Armagideon Time

I didn’t set foot into a proper movie theater until I was eight years old, when my aunt took my brother and I to see The Black Stallion at the multiplex across the highway from the North Woburn shopping plaza.

Up until (and even for a few years after) then, the entirety of my big screen viewing experiences took place in the back of my parents’ gas-guzzling domestic dinosaurs at the Billerica drive-in. That’s where I saw Star Wars, Superman, and the cinematic release of the Battlestar Galactica pliot. It was also the first place I ever saw a real live videogame machine (a battered Night Driver cabinet in the snackbar lobby) and heard my first Blondie song (“Heart of Glass,” pumped through a tinny drive-in speaker).

It’s not difficult to figure out why my dad preferred the drive-in to the multiplex. It offered a degree of privacy, which made it easier to cuff the ear of his unruly children and allowed him to knock back a few cold ones from a strategically placed Styrofoam cooler.

1983 would mark the end of my drive-in years, but not before I got a chance to see damaged and poorly spliced prints of D.C. Cab and Rocky III on a double bill branded “T’n’T.” I pity the fool who brainstormed that one, but also admire his trend-chasing gusto.

Gotta gather those gold chains while ye may, sucker. And that’s no jibber-jabber.

(This was the likely genesis of the Mr. T psuedo-fandom — as in “friends and classmates assumed I was a huge fan and give me Mr. T ephemera out of the blue” — that would hang over me until high school, and I would end up leaning into at the dawn of the eBay era.)

Falling between the local cineplex the drive-in on the distribution hierarchy, the Redstone off of Route 28 in neighboring Stoneham was the other main movie venue during my formative years. A model of sleek Space Age opulence when it originally opened, it had gone budget-conscious seamy by the time the early 1980s rolled around. The cheapness made it my mom’s venue of choice when my dad was doing his National Guard thing and she wanted to get my brother and I out of the house.

It was where I saw Clash of the Titans in 1981 and Megaforce in 1982 — both of which my mom mocked relentlessly — and where I dragged to see Superman III the year after that.

I’d already hit that stage in my fandom where my childhood adoration of Superman had started losing ground to the bad-ass broodiness of Wolverine and the adolescent melodrama of the New Mutants, but I hadn’t quite written the character off…until I spent two hours fidgeting through a cinematic misfire so blatant that even a crap-devouring eleven year old geek couldn’t justify the trainwreck unfolding onscreen. It was a “be sure to drink your Ovaltine” moment, and brunt of my disappointment (unfairly) fell on poor Kal-El’s broad shoulders.

1983 was also a watershed in my cinematic experiences because it was the year that my friends and I were first granted the privilege of attending movies without adult supervision. We celebrated this newly won freedom by diving headfirst into the cinematic drek that trailed in the wake of the era’s brief 3-D revival.

Oh, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn

You’ve heard the jokes, made the references, perhaps even caught the actual project on basic cable some afternoon.

I saw it on the big screen. In 3-D. With my pal Scotty and a couple of the neighborhood girls.

For a kid who hadn’t yet seen The Road Warrior and whose quality parameters for action sequences were still calibrated to a Glen Larson made-for-TV baseline, Metalstorm…was still pretty shitty. I was much more interested in the “free” pair of polarized glasses and joining in when the girls made fun of Scotty for dramatically ducking during the pretty lackluster 3-D effects.

I went to see Amityville 3-D with my best pal Artie and a kid named Jason. Jason only lived in the neighborhood for a short time. The area’s abundance of vacant “mother-in-law” apartments and cheap rooms to rent made it a stopover point for recently divorced women and their kids. They’d stick around long enough to finalize the legal business, then take off for a fresh start in Florida or California. Jason wasn’t the first of these transient faces to drift in and out of our circle, nor would he be the last.

The original Amityville Horror flick (caught on HBO during the month my family had cable) was a traumatic milestone in my love of spooky stuff. It gave me nightmares, which my dad would exploit for laughs, which gave me even nastier nightmares. The original “true story” novel was probably the first (and most certainly the thickest) grown-up book I read from cover to cover.

That blind terror mellowed in the three years leading up to the release of Amityville 3-D, but there were still bits residual dread as we walked to the theater. This would be the first “real” (if PG-rated) horror film I’d see on a big screen. Could I take it? Would I panic? Would the other guys call me a wuss?

