Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Child of the 1980's - Movies Are Not Real

                It is the Holiday season, the time for family, friends, food, and Santa.  Young children start off by believing that Santa is real among other things, it is that imagination and wonder that we lose along the way.  Though sometimes it is for the best.

I am sure most of you out there remember when and how you found out that Santa was not real.  However, I wanted to share how I found out that movies weren’t real.  It is a little funnier and more embarrassing than simply finding a closet full of wrapped presents, some from Santa, when I was 6 or 7.

In 1985 the movie Rocky IV came out, it was a sequel in the very popular Rocky franchise.  I can still remember being in second grade and standing the lunch line listening as one of my classmates described in vivid detail the fight between Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago.  I listened in horror as I heard about one final blow in the fight which ultimately killed Apollo.  A few months later I did see the movie and found myself having to hide behind my bedroom door in fear.

This would not be the last time that I found myself watching something terrifying through the crack in my bedroom door.  I can still remember being nine-years old and watching in horror as my favorite wrestler at the time, Hulk Hogan, had his shirt and crucifix torn off by the now-evil Andre the Giant.  It was the build up to Wrestlemania III in 1987 and it all seemed real to me still.  Of course as I grew up I realized that pro wrestling was choreographed, not fake, and I also learned to not like Hulk Hogan and root for more skilled wrestlers.  But I digress; it was nearly a year later that I got a wakeup call in terms of movies not being real.

Just as 1988 began I saw an ad on NBC for Saturday Night Live.  That episode would be hosted by Carl Weathers, also known as Apollo Creed from Rocky.  It was a shock to my system to see a man I saw die in the ring against Ivan Drago standing there promoting SNL.  How was this possible? Weathers even announced himself as Apollo in case people didn’t know who he was.  It was at this time that I realized he was only playing a character and didn’t really die in Rocky IV, or Predator, or Happy Gilmore.  Come to think of it Carl Weathers dies in a lot of his movies.

So there you have it, up until between age 9-10 I believed that movies were real until Carl Weathers hosted Saturday Night Live.  Did you ever believe that things which happened in movies were real?  What was the event which stopped you believing that?  Stay tuned for more crazy revelations from 1980’s memories!  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Child of the 1980's - Christmas Toys

                ‘Tis the season to be jolly.  ‘Tis also the season of giving.  As a child, whether in the 1980’s or 2010’s there is always that A1 top of the line gift that becomes the must-have of the year.  It never fails, with the right combination of originality, appeal, and marketing, each year seems to bring forth one particular item that every child begs their parents for.  The 1980’s gave us plenty of those.  Here are some of the iconic toys that made parents trample each other in Toys R Us, KB Toys, Child World, FAO Schwarz, and others.

Cabbage Patch Kids – 1983 – Technically these insanely popular dolls were invented in 1978 by Xavier Roberts.  Initially called ‘The Little People’ they would not be sold, rather adopted, by their owners, complete with name and birth certificate.  In 1982 the dolls were renamed Cabbage Patch Dolls and began being sold through Coleco.  At their peak in 1983 the dolls sold 2.5 million units in one year and in 1984 sales of Cabbage Patch Dolls reached $1 billion.  As of 2012 more than 115 million of these had been sold.

Nintendo Entertainment System – 1986 – Before the NES the home video game market was dominated by Atari and to a lesser extent Coleco.  The Nintendo was quietly released in America in October 1985, gaining steam in popularity in 1986 thanks to games like Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, and Metroid.  In its peak year, 1988, the NES sold 7 million units and more than 32 million cartridges.  Sales reached $1.7 billion and in a true showing of what a juggernaut the NES was the company claims that if not for a worldwide computer chip shortage in 1988 they would have likely sold as many as 40% more cartridges.  They would create another highly sought after Christmas gift the following year when they released the Game Boy.

