What made the 1980s great
The now-famous maxim “Dance like there’s nobody watching, love like you’ll never be hurt, sing like there’s nobody listening” is from a song called Come From the Heart written in 1987. It’s terrible; please watch it.
In that year the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ notorious Doomsday Clock was as close to midnight (representing global armageddon) as it had been in thirty years. The Cold War was still on in earnest (the USSR was still a couple of years away from collapse), the Chernobyl nuclear power station had exploded in 1986 and there was generally good reason to be worried about the future.
I think that’s what made the 1980s such a great decade. People didn’t give a stuff about how they came across then and there because then and there was all they had. Tomorrow they would very possibly be living in a fallout bunker carefully rationing hairspray, eating more Spam than usual and trying to keep mutants from breaching the interior with only a Thighmaster as a weapon. And that was a best case scenario.
The song lyrics reflect this attitude. The subtext is dance like nobody will remember your lycra-clad thrusting because they’ll all be dead. Love like humiliating rejection doesn’t feel so bad in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Sing like tomorrow your vocal chords will be dust.
It explains so much: the excess, the indulgence, the hair, aerobics, Cabbage Patch Kids, The Neverending Story, vividly coloured woollen jumpers. Fear that tomorrow was never coming led to greatness and I think there’s something in that for all of us.
Prince told us to party like it was 1999. I’m telling you to approach life like it’s 1987.
An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
You can read the column – Benign to Five – in those papers every Saturday, and if you miss it, you can look it up online in the Workplace section of The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, WAToday and Brisbane Times. (I now wankishly call myself a “syndicated columnist” on my CV.)