In a 2011 New York Times op-ed article marking Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday, David Hajdu wrote that 14 is a “formative age” when it comes to musical taste: “You’re in the ninth grade, confronting the tyrannies of sex and adulthood, struggling to figure out what kind of adult you’d like to be, and you turn to the cultural products most important in your day as sources of cool — the capital of young life.” He spoke to Daniel J. Levitin, a professor of psychology and the director of the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University, who explained the physiological element of the phenomenon:
“Pubertal growth hormones make everything we’re experiencing, including music, seem very important. We’re just reaching a point in our cognitive development when we’re developing our own tastes. And musical tastes become a badge of identity.”
I was actually 13 at the start of 9th grade — my December birthday meant I turned 14 right in the middle of the school year — so maybe I was running six months ahead of schedule age-wise, but I feel like Hajdu’s theory definitely applies to me. The year was 1981, and it was a momentous one for music: Just weeks before school started, MTV launched with a space shuttle countdown, a rocket blast-off, a moon landing and the Buggles doing “Video Killed the Radio Star.” (If you’re of the MTV generation, skip to minute 14 in the video to see images that will be very familiar to you.)
MTV First Day Saturday August 1st, 1981 12:01… by Dale0823/
One of the earliest MTV videos was Devo’s “Whip It.” I was going to say the video was one of MTV’s most frequently played but in the early days there were so few videos that all of them were frequently played. The geeky guys in black sleeveless turtlenecks and red “flowerpot” hats whipping the clothes off a woman made an indelible impression on me.
For Halloween in 2010, I dressed as another of my early ’80s video icons, Adam Ant. With Adam out of my system, and with this June’s death of Devo drummer Alan Myers calling for a tribute, I recruited designing friend Stacy Lomman to be two-fifths of Devo with me for Halloween last Thursday. We got the official hats, which aren’t hats or even flowerpots, but “Energy Domes,” thank you very much. (Check out the end of this clip to hear the band discussing the hats with talk-show host Merv Griffin in 1980.) Stacy provided safety glasses left over from her Spring 2012 Biohazard collection. I already had a sleeveless black turtleneck from 2001. I added a cut-off pair of pleather H&M leggings, my orthopedic-looking lug sole shoes, a pair of MrB’s socks and, of course, my own letter rings.
You know how every Halloween costume is sexy now? Sexy cats, sexy witches, sexy corn-on-the-cob?
If you want to buck that trend, go as Devo, because there is no way to be sexy in a Devo outfit. Oh well. At least we looked glamorous the night before.
The ’80s-themed Culture Club was the obvious place to go. We felt right at home there, especially next to this mural.
It was nice to bump into the guys from Wham!
The real Wham! wore those “Choose Life” slogan t-shirts by designer Katharine Hamnett in their 1984 “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” video. (The shirts were inspired by a Buddhism exhibit and had nothing to do with anti-abortion protestors. Hamnett isn’t pleased by the co-opting of her slogan for the latter purpose.) I could kick myself for getting rid of the t-shirt I got at Wham!’s Beacon Theatre concert. I made a similar mistake with my Frankie Say Relax concert t-shirt. NEVER GET RID OF YOUR CONCERT T-SHIRTS, PEOPLE!
At Culture Club, we also met up with Rocky, Richard Simmons, and a photobombing Wonder Woman.
Rocky was soooo happy when “Eye of the Tiger” was played. He draped himself in his American flag and ran all over the place.
This Halloween was a big day for Devo — the very hot band Arcade Fire covered Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge” during a show in Los Angeles.
But the Devo song that’s been stuck in my head for days is “Peek-A-Boo!”
Does anyone do anything this weird anymore? If so, let me know, because the 14-year-old in me is very interested.
UPDATED TO ADD: Here’s Stacy’s blog post.