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Thursday, September 17, 1:30pm - 2:00pm (Live Discussion of Asynchronous Presentations)

Punk, Pop & New Wave from the 70s & 80s

  • FOOL AROUND: Rachel Sweet's Real Time Jail Bait Punk/Rock Rebellion, Holly Gleason (Hits, Pollstar)
  • “Memos from the Frontline”: British Punk Fanzines in the 1970s and 1980s, Eddie Watson (U of Texas, Austin)
  • A Party On Every Page: Covering New Pop at Star Hits Magazine 1983-85, Mark Coleman (writer)
  • “Weird Al” Yankovic, Youth, and the “Good Old Days,” Lily Hirsch (writer)
  • Zappin’ It To Ya: Debbie Gibson and The Connection Between The Once Teen Queen and Her Fans, Jackie Clary (writer & archivist)

 Presentation Descriptions

FOOL AROUND: Rachel Sweet's Real Time Jail Bait Punk/Rock Rebellion, Holly Gleason (Hits, Pollstar)

"Sitting around in the Firestone parking lot..." blared the opening line of "Who Does Lisa Like?" on 15-year old Rachel Sweet's 1978 STIFF debut. Punk was exploding, and somehow the Brenda Lee-voiced, originally-country-tilted singer found herself Lolita-baiting on FOOL AROUND, an album designed to speak truth to/for the kids at Akron, Ohio's flagship high school.

Buzzing busy signals, mean girl gossip, local bands, teen crushes (and surging hormones), losing your virginity, rebellion and (re)action forged a realistic portrait of coming of age in the Rust Belt in the late '70s/early '80 . Defiantly perched -- lollipop in mouth -- on the back cover, there was a knowing to her rugby-shirted innocence that juxtaposed the open-faced young girl in the slightly oversized leather jacket staring into the camera on the front.

Before there were John Hughes' films, FOOL AROUND told it like it was for kids like me. An equally young/bored Midwestern teen buying Elvis Costello, Pretenders, Lene Lovich, Plasmatics vinyl at Cleveland's Record Revolution, 20 miles north, I loved the brazen double entendres designed to taunt every dirty old man who'd leer at my friends in our school uniforms. Sweet also offered a mirroring onramp to punk’s exotica for those of us who didn’t have Mohawks or safety pins in our ears – or the ability to adopt the Runaways full-brat/harlot sexuality.

Beyond her little girl with the big voice delivery, Sweet signaled a knowing that said, “I may be young, but I get the joke.” Touring with Southside Johnny in America, she played it straight rock + roll. Her UK tv appearances were more camp than vamp, but the album’s wink was more than a nod to the little girls who craved a doppelgänger. More than merely cartoonish teenage angst, the paper examines embodiment, toying with and ownership of tropes.

“Memos from the Frontline”: British Punk Fanzines in the 1970s and 1980s, Eddie Watson (U of Texas, Austin)

Fanzines were a cornerstone of punk’s DIY ethos. The wide availability of Xerox machines in the 1970s made punk fanzines much more affordable to produce, allowing punks to disseminate self-published reviews and opinion pieces. As Dick Hebdige described, fanzines were “memos from the front line.” Fanzines reflected how broader political trends in the 1970s and 1980s often operated on a small scale, considering they were deeply personal and highly political. Punk fanzine writers often commented on their local scene and the latest gig reviews, but they also engaged in discussions of gender politics, racism, homophobia, and – as the 1980s progressed – the onset of Thatcherism.

With their cheap, subversive production values, fanzines often viewed themselves as guardians against the commodification of punk. They embodied how punk tried to reconnect audience with musician in opposition to the inflated stardom of countercultural icons from the 1960s and early 1970s. Fanzines allowed punks to present their interpretation of the youth culture before and during its wider understanding in popular culture, especially in reaction to a hostile national press and relatively skeptical music press in Britain. Subsequently, they offer intriguing insight into how punks tried to reclaim the subculture from its representation in the popular press, often cutting and pasting newspaper headlines that hyperbolically warned against the dangers of punk. They allowed spaces for young people to explore politics outside of work or school, as well as giving them a platform to respond to their perception in mainstream media. Subsequently, punk was a way for many young people to explore radical politics and fanzines were an outlet for expressing unconventional and challenging opinions.