I needn’t have worried. Some grody FX aside, it could’ve been run as a Dan Curtis direct-to-TV production. I felt pretty good about being able to ride out the flick’s mild horrors, enough to take a perverse glee in later using my aunt’s Ouija board to freak the shit of out of the actually-spooked-by-the-film Artie.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I guess.

Strange Brew, the cinematic spinoff of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’s “McKenzie Brothers” SCTV bits, was the third and final of 1983′s “kids only” outings to the multiplex.

It was the funniest movie I had ever seen, though a lot of that had to do with being an eleven year old boy watching it with three other eleven year old boys in the front row of an otherwise empty theater.

It was also responsible for my pals calling each other “hoser” and ending every single one of their sentences with “eh?” for at least a month.

Finally, no discussion of an early adolescent geek’s 1983 in movies would be complete without a few words about Return of the Jedi.

I saw it a few weeks after it premiered. My mom took my brother and I to see it while my dad was doing his “two weeks a year” for the Guard. We caught a weekday evening screening at the multiplex, not the Redstone. I wasn’t expecting it at all, and was as touched by my mom’s generosity as I was excited to finally see the conclusion of something that had been a part of my life since kindergarten.

When I was in the theater, in the moment, caught up in the spectacle, I enjoyed every second of it. When I stepped out the theater into the parking lot afterward, though, I just felt a bit empty.

In truth, the movie itself was an anticlimactic afterthought to the avalanche of comics, photo-mags, toys, and other merchandise which was the real engine powering the franchise by that stage. Every “OH WOW” moment on screen was mentally followed with a “I hope they make a action figure/vehicle/playset of it” and even that toyetic allure was offset by the fact that the increasingly sophisticated and articulated G.I. Joe line had usurped the King of the Toybox crown.

Within a few months, every Star Wars figure my brother and I had would be demoted to extras in our fantasy play pageants, their trusty rides remanded to Cobra or some Real American Heroes.
Even the biggest fans in our circle began talking of the franchise in the past tense as they moved on to other more novel distractions. By the time the following summer rolled around, it was all but forgotten.

A romantic invitation

July 25th, 2016

I’m still getting caught up on things after my (unannounced) vacation, but I’d like to take a moment to draw your attention to the kickstarter campaign for a print version of the Strange Romance comics anthology.

Remember when I mentioned I had a couple of projects in the pipeline? Well, this is one of them….sorta.

The bonus preview story you get with the $40 CAD pledge tier will be — barring some unforeseen calamity — my baby. It was originally planned for the first volume, but things ended up going sideways. Everything worked out for the best, however, as it meant working with Matthew Tavares, who did a phenomenal job bringing the story to gorgeously rendered life.

Just look at that WIP sample. It makes me realize why some folks would want to make comics for a living.

Even if you don’t have the inclination or scratch to pledge for the bonus story tier, even a pledge of a maple fiver will get you a collection of over a dozen weird and wonderful love stories by some really amazing folks (and Ken Lowery).

That said, I reckon anyone who regularly reads Armagideon Time has to be at least a teensy bit curious what a sci-fi romance story written by me would be like.

(For the record, old magazine scans and childhood traumas are not involved.)

Ain’t afraid

July 19th, 2016

I went to see the new Ghostbusters film today, at the same theater where I saw the original film some thirty-two summers ago.

After watching the movie and having a little time to contemplate it, I can tell you with absolute certainty that my childhood has not been ruined.

Nostalgia is all about counting the hits while ignoring the misses. This is especially true with childhood nostalgia, where youthful affections gain intensity over the temporal distance and blot out less pleasant memories.

The gap between “what was” and “what we choose to remember” has been a recurring theme over AT’s decade of posts. My relationship with the subject has been complicated and sometimes contradictory, with historical curiosity and nostalgic wistfulness existing in a self-perpetuating feedback loop. Come for the old videogame ads, stay to piece together a case study in the dysfunctions of consumer capitalism.

In spotlighting a year as significant as 1983 was for me, there’s a real risk of falling into the nostalgia trap, of letting selective memories of material culture paint a skewed image devoid of the host of horrors that accompanied those flashes of joy — and there were horrors, a’plenty.

