Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Disposable 80s

The wife and I (and baby Diego) were down at the Elysium tonight eating dinner, and through the entire meal we were serenaded by the collective one-hit wonders of the know all those dudes like Soft Cell and Flock o Seagulls and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Or whatever their names were...I just know the songs, not the bands.

"One hit wonders." Disposable music. So perfect for the 1980s when so much was disposable (or seemed to be). There and gone, like coke up the nose.

[whoops! What happened to my paycheck?!]

Is it any wonder that the cyberpunk genre came out of the 80s? Johnny Zed was first published in 1988, Neuromancer in 1984. Both postulated future worlds where everything was disposable: governments, body parts, thousand dollar bills, people and relationships.

Nowadays, these concepts seem so...well, dated. I mean, becomes obsolete frightfully fast. And you can still pick up "disposable" pre-paid cell phones. But there's a whole push to make things of quality, things that will last. I mean isn't that why so many of us old gen Xers are finally settling down and starting families?

Or maybe I'm mistaken. I haven't got a whole lot o sleep lately, so I may just be slappy tonight. After all, I am a true "child of the 80s;" born in '73 I was seven in 1980 and 17 by 1990. God, that was a long time ago...what music was I listening to back then? Operation Mindcrime? Use Your Own Illusion?

Jeez...that was long before "grunge." Well, at least before the phenomenon (we had Soundgarden's Louder than Love on vinyl). The '90s was a shift from the "disposable" to the "self-destructive." Oh, right...Nine Inch Nails and Reznor.

The point is (if my meandering has a point), does it even make sense to put too much "disposable" into an RPG? Is cyberpunk completely passe at this point? I don't listen to my NIN disks anymore either.

I suppose dystopian futures and all-powerful mega-corporations are still pertinent and contemporary. But I can see why R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk 2020 holds no more interest for me. I'm kind of over the disposable 80s.


  1. I have to respectfully disagree on your first point here:

    A lot of 80s New Wave, especially what has come to be known as "synthpop" -- Soft Cell and A Flock of Seagulls being great examples of the scene -- is written off as disposable. It's a matter of taste. I really began to dig Depeche Mode's back-catalog in the early 2000s. The more I delved into this stuff, the more gems that kept turning up, and I began to get a sense for the richness of electronic music in general, especially the stuff that appeared in the 80s, when synthesizers and samplers were becoming affordable. Everything was raw.

  2. Hey! *I* was going to respectfully disagree on his first point!

    There's always been "disposable" songs, in the sense of novelties or manufactured bands. I'd say that was a bigger trend in the '50s. "One Hit Wonder" is kind of a loaded term, because how do you judge what a hit is? Top 10? Top 40? A Flock of Seagulls had one Top 10 hit -- in America. They had three Top 40 hits, and they were bigger in other countries. Sure, the average person -- including me -- can only think of That One Song, but that's a matter of perception.

    Also, "hits" are commonly measured in terms of singles on the pop chart; performers who are hugely popular in other genres, or who almost never release singles, wind up as one hit wonders, even if they are extremely popular over a period of years. Like Gary Numan, for example, or Devo: they released several singles and were extremely popular among New Wave fans, but each only had one U.S. hit.

  3. This is part of the ongoing battle for the soul of Shadowrun. There is a segment of the fandom who want the setting to advance, to always be cutting edge and futuristic, but there's another segment who admit that the 80's-but-in-the-future aesthetics may now be retro, but that's what they like about it. To them, it's no different from the 50's conception of the future being all rayguns and rocketships. It didn't come to pass, but that doesn't make it any less effective of a setting.

    And then there's D&D; no one seems to mind a quasi-mediaeval setting, and that's certainly retro!

  4. "Also, "hits" are commonly measured in terms of singles on the pop chart; performers who are hugely popular in other genres, or who almost never release singles, wind up as one hit wonders, even if they are extremely popular over a period of years. Like Gary Numan, for example, or Devo: they released several singles and were extremely popular among New Wave fans, but each only had one U.S. hit."

