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Michaeljacksonthrilleralbum

Certainly when you look back at the 1980s and the icons of the era, you won’t ever get far on that list without thinking of Michael Jackson. So his death comes at perhaps one of Eightiesology’s greatest tragedies. Obituaries and speculation and contemporary invocation are best left for other websites. They’re going to bring up the man’s eccentricities and the scandals that pursued his later years, and I don’t deny they made Jackson a very inaccessible person to me. In fact, I’ve often felt his total solo output wasn’t as grand as touted, certainly not for a self-proclaimed King of the genre. But nobody growing up in that era could deny the impact his music had at some or another, whether on your own nostalgia of moments in your life or on the very pop culture that is the bedrock of the ‘80s.

Though rivaled by his years with the Jackson 5, the ‘80s were certainly his most formidable era, with his two biggest albums, Thriller and Bad, dropping in the heart of the decade. (Off the Wall and Dangerous fell on the fringes of either side of the decade but had strong connections to the ‘80s, though the latter album was essentially the beginning of Jackson’s creative end.) Yet the heyday of MTV kept Jackson in the spotlight for what seemed like every single day of that decade. His grand usage of the music video format helped put the channel on the map and may be one of the most brilliant uses of the medium as a marketing tool. And he ended up transcending the radio-and-MTV template of the time by expanding into charity work, long-form videos (like “Thriller” and “Moonwalker”) and even theme park entertainment (EPCOT’s Captain EO). By the end of the decade, many of our generation grew tired of Jackson’s increasing presence in tabloids due to his eccentricities and scandalous behavior. The music eventually wore thin too as Jackson broke very little ground after Bad.

In retrospect, you realize how ever-present the artist was for everyone who lived through the decade. I can’t speak to devoted fandom here and unlike the narcissistic celebrities coming out of their Twitter hives, am not going to stand here and preach about how Michael Jackson was a genius or a beacon in my life. As I’m sure many people speaking from honesty would agree. But part of what I’ve attempted to do here on this blog is celebrate the whimsy and innocence of the ‘80s (as I’ve often stated, without the snarky irony hoisted upon us by the VH1 generation). For me, the strongest aspect of that has always been the music and how it invokes such a strong memory to certain moments or periods of our lives throughout the time. And you just can’t go very far without having a Michael Jackson song soundtrack one of those moments.

Thriller was released in 1982 but stuck around for years after with the last single, “Thriller” stretch the success well into 1984. For me, that meant the album hit the airwaves starting when I was 8 years old and soundtracked 2nd – 4th grade for me and my friends. That would put the album in one of those ‘80s nostalgia vortexes for me. In 1982, I visited Walt Disney World for the first time and when that summer was over, transferred over with a dozen classmates from a primary school to the larger elementary school. Between the new school and increased activity in sports and Cub Scouts, this was a time of many new friendships. 1982 really was the start of a different style of ‘80s music as the earliest hits of the ‘80s tended to have more of a punk or new age aesthetic before giving way to the more familiar pop. So memories of those times are incredibly intertwined with the advent of the pop sounds of the era.

I have to admit, part of my nostalgia for Jackson’s videos were the inevitable Weird Al Yankovic parodies, most memorably “Eat It” and “Fat.” But those videos were only as successfully as the imagery they were parodying. They just couldn’t work if you hadn’t seen “Beat It” and “Bad” a dozen times a day. To me, the more memorable of Jackson’s hit videos was “Billie Jean.” Elements of the video were a bit scary to me, but I don’t know that there were many kids in America who hadn’t hoped that by walking down a sidewalk, they too couldn’t trigger a hopscotch lighting effect where they walked! Eerie and cool, a great utilization of the medium.

Of course, there may be no music video more successful or popular as “Thriller.” You couldn’t escape either version, with MTV rotating the long version and the edit. A truly creepy piece of work, “Thriller” may be one of the first songs seemingly written specifically to be a music video. It’s not often you hear an artist of Jackson’s caliber essentially writing a Halloween song! I quickly soured on the overplayed hype of the song, but unlike some of Jackson’s other hits, I have a better appreciation for “Thriller” now when I hear it.

