the decay of lying

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Together in Electric Dreams

 

We'll always be together,

However far it seems,

We'll always be together,

Together in electric dreams.

Giorgio Moroder with

Philip Oakey 1984

 

Mention the Eighties and certain words are always sure to crop up: Thatcher is a pretty obvious one. If you want to show off a bit you can put the -ism on the end. That marks you out instantly as a keen observer and a bit of a political animal. Say Thatcher and all you are doing is mentioning the name of a former prime minister. Say Thatcherism and you are conveying a firm grasp of a whole political ideology on which you could doubtless expound at great length. Insightful political analysis with just the occasional witty apercu with which to drive home the sharpened point of your rapier argument if only anyone would hang around long enough to listen.

 

From that easy starter plenty more words roll off the tongue, tasty little morsels and historical titbits; words that have fallen out of use to be found now only in dictionaries of olde englysshe. Miner: that's one. Falklands another - every great leader needs a little war to help jolly things along every now and then. Let's see who remembers this one: Westland. Others of course are making a bit of a comeback. Musically we seem to be hankering for our youth - the Here and Now tours giving a much needed boost to the pension funds of the likes of ABC, Kim Wilde, and Visage who in an attempt to stave off a final fade to obscurity treat us once more to their Fade to Grey. And as if to make all those guys feel right at home the government is presiding over the return of those old favourites: rising unemployment and recession.

 

Of course for every three million or so out of work, others prospered. And it is in that prosperity that so many other iconic images of the age were founded: Mobile phones the size of house bricks. Filofaxes the size of err... house bricks. Suddenly there was loadsamoney. The rich got richer and the poor got... house bricks and spent much of their leisure time between going on strike and going to sign on pitching them at the police.

 

People love to talk of the immorality of the Eighties. Sneering at the past, at what a selfish nation we were. But I remember it as an innocent time. OK... so we may have been selfish. We may have been flash. But there was a brazen honesty about it. One thing I'm sure of: it was a simpler time. And childhood: we still had that. We weren't born adults, there was more time to grow up. Unfortunately those that were forced to grow up fastest died youngest – their recently accrued knowledge not enough to stop them dying of ignorance. And then innocence started to fade.

 

We move in fear along our streets these days... disaffected, disillusioned youth on every corner. On every radio phone-in the cry goes up: There's nothing for our kids to do. They're bored. We need to invest in youth centres. Occupy the kids. Back in the day, of course, we made our own amusement. The Eighties was a time of great musical and technological advance. And these twin advances were united in Dixons stores the length and breadth of the land. Every weekend the slouching masses of very much illusioned youth would descend upon the keyboard displays with their hopes, their dreams, their Flock of Seagulls haircuts and their outstretched index fingers... Music making, and with it the potential for stardom, was brought within the reach of both the musically and the digitally challenged. (That's fingers by the way, rather than the challenge of digital: that glorious glowing creation that turned the mundane into objects of such desire... watches, pacman, tomytronic... that ethereal unearthly blue glow...) The extremes of emotion on such an occasion were almost too much to bear. You'd try not to allow your hopes to soar too high as you moved as fast as your drain pipe trousers would permit towards the glittering banks of moulded plastic. Roland... Korg... Casio... exotic names reflecting as brightly in the eyes of the onrushing budding pop stars as in the fluorescent lighting of the shop floor. Crunch time comes on reaching the shop doorway... barring a disastrously close encounter with a stacked pyramid of TDK D90 blank cassettes, the first across the threshold is all but assured first go at the keyboards...index finger stiffening in anticipation as for those next few precious moments all the blood in the adolescent body would make a rare excursion away from one extremity to pool in another. In such a race a well-placed winkle-picker would give the owner a good 30 yard head start over one's basketball boot-wearing contemporaries and all that was left was to join your footwear at your rightful place in front of the keyboards.

 

A chance to catch your breath now. Weigh up your options. A silent prayer as you reach out with hope, fear and apprehension to the On/Off switch: The build quality on a lot of those eighties keyboards was not always as rigorous and the electrics not always as infallible as one would hope for (a frailty later acknowledged by U2 – the album Rattle and Hum being the tale of four simple lads from Dublin trying to make their way in the music profession and struggling to overcome the obstacles of poor equipment.) The warm glow of a red LED and the reassuring crackle from the cheap speakers lets you know that this time you are successful. The shop has yet to resound to the fumbling efforts of a thousand fingers striving for the weekend's finest rendition of the opening bars of Don't You Want Me Baby and the power still surges through the keyboard. (Those who make their attempt after lunch might not be so fortunate.)

 

With the illumination of that LED a whole world opened before you. All the musical experience you could desire was at your fingertips so long as your desire extended no further than  20 or so synthesized voices distinguishable principally by their name rather than any audible differences. Still with a variety of sizzling rhythms at your command there was ample scope to pour your musical heart and soul out on the carpeted floor of Dixons where it would lie among the discarded chewing gum wrappers and dropped eye liners of your New Romantic contemporaries until the vacuum cleaner came out at 5:15. Until then you traversed the musical spectrum. For reasons you would never quite understand your finger would stab enthusiastically at the button marked “bossa nova”. Presumably in Rio de Janeiro the cosmic balance was being maintained by a number of kids whose eyes would light up as the button marked “cockerneekneesup” lit up.

 

Finally, when one's musical expression was exhausted there was nothing for it but to hit as many demo buttons as possible before heading off to the hi-fi section in search of eject buttons. The Eighties have been all too easily dismissed as brash and graceless, but that wasn't universally the case – you just had to know where to look and in the world of the soft eject tape mechanism there was grace, precision and fluidity aplenty. So different from the dark days of the horizontal loading cassette deck of the Seventies music centre – a heavily sprung mechanism that released with a force that would do many a medieval siege engine proud. And whilst perhaps not assured of bringing the walls of your suburban semi tumbling to the ground certainly had no difficulty in spitting your cassette to the living room floor (whilst making a careful note to retain a portion of the tape securely wrapped around the pinch roller). In the Eighties only the really foolish wasted time listening to a stereo or tape deck before purchasing it. Everything the consumer needed to know could be discovered by the careful application of that oh-so-versatile index finger to the eject button. The more imperceptible the click as that button was depressed and the slower that door's progress  to eventual rest the greater the quality for all to see. For a few all too brief moments, life was not a race. Take all the time you need. In fact, if you could press that eject button, pop to the kitchen, put the kettle on, make yourself a cup of tea and decide whether a finger of fudge really was going to be enough to tide you over until it was time to eat or whether in fact you felt that your desire for a lot of chocolate on your biscuit was so great that it warranted joining a club, then so much the better. But of course once that eject button was pressed you could do none of those things. Instead, your gaze was locked on that lowering door. A timeless, hypnotic moment while the rest of the world rushed, all around you, headlong towards the Nineties.

 

Of course, the winkle-pickers are long since consigned to the back of the wardrobe; I am no longer quite so “illusioned” and my hair has its own ideas about how it likes to be arranged – more often than not in a neat pile behind me on the pillow when I get up. But the music: the music remains and all those songs that I listened to that made me feel so grown up now serve to make me feel young again.

 

 

I know that Cars was released in 1979 and so strictly speaking doesn't belong here... but it wasn't until the eighties that Dixon's musical technology and my talent had reached a sufficient level to match up to Gary's exacting standards so, ladies and gentleman, I give you Gary Numan and Cars accompanied on the Saisho MK500 Stereo Electronic Keyboard...