Throwback Thursday: Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” (1984)

The 80’s were a weird time in a lot of ways.  Pop culture’s answer to the threat of global nuclear annihilation was a really cool, really catchy song with an upbeat tempo that topped the charts.  (Full disclosure — I don’t know much about music, and I’m not sure I’m using the term “upbeat tempo” correctly.  If I’m not, you can totally call me on it.)

Nena released “99 Luftballoons” in 1983 in Germany, it was released a year later in America as “99 Red Balloons.”  Wikipedia taught me some interesting trivia this afternoon — the group was actually pretty unhappy with the loose translation of the Americanized lyrics, and all but disowned them.  Nena performed the song only in its original German, even when the band was on tour in England.

Maybe we need a catchy pop song to teach the perils of nuclear brinksmanship to the current president.  Or, better yet, set something to the tune of one of those Looney Tunes cartoons.

 

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Throwback Thursday: the Card Catalog

I remember learning to use the card catalog in grade school in the 1980’s.  It was intimidating for a young kid.  The teacher made a big deal out of it, and those long, light brown wooden cabinets looked positively monolithic.  They looked as though they were holding difficult math problems in their uniform, ordered little drawers, in the same manner as the mute Sphinx might hold impossible riddles.

And I still remember how surprised I was at how easy it was.  You only had to remember one of three things: author, subject or title.  And the alphabet took care of the rest.  Every kid knew the alphabet.  It was a bizarrely empowering experience for a young, nascent nerd.

No, we didn’t have the Internet.  Hell, we didn’t even have the Internet for research purposes when I was in college.  I remember driving with Tom (the other most befuddled member of Mary Washington College’s psychology program) an hour and a half to Charlottesville to research our term papers at the University of Virginia.  That was a long drive.

 

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Throwback Thursday: more of Hasbro’s “G.I. Joe!!!”

Yo, JOE!  I had all of these in the 1980’s, and I loved all of these.

That H.A.V.O.C. vehicle was kind of preposterous; even as a kid, I recognized that.  So, too, was the “Tactical Battle Platform.”  Why wouldn’t the Joes be entrenched instead of elevated and exposed like that?  I used to pretend it was a weaponized oil rig; its underwater legs were repeatedly assailed by the Cobra frogman.

The A.W.E. Striker jeep that you see was a damned cool toy; it even had its own suspension.  The Snowcat was pretty awesome too.  Those lateral missiles were attached to the black detachable skies, giving the driver (“Frostbite”) snow-borne torpedoes.

 

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Throwback Thursday: the “Slip’n Slide!!!”

This is a toy that I remember from the late 1970’s, but Wikipedia informs me that Wham-o first began selling them in 1961.

They’re … still around, surprisingly enough.  You can order them online.

Or you could just make your own.  A good friend of mine is a particularly intrepid Virginian who constructs one that stretches the length of interstate in her backyard every Labor Day weekend.  But she and her husband feed it with well water, though, and it is ICE cold.  Southerners are a hardy lot.

 

 

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Throwback Thursday: Hasbro’s “G.I. Joe” action figures (1982)!

I swear to you — one of the coolest parts of being a kid in the 1980’s was Hasbro’s “G. I. Joe.” I’m referring to the three-and-three-quarter-inch action figures that launched in 1982.  (The 80’s toys that most of us remember shared their name with other, mostly unrelated, Hasbro military toys of the 1960’s and 70’s.  Believe it or not, I’m actually old enough to remember the 70’s toys, as my older brother had a few — they were eight and half inches tall, and they looked more like conventional dolls.)

The expansive 1982 toy line was a successful marketing juggernaut.  If I had to guess, I’d say that Hasbro looked at Kenner’s astonishing surprise moneymaker with “Star Wars” figures four years earlier, and decided to exploit that business model with its own fictional universe.  Once the toy line got rolling, Hasbro developed the “G.I. Joe” cartoon that every 80’s kid remembers, as well as videogames and an ongoing comic book series.  (The comics were produced by Marvel.)

The TV show was … atrocious.  As awesome as the 80’s were, the decade had its artistically bankrupt pop-culture ventures, too.  And that cartoon was saccharine, mass produced entertainment at its lowest level.  (Please, Millennials, if you ever see clips of that show, do not judge the superlative toys by it.)

The videogame (or the one that I saw my friends playing as a kid, anyway) seemed decent enough for the time.  I only got a glimpse of the comic once.  (I was usually reading “Conan”, or “Sgt. Rock.”)  From what little I saw, that “G.I. Joe” comic was damned good.  There were two brothers on the next block who owned all manner “Joe” merchandise, and they showed me the one where Snake Eyes (the good ninja) and Storm Shadow (the evil ninja) teamed up, for some reason.  There was a two-page splash of them leaping across a room at some incongruously mutual enemy, and the artwork was pretty damned sweet.

The toys were downright wicked.  (That’s 80’s slang.)  They were the same size as Star Wars figures (as well as toys like the “Micronauts” and “Adventure People” before them), but they were far more articulated, and had more weapons and accessories.  The packaging each figure came with had a colorful “dossier” on the back, with all sorts of detailed information about the character’s background and military expertise (like espionage, martial arts, jungle warfare, desert warfare, etc.).  These were written by none other than the comic book industry’s own Larry Hama, who also created the comic book series.  Strangely, there was one Joe area of speciality was simply “infantry.”  (That would be “Footloose,” the fourth guy down in the photos below.)

I loved these toys.  They combined my childhood love of poseable “Star Wars figures” with my childhood love of war toys.  I had all the ones that you see below, and many, many more.  Good times.

 

 

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1985 GIJoe Footloose Complete

1985 GIJoe Dusty Complete1985 GIJoe Quick Kick Complete

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1985 GIJoe Cobra Snow Serpent Complete

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Throwback Thursday: Mary Washington College Spring Break 1994!

This is a shot of me and my alum Dave at the site of the “Lost Colony of Roanoke” during Spring Break 1994.  A bunch of the seniors at Mary Washington College’s New Hall trekked down to North Carolina’s Outer Banks that year; this is one of the places we stopped along the way.

Dear God, that was one of the most enjoyable trips of my life.

What the hell were Dave and I doing below?   Performing a skit?  I can’t remember.  I was a really, really weird kid, and Dave was also pretty out there.

 

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Throwback Thursday: skipping church!

Here’s a vivid summer memory — and it comes to me courtesy of my dear old friend Sarah in New York, who posted this picture on Facebook not too long ago.  Below is the very beach on Long Island where my older brother and I would park in the early 1980’s when we were supposed to be at church on Sunday morning.

We would eat Entenmann’s donuts and we would listen to WBLI on the radio.  (If you are from Suffolk County, you can’t not hear the chipper WBLI jingle every time you read those four letters.)  If memory serves, the station played Casey Kasem’s countdown on Sunday mornings.

I was pretty young, and I was awed that my brother deemed me cool enough and trustworthy enough to conspire with him in playing hooky from the service.  I was fully complicit, too.  It was my job to run in and out of the church quickly before the service started, in order to grab the Sunday bulletin, with which my mother had instructed us to return every week.

The first time I colluded with my brother this way, I overdid it a little.  Upon our return and gave my mom a lot of unrequested detail about the priest’s sermon, and what it had meant to be.  My brother later pulled me aside in the room we shared, and gave me some sage coaching: “You don’t need to make up a whole big story.”  That was the first time in my life that I learned not to over-embellish a lie.

You see that?  You can learn a lot from a religious upbringing.

 

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