back to the 80s, and music matters again

July 28, 2009 |  Category:   life remembering


Like a lot of kids, I grew up with headphones practically attached to my ears (remember walkmans?!?) and I can’t deny that the very slight imbalance in my hearing (so slight that it’s enough to be annoying but not enough to be alarming) is most likely from living through my teen years in headphones. Music was everything back then, but like many new parents, it sort of faded to the background in favor of classic children’s songs, lullabies and other insipid kid music (sorry, I am not a fan of Dan Zanes, Laurie Berkner and the like). But I’ve had enough and I’ve reclaimed the air space in the house now that Mia has outgrown her tantrums whenever I play anything other than “her music”. There were times when I was able to sneak some stuff past her and it was amusing to listen to her sing “Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith absentmindedly while playing with her toys when she was a toddler, but for the better part of 5 years, it’s been a whole lot of wheels on the bus and the itsy bitsy spider.


Thankfully, those years seem to be behind us. I know that in a little while Mia might come home from school singing some stupid Hannah Montana song/Jonas Brothers/stick whatever lame teenybopper band in here, but for now, we can expose the girls to all kinds of music so they have some reference to what good music is. I know what you’re thinking – I’m starting to sound like a farty old parent just like we used to think our parents were, but that’s sort of my job isn’t it? Mark always plays the girls jazz, some hokey old Hawaiian record, maybe a little De La Soul or something from our classical collection though a lot of it, especially the more avant garde stuff is over their heads (going off on a tangent, Mark has a remarkable lack of knowledge on most popular culture from the 70s and 80s. Unlike a lot of people around our age, he can’t recite any lines from say, the Brady Bunch, or get too excited when a cheesy 80s song pops up. He just has no nostalgic connection to these things partly because he thinks he missed out on so much when he lived in Yemen for a few of those critical years in the early 80s. So as an avid fan of 70s and 80s nostalgia, it’s no fun for me when I want to rehash the good ole’ days). I play the girls music I’ve listened to over the past 30 years. Some stuff I know they will like (Cibo Matto, Pizzicato Five, Cornelius), but sometimes I’ll throw on random stuff just to see what happens (I got blank stares at Rage Against the Machine, they protested when we put the Beastie Boys on in a recent car ride, but they did seem to like Stereolab).


One of these days the girls will roll their eyes whenever I play them “old stuff” but for now they are interested in hearing more, particularly stuff they can dance to. And so I’ve rediscovered listening to music everyday again, partly because I rushed back to listen to old Michael Jackson songs, who the girls are now fans of and will ask to watch videos of every evening (they are currently practicing the “movewalk” as C calls it). Yeah, I know it’s been a month, but I’m still not over his death and now I’ve finally figured out why – Michael and the Jackson 5 were THE first introduction to music and American pop culture for me as a kid from the earliest I can remember ever since I came to the US at age 3. I was just only born when they reached the height of their critical success in the early 70s, but they owned that decade and they were everywhere. He was my very first musical crush. As I grew older, my musical tastes became eclectic and varied (I had that creepy “Eddie” poster from Iron Maiden next to the Cure, the Smiths, Depeche Mode, Echo & the Bunnyman and a black light Led Zeppelin poster in my room – I know, weird, right??), but Michael was always there.


Going through the catalog of songs from the 70s, 80s and 90s is a real nostalgic rollercoaster that brings you back in time, not only to the memories of certain events, people or places associated with them, but to the FEELING of that particular moment. There are certain songs and groups that can trigger forgotten memories and I’ve been enjoying listening to songs that I haven’t heard in awhile. “Upside Down” by Diana Ross will always remind me of rollerskating with my cousin when we used to turn our basement into a roller rink (this was even before my dad became Diana’s wig supplier). “Rock Lobster” sends me back to 1981 and the only trip I ever took back to Korea since I came to the live in NYC, with 25 other Korean-American kids in the first cultural exchange trip sponsored by the Korean government (we even got to go on Korean TV). Joe Jackson’s “Stepping Out” reminds me of the car ride back home in 6th grade on a cold winter December evening from winning our Math League contest, watching all the Christmas lights dance through the wet car windows (yeah, go ahead and laugh. I’m Asian, remember?). There are countless other songs, of course, and I’ve been listening to them all (early U2, Pat Benatar, New Order, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, the Beastie Boys, Tribe Called Quest, Bjork, Sleater-Kinney, Portishead, Pavement – so much good stuff). I’m not going to be pretend to be hip enough to know what music is popular these days, and aside from like, The Kills and the newer releases put out by some of my all time favorites like PJ Harvey and Cat Power, I’ve stuck to listening to music from my past.