For starters, I was eleven years old. When adults celebrate youthful freedom from responsibility, they tend to ignore the agonies of limited agency that are the flip-side of that “blessed” state. I’m talking about the tyrannies — however mild or benevolent — imposed by school, adult authority figures, and other socio-economic factors absolutely beyond a child’s control.

That’s just a universal baseline. The specifics of each individual childhood can be, and too often are, far more harrowing.

In 1983, I lived in a two room apartment with my parents, my little brother, my disabled paternal grandmother, and my teenage aunt. The inherent stresses in such a dynamic were further amplified by economic concerns, with my mother having to take a full-time job after my dad was laid off for a good stretch of time.

The situation also escalated my parents’ ongoing mental health issues, leading to strange and terrifying outbursts which fell on my head with greater frequency — my mom’s weird tendency to violently lash out in response to some random trigger (such as a kid asking for a glass of milk or making irritating noises with his mouth) or my dad’s alcoholic rampages of mental cruelty. Avoiding them in such cramped quarters was nigh impossible.

This was my 1983, as was the mad afterschool rush past the intersection of School and Merrimac Streets, the point at which my elementary school tormentors would give up the chase. Most of the time.

Geekdom’s heroic journey narrative is fond of spinning these horrors into a persecution based on tastes. “The jocks” mocking “the nerd” for liking Star Wars or Spider-Man. These (suspiciously similiar) experiences are in turn used to justify gatekeeping and exclusionary hierarchies of fandom, where the bullied become the bullies.

None of that jibes with my experiences. I was never picked on or called “fag” or physically attacked because I liked comicbooks or videogames. I was picked on because kids can be cruel and spiteful and will instinctively seek out a perceived “weak pigeon” to stand that the bottom of the pecking order.

Maybe it was because of my clothes or my ineptness at kickball or awkward socialization skills. It doesn’t matter, because it was going to be something. if the mark didn’t fall on me, it would’ve fallen on someone..and I’d probably would’ve joined in while thanking the Baby Jesus it wasn’t me.

1983 was when I had the pre-adolescent realization that my childhood friends were on separate life trajectories. Bonds formed through geographic proximity were giving away to ones formed out of shared interests. I was the meek A+ student in a crowd of proto-heshers shifting from childhood hi-jinx to adult criminal behaviors. There was no S.E. Hinton-esque painful moral stands to be made, just an agonizing struggle between the fear of getting dragged along or the fear of being left behind.

All the small-scale personal horrors of 1983 unfolded under the looming dread of the Mother of All Nightmares…

…global thermonuclear annihilation.

It kept me awake at night, wondering if the “birds were in the air” at that very moment. Every siren, every test of the emergency broadcasting system, every new report of global tensions or close calls brought me close to absolute panic.

The terror was even more acute in my household because my father was a defense contractor who also did post-armageddon prep exercises as a sergeant in the National Guard. He didn’t hide any of this from me, and would let me read his leaflets about proper body disposal methods and the effects of radiation exposure.

I was absolutely convinced the world would be engulfed in atomic fire before I saw my teen years. While I don’t buy into that anxiety being the core plank of the Gen X “slacker” pathology, it most certainly inflicted enduring scars on my impressionably youthful psyche.

Going back over those times, I find myself wondering if my embrace of 1983′s high points (relatively and personally speaking) was in direct proportion to the horrors I experienced — points of light in the darkness, and all that.

Up until 1983, the vast majority of the comics I read were back issues or bundled remainders picked up via flea markets or in polybagged three-packs sold at the supermarket checkout aisle. The few new releases that filtered down to me were wild card outliers passed on as gifts or picked up in trades with some incredibly fortunate friend whose out-of-state grandparents happened to live right next to a fully stocked funnybook shop.

Occasionally some almost-new release would turn up in amidst the Ford Era quarter bin overstock — typically some newsprinted proof that the “New DC” wasn’t as unstoppable as advertised — but otherwise my childhood comics fandom involved resigning myself to reading catch-as-catch-can fragments from yesteryear. It affected my tastes and my buying habits. Uncertainty about ever getting to read the conclusion of a multi-issue story meant that I picked up stuff that gave the most bang for my fourth-of-a-buck — guest appearances, giant-size issues, team-ups, or any other cover-level hook that promised to mitigate the frustration of getting stuck with a cliffhanger ending.