Rubik’s Cube – 1980 – Created by Erno Rubik in 1974, this handheld puzzle became the highest selling toy of all-time.  It was unleashed en mass upon consumers in 1980 through Ideal Toys.  The cube, covered with moveable colored squares, would sell 4.5 million units in 1980 alone and as of 2014 more than 350 million had been sold.  If you have never been able to solve this puzzle have no fear, even Rubik himself couldn’t solve his product upon its creation.  That being said, the Guinness Book of World Records says that the quickest solve of the Rubik’s Cube is a mere ten seconds.

Teddy Ruxpin – 1985 – This animatronic teddy bear burst on the scene in 1985 with his wide eyes and cassettes put into his back to allow him to tell stories.  At its peak the stuffed bear would have its own cartoon show and sold a million units in 1985.  Created by Ken Forsee it was sold initially through Worlds of Wonder and after that Hasbro and there were more than three dozen story cassettes that one could buy.  Teddy Ruxpin was voiced by Phil Baron who also voiced Piglet in the live-action Welcome to Pooh Corner.  This toy has vanished and been brought back four times including a relaunch in 2017.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 1989 – This collection of four anthropomorphic turtles got their start as comic books heroes in 1984.  Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo would crossover into television in 1987 and Turtlemania was underway.  A series of action figures through Playmates Toys would sell big in 1988 when the animated series became a Saturday morning staple.  Sales would grow even larger in 1989 and with a live action movie in 1990 TMNT would sell more than 30 million units by the end of 1990 with the franchise being valued at $1 billion by then.
         There were plenty of other big hit toys that made 1980’s Christmases fun and shopping for them crazy for our parents.  Did you have any of these?  Were there any other favorites that I missed? I am sure there will be a Volume 2 sometime.  Check back in for more bodacious 1980’s memories!

Click here for my previous Child of the 1980's Blog about Sugary Breakfast Cereals!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Child of the 1980's - Sugar Is A Four-Letter Word

                In today’s world nutritional information is hugely important when it comes to any food product.  Transparency is key as far as calories, fat, carbs, and any sort of additives go.  A healthier lifestyle is something one should strive for anyway, but it has come to the forefront of society especially in the 21st century.  It’s not as if people did not care about their health back in the 1980’s, it was just that it was left up to a person to make the right choices on their own for what they put into their bodies.  However, it was during this decade that the changes became apparent when it came to certain food additives, especially sugar.  The 1980’s were the decade when sugar became a four-letter word.
                The area where this change was seen most had to have been breakfast cereals.  Perhaps it is because cereal was always one of my favorite things, and still is today, that I had many dealings with these changes.  So where did the changes become most obvious?  In the names of course.

                When 1980 began there were some very popular cereals which had been around for decades.  There was Sugar Crisp, which had debuted in 1949, Sugar Pops, which hit the market in 1950, Sugar Frosted Flakes, which was introduced in 1952, and Sugar Smacks which was released in 1953.  By the time 1985 dawned the cereals were called Super Golden Crisp, Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes, and Honey Smacks.  Why the change?

                Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s the sugar content in breakfast cereals kept increasing with companies become more brazen when it came to the fact that they were pumping kids full of the sweet stuff.  The counter-culture of the late 1960’s became the turning point as people began to think that maybe it wasn’t great for kids to be eating tons of sugar.  I have always enjoyed my sweet cereals so I am torn on this as I do see their point.  For example, two of the worst culprits of the sugar overload were, and still are, Golden Crisp and Honey Smacks.  Golden Crisp has a sugar content of 51%, meaning that 51% of the cereal’s weight is comprised of sugar, while Honey Smacks has a 55% sugar content.  Now, this is not meant to be some anti-sugar rant, I am just saying that I can see where people were coming from when the backlash against high-sugar cereals came to a head in the early 1980’s.  So a lot of manufacturers toned down the use of sugar, by changing the names, not really by lowering sugar amounts.

