This morning, I was working on a scene set in 1985. Two people — a 20-something man who’s not quite right, to use the Baltimore vernacular, and a 14-year-old girl, emphasis on girl — begin talking about music. This conversation was not part of the plan when I started writing today; the only thing on my mind was, “Well, what now for these two?” She reached for the radio and the next thing I knew, two deeply unhip people were talking about their musical preferences. Let’s be clear, this is not George Pelecanos land, where the musical references arrive with a smooth coolness rivaled only by the margarita I had at <a href=”http://www.lomasdetzununa.com/ “>this place</a> last week.
The girl likes Madonna and, as 14-year-old-girls did in 1985, she has attempted to dress like her idol. But when asked what other music she likes, she stammers out: Whitney Houston, Suzanne Vega, Kate Bush, Scritti Politti. With the exception of the first name, all the choices are her older sister’s. I filled those in from memory, sensing that I was on the edge of a time suck from which my day would not recover. Writing done — I did a respectable 1,400 words today — I followed a hunch and went to MTV.com and discovered that the site has a
<a href=”http://www.mtv.com/music/yearbook/index.jhtml?contentId=1536032l”>jukebox feature</a>that will pull up the biggest (video) hits from a given year. And the day was lost to me.
One of the surprises — forgive me, <a href=”http://www.markbillingham.com/tomthorne/coming.html “>Mark Billingham</a> –was the video for Phil Collins’s “Don’t Lose That Number.” (It wasn’t in the MTV jukebox, but a click on Collins led me to the whole trove of videos from “No Jacket Required.”) In 1985, the music video was essentially four years old, yet it already had enough tropes for someone to mock them knowingly. (This was the same year as Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” with Sting singing “I want my MTV.”) Yet the video era was also still young enough for a hit video to feature a band simply standing there, playing music. And then there was the unforgettable one-hit wonder of A-ha’s “Take Me On.” To this day, I keep expecting a nice Scandinavian man to emerge from my trashcan.
And, oh, the exposition. The stars! Well, sort of stars. Keith Carrandine and Robert Wuhl in “Material Girl.” Courtney Cox in “Dancing in the Dark.” (Granted, we didn’t know she was Courtney Cox, but still.)
But what would the man in my book listen to? It happened that I had recently read THE WISHBONES by Tom Perrotta, where one of the characters has a secret crush on Amy Grant. In 1985, she was just beginning to cross over from Christian to adult contemporary, but she seems like someone my male character would like, musically. Grant got me thinking about the kind of videos one might have seen on Country Music Television, although I’m not sure there was a CMT in 1985. (That said, a quick ‘Reba McIntire’ search on YouTube unearths a wealth of guilty pleasures.) However, there was John Denver’s “Don’t Shut Your Eyes Tonight,” which played in frequent rotation on VH1. Um, so I’ve heard. And Billy Joel as the angel who saves a teen from suicide in ‘Second Wind.’
So — what’s your brand/year of video corn?