That situation began to change in 1983, when my buddy Brian discovered that a local newsvendor had a spinner rack stocked with current funnybook releases. The “local” was somewhat relative, as the place was in the heart of Woburn Center and a good two miles away from the neighborhood where we lived. Getting there as an eleven year old was a major expedition, one that involved a long-ass bike ride and a good deal of deception aimed at disapproving parental units. (My parents were less strict than most, but even they weren’t thrilled with the idea of their eldest crossing the nightmarish Route 128/38 rotary to buy a ‘fucking SU-PER-MAN comic.”)

Brian and I did it, though. Not regularly, but happily. This was also the first time when I had a leg up over my friendly rival on the collecting front. My maternal grandparents lived only a half-dozen blocks from the newsvendor, and the Saturdays I spent at their duplex meant more opportunities to pick up the good shit before Brian could. What I didn’t want could then be used as leverage in trades for stuff of his that I did covet.

While the newsstand was a mostly reliable place to acquire new releases, it didn’t stock double-sized issues or annuals for some reason. Those had to be scored either through the trading grapevine or from the neckbearded dude who used to sell polybagged recent back issues during one of the frequent “collector shows” hosted by the Woburn Mall. It was from him that I picked up the epic finale of the X-Men‘s “Brood Saga” (gorgeously illustrated by Paul Smith) and the tail end of the original Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe‘s run. I devoured both with rapt adoration that would deeply affect my fandom in the years to come.

Even with these increased levels of consumer access, my buying habits hewed closely to those of the guest-star-and-novelty-driven ones of the flea market days. Getting excited about an Air Wave appearance might be a difficult to wrap one’s head around, but it was something new and different to a kid with little knowledge of the cynically speculative side of the industry. After all, why would they team Air Wave up with SUPERMAN if DC didn’t have confidence in the character’s star power? (Yes, I know the question answers itself, but that realization wouldn’t come for another few years and many painful experiences.)

There was a 1983 debut that grabbed me enough that it became the first series I followed from the start and the first series I followed on a regular basis, full stop –

– the New Mutants.

The teen mutant melodrama was a big deal at the time, being the first ongoing spinoff from the speculator-and-fan-favorite X-Men series. As befitting a “big event,” the team made their debut in a prestige format graphic novel. I was given a copy of it (which a still own as loose pages gathered in a tatted cover) as an eleventh birthday gift by my uncle. He also gave me a copy of the first issue of the 1982 Wolverine miniseries signed “All the best, Andy!” by Chris Claremont himself, but it couldn’t top the oversized intro of “the next generation of Marvel mutants.”

The concept hooked me on multiple levels. From a collector’s standpoint, there was something compelling about getting in on the ground floor of what was pitched as the next big thing. From the perspective of a kid hitting the cusp of adolescence, the on-the-nose allegory between pubescent angst and mutant melodrama resonated on a deeply personal level. It was in the same vein as the early Spider-Man stories, but Claremont brought a bit more sensitivity and verisimilitude to the subject matter than Stan the Man could ever muster…while Bob McLeod’s art was more in synch with contemporary teendom than Ditko’s style ever was. (It’s not an absolute question of “who is better,” but rather one of “who was better for that particular moment.”)

And I’m not going to lie — I had a massive crush on Wolfsbane.

After finding the first issue of the ongoing on the spinner rack, I made a dedicated effort to keep up with the series, right down to memorizing the release dates and planning my trips to the shop accordingly. I managed to keep up with it (with a few missed issues) right on up though the bizarre Bill Sienkiewicz run, which I wasn’t crazy about at the time but have since grown to appreciate.

As I got in the habit of following a current series on a regular basis, I started to follow other series as well in the months that followed. All-Star Squadron was a early add, alongside Atari Force, Justice League, and Iron Man. Around the same time, CVS and the Christy’s chain of convenience stores started adding comics to their magazine aisles, making it even easier to keep up with old favorites and try out new (Big Two) things.

By the time I discovered a full-fledged direct market shop within biking distance in late 1984, the new phase of my comics was already in full swing.