Still it was some deeper album cuts and later singles that really made their mark on me. “Human Nature” is one of those songs that is just there, sort of filling out the atmosphere until Jackson’s falsetto grabs you. It was really a great template for the new jack swing movement which would revitalize R&B music later in the decade, perhaps best exemplified by Bobby Brown and his New Edition cohorts. The song’s freeflowing melody is perhaps its strongest suit as it’s lent itself to being a song that interprets wells in different music genres. The best, in my opinion, being David Mead’s very honest rendition which melds the new jack swing of the original with his own singer-songwriter talents. With piano replacing the synth, Mead’s version expertly gives me nostalgia for a time 20 years before his own recording.

Though a weaker track, “P.Y.T.” was probably the most memorable tune from the album for me. I have a distinct sense of the song being popular for a brief time, and my friends and I digging its rather unique sounds. For me though, one of my most vivid memories is pulling out the Thriller vinyl record from the bookshelf in our den. With “P.Y.T.” crackling through the speakers, I bopped around the room singing about a “Pretty Young Thing.” Could I have been any more clueless to the subject matter? When I think about Jackson’s music, I often go to that moment. It’s undetermined and rather pointless, but it continues to float there in the ether of my mind. And will very much be performed the next time I do karaoke.

Bad didn’t resonate as much with me. By then, I was moving into different sounds and had hitched my wagon to harder rock and power balladry. With rap very much on the scene, it was difficult watching Jackson act tough when he was very clearly a sensitive pacifist. However, “Man in the Mirror” was a stand-out track for me and very much ever-present on the airwaves in ’87-’88. I can hear it in my head when I think back to riding my bike to various stationery shops hunting the newest lines of baseball cards. (It may also be soundtracking my failed attempts at moving away from the G.I. Joes and Transformers of the time.) There’s just something wickedly cool about Jackson’s singing at the end of that song backed by a gospel choir.

The world is still in shock over Jackson’s death with little details known to the public. Though only 50, Jackson hasn’t been the mark of good health but it’s shocking nonetheless. Rumors and jokes are already afire on the internet, while many are focusing on Jackson’s speculated activities that led him into many courtrooms. That said, so many people were affected by the man’s music ; whether or not you liked it, it was a ubiquitous presence in our lives. I’m sure as I listen to Michael Jackson’s songs over the next few days, it will conjure up more memories of the time. For so many fans of the ‘80s, they may drift back to wearing socks on a hardwood floor attempting to moonwalk, the momentary cool of wearing a singular white glove, or the recreation of one of his many dance routines. It still hasn’t quite sunk in that this icon has passed on. Admittedly, I keep launching the Internet thinking how surreal it is that news of his death is staring me in the face. In response, I keep going back to a line from one of Jackson’s songs. “If they say, why? why? Tell them that its human nature.”


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Disney’s Folly

In the Summer of 2008, the waiting game of finding a new home had led to a lot of stalled activity, leaving me housebound many a weekend. In a flurry of long overdue creative activity, the muse visited me in the form of my respect and admiration for the 1980s.

Eightiesology celebrates that oft-maligned decade without all the stale irony attached to it in recent years. I wrote about topics ranging from The Bangles’ “Manic Monday” to Batmania to the Back to the Future films. However, I never saw as big a surge in my readership as when I posted about Walt Disney World, particularly Horizons. Subconsciously, right then, the foundations for a new blog were poured into the fertile ground of land I wouldn’t consciously discover for a few months.

Part of the appeal of those Disney-related posts was that I was connecting to a fervid fanbase that shared my joy and is very welcoming to new voices. While I had plenty of Disney-related ’80s nostalgia to post about, I decided that I also had so much to say about the company, its theme parks and many of its films…from any decade. Thus, the idea of Disney’s Folly was born.

