in supermarket freezer sections, Friendly’s (which was still just “Friendly”) did a steady take-out business. You could walk in, grab a rectangular half gallon from the self-serve freezer, pay, and leave. Sometimes, your parents even sprung for hot fudge (which was freaking amazing). When they bought the ice cream, the person behind the counter put it in a thick paper bag with “Friendly” on front. And since that ice cream was going in the freezer when you returned home, you could ask your parents to pack your next day’s lunch in the Friendly’s bag and not your lunchbox. Oh sure, that Voltron lunchbox was mint, but a Friendly’s bag? People noticed.
Drawing the “S” correctly. You know the “S.” We all know the “S.” Believe it or not, even my students know the “S.” Now, it’s not really hard to draw the “S”, but you’d be surprised at how easy it was to screw up, so that meant the really cool people could draw it really well.
This drawing is an old graffiti-style S that was, at one point, incorrectly attributed to the Stussy brand (and some will tell you was a Stussy logo at one point, although I think that’s some sort of Berenstein/stain Bears Mandela Effect stuff), and was everywhere throughout the country’s schools back in the day. That’s pretty amazing considering that the Internet didn’t exist and it wasn’t something in a television show’s logo. It was just … all over the place.
That being said, it was really popular to draw on notebooks and binders where I grew up because the name of the town was Sayville and people would basically draw the “S” and “ayville” after it.
Because of course we did.
I think the “S” was passé by the time high school rolled around, and I saw more people writing the logos of bands they were into on notebooks, desks, or lockers than the ubiquitous character. But I’m sure that if you asked anyone from my generation to draw it from memory, they could do it in a heartbeat.
The Bic four-color pen. Need I say more? If you had this in elementary school, you were a god. Bic introduced this pen–a retractable pen where you could choose between blue, black, green, and red–in 1970 and it was still going strong through the Eighties (and still is–you can buy them on Amazon). These were especially powerful before the fourth grade when we were mostly using pencils to complete our work and hadn’t transitioned to pens.
Someone having this in class was as if they’d brought a toy to school. Everyone wanted to try it. Furthermore, it brought a new dimension to pen fidgeting because you weren’t just clicking the pen on and off, you were clicking between four colors. And like I said, we were all still using pencils, so having a pen in, like, the third grade was so cool.
These may not exactly be Lacoste sweaters, Gucci bags or rolling up to the first day of your senior year in a brand-new BMW, but they definitely did their job, and if I remember, I’ll try and notice what my kids are doing.
Without fail, every year, we take down the Christmas before on on New Year’s Day. Symbolically, it represents the fresh start that January brings, even if the rationale behind it is more practical and we just want to get all the crap put away before going back to school and work. It’s not an exciting activity either, unless you find spending a couple of house putting things back in boxes and then hauling heavy bins up the attic stairs exciting. But honestly, how could this be more exciting? It’s just putting away decorations.
Unless, however, you’re a Canadian music video channel. I give you the MuchMusic Tree Toss:
While I obviously didn’t grow up in Canada, Cablevision began carrying the channel sometime in the mid-1990s, giving us Long Island teenagers a welcome third option for getting music video content. And it couldn’t have come at a better time since VH-1 was still playing lighter fare, MTV had The Real World and Road Rules stuck on permanent rerun, and as the decade wore one would turn into a solid retro music channel* and the other a showcase for boy bands, teen pop princesses and faux-edgy nu metal.
I could go into everything I found cool about Much or all the bands I discovered because of it, but I’ll save that for a future podcast episode and focus on just the tree toss. I will say that the fact that Much had veejays broadcasting from a street-level studio who actually had personality (because, let’s face it, Carson Daly always looked like he was counting seconds on the clock and waiting for the check to clear) made the music video experience in Toronto seem so much cooler. Or maybe it’s because they were a lot like the MTV I remember going over to watch at my friends’ houses in junior high and high school (before my parents got cable). At any rate, tossing a used Christmas tree off of the studio’s roof seemed like the type of stupid that cooler, fun-loving people would want to do or that my friends and I were likely to try.
That’s because we sort of did.
While we never had the pleasure of throwing a Christmas tree off of a building, my college roommates and I did spend our sophomore year living on the eighth floor of a hi-rise apartment complex that our college had converted into a dorm. And right below the living room window of that eighth floor dorm room was a construction dumpster. I don’t know whose idea it was, but once we discovered that the window opened all the way out, we’d cap off a night of drinking by throwing bags full of empty beer cans out the window and into the dumpster.
