You Kids And Your Damned Video Games Are Freakin’ Me Out

November 16, 2008

For several weeks back in October, those trailers that continually showed for the movie Quarantine creeped me out. It affected me like nothing since the trailer for It’s Alive back in the ‘70s when I was six.

Just when I thought I was safe from being threatened in the usual calm glow of the television from the comfort of the couch, there’s been a spate of commercials for video games set in some post-apocalyptic wasteland (I know one is called Resistance 2). Some of them are truly eerie.

For a moment I considered it sad, this fixation on the end of the world. Then, I realized that I grew up in the ’80s with War Games, The Day After, and Ronnie with his finger on the button. It wasn’t exactly a lighthearted time.

It’s heartening to realize how far we’ve come as a species.

Of course, as a kid in the ‘80s, we had a lot of music with somber themes alluding to the impending nuclear Armageddon. But a lot of those songs managed to be far from sinister. Some even managed to be deemed perky enough to sell Burgers.

Nena – 99 Luftballoons
Several of my friends and I were taking our second year of German in high school when Nena arrived. So, we understood that 99 Luftballoons was a song about red balloons sung by a chick named Nena who didn’t shave her armpits. Then, when the English version arrived, we knew the full, terrifying truth.

Oddly enough, I first heard the song when I discovered 97X in the fall of ’83 and that alternative station was also the first place I heard another German singer, Peter Schilling. Additionally, 97X was playing several German versions of Peter Gabriel songs like Schock Den Affen and Spiel Ohne Grenzen.

Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark – Enola Gay
Paloma turned me on to OMD. I mean, I knew their hits So In Love and If You Leave, but there was an entire body of work with which I was unfamiliar.

Anyhow, Enola Gay is a sprightly little number about the bombing of Hiroshima.

Alphaville – Forever Young
Forever Young will always remind me of a good friend from college. Her boyfriend, whom she had dated for several years in high school, had been killed by a drunk driver and she’d often tell me how she would sit for hours playing Forever Young repeatedly, trying to cope with his death.

Modern English – I Melt With You
Modern English’s I Melt With You is about as quintessential ’80s as it gets and with good reason. I’m not sure if I’ve read that it’s about nuclear war or it’s my own particular take on the lyric. Sure, it seems to be a nothing more than an extremely melodic, joyously upbeat song of devotion, but there is the whole matter of stopping the world and melting with your beloved which could be interpreted as a more dire scenario.

*I’m sitting here, mere hours after posting this entry and what should I hear on a commercial? Yes, I Melt With You in a Hershey’s commercial.

The Zap

October 22, 2008

It wasn’t the cleverest of names, but it was so generic that it now strikes me as endearing. It could have been any arcade in any small, Midwestern town in 1983, but it was all ours.

Our town wasn’t unlike the one in the movie Footloose (undoubtedly a major reason why that flick was such a mammoth success). Of course, we did have a bowling alley, a public pool, and probably a dozen bars – the ratio of places to drink to our population had to be equal to the average town in the UK. Any (all) of those establishments might have been verboten in Footlooseville.

For the couple of years during which The Zap existed, though, it was pretty much the hub of my friends and my world. It was the dingy command center for our plots, plans, and schemes in a minimally remodeled building that had housed a beauty salon and an auto repair garage

Not that we required much. The Zap had refrigerated air and concrete floors, providing cool in the humidity of summer (although it also was frigid in the winter). It had video games and pinball machines. And it had a jukebox.

The jukebox is one rite of passage that I’m grateful I am old enough to have gotten to experience. The jukebox was common to us all, but there was also specific etiquette of which you were familiar if you were a regular.

It also had to be one of the earliest financial dilemmas we faced as kids – burn through your limited funds playing Defender or Robotron or selecting a few more songs on the jukebox.

I think I usually opted for more music. So, here are a few the songs that emptied my pockets and kept me from notching stratospheric scores on Asteroids.

The Pretenders – Back On The Chain Gang
I didn’t know much by The Pretenders aside from Brass In Pocket and…maybe that was it. But it was easy to fall in love with this song. It was wistful yet defiant. It sounded so hopeful, but it was a hard-earned hope.

Golden Earring – Twilight Zone
As classic rock hadn’t been invented in 1983, I’m not sure if I was familiar with Radar Love, but we all knew Twilight Zone, the song by Golden Earring that wasn’t Radar Love.

But my friends and I certainly loved Twilight Zone. The whole dark undercurrent of the lyric welded with that driving music made the song a universal favorite at The Zap, cutting across all social lines and musical divisions.

Chris DeBurgh – Don’t Pay The Ferryman
My friend Brad used to go spend a couple weeks with his father in Arizona every summer. Upon his return, he would awe us with cassettes of songs he had taped off the radio stations “out there”(it was quite an exotic trek to us). There was a lot of New Wave and songs which we wouldn’t hear on our stations ’til often months later.

Anyhow, I remember hearing Don’t Pay The Ferryman on one of those cassettes. Like Twilight Zone, it had a mysterious, dread-filled lyric. As for DeBurgh, I always thought he kind of resembled Dudley Moore which gives the song a slightly comical bent to me now.

Billy Squier – Everybody Wants You
During my junior high/high school years, Billy Squier was a rock god to most of my hometown’s kids. Of course, he was toppled from that exalted position as minor deity by the infamously bad video for Rock Me Tonight. (I’d include a link, but if you’ve read this far, you know the video)

But when Emotions In Motion came out, he was still cool and Everybody Wants You was constantly playing from a radio or car stereo. In fact, DJ Mark Sebastian from Q102 in Cincinnati played the damn song repeatedly one night on his shift (like for an hour or something, I can’t exactly recall). There was considerable water-cooler talk at school the next day following that stunt.