DisneyFolly_wide_SW_11 copy

I picked the name Disney’s Folly as a nod to the lack of faith critics had in Walt Disney’s first innovative concept: the full length animated feature, specifically Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The term was also revived by some to describe Walt’s concept for Disneyland, especially after that park’s woeful opening day. Needless to say, these were welcome follies.

Many may immediately think this blog to have a highly critical aim of the Disney company due to the negative connotation of the name. But I use it as an homage and to empower the concept of risk. Without Snow White, we would not have seen the many beloved animated features that Disney has released since those seven dwarves and nine old men first went to work. Without Disneyland, we would not have the concept of the modern day amusement park, including the many innovative attractions that Disney would create for not only its flagship park, but its many other kingdoms, especially Walt Disney World (itself a revolution in the travel industry).

To me, if you’re not taking big enough risks to gather critics and naysayers, then you’re doing something wrong. And if you’re not creating something that anybody thinks is a folly, then you’re just going through the motions. No great art comes without taking a leap of faith in yourself and the very reward that you wholeheartedly believe is on the other side of those risks. I hope that you all enjoy my new blog and respond with the fervor that we share together for all-things Disney. This is an ever-evolving project so I welcome feedback and, in the spirit of community, would welcome submissions by those who share a similar voice!

As for Eightiesology, my renewed creativity for the new site has given me some ideas on how to more properly approach this one without having such long draughts of stories. There remains more than enough ideas for Eightiesology which I will return to in due time.

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In 1992, our senior class at Wood-Ridge High School visited Orlando for our senior class trip. We lodged outside of Walt Disney World and visited Disney parks as well as Universal Studios. This new theme park and competitor to Disney had only opened up a couple of years prior. The trip certainly put a different spin on the Disney experience for me, the details of which are better spent when reminiscing with old friends. But alas, there was still some good fun enjoyed at the theme parks, including this first visit to Universal Studios and one attraction in particular. 

 

BTTFR

 

The big attraction at Universal Studios was Back to the Future: The Ride. The BTTF sequels were not that distant a memory and the attraction utilized revolutionary theme park ride mechanics and technology at the time. The motion similar ride utilized an open vehicle and an IMAX dome screen which improved upon the systems being used in Disney’s Star Tours and Body Wars, which were enclosed simulator rides with all visual action happening on a forward screen. With Back to the Future, the riders could see the action happening around them, which gave the simulation that much more realism and thus more thrill and adrenaline. The ride queue featured prep videos starring Christopher Lloyd in his signature role (no, not Reverend Jim) of Doc Brown, who details the mission ahead for you, the rider. Biff (the inimitable Thomas F. Wilson) returns to his familiar antagonist role, infiltrating the Institute of Future Technology and escaping into the future and past, for we intrepid riders to chase! 

 

For added geekiness, the outside of the attraction featured a full size replica of the DeLorean and the Jules Verne steam train. Once inside the attraction, many other prop replicas and easter eggs are found throughout the attraction halls. And the ride exited you into the ubiquitous themed gift shop where one year I purchased a model of the time-travelling DeLorean. That of course was the rare time we even stopped in the gift shop and weren’t already on line to ride it again!  

 

The Jules Verne train replica at the Back to the Future: The Ride attraction in Universal Studios, Orlando.

The Jules Verne train replica at the Back to the Future: The Ride attraction in Universal Studios, Orlando.

 

 

A few years ago, Universal Studios in both Hollywood and Orlando shuttered their doors on the Back to the Future attraction, with very little fanfare or notice. (One last one exists in Japan.) The ride joined Earthquake and Kongfrontation as the park’s cornerstone attractions gone extinct (with only Jaws surviving). Presumably the dwindling relevance of the franchise in the modern context, along with rumored disrepair, forced Universal to develop something new and inviting. But in the process they dismantled a ride that was synonymous with Universal Studios and a natural extension of a franchise that, in cinematic and cultural circles, is still very popular. Even though its technology was dwarfed by the Spider-Man ride at the Studios’ sister theme park, Islands of Adventure, it was still an advanced system that probably could’ve just used some attention and repair. Much like Star Tours, and unlike roller coasters, the ride’s inherent structure allowed it the possibility of offering a new cinematic adventure with new destinations in time while retaining the same ride system. (Hello, recessionary solution!) The BTTF attraction has been replaced by The Simpsons, a franchise that, despite its quality and attraction, doesn’t exactly appeal to me when it comes to the architecture and adventure of theme park exploration. 