                Despite the name changes in some all-time favorites children of the 1980’s like myself were treated to some amazing flash in the pan cereals that could not have been exactly low in sugar.  Do you remember any of these short-lived 80’s breakfast names?  Dunkin’ Donuts Cereal, Ice Cream Cones, Nerds, OJ’s, Powdered Donutz Cereal, Rocky Road, S’Mores Crunch, Waffleo’s , Circus Fun.  They all sound very healthy.

                The 1980’s were definitely a golden age of breakfast cereals.  Even though the pushback against high sugar products was in full swing that didn’t stop manufacturers from creating some memorable meals for kids.  I know I definitely enjoyed my Saturday mornings in the 1980’s about as much as any time of my life, cereal and cartoon were a great mix.  What were your favorite cereals in the 1980’s?  Did you remember when the word sugar was featured in many of those old classics?  Come on back for more sweeter than sweet 1980’s memories!

Check out the previous Child of the 1980's blog all about the Drive-In.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Child of the 1980's - The Drive-In Theater

                Drive-In movies were a huge part of the lives of children and young adults during the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Though drive-ins technically existed prior to World War I the first true patented drive-in opened in Camden, New Jersey in 1933.  Even after that they did not become a true part of culture until the 1950’s.  The growing popularity of drive-ins was evident at this time.  In 1948 the United States had less than 1,000 drive-ins compared to 17,000 indoor theaters.  By 1958 the numbers were changing with roughly 4,600 drive-ins opened in the country and approximately 12,000 indoor theaters.

                Drive-ins were a welcome change from what could be crowded indoor theaters.  First off one could sit in their own vehicle and watch a movie.  In fact the largest drive-in theater for a long time was located in Dearborn, Michigan and used to hold 3,000 cars.  It was eventually surpassed by the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop.  When the 1980’s began the drive-in was still going strong with approximately 3,500 screens located across the country.  However this decade would end quite differently.

                Growing up on Cape Cod I remember vividly going to the Yarmouth Drive-In located along Parker’s River.  There were also screens located in Hyannis, Dennis, East Falmouth, and Wellfleet.  During this time in the early 1980’s I got to see movies such as Return of the Jedi, E.T., Flash Gordon, and even Friday the 13th Part III at the Yarmouth Drive-In.  It was such a thrill as a child barely in kindergarten to be able to lay down under a blanket with pillows and snacks and watch a movie on a screen that was between 90-100-feet wide.  Shows started at dusk and were double-features.  The first movie was usually the more family friendly since it was likely that the kids would be wide awake and wired for the show.  The second movie was usually a little looser, probably not R-rated, but likely a solid PG, or PG-13.  It felt like an adventure, a unique experience, being outside yet feeling like you were in your own living room.
Image result for dennis drive-in
Dennis Drive-In courtesy of Cinema Treasures
      The 1980’s began with five drive-ins on Cape Cod, and 3,500 nationwide.  By 1990 that number was below 1,000, and there was only one survivor on the Cape and that was in Wellfleet.  What caused the downfall?  Causes range from the rise of cable television to the wider availability of VCR’s.  Drive-Ins did not totally vanish, and still haven’t, but today they are more of a niche, something neat to experience once during the summer if possible, not a weekly ritual like in its heyday.

So for Cape Cod children of the 1980’s wondering what happened to the other four, here are the answers.  In East Falmouth the Cod Drive-In was first to go as it closed in 1980.  Today it is the site of J.R. Brody’s and Falmouth Lumber, a concrete slab likely where the tickets or refreshments were sold is still there.  The Dennis Drive-In on Hokum Rock Road closed shortly thereafter.  In its heyday it had room for nearly 1,000 cars and even had small planes landing and rolling up to watch movies.  Today it is an overgrown field near an industrial park.  If you walk around you can see old pavement, concrete slabs, and an occasional speaker or speaker pole.  The Yarmouth Drive-In I frequented as a child closed next in 1985.  Today it is an open field across from Capt. Parker’s Restaurant on Rt. 28.  The last Cape drive-in to close was the Hyannis Drive-In which shuttered in 1987.  Today it is a shopping center anchored by Toys R Us, Home Goods and Shaws.

