Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bubble perms and Bros

I'm sure Bros is supposed to be prefixed or suffixed with some kind of punctuation, you know, like Wham! were, although I'm also beginning to wonder if my memory failures when it comes to The Eighties aren't altogether to do with how terribly tasteless a decade it was.

When we reminisce a particular era it is generally the one when we were in our teens, hence it comes with a focus on fashion, music and not much else. I can noteably boast that I was indeed born in the 'Summer of 69', was therefore ten and a half years old at the start of the 1980s and already owned a severe musical fixation on Queen. The girls at school arrived with scented erasers and other unnecessarily pastel-shaded accessories, stuffed into Duran Duran pencil cases, to be unpacked and repackaged into some other artists' 'merch' the following week. I was kind of envious, I suppose, but it wasn't enough to turn me away from rock music.

I don't dislike Eighties synth. pop. Far from it. I still quite like to listen to Depeche Mode or The Smiths from time to time. No, only the first part of that statement is true - amongst my fellow Eighties reminiscers it is somewhat more respectable to claim to have listened to The Smiths, but if I'm honest I used to think Morrissey was a pretentious twit and he hasn't done a whole lot to change my opinion since. I have at least grown up enough to recognise the quality of his work and I don't have to like him to like the music.

So, 1982 was the year I became a teenager, although I can't say I was one in the social sense until 1985, by which point my kind of music was becoming more popular. Yes, yes, I too was devastated when Wham! called it a day and have never quite recovered from George Michael's 'shock revelation'. We laugh about it now, but seriously. How were we to know in The Eighties? It took most of us about a year to figure out Boy George's gender, so we had no hope when it came to sexual orientation.

Apart from the Athena man. Did anyone honestly believe he could have engaged in an act that would conceive the baby he carried? I doubt it, but it was a lovely poster, if you like that kind of thing. Myself, I opted for a couple of slightly more political posters, which I am as embarassed to describe as anyone else reading this will be when they register the thought: 'Oh God! I had that poster!'.

One was a painting of a mushroom cloud, with the words 'When Will They Ever Learn?' emblazoned across the bottom. I was especially proud of it, I assume, as I had it on the outside of my door. On the outside? What was I thinking? Well, I was probably thinking that at least out there I won't have to look at it.

The other poster was a photo of the tail of a humpback whale, again snappily sloganned 'He roams the seas in freedom with no enemy save man'. What can I say? I'm an old hippie who buys posters. Besides which the alternative was a girl scratching her bottom with a tennis ball.

Right, anyway, I had the posters, I got along respectably with the music, I had a wedge hair cut for a bit, then that whole permed on top, straight at the back hairstyle took over, so I had one of those, then the Big Hair bands entered the charts and I abandoned the pretence of being Phil Oakey's backing singer in pursuit of the status of rock chick.

Now at this point, being as there's not a whole heap of evidence to the contrary, I could claim that I grew my hair, permed and styled it in a large, wavy, fringed rocking out kind of style, had a tassled leather jacket and so on. I did have the perm and the fringe, but what these youngsters don't realise as they start up again on the 'perms are good' fad is that perms are very, very bad. How bad? Have another 'very' and we're getting there.

First off, if you comb or dry your hair it frizzes into something resembling what hamsters sleep in. If you don't comb it you look like Kevin Keagan - that's how he looks now, not then. Then there's the notion of 'letting it drop' a bit, which whilst it's 'dropping' means that your shoulder length hair is now sprung up round your ears, and then it finally drops somewhere around the time that an inch of straight-haired regrowth is sprouting out of your head.

Perms strip the colour (my grandmother's claims I had dyed it red were unfounded, but she declared it all better when I dyed it black again and I'm still dying it now), split ends abound and finally when it's over you get to look back and, if you're very lucky, be extraordinarily grateful that there's not a whole heap of evidence of how ridiculous you looked with your bubble hair.

As if perms weren't degrading enough, I tried white shoes, photo-print t-shirts and all the other stuff we thought was great, but I'm a perennial scruff, so never could carry it off convincingly. In 1987 I finally settled into Converse boots, scrunched-up socks, leggings and big baggy jumpers and that's pretty much where I stayed for the last three years of 'the decade that taste forgot'. Even taking inflation into consideration, Converse boots were a damn sight cheaper then (my grandmother had much to say about these too, none of it particularly complimentary), which was as well, considering they lasted approximately four weeks, before the rubber fell to pieces, taking the canvas with it.

I shall own up to a dalliance with pop at the end of The Eighties, in the sense that I bought cassettes released by Bros, Wet Wet Wet and Bobby Brown (and went to a couple of concerts by the latter - he was very good, by the way). I even had some of those famed MC Hammer big droopy pants, in shiny metallic blue. I thought they were 'boss', because things were 'boss' globally then, not just in Liverpool.

Perhaps it is merely the act of passing out of one's teens and into one's twenties, although for me this coincided almost exactly with the end of The Eighties, so I can't be sure, but I left behind all the transience of youth and settled on 'a look'. No more fashion silliness for me, I'm sure I must have consciously decided at some point. I also found myself watching 'Top of the Pops' with the idea of later buying anything of value, then the thought would slip away and it became another 'album I must get round to buying'.

"Eventually", said my mother-in-law, "You get so far behind that you just give up."

Balls. She was right about that, although I'm not done yet, or at least not with the music. I'm pleased to say that I've not allowed my musical tastes to be pigeon-holed and will still listen to anything, including Wham! and Bros, with or without decorative punctuation; at heart I will always favour rock music, especially that cheese we loved back in the day. However, as much as I may hanker after a youth that was not spent as a sexy, big-haired rock chick, the rest you can keep - the pastel fashions, perms and stilettoes were not really my look, and as for those MC Hammer pants...

Is it any wonder I only wear black these days?

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