 

Even though the ride’s creation and my time spent on it happened after the ‘80s were over, this still very much qualifies for the Ninetiesology section of the site. (For those who haven’t read up, Ninetiesology is what I refer to as the aspects of the ‘80s, such as music and movie styles, or the lifetime of some TV shows, that spilled over into the next decade, typically ending 1992-1993.) And of course, the ride is based on a heavyweight ‘80s franchise. 

 

sign

 

The Back to the Future trilogy was recently re-released on DVD including some new features on the first movie’s DVD. The special features now include all of the pre-show and ride footage from the Back to the Future ride. While not able to replace the physical simulation of the ride, it’s nice to finally have a keepsake from a treasured attraction. However, it’s almost impossible to duplicate the convergence of fandom venturing through a theme park attraction, in sunny Orlando, based on a classic movie. The thrill of the motion is gone and replaced by stationery recliner-induced sloth. But if you can get your hands on home movie footage of the attraction’s interior and exterior architecture, shut off the lights and get real close to your big screen TV. Fire up the ride footage and maybe you can time travel yourself to a time when one of the coolest theme park attractions ever still existed. Great Scott! Yeah, that’s heavy!

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In my exploration of the media that forms the foundation of Eightiesology, I’ve come to realize that each medium has carried much of its enthusiasm into the current era. A band can still incite intense emotion during a concert and their music still soundtracks essential memories-in-progress. Television shows have very clearly never been as well-crafted as they are now. I just saw the Giants win a Super Bowl and it was as proud and exciting a moment as any sporting event I witnessed in my youth.

Movies on the other hand have evolved into a different sort of beast. I’m no less a film geek than I ever was, in fact my sensibilities have expanded to respect the higher quality movies of both the present and the past. But the core cinema of Eightiesology were the event pictures, those that have come to weave their way into the tapestry of both that particular decade as well as film history. And for a child of the ‘80s, they entered our eyes and filled our brains with wonderment and stupefaction, creating an obsessive need to relive the adventures of a time-traveling high schooler, a scruffy-looking nerf herder, a millionaire in a bat suit or an adventuring archaeologist. The images of these films branded not only our minds but also our imagination and spirit, forming the foundation of future memories we would simply never escape.

Indiana Jones, American Idol

Indiana Jones, American Idol



This year we saw three films that referenced this age of cinema: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and the latest Indiana Jones film. Do we know if these films will impact the youth like Star Wars, Back to the Future and Batman once did? Unfortunately the answer to this is going to take some time to acquire. But more importantly, can we as adults pick up that old viewfinder and see these newer movies with the same astonishment we had as kids or has the magic of cinema dissipated along with our natural hair color and unbridled optimism? To find that answer, perhaps the best route is through Indiana Jones himself who returned this summer in a franchise born in the ‘80s.

What has become an iconic sequence in film history.

What has become an iconic sequence in film history.



The archaeologist’s first venture, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is a virtually flawless movie, to a child or an adult. It’s also an iconic masterpiece, developed and at its height of popularity in the ‘80s, but timeless in its appeal. As a kid, you wanted to reenact that type of adventure in your backyard. But then you got to grow up with the Indiana Jones films and that’s when something odd happened…they never quite went away. Adolescence and puberty were never going to stop you from still enjoying these films on a Saturday afternoon. A lot of this had to do with the movies’ skewing more to adults than other top ‘80s films had. But it also helped that the franchise never seemed to go into hibernation.