Wellfleet Drive-In today courtesy of Wellfleet Cinemas
The Wellfleet Drive-In is still hanging on and has now found a second life as children of the 1980’s wish to recreate that old drive-in magic with their children.  Today there are only 336 drive-ins left in the country, that’s about 7% when compared to the prime of the late 1950’s. 

What movies do you remember seeing in the 1980’s at the drive-in?  Do you get the chance to go today?  For a trip down memory lane check out Drive-In, and stay tuned for more buttery and sugary treats 1980’s style!

Click here for my last Child of the 1980's blog about Mascot Mania!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Child of the 80's - Mascot Mania Vol. 1

                The brand mascot has been a part of business for as long as advertising has existed.  From as far back as the first half of the 20th century companies have tied their success to a familiar face that represents their product.   Before World War II there were icons such as Speedy Alka Seltzer, the Quaker Oats man, the Sun Maid Raisins Girl, and Mr. Peanut. 
                For children of the 1980’s, or any decade for that matter, it is easy to think back and remember which mascots or pitchmen made you want to buy a product.  For this blog I am going to share five of my favorites.  I am going to try going a little deeper and hopefully sparking some memories with these picks.  They are in no particular order, so let the flashbacks commence!

1.  Chester Cheetah – Cheetos

                Who could forget this smooth talking animated cheetah that started representing the snack company beginning in 1986?  His catchphrases were: “It ain’t easy bein’ cheesy.” and “Cheetos, the cheese that goes crunch!”  In the beginning Chester was animated in the traditional way before moving to CGI in the 21st century.   He would always attempt to take others’ Cheetos and ultimately fail in an over the top cartoonish way.  Though this character still exists today there’s no doubting children of the 80’s have fond memories of his heyday.

2.  Fast Talker - Micro Machines

            These miniature vehicles were cool if you were a boy in the 1980’s. They were made even cooler through the commercials featuring extremely fast talker John Moschitta Jr.  At one point he was the world record holder being able to articulate 586 words per minute, his record has subsequently been broken twice.  The toys were hugely popular in the late 1980’s with Moschitta appearing in roughly 100 commercials as the Micro Machines Man.  The catchphrase he used, albeit very quickly, was: “Remember if it doesn't say Micro Machines, it's not the real thing!"

3.  Energizer Bunny

            Bursting onto the scene in 1989 was this now-classic advertising mascot.  The bunny equipped with an Energizer battery to power it began its run as a way of comparing how long he company’s batteries would last in comparison to the competition.  In its initial commercial a group of mechanical bunnies beat snare drums when the pink bunny came in beating a bass drum.  It then wandered into several fictitious commercials with the tag line ‘Still going…nothing outlasts Energizer, they keep going and going…”  Since then the fluffy mascot has appeared in well over a hundred commercials with no signs of slowing down.

4.  Snausages Dog

            Though the product line is still going strong today the mascot of these dog treats has been reduced to an image on the packaging.  The product created by Ken-L Ration debuted in 1984 with a commercial featuring the dog repeating the products name as it poked its head out from behind bushes and trees.  The Snausages name became well known throughout the 1980’s, later adding another classic commercial for their Snausages In A Blanket.  More than thirty years later Snausages is still going strong with the happy dog mascot still adorning the products and website.

5.  Cookiepuss et al – Carvel Ice Cream

                Founded in 1929 by Tom Carvel this ice cream company was huge back in the 1980’s.  The ice cream cakes became the stuff of legend with the unique designs being given different names such as Cookiepuss, Fudgie the Whale, Dumpy the Pumpkin, and a Santa Claus among others.   Carvel reached its zenith in 1985 with 865 stores grossing more than $300 million.  I can remember the Carvel store in the K-Mart plaza in Hyannis back then.  It was fun to go and see the made up cakes, even if I didn’t get one.  Though there are only about 400 stores open today Carvel still has a strong presence in supermarkets with its ice cream cakes.

