Thursday, March 25, 2010


I just caught an advance screening of Hot Tub Time Machine the other night (you can read my review on the Cleveland Scene film blog).  The important thing to know with regards to this blog is that in the film, the main characters travel back in time to 1986, a pivotal year in their lives.  The movie does a pretty good job in showing what was going on in mainstream culture that year:  glam metal, bad hair, Miami Vice, Alf, the Iran-Contra scandal, and so on.  I certainly remember all those things, but the movie also got me thinking about other interesting things that happened that year which, in the interest of moving the story along, couldn’t possibly have been included.  So I thought I’d share a few of my own memories of 1986 here on this blog.

Thrashing Like a Maniac

When I first started listening to bands like Metallica and Slayer in 1985, even most of the metalheads at my high school called thrash metal noise.  Then Metallica released Master of Puppets in March of 1986, and soon after landed the opening slot on Ozzy Osbourne’s Ultimate Sin tour.  Now that they had Ozzy’s blessing, Metallica were cool.  Sadly, Metallica bass player Cliff Burton didn’t get to enjoy his band’s success for long.  He died while the band was on tour in a bus accident on September 27, 1986.

Seeing Metallica’s success, major labels started looking for other thrash bands to sign.  By years end, two of the genre’s most definitive albums had been released:  Megadeth’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? and Slayer’s Reign in Blood.  Reign is considered by many to be the greatest thrash metal album of all time, and it’s hard to argue.  Metallica and Slayer both refused to make videos, but it wasn’t beneath Megadeth, who made a memorable clip for the song “Peace Sells”.  The break in the middle where the dad tells his headbanging son he wants to watch the news is one of the great cheesy moments in metal history.



Harmful Matter

1986 was also the year I started listening to punk rock and hardcore, and the first punk rock album I listened to was the Dead Kennedys’ Frankenchrist.  In what passed for file sharing at the time, I made a cassette copy of Master of Puppets for my friend Lee, and he copied his Kennedys album for me.  I hated it at first, mainly because of the unusual vocal style of lead singer Jello Biafra.  Eventually I came around, though, and the Kennedys became one of my favorite bands just in time for them to break up.  It seems the poster included with the Frankenchrist album, an H. R. Geiger painting called Penis Landscape, was deemed offensive by an overzealous prosecutor who charged Biafra and the band with “distributing harmful matter to minors”.  The band won their case, but by the time the trial was over, so were they.

Going Postal

Patrick Sherrill walked into the post office where he worked in Edmond, Oklahoma on August 20, 1986 and killed 14 of his fellow employees before turning the gun on himself.  It wasn’t the first time a postal employee had gone gun-crazy, but for some reason this time it had a wider cultural resonance.  Thus was born the phrase, “going postal”. 

Geraldo’s Got Nothing

On April 21, 1986, millions tuned in to watch Geraldo Rivera’s syndicated special The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault.  I was one of them.  We were promised bodies or at the very least a nice collection of stolen goods.  After a 2 hour build-up, what we got was dirt and some empty bottles.

Enter the Fox

Until 1986, there were only 3 networks, and about the only original programming on cable TV was Georgia Championship Wrestling (a fine program, by the way).  That changed on October 9, 1986 when the Fox network hit the airwaves with The Late Show starring Joan Rivers.  Fox didn’t start broadcasting in prime time until April of 1987, but this is where it all started.  Here’s Joan interviewing Pee Wee Herman from her very first episode.

Scream Real Loud

Since Pee Wee Herman was in that last clip, it seems like a good excuse to talk about the best show on TV in 1986.   On September 13, Pee Wee’s Playhouse premiered on the CBS Saturday morning lineup, and was hands down the strangest, smartest, funniest show on TV at the time.  Newhart was the only thing in prime time that was even close to being as good as the Playhouse.  Other than that, television comedy was awful sitcoms like Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, Perfect Strangers, ALF, Who’s the Boss?, and of course The Cosby Show.  Don’t get me wrong, I watched all those shows and liked them just fine at the time.  What did I know, I was 16.  But I can put on an episode of Pee Wee today and I’ll still laugh.  Those others… not so much.  Hell, just watching these opening credits still makes me smile.

At the Movies

I hear this all the time:  movies aren’t as good as they used to be.  That may be true if we go back to the seventies or earlier, but don’t try to make your case with 1986.  Among the top 50 grossing films that year, we’ve got some very good ones like Platoon, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Blue Velvet, Little Shop of Horrors, The Fly, Aliens, Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home  and Stand By Me.  But most of the list is crap like Friday the 13th Part VI:  Jason Lives, Police Academy 3: Back in Training, Poltergeist II, Top Gun, The Golden Child, The Karate Kid Part 2, Cobra, Three Amigos, The Money Pit, Soul Man, Delta Force  and Iron Eagle.  And before you say, “but Top Gun was awesome,” or “what about Crocodile Dundee,” I suggest you watch them again first.  Speaking from experience, stuff you thought was great when you were 16 often doesn’t hold up so well.  And yes, I do enjoy some of the worst films 1986 had to offer, but I still recognize they’re bad.  Like this one, Stallone’s amazingly dumb Cobra.  Enjoy the trailer and the very eighties-sounding Jean Beauvoir song “Feel the Heat” that accompanies it.

2800 Baud of Blazing Speed

I got a Commodore 64 computer in 1984.  The 64 in the name was for the (at the time) impressive 64 kilobytes of RAM in the computer’s processor.  It cost $595 when introduced, and that was just for the computer itself.  You had to buy a floppy disc drive (that took 5 ¼” discs) and modem separately.  You could also buy a monitor if you wanted to, but why bother when you could hook it up directly to your TV?   By 1986, Commodore had introduced the even more impressive Amiga, but I never did get one of those.  Still, I was pretty far ahead of the technological curve for 1986.  I knew how to write programs in BASIC, I had tons of pirated video games, and I had an optional modem, allowing me to go online.  The modem’s speed was 2800 baud.  I don’t know what that means in today’s kbps terms, I just know it would be really, really slow compared even to a standard dial-up connection.

Getting online in 1986 was a very different experience than the modern internet, though.  There were a few large networks like Compuserve that you could get on if you paid a subscription fee, but I didn’t mess with those.  Instead, I would dial up local “Bulletin Board Systems” (BBS for short).  These were free services run from the homes of other computer geeks like myself.  Generally only one person could be logged in at a time, although if you were lucky you might get to chat live with the computer geek running the thing (know as the “Sysop”, short for system operator).  The only graphics were ASCII art, and the main activity was engaging in flame wars on various primitive message boards.  Just about everybody on these boards used a nickname, which added to the silliness of it all.  I was “Metal Warlord”.  You may feel free to laugh.  Then check out this classic Commodore 64 commercial and marvel at how much we once paid for so little computing power. 

Well, that’s enough meandering down memory lane for now.  Hope you enjoyed it, and feel free to comment with your own memories of 1986 if you’re old enough to have been there.    


Anonymous said...

i think that is my new favorite movie. I am a huge John Cusack fan, especially the "Holy Cusack Trinity" of Say Anything, Better Off Dead and The Sure Thing.

1986... hm.. i was 12.. i was in 5th grade.

Camevil said...

I wouldn't exactly take a hot tub time machine back to 1986, but you found some salvageable gems that make me honestly nostalgic. Except for the going postal part. I'm adding Cobra to the Netflix Instantview queue.

erin said...

here i was in 1986:!/photo.php?pid=4064502&id=697756741