    From the hard rock end of the spectrum, Rush has had numerous hits on the various album format stations, but on the pop charts they only had one song (New World Man) break into the Top 40, and so technically qualify as a one-hit wonder... which just goes to show how meaningless the term is.

  5. I enjoyed not only this post but everyone's views on it as well. You've left me full of opinions and knowledge on what others thing. Since I'm not much of one to listen to music I can't properly give an opinion seeing as I don't really have one.

    That being said I stopped in to welcome you to the A-Z blogging challenge, as one of the hosts I thought it best to let you know if you need anything we're all here to help! I hope to see more from you!

  6. @ Greg, Taly, and Knight: Hmm. Perhaps their music wasn't disposable (my wife and I were still dancing/grooving to the tunes), but their careers certainly seemed to be!

    ["one-hit-wonder" is a derisive term, I realize, and didn't actually apply to all the music played...Duran Duran, anyone?...but it was New Wave Pop proper, and people my age use the pigeon-hole term for this type of music]

    @ Jen: Thanks...and welcome!

    @ Kelvin: Yeah...I'm just starting to get this. Not yet sure which side of the "war" I'm on.
    : )

  7. ***EDIT***

    Excuse me:

    " was NOT New Wave Pop proper..."

  8. JB, also consider the political climate in the 80s. Two massive super-powers posturing with stock-piles of nukes and proxy-states from which to launch them.

    The wall didn't come down until 89', so up until that point there was always that whole "WarGames" threat of technology rapidly spiraling out of control with a big ole' stack of nukes ready and waiting.

    Perhaps the disposable feeling you mention was due to a lack of hope, and a spend it while you can attitude? As a young grom, I didn't feel it too much, but it was there in the background, palpable.

    I started the 80s as a 10 year old, and finished up at 21, so that is right in my sweet-spot I guess. Lots of good memories of day-glo, short-shorts, and feathered hairstyles! ;>

    As far as music is concerned, don't forget big names like Madonna, The Cure, Billy Idol, Iron Maiden, Joy Division, plus lots of others.

  9. In what way is it disposable? One use and trashed? I also disagree with the bands you mentioned.

    My buddy was wondering just the other day if cyberpunk might make a comeback because of the stressed economy. My response is that it never went away, but instead became a constant part of the general culture. For example, my blog ( overwhelmingly features Labyrinth Lord material, but my cyberpunk posts get more hits than anything else. Makes me think (and I want to believe) cyberpunk, and more specifically, Cyberpunk 2020 isn't dead. (Let's not discuss 3rd edition). Thanks for the post! Great discussions here!

  10. In my previous post I meant to say I disagreed with the label of "disposable" for the bands you selected. I was not clear, sorry.

    Also, I wonder if cyberpunk isn't defined more by technology and attitude rather than the concept of disposable. I write a little about this here:

  11. "Also, I wonder if cyberpunk isn't defined more by technology and attitude..."

    That certainly was the way the original RPG defined it. And I think the reason the genre's fallen out of popularity is twofold:

    First, the technology part is now more science and less fiction. We live in a world where the tech of cyberpunk is all around us on a daily basis, or at least on the not-so-distant horizon. Without the cyber "magic" to drive it, cyberpunk is really just, well, punk.

    Which brings me to the second reason: attitude. The "punk" in cyberpunk comes from humanity's collective angst from living in a world where we're little more than numbers on a pie chart. Before everything was run by computers (you know, back when we used them as tools to help us manage people, not as the managers themselves) it was still possible to feel like a human being. But today that cyberpunk world is something we live with, where we have only our anger at being reduced to statistical data to keep us warm.

    (There's a third reason why cyberpunk has become passe: it relied heavily on the stylistic trends of the 80's, where individuality was everything, especially when it came to how we dressed and adorned ourselves. Now, the trend is toward homogenization, at least within distinct groups. We're less concerned with using our style to say who we are nowadays than we are in using it to declare our allegiances to cultural cliques.)