1983 is where it began, though, and it continues to color the material for me in odd way to the present day. I’ve collected complete runs around many of the isolated single issues I read back in those days. Whenever I read them en masse, those later purchases are “just comics” to me. The ads and references might elicit small flashes of nostalgia, but the comics are just parts of a narrative stream — until I get to one of the issues I owned back in the day, at which point I get hit with a multimegaton blast of Proustian melancholy. It completely transforms my reading experience, turning dormant memories into lucid flashbacks for eighteen to twenty-two pages. Then it’s back to business as usual.

I guess what I’m saying is that Starfox joining the Avengers is my own personal “episode of the madeleine.”

As a kid, pop music was something I passively encountered rather than actively sought out. The twin vectors of exposure were my parents’ record collection (the Easy Rider OST, the Doors, Neil Diamond) or my elementary school classmates (AC/DC, the Bay City Rollers, the Grease movie soundtrack). Apart from occasionally environmental wild cards — such as getting spooked by Supertramp’s “Logical Song” at a drive-in’s snack bar — these defined the boundaries of my listening experiences.

Things changed up a little after my teenage aunt moved in with us in 1980. While not a dedicated new waver, she alternated the suburban hesher standards of Zep and the Stones with spins of the first Clash LP, early Adam Ant, and the Blues Brothers, inadvertently shaping my tastes in ways that would only become apparent years later.

Mostly I just went along with the flow, paying note to certain songs only if they lent themselves to some satirically scatological interpretation.

Between “Jerkin’ Back ‘n’ Forth” and Greg Kinh’s “The Breakup Song,” my pals and I got a lot belly laughs performing the “jack off” gesture in time with the saliently prurient parts of the songs. If only my current audience was so easy to please.

My aunt’s youthward shift of our domestic incidental music was kicked into overdrive after a cluster of events which took place towards the end of 1982.

1. To help make ends meet after my dad was laid off, my mother took a job at stereo component factory staffed by a motley bunch of wannabe musicians and audiophiles.

2. My family bought a Chrysler Cordoba with an 8-track player, and my mom took advantage of that by picking up a half-dozen recent K-Tel compilations to listen to while driving.

3. My dad got himself a Panasonic boom box to provide tunes when he was out working on his leathery tan.

4. Boston’s 103.3 FM station switched to a “hot hits” format under the WHTT callsign.

5. I hit an age when having specific musical tastes and interests became an essentially part of my pre-adolescent identity.

All of the above also happened to coincide with the high-water mark of the “new music” phenomenon. Though the sounds of the post punk diaspora failed to gel into a full blown fad during the period immediately following disco’s demise, it was given a new lease on life thanks to MTV and the bands’ forward-thinking embrace of the music video format. The paucity of material (abetted by MTV’s whitewashed playlist) and popularity of the format allowed many otherwise “outlandish” acts to go head-to-head — in the public consciousness if not the charts — with the AOR establishment.

Yet while the video aspect was important from an exposure standpoint, it was working in tandem with the equally significant fallout of punk rock’s imperfect paradigm shift which allowed scores of offbeat subgenres to nibble at the fringes of the mainstream. As they disproportionately came to dominate the discourse, they set the tone for unaffiliated acts seeking a slice of that pie.

The dominiance of AOR, soft rock, and smooth R&B wasn’t toppled, but they were forced to share space with artists that, in many cases, qualified as novelty acts. The trend only lasted until the industry could adapt to the new videogenic status quo, but its brief moment arrived the most effective point of personal impact.

It was the soundtrack for a new decade, of pixel-abstracted videogames and chrome-sheened futurism and nuclear dread. It was bizarre and otherworldly, in ways that dovetailed perfectly with an eleven year old geek’s obsession with funnybooks, sci-fi, and the apocalyptic promises of the coming digital era.

It was the awakening of my generational awareness, the sense that these were songs specifically speaking to me.

And so I’d camp out at my mother’s sewing table in our cramped kitchen-slash-dining-room, parked in front of my dad’s boom box, dial turned to WHTT, waiting eagerly for each hourly rotation of my favorite tracks.

It’s shocking how much power these songs still wield over me, even thirty-odd years later. It’s not just limited to the “cooler” stuff that I sought out on used vinyl once my punk puritanism began to slacken in the early 1990s, either.

The slick, the cheesy, the haunting, and the cheesy — they’re all part of that nostalgic tapestry, whether I’d like to admit it or not.

