Three of my good friends DJ the 90s Nite at Belvedere's. It started small, of course, about two years ago. Small crowd, once a month. Since then, they've expanded to bi-weekly, and the place gets packed with people dancing to the rhythms of the days of Zubaz pants and economic prosperity. My friends are rap enthusiasts, and really only play hip-hop inspired music. I actually like this. Jane's Addiction is a good band, but they are not dance music. And, unlike with other dance nights, I come to 90s Nite for the music. I could be on the floor, dancing to some Dr. Dre. I could be just as happy sitting in an armchair, drinking my Pabst and nodding along. It does occur to me that 90s nostalgia is in full swing, and it's about time.
The 80s thing started way too early and lasted way too long. This is coming from someone who frequented 80s Night at Club Laga, then at Belvedere's, dancing to the sounds of DJ Hatesyou while the hip young Pittsburghers did lines of coke in that little-ass restroom. What always irked me about 80s nostalgia are the absurdly strong blinders people have to put on to celebrate what was without a doubt the lowest point of the 20th century. VH1 is partly to blame, with its lazy-ass pop culture programming. I always figured 80s nostalgia got so prevalent because it enables the laziest aspects of youth culture. All the people who can't bother to match their clothes and only know one herky-jerky dance move can simply say they're "being 80s," go to the bar and rock to the sounds of the "So Bad It's Good" Decade.
Unlike a lot of people who dig such things, I actually remember the 80s. Now, I was very young, but I distinctly remember being five years old and cognizant that things sucked. I couldn't really tell what the problem was, but somehow I was privy to the overwhelming stench of powermongering right-wing lunatics, absurd corporate oversight, knee-jerk patriotism, cultural blandness and horrible, horrible fashion choices. This VH1-inspired glossing over of everything that was shit makes me dread when they do "I Live the 00s." I think they already did that, actually. And I'm sure Mo Rocca was on there, wisecracking about how wonderful and funny it was to have a cowboy for president.
The 90s were actually cool. That's not just me saying that because it's my childhood. I am aware that the part which mattered most to me--endless reruns of "Salute Your Shirts" and "Wild and Crazy Kids"--was not cool. The fashion was cool. The movies were cool. Clinton? Coolest president ever. Yes, he killed a ton of people, like every president has. I don't adore him like most black folk, who worship his image with a devotion we usually reserve for rappers, basketball players and characters from Judaic fairy tales. But Clinton was undeniably cool. His impeachment was one of the great repudiations of cool in world history, paving the way for outright dweebness like getting up in other people's sex lives and walking around aircraft carriers in flight suits that give you a wedgie.
Even MTV, that bastion of American trash culture, was cool. The thing about the 90s is that artists were given free reign to be weird. So you had a wave of weird music videos, weird game shows, weird cartoons. Seeing something like Oddville or Aeon Flux on TV was just amazing.
And the music--Sometimes the stars just align and everybody fires on all cylinders. The alternative was Green Day, the Pumpkins and the Chili Peppers when they still did drugs. RnB was TLC, Janet and New Edition. Hip hop was NWA and Pac. Your best-selling pop star was Alanis Morrisette, an actual songwriter who wrote personal lyrics. Even some signature 80s artists had their renaissance in the 90s. "Lucky Star" and "Material Girl," for all their chintziness, have nothing on songs like "Take A Bow" and "Vogue." During the 90s, every single genre got a shot in the arm, and listening to music was such a joy. With the current influx of nostalgia, I may have to start going to the club again.
Nostalgia itself is a lame thing, a rose-tinted glasses approach to history that is all about gawking at the past while doing nothing for the present situation. Compare Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, an ADD-style repetition of childhood images without a story to hang itself on, to The Social Network, a movie with hardly any contemporary references but that says so much about the state of a generation. That's the difference between nostalgia and actual art. Since the decade remembrance thing has to happen, it is nice that for the next ten years we'll be reminiscing about the cool.