It wasn’t the wanton destruction of property that you would expect from your average fraternity house, but it was something that probably would have gotten us into some sort of disciplinary trouble (okay, definitely) and may have even resulted in our ejection from campus housing (which was less likely). And I wouldn’t be writing about it if we did it one time and then moved on to games of quarters, around the world parties, and sneaking kegs into the dorm**. Instead, we decided to do this the nerdiest way possible, which was to have a procedure to prepare the bags for deployment and then track our throws on a poster we hung up in the dorm room kitchen.***
Trash throwing was strictly a late-night activity done usually on a weekend and very often after many beers–we had bought and drank the 30-pack of Icehouse, and we didn’t want our RA to find a garbage can full of empties in our room****. We had one of those huge Rubbermaid trash cans, the ones you would store in your garage, and used lawn and leaf bags for the trash. This was key because the volume the bag could hold combined with the bag’s thickness meant that the throw was more likely to be accurate and the bag would most likely stay intact upon arrival in the dumpster. And to ensure that the bag didn’t open up on the way down, my engineering-major roommate would reinforce the bag’s opening with duct tape. That way, there wasn’t any mess to clean up on the street below.
Preparing the bags was followed by lookout. We’d check the hallways for anyone who might get us in trouble (i.e., another floor’s RA doing rounds), then shut the lights off and look out across the building’s parking lot to see if we could see any campus security or passers-by. When given the all-clear, each of us would grab our bags and take turns tossing the trash.
Now, just as there was a specific preparation procedure, there was a technique to successfully landing a bag. We weren’t just chucking stuff out of an eighth-floor window for the fun of it; we were actually taking out the trash. If any of us missed the dumpster or the bag exploded and trash landed on the ground, a few of us would go downstairs and clean it up. The dumpster was about 14-16 feet long and 7-1/2 feet wide***** positioned perpendicular to the building. So we had a margin of error when it came to length but a tighter fit when it came to width.
A good throw, therefore, required finesse. You couldn’t just drop the trash because you risked it falling short of the dumpster, and you couldn’t heave it too hard because it might go too far forward or drift sideways. After all, this was a contest of precision and not strength, so what you had to do was hold the bag out in front of you using both hands, position it over the dumpster, and give it a quick shove as you let it go. This would send it forward just enough for it to float over the dumpster’s center and hopefully guaranteed a straight shot. Heavier bags were better because you could feel the force of the shove against their weight as opposed to the lighter bags, which often led to an overthrow. At least that’s what I found to be the case.
When the bag left your hand, it arced for a moment and seemed to hang in the air for a millisecond before it began the plunge. Sometimes, we’d hear the flapping of the plastic bag as it dropped; other times, there was a whoosh. But each time, there was the sound of impact, which would be a soft crash if the dumpster was full or an incredibly loud boom if it was empty. And if you listened closely enough, you could hear the cheers from the eighth floor.******
In fact, one of those incredibly loud booms nearly got us caught one night, as we threw a bag, shut the window, and a few moments later saw flashlights pointed in our direction. We all hit the deck and scattered to various corners of the dorm room as the phone started ringing. Despite being drunk and scared, I managed to sound completely baffled when someone from campus police mentioned things being thrown from our window and the front desk attendant reporting an explosion. While I was on the phone, another campus police officer knocked on the door and I heard my friend telling him the same thing, then inviting him in to take a look. I panicked for a moment and then got off the phone to see him checking out no evidence whatsoever–in the time it took for me to answer the phone and bumble my way through that conversation, my friend had put the screen back in the window, set up the display of empty beer bottles we kept along the windowsill, and hid everything else.*******
To bring this back to the MuchMusic Tree Toss, I was home on winter break during my senior year in December 1998 and channel surfing when I came upon Ed the Sock dressed in a tuxedo anchoring that year’s events. I was immediately transfixed–they weren’t going to do what I thought the were going to do, were they?
Oh, they were.
The crew–one of whom included Rick “The Temp” Campanelli, went up to the roof of the studio, positioned the tree on the ledge, and then tossed it over, setting the tree alight (and one year–either ’98 or ’99, almost took Rick’s face off). It would then land in the dumpster. Okay, if you watch the clip above, you know that it rarely actually made it into the dumpster. Then again, I can’t imagine that the Much crew put as much thought into the accuracy of their toss as we did our trash tossing. Had we been in charge, my roommate would have done the proper equations to compensate for the thrust of the pyrotechnics. Still, the motivation for the Tree Toss was obvious–we’ve got the time to fill, we’ve got nothing better to do, and the tree and the dumpster are there.
I am not sure when Much stopped the Tree Toss–the last one I remember seeing was probably 2000. I did get the channel in Arlington for a while, but it was only at certain times of the day and was gone pretty quickly. The same was true for trash tossing–after the police incident, we didn’t toss it very much except for a “last hurrah” right before spring semester finals. The following year, we were in a different building without any accessible dumpsters.
But I did get the chance to go to my old dorm room one day in my junior year when one of the residents called me to say that they had received some mail with my name on it. I headed over, thanked them for hanging onto the mail for me, and before I left, I pointed to the dumpster window and mentioned that it opened out all the way.
“Oh, we know,” one of them told me.
“Nice,” I replied.
* That is, when VH-1 wasn’t playing Shania Twain videos between reruns of the Shania Twain episode of Behind the Music.