Each time I queue up the Billboard Hot 100 for 1983 as an at work playlist, the number of skip-aheads shrinks in direct proportion to the number of fucks I have left to give.

When 1983 began, I was ten-going-on-eleven, starting the second half of my fifth grade year. That was a significant grade for kids at the Linscott-Rumsford Elementary school because the teacher was a — GASP — man, a polyester-clad F. Murray Abraham lookalike who had a rep for being both a Fun Dude and an impatient hardass. (He was the same guy who’d later loan my little brother his Star Trek VHS tapes.)

It would be the last full year I would live in North Woburn. There were six of us — my parents, my little brother and I, and my father’s disabled mother and teenage sister — crammed into a tiny two bedroom apartment halfway between Route 38 and the industrial park. Personal space was at a premium in those days, but could still be found in the semi-heated “back porch” (actually an enclosed foyer-slash-laundry-room carpeted with grungy industrial pile of a goose shit green hue) or the space below the sideboard in the combo kitchen and dining room, where the Atari 2600 was hooked up to a dying portable color TV donated by my paternal grandpa.

When even those private refuges felt cramped, I had the entire North Woburn wilderness in which to stretch my legs — either in kid-broody solitude or alongside a constellation of childhood pals. There was the troubled and reckless Artie, the cheerfully clueless Scott, and my shifty cousin Jason. Sometimes we played colors and hide ‘n’ seek with neighborhood’s parallel contingent of girls our age, sometimes we’d lob fragrantly rotting crabapples at them as we howled past them on our store-brand knockoff BMX bikes.

Outside that cul-de-sac culture was my buddy Brian, a fellow Boy Scout who was the only other kid in school as obsessed with funnybooks as I was. Brian orbited our group but was never fully a part of it, especially after his family moved to a ranch home by the Burlington line a few months into the year. We still kept in touch, though, as the bonds of shared geekiness overcame geographical distance. Brian was the one who sparked my interest in Jack of Hearts, thanks to a stack of old Iron Man comics (read in his backyard toolshed turned clubhouse on the day Reagan was shot) and an unwanted issue of Marvel Two-In-One he tossed in my direction.

We were given — intentionally or though parental oversight — great licence to roam free at the very age when we were eager to test the limits of that freedom. Sneak off to the mall over in East Woburn. Sneak off to the multiplex by the highway. Sneak off to wilds Down Back to build secret hideouts from jagged scraps of construction waste. Yeah, there’d be a chance of getting grounded or a whupping or an emergency tetanus shot, but that didn’t discourage even the most tyrannically parented among us from diving in headfirst.

It helped that the our neighborhood was rough ‘n’ tumble to start. When you’re growing weed in the backyard or tearing an illegal go-kart around the block, you’re not as inclined to be uptight when a bunch of noisy tweeners spray “BALLS” in industrial adhesive on the street and set the letters on fire with a stolen Zippo.

I could probably make a strong case for the aesthetic merits of the stuff I plan to cover from here on out. It was a significant moment, for good and ill, but that’s ultimately irrelevant to what I’m trying to unpack here.

1983 was the year that I became aware of the wider world of pop culture, within the context of an emerging sense of self outside the hand-me-downs of parental-pleasing osmosis. If I was born a few years earlier, it could’ve happened in 1979 and been so much cooler. If I was born a couple of years later, it could’ve happened in 1986 and been irreversibly damaging.

As it happened, I muddled through this developmental phase at a moment where I don’t have to angst too much over a “chicken or the egg” scenario…except where Fame is involved.

When I embarked on my deep dive of Google Books’ digital archive of Billboard, I picked 1975 as my starting date. That year offered the best intersection between my childhood nostalgia and my historical interests — enough faint memories to avoid abstraction while offering a solid vantage point for observing the ascendancy of disco, the emergence of punk, and the proliferation of numerous paradigm-shifting consumer technologies.

While there were plenty of painful slogs through the cocaine-sprinkled hellscape of the 1970s music industry, I kept on trucking because I knew each hype-saturated testament to Sturgeon’s Law would bring me another step closer to the rose-tinted Promised Land.