 

A Party On Every Page: Covering New Pop at Star Hits Magazine 1983-85, Mark Coleman (writer)

In 1983, Smash Hits was the best-selling music publication in the UK, though it was almost impossible to obtain in the States. But the musicians featured in Smash Hits were familiar to millions of young Americans, thanks to MTV’s explosive growth over the preceding two years. While the so-called New Romantic movement came and went on our soil, its hyper-stylized standard-bearers like Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran had apparently soldiered on back at home. And their videos — especially Duran’s lavishly produced and ludicrously “plotted” travelogue clips — became staples of the new music video channel in the States. Which meant teenage mall denizens across the country were exposed to more new music than many big-city tastemakers might have ever imagined. Hence the need for an American edition of Smash Hits, though legal conflict saddled it with the ungainly title Star Hits.

Working alongside the eccentric media mogul Felix Dennis and future Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant, I helped launch Star Hits in early 1984 and stayed on as an editorial staffer for the next two years. My previous journalistic experience - writing about underground bands like Sonic Youth and Bush Tetras - was scant preparation. Initially repelled by the high-budget videos and hairspray, I quickly realized that New Pop possessed its own virtues and so did its accompanying chronicles. Instead of gushing or condescending or pandering, Smash Hits (and hopefully Star Hits) gave teenage readers a sense of what the pop-star subjects were like as people — plus a peek behind the Wizard of Oz music-biz curtain. In two short years, the so-called Second British Invasion was over. But the music business would never be able to ignore youth-oriented pop again and I’ll argue that Star Hits magazine played a role in that.

 

“Weird Al” Yankovic, Youth, and the “Good Old Days,” Lily Hirsch (writer)

“Weird Al” Yankovic, with his four-decades-long career, has worked against an expectation of aging. News headlines, over the years, have emphasized his enduring success, revealing a certain surprise in his ongoing popularity with consistent use of the adverb “still”: he’s “still” going; “still” making music. Part of the surprise has revolved around his age—Yankovic now sixty. Apparently, he was expected to grow up and out of comedy. In defying conventional thinking around humor and music, Yankovic has created a multi-generational space for his fiercely devoted fans, including the outsiders and those bullied, often people who “dare to be stupid.” In so doing, Yankovic has had to evolve alongside new technologies in music, his approach to parody changing in the recreation of his targets’ tracks as well as in his music’s formatting and download. In all of these ways, Yankovic uniquely confronts and confounds aspects of youth culture in music.

But Yankovic has also addressed the passing of time more directly, in his music—songs like “Good Old Days” and “When I Was Your Age.” He has played for laughs on the gap between his age and those he parodies as well—for example, Weird Al contra Miley Cyrus, in the song “Party in the CIA.” Based in part on interviews with Yankovic, for my book Weird Al, Seriously (Rowman & Littlefield, March 2020), this paper addresses the multifaceted place of youth in Yankovic’s career—a place that both confirms and undermines the centrality of youth in music.

 

Zappin’ It To Ya: Debbie Gibson and The Connection Between The Once Teen Queen and Her Fans, Jackie Clary (writer & archivist)

Youth, exuberance, a big belting pop voice, teen dreams set to a synthesizer: that was Debbie Gibson as she topped the charts as one of the 1980s most dominant teen idols. Talent and chutzpah got her signed to Atlantic, but it was record-buying fans that sent “Lost In Your Eyes” to #1. On January 24, 2019, the 30th anniversary of the release of her 2nd album, Electric Youth, Debbie retweeted over 150 messages of congrats and thanks and memories and love over a 24 hour period. This says so much: She is active on Twitter, she communicates with fans, she follows her fans. As she is about to celebrate her 50th birthday in 2020, I will look at Debbie Gibson’s history with her fans.

She has always embraced the fan connection, from fan letters and TV appearances in the 1980s to Twitter, Cameo and cruise ship hangouts in the 2010s. She has kept those fans over 30 years and even drawn them closer. Why do fans who are now in their 40s and 50s like to stay connected to her? Is maintaining that connection keeping open a line to their childhood? Or do they feel a connection with her as an adult performer and rush to set their DVR for her next TV project? As part of the relationship between Debbie and her fans, I will look into how much of her career revolves around nostalgia. Who are today’s DebHeads? Are they the kids who knew all the choreography to “Electric Youth” or are they today’s actual youth? And what does that song mean 30 years later?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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