** I’d held on to the box for my computer’s monitor and we quickly discovered that it fit a pony keg. One roommate’s fake ID got us the beer; the box got us past campus security.
*** Lest you think we bought poster board for this, we tore down one of those ubiquitous “get a MasterCard” posters that were all over campus in late August and wrote on the back of it with a Sharpie.
**** To be fair to my sophomore year RA, she was awesome in that she didn’t give a shit as long as we didn’t draw too much attention to ourselves.
***** Just to be clear, I never measured the dumpster. I simply Googled “dumpster dimensions”.
****** Watching it from the ground was hilarious, and I’ve often wondered if anyone from the floors below ever glanced out the window to see a random bag of trash go whizzing by.
******* Oh don’t look at me like that, every college dorm room had its “various brands of beer bottles” display. Sometimes there were several varieties of empty Absolut bottles.
It’s the tenth and final chapter in a podcast miniseries that looks at the fall of the Iron Curtain and the popular culture of the Cold War. To start us off, I look at what happened in Eastern Europe in December 1991 with a special focus on the final days of the Soviet Union. Then, I take a look at my two favorite Cold War films.
It’s a holiday-themed follow-up to last episode, as Amanda joins me to talk about what we watch on PBS during the holidays. From European Christmas Markets to Rick Steves to GBBO, we talk about all of the programming that brings us comfort and joy in December.
I’m one of those nerds who will spend loads of time flipping through old publications. When I was a kid, I’d flip through the back issues of TV Guide that my grandmother was hoarding. I would go to the library and look up old issues of The New York Times on microfilm. And until they sold them off, I would spend some of my planning periods flipping through the perma-bound copies of Life magazine that my school library had in a study room. And while the articles and photographs in these magazines were always fascinating, it was the advertisements that I spent the most time poring over. I have always been fascinated by what people bought in the 20th Century and how those products were sold.
So it’s no wonder that I’ll spend hours scrolling through scans of old Sears catalogues, and because nostalgia tends to run my life at times (okay, most of the time), it’s no wonder that most of the time when I’m scrolling, I’m peeking at the phone book-sized “Wishbooks” from my childhood in the 1980s and remembering what my sister and I used to circle around the time our parents were asking us to make our Christmas lists. If you don’t believe me, check out WishbookWeb or one of Dinosaur Dracula‘s many posts (and Matt over at DD is an amazing writer who’s been finding wonderful nostalgic bits for more than 20 years, so you should read all of his posts). So the Sears books (and by extension JC Penney, Montgomery Ward, and even Toys R Us) are well-worn territory in the nostalgia blogosphere, and as much as they were part of my formative years, there were others that were a regular presence in my life during the late 1980s and early 1990s that had even more of an impact.
Now, I still get a fair amount of catalogues delivered to my house, but thirty years ago we were not yet inside the dot-com bubble and were certainly not shopping online yet, so if you wanted to get something that was physically unavailable to you at a local store or the mall, you either accepted the fact that you were probably out of luck, or you filled out an order form or called a 1-800 number on the back of a catalogue. Living on Long Island afforded me many commercial options, including no fewer than four malls within a 20-mile radius, so clothes, toys, and media weren’t exactly hard to find. So what catalogues I do remember paying the most attention to were as niche as they came–and I don’t just mean Mile High Comics, which I ordered from pretty regularly.
Because we got the catalogues. We got all the catalogues. We even got a catalogue of catalogues. No, really. it was the size of the booklet you’d get from Columbia House or BMG and had listings of catalogues that you could get sent to your home. In fact, such a thing still exists in the form of Catalogs.com, where you’re just a couple of clicks away from having various catalogues sent to your house. For all I know, it’s the same company that was sending us the catalogue of catalogues thirty years ago; and yes, I’m pretty sure I circled catalogues in the catalogue of catalogues for my parents to order. I don’t know if they ever did. But I do know that a day didn’t go by when they were in the mail: Plow and Hearth, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, Spiegel, Victoria’s Secret, Talbot’s, Chadwick’s of Boston, Abercrombie & Fitch … International Male? Yeah I was perplexed by that one, too, especially since if I wanted a pair of Cavariccis, I could probably find them for sale within a mile of my house; I mean, it was Long Island.
Anyway, most of these catalogues were discarded within a flip-through. Some, such as Columbia House, BMG, and Mile High Comics, became research for possible entertainment purchases. But there were others that were just interesting enough to warrant an actual read through, and we even ordered from on occasion. In fact, I still get a few of these and may have ordered something for Christmas.
It’s the ninth chapter in a podcast miniseries that looks at the fall of the Iron Curtain and the popular culture of the Cold War. To start us off, I look at what happened in Eastern Europe from September 1991 to November 1991 with a special focus on real-life spies in the KGB and the CIA. Then, I take a look at two “the Russians are our friends (sort of)” films in 1987’s Russkies and 1990’s The Hunt for Red October.