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Expanding Our Horizons

The sign that for so many years welcomed guests to take a look over our Horizons. (Picture courtesy of WDWMagic.com)

The sign that for so many years welcomed guests to take a look over our Horizons. (Picture courtesy of WDWMagic.com)



October 1st marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of Horizons, a much revered attraction at EPCOT Center in Walt Disney World. This Future World exhibit was one of the best representations of Walt Disney’s original concept for EPCOT-that of an actual community utilizing progressive technologies and ideas for better living. While it’s brethren in Future World focused on future concepts in transportation, energy, agriculture, communication and imagination, Horizons focused on a futuristic setting that utilizes all of these concepts, showing how a family might live with all of these progressions as an accepted aspect of society. While these concepts were already over 15 years ahead of what Walt had envisioned before his death, they were an entertaining depiction of the type of living he had hoped people would actually have in his Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.

Horizons opened a year after EPCOT opened to the public. My family and I had gone to Disney World for the first time in 1982, just missing EPCOT’s launch that following Fall, so by the time we visited EPCOT for the first time in 1984, Horizons was an existing part of Future World. It instantly became a favorite for not only my family but apparently other families as well. I was 10 years old at the time, just old enough to enjoy the wonder of the attraction yet too young to grasp the technicality of it all. However, we’d return to Disney World and EPCOT in ’86 and ’88 (as well as ’91 and ’92) which allowed me to grow up with extractions like Horizons around me, connecting with the concept of it more each time.

The Horizons building was cleverly built to emulate the perspective of looking towards the horizon. It also looked like a spaceship! (Courtesy of WDWMagic.com)

The Horizons building was cleverly built to emulate the perspective of looking towards the horizon. It also looked like a spaceship! (Courtesy of WDWMagic.com)



This is a large part of why I appreciate so much of the Disney aesthetic because I was fortunate enough to have spent the formative years of my childhood vacationing there and thus allowing so much of what I saw to imprint on my growing mind. In many cases, this was just for shear entertainment value. However, it had a large influence on areas of creativity for me, including design, architecture, conceptualizing and storytelling.

Horizons was essentially a sequel to Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, which details the large steps in progress mankind-and particularly one audio-animatronic family—had made throughout the 20th century, including the ever-shifting future. Horizons took the futuristic aspect and ran with it into the 21st century, expanding this idea to not only include entertaining visions of the future but also practical, relevant advances in technology. The dark ride started with a look back to the future, showcasing perceptions of the future through the eyes of Jules Verne and up through the 1950s. Then you’re shuttled past two Omnimax screens depicting the ongoing advancement of technologies (at the time). (Of note, you now know Omnimax as IMAX, but at the time, very few had seen something like this.)

At this point, you now witness these technologies being applied in futuristic settings in cities, out in the desert, underwater and in space, quite literally around the world.  Disney utilized it’s a combination of audio-animatronic and real film to depict these settings. At the time, concepts such as voice-activation or videophones seemed truly futuristic and yet many of these concepts are either a reality today or are very clearly on their way there. There’s a memorable part of the ride where you pass through an orange grove scene and you actually can smell oranges. This really underlines how successfully Disney displayed a fully immersive experience.  My memory can still smell those oranges. The finale of the ride allowed each omnimover vehicle to choose their method of transportation back to the fictional FuturePort. Buttons lit up on the dashboard on the doors of the vehicle, allowing the riders to choose a half-minute ending film that took you through space-colonization, arid-zone agriculture and ocean colonization. All the more reason to go on the ride 2 or 3 more times! (And I distinctly recall doing just that with this attraction, particularly when we saw there wasn’t a long line to get back on!)
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Eighties Eulogy



In the ’80s, I used to see these buildings everyday from New Jersey. So much a part of the backdrop of our lives that you never conceived something would ever happen like what happened on September 11, 2001. The buildings were probably filled with people my age who had once enjoyed the most innocent of lives and had moved on in life to aspire to industrious things, caring for new families. Perhaps helping create the same type of memories we celebrate here for their own children.

It’s tragedies like this that send me running into the arms of notalgia and childhood innocence, still unable to comprehend the reality of what I’ve seen in my adult life. I wish I could close my eyes and see that New York City skyline again.

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