I know there are books dedicated to the pervasive mentalities that encapsulate entire decades, but I’m more interested in the tiny trends that lasted 2-3 years or so: the “micro-eras.” Sowing the Seeds of Love came on the satellite radio today, and I was suddenly thrust back into a period lasting roughly from 1987 to 1991, when a song like that could have been taken seriously.
’87 brought the bucolic, verdant gorgeousness of XTC’s masterpiece Skylarking to the public consciousness, as well as the albums that influenced my younger brother and sister’s crowd (stuff by the Dream Academy and Aztec Camera, as well as “Louder Than Bombs”). Perfectly timed with the 20-year anniversary release of “Sgt. Pepper,” this little era brought a brief resurgence of kids asking what was so fucking funny about peace, love and understanding; it was an earnest time, when everyone’s friends seemed to live at each others’ houses.
The styles were all over the map. Tears For Fears brought out gold lam suits festooned with sunflowers, while De La Soul gave it a name: the Daisy Age. My sister pranced around America wearing a sexless, oversized T-shirt that said “Bread Not Bombs” and I bought paisley. There was also this intense “world music” thing going on in the nascent coffee shops of the late ’80s; also, a surge of interracial dating, which was finally losing its taboo and actually becoming cool. Tessa likes to call this period The United Colors of Benetton, what with the ads of the time featuring pasty redheaded girls wearing Sudanese hats and Somalian models in forest green sweaters.
I really liked this micro-era. The music was fabulous; the last gasps of the New Romantics and the final wave of British high-harmony pop was washing over New York – hip-hop could be dreamy and intellectual (“Three Feet High and Rising”), hilarious (Ice-T’s “Let’s Get Butt-Naked and Fuck”) or just fun on a road trip (“Bust a Move”). My roommate Salem and I listened to “Roam” by the B-52s for a year.
It might have been our reaction to Reagan exhaustion, the beginning of “opting out” before Slackerdom replaced youthful vigor with a hopeless sigh. Like most things, alcohol helped ruin the micro-era; what was once a sneaky bottle of Kahlua on my birthday became a slew of hard-edged bourbons for no special occasion. There was some critical moment when idealism turned to rage. I remember it happening very quickly.
But for those years, I was happy and had some hope, especially on Earth Day 1989, as I watched a one-man show at Carolina featuring a boy finally coming out (while Erasure played, naturally). On the way home, I put XTC into my Walkman and heard the opening strains of “Grass,” and I don’t think it has ever seemed that sunny since. But I’m working on it.
Bud and I recline in the air conditioning during the endless summer of ’87