Speaking of 80s nostalgia, over the weekend we happened to see a production of Peter Pan put on by a local theater group comprised of middle and high school kids. Since there was threat of rain that evening, it was held in a school auditorium instead of outdoors in the park across the street. The beginning seemed ordinary enough, but as the character Peter Pan appeared in the window dressed in skinny red plaid pants and studded belts, his entrance was accompanied by the unmistakably famous beginning of Rush’s Tom Sawyer (best entrance by a youth theater production ever, btw). Mark and I chuckled but thought it was just a one off, funny moment. As the play progressed, it became clear that the director put on an 80s version of Peter Pan, with costumes and soundtrack, probably as a nod to the parents in the audience. And sitting in that school auditorium, which didn’t look that much different from what I remember school auditoriums being like, we laughed to ourselves when we’d hear songs from that era that we hadn’t thought about in 20 years (Christopher Cross’ Sailing Away, anyone?). With those kids wearing pretty believable 80s fashion taking their final curtain call to Heart’s “These Dreams”, we could have been watching ourselves and our classmates back in ’85 up on that stage. It was a fitting show for a rollercoaster month of fond memories and good music.


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  • Lani July 28, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Great reminiscing, Jenna…you remember such details that I feel like I was there. These pictures of the butterfly girls are so adorable, too. That first one of Mia is so funny. I didn’t know a person could find so many ways to drape stuff all over their body. Funny!

  • Joni July 28, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    my god you are a fantastic photographer. the last shot of mia on tiptoe is like a ping to the heart

  • jana July 29, 2009 at 2:51 am

    what a nice post. and gorgeous photos too!

  • Robin July 29, 2009 at 8:18 am

    The 80’s brings me joy. I listen to First Wave on Sirrus often. That station has helped bring me out of doldrums many times!

  • Stella July 29, 2009 at 8:39 am

    What lucky gals to get exposed to “your music.” They’ll only appreciate it when they’re in college and competing with peers on who has a better appreciation of “the classics.” :) My dad had us listen to the Beach Boys a LOT.
    And those costumes are fantastic!

  • hallie July 29, 2009 at 9:54 am

    this post really made me giggle and secretly made me a touch misty. thanks for a great morning read.

  • selkie July 29, 2009 at 11:00 am

    The most beautiful butterflies I ever did see!
    And BRAVO for being a brave Mama…
    and for your sharing of your “excellent photographer eye”.

  • Andrew Thornton July 29, 2009 at 11:10 am

    What a musical ride you just took me on!

    With Azalea, we never really gave into the kid music movement. (Except for the songs we sang to her ourselves or the ones that pop up on Noggin.) We always have music playing in the background. It helps me focus. Azalea will sing all kinds of things, from Coldplay to that One Republic song, Stop and Stare, that they used for those HBO commercials. It has certainly been interesting to see what she’ll gravitate towards.

  • amy July 29, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    Have you listened to Elizabeth Mitchell’s music? She played with Ida but now makes lots of sweet, fine tunes that my 1st grade students – and I – more than tolerate. “So Glad I’m Here” is often our “good morning” song and they ask to sing and re-sing “Freight Train”. Jolly good non-obnoxious stuff:

  • bronwyn July 30, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Those photos are gorgeous! I’ve never really played “kid music” for my little one. I never got around to finding non-annoying stuff. It is really interesting to see what she gravitates towards. The Ditty Bops, Carla Bruni and the Amelie sountrack have been the long standing favorites. Girlie music. But then sometimes she asks for her daddy’s Metallica. And she also loves Michael Jackson on youtube. My mom gave her a really obnoxious karaoke machine with all the classic children’s songs and she loves it. Now I feel bad – like i’ve deprived her or something. This post has made me so nostalgic! Oh, and your eclectic poster collection is awesome!

  • Pam August 3, 2009 at 8:54 am

    I agree with Amy – I ADORE Elizabeth Mitchell’s CDs. My 2 year old loves it, too. So glad she’s out there versus veggie tales.

  • Jenna August 3, 2009 at 8:56 am

    yes, I’ve heard Elizabeth Mitchell’s music though we don’t have any of her CDs. I would also recommend Randy Kaplan – a local Brooklyn musician who is fantastic. He’s been a favorite around here for 5 yrs.