Monday, December 15, 2008

A Song a Year: 1984, 99 Luftballoons

By 1984 I was starting to really take an interest in music. The unfortunate thing is my taste was horrible. I had no idea what was good or bad or plain awful. Though a quick look at the top 10 selling singles in the USA for '84 suggests that taste probably didn't matter:

1. When Doves Cry, Prince
2. What's Love Got To Do With It, Tina Turner
3. Say Say Say, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
4. Footloose, Kenny Loggins
5. Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now), Phil Collins
6. Jump, Van Halen
7. Hello, Lionel Richie
8. Owner Of A Lonely Heart, Yes
9. Ghostbusters, Ray Parker Jr.
10. Karma Chameleon, Culture Club

I mean, geez! That is a bad list. Let's be honest 1984 was not a music highpoint.

My song of the year was to be Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl". I can recall spending the summer that year at my cousins. They had a tennis court and on new year's eve we were out playing on the court listening to Casey Kasem do the year's countdown (why this was on the local AM radio station I have no idea, but when you're dealing with country AM radio you are in beggars can't be choosers territory). I can recall confidently predicting that the Number 1 song would be "Uptown Girl". I was close: it came 39th.

It was a good song for its time, though the An Innocent Man album has probably fallen in standing over time - it's a bit gimmicky. The video featuring Christie Brinkley was lots of fun - especially for any teenage boys who had seen her driving the red Ferrari in National Lampoon's Vacation.

But all the videos of it on YouTube have had their enabling disabled, so I'm not able to put it on this blog. So Billy Joel, bad luck you miss out.

I was tempted to go with Wham! 'Freedom', which was also one of my favourites of that year, but for me, the song which screams 1984 is Nina's 99 Luftballons.

In 1984, I started High School. At our school the foreign language choice was between German and errrr well actually there was no choice (until you got into Year 9, when you could choose between German and Ag Studies - amazingly there was a very high correlation between those who felt no need to know a language other than English, and those who enjoyed learning about farming).

Now teachers, being who they are, search for anything going around in the public culture to link to their subject. When I was studying Economics at uni, one lecturer, while we were studying International Finance, pointed out that much of what we were learning about was what the Richard Gere character in Pretty Woman did - ie buy up companies, and them sell them off in little pieces at a huge profit. Sad to say it didn't really grab us (though the fact I can recall this lesson 18 years later perhaps suggests he was smarter than I give him credit). However, if you are a high school German teacher, and suddenly a song sung in German becomes the most popular song going around, well now that be all your Weinachtens come at once.

It also was helped by the fact that the song's lyrics were topical - talk about educational! A German lesson and a world studies lesson all wrapped up in 4 minutes and 6 seconds.

It is amazing at this distance to think about the Berlin Wall. When I was younger I badly wanted to get to Berlin to see the Wall. Die Mauer was pretty well etched into my consciousness as a young political aware teenager. The Cold War seems now to be so remote, so otherworldly - did we really worry that the Soviet Union and America would actually destroy the entire world?

The fall of the Wall is one of those "I remember where I was moments". In 1989 I was in Japan on a student exchange. On the day I found out (Nov 11 - though the Wall actually came down 2 days before) a Canadian exchange student friend of mine and I were going into Tokyo for a bit of a night out. I met him at the train station in my town (he lived 20 minutes further down the line). He had a copy of The Japan Times - the best English language newspaper in Japan. I asked him what was the news. He said... oh not much.... Gretzky scored again (I was into Ice Hockey - as you must be if you have a Canadian friend)... oh ... oh yeah, the Berlin Wall came down...

The two of us - as young politically aware teenagers are want to do jumped up and down in the train screaming about this moment in time. (You have to realise we were the type of guys who would talk about Glasnost while drinking beer...yes... so serious, so self important).

And yet I was also somewhat chagrined, because now I would never get to see the divided city (a fact which I guess the people of Berlin no doubt were able to live with).

'99 Luftballons' is a song the like of which we won't see again. Germany is no longer the political consciousness of the West. The events of importance have moved decidedly to the east. But for 1984, if you were young and wanted to grasp the importance of the Cold War, well it was all there in a nice heart felt pop ditty.

And if you were a German teacher, it meant you had a good two weeks of lessons planned for you without even trying. I don't know about any other school in Australia; but if you were studying German at mine in 1984, you sure as heck were doing a translation of Nina's words.

I can recall some of what it means, but rather oddly, I can still remember all of the German, which proves I guess, that a good song doesn't need to make sense, it just needs to make a connection.

My previous post on the 2001 Oscars left out a mention of the amazing Australian film Lantana.

I actually thought it came out in 2000, and so was going to mention it in my next Oscars entry. For mine, it is the second greatest Australian film of all time (my number 1 will get a mention later). The plot involves the intertwining lives of people in Sydney, and of all the many, many films with multiple plot lines, I believe it is the best - better than Short Cuts, Magnolia, Nashville (and definitely Crash).

It is an incredibly adult drama - not for children, and not for the immature, because at times this film is utterly shattering in its intensity.

The acting is just amazing. Kerry Armstrong should have also got nominated for Best Actress (though I'll stick with my pick of Naomi Watts), but perhaps they could have nominated her as Best Supporting Actress - she would've been a better choice than Marica Gay Harden in Pollock (good though she was).

Anthony LaPaglia in the lead role as the detective trying to solve a murder while his marriage and life is falling apart is better than he's ever been (though I'm looking forward to Balibo due out next year). Geoffrey Rush as the husband whose daughter was murdered, and now whose wife is missing is absolutely breathtaking. How can a guy play that role and also be so brilliant as the buffoonish theatre producer in Shakespeare in Love (or for that matter also be the villainous Walshingham in Elizabeth AND the great cartoon villain in Pirates of the Caribbean)? If there is a better character actor going around today I don't know him.

Perhaps best of all is Paul Kelly's haunting score - though unfortunately I couldn't find a YouTube clip featuring it.

This clip of the final 4 minutes of the film (which doesn't actually give much away) features a dance song (Te Busco) - some of the couples in the film are taking dancing lessons. I could just about write a thesis on the final scenes of Armstrong and LaPaglia dancing. Such acting by the pair! With no words, and in an embrace the whole time they let the reader into their minds - Armstrong seems to almost be running away, while LaPaglia desperately clings to her, hoping against hope that she will stay, and things will be like they once were.

The film ends without resolution, and it is all the better for it.

I don't know whether I would give it Best Picture - I still love Mulholland Dr - but I'd put this as runner up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I did not think much of Lantana when I first watched it bu that was ages ago. I'll give it another run over the break. LVDH