There were times when I despaired of ever getting there. Google’s Billboard archive sufferes from multiple gaps ranging from a single week to several years on end. In some cases, that actually dovetailed nicely with the narrative thrust of the project — for example, the six-month gap from late 1979 and mid-1980, when forced optimism about disco’s future made a jump-cut to hindsight-driven postmortems for the fallen Boogie Wonderland.

Mostly, it was just frustrating, especially once I started closing in on my anticipated target zone — so much so, in fact, that I ended up skipping ahead a few years to focus on the rise of 1980s home video and VHS rental boom instead. (The need for Halloween Countdown material also played a part as well.)

As luck would have it, American Radio History — the place where I found the fascinating set of Panorama scans — recently added a near-complete run of Billboard to its industry periodical archives. Not only does it contain the issues missing from Google’s collection, but its scans are also clearer, cleaner and much easier to read.

Re-energized by this discovery, I picked up where I’d left off half a year ago.

Yesterday, I finally arrived at my destination –

– the Elysian Fields of 1983.

In the finale of the US version of The Office, the otherwise clueless Andy Bernard points out you only tend to recognize the “the good times” in hindsight after they’ve gone.

That was not the case with 1983 and me, because my eleven year old self knew exactly how great things were in his little corner of the universe at that moment — with “great,” of course, being a relative term. I won’t deny nostalgia’s softening effect on my memories, but it was still a pretty fucking amazing year even after discounting for that psychic inflation.

When I started to write this, I figured that I’d bullet-point some the high points of my 1983. Having gotten this far, though, I realized that these memories would be better served by the multi-part feature format. Each individual subject can receive its proper due, I won’t have to worry about coming up with topics for the next couple of weeks, and you get to see more of my mental scarring present for public display.

Sounds like a plan to me.

Wrock and wroll bunny foo

July 6th, 2016

The Date: 1979.

The Place: A Tim Hortons in a Scarborough, Ontario strip mall.

Five scruffy, slightly hungover members of a mildly respectable covers band have squeezed themselves into a corner booth.

“Don’t get me wrong, guys. We’re doing pretty well as we are, but do we really want to be performing ‘Dust in the Wind’ at school dances forever? We have what it takes to break big. We could be the next Sabbath or Zeppelin! I know a guy who knows a guy at MCA who’ll listen to our demo.”

“THAT ROCKS! WAY TO GO, SCOTTY!”

“Hold on a sec. There’s one hitch. The dude isn’t crazy about ‘Telemann’ as a band name. He says we need something more badass, something lets the world know that we are hardest-rocking band in Canada.”

“Hold on, I got an idea!”

And thus….

The reality is less dramatic but far more tragic. They were forced to buy the name from a friend of their manager’s, which doesn’t sound like a cash-diversion scheme at all.

Even more tragic? Wrabit’s second LP was titled Wrough and Wready, proving that one should set strict limits on gimmicky branding ploys.

The music was about what you’d expect from the era and locale, synth-backed AOR cheese with plently of power ballads and slow jams to tug at a Molsons-buzzed adolescent’s heartstrings. It could easily have been soundtrack jams for some forgotten North-of-the-Border teen horror/romance/grossout comedy.

Phoning it in

July 5th, 2016

I’m sure you’ve heard the story:

In 1982, Atari and its corporate parent company Warner Communications were so blinded by record profits and institutional hubris that they failed to see the growing structural weakness in what was essentially a fad-driven economic bubble. Having scored the lucrative licenses to release both a home port of Pac-Man and a licensed game based on the biggest blockbuster of year, they compounded their errors by miscalculating the actual demand for end products that failed to meet consumers’ expectations. Unable to shift the mountains of unsalable inventory and facing an industry-wide retrenchment of operations and revenues, the company had the cartridges hauled off to a landfill in New Mexico for disposal.

Once the stuff of ‘zine-transmitted speculation and rumors, that debacle has since risen to prominence as the most infamous incident what would come to be referred to as the Great Videogame Crash of ’83.

Just because there’s a Kickstarter documentary, doesn’t mean it’s true, however.

Being something of a scholar myself, I have unearthed definite photographic evidence (from a January 1983 issue of Billboard) of what really torpedoed the E.T. game’s sales — and with it, Atari’s fortunes…

To be fair, I can understand folks not wanting to remember that holiday season when the raw stuff of hell itself stalked the mall atrium. Entombing it in concrete beneath a remote patch of desert was the only logical response.

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