                Those are only a few of the famed advertising mascots from the 1980’s.  There will definitely be a Volume 2 coming up, but for now enjoy the memories, and classic commercials here.  Stay tuned for more gnarly 80’s flashbacks! 

Click here to check out my last Child of the 1980's blog Mixtape Madness!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Child of the 80's - Mixtape Madness

                In a day when MP3’s are the common way people listen to music it is easy to forget the days of the classic mixtape.  Despite the advances in technology of the 21st century it is still possible to find audio cassettes out there.  They may be increasingly rare now but in the 1980’s they were the go to mode of listening to music.  Do you remember?

                The audio cassette was invented in 1962 by Philips and progressively gained traction in the music genre during the 1970’s, battling it out with 8-track tapes.  However cassettes really took off in the 1980’s with the growing availability of the Sony Walkman, the portable cassette player.  It was introduced in the United States in 1980 and as of 2009 had sold more than 200 million units.  As important as the Walkman was for making ones music portable, there was another invention that changed the game just as much: the dual deck cassette recorder.
Image result for maxell cassette tapes
     This invention meant that no longer would people have to ‘only’ listen to whichever tape they had, or listen to the radio.  This invention meant that now we had the ability to take our favorite songs off of different tapes and make our own personal mixes.  The most widely used brands in the day were Maxell and Memorex.  This was a fabulous way to give gifts to friends or crushes back in the 1980’s.  A personal mixtape could say things that the old school love notes could not.  If you gave someone a tape with Foreigner’s ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’ it meant more than ‘roses are red, violets are blue.’  Plus you could always write a little love note on the inside of the tape sleeve, or on the tape’s label.

                One aspect of the tape recorder in general, not just the dual deck, was the ability to record off of the radio.  This meant if you timed it just right you could possibly snag that track you’ve been dying to have without having to buy the entire cassette.  It was the 80’s version of digital piracy.  Still this was often thwarted when radio DJs would talk and talk over the musical intro to the song, or play some sort of station ID just before the song ended.  Getting a clean crisp recording or a favorite track was nearly impossible.  I can remember countless times I wanted to grab my favorite song off of Cape 104 or PIXY 103 using my SONY dual deck and having to make do with it being talked over at the beginning or end.   
                Every now and then when going through boxes in my mother’s basement I will come across old mixtapes that are now 20-25 years old.  I was still creating mixes until the turn of the 21st century, this time ripping music from my compact discs.  
     According to it is thought that in pristine condition audio cassettes can have a lifespan of thirty years.  However ones that have received lots of playback tend to last half as long.  This is just a heads up for anyone with classic mixes that one day they may want to play on some retro tape deck.  They might work, or the tape might get caught in the gears of the player, and we all know that winding the tape back in using a pencil can be a pain in the ass!

                Thanks for reading and be sure to come on back for more bitchin’ 80’s memories! 

Click here for my last Child of the 80's Blog about living the Happy Meal life!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Child of the 1980's - The Happy Meal Age

           “You deserve a break today!” 

The Golden Arches, the king of fast food, and surely a big part of the childhoods of most 1980’s kids, that is McDonald’s.  For me trips to McDonald’s in the 1980’s are associated with birthdays, good report cards, and successful sporting events.  The first half of the 1980’s also included another thing during McDonald’s trips, that being the Happy Meal.  I spent my early childhood years excitedly ordering them during my special trips to the fast food giant, eagerly anticipating the toy inside.

                When I first experienced a McDonald’s Happy Meal they were still a new choice.  The very first were tested locally in Kansas City markets in October 1977 before being launched nationally in June 1979 at a cost of $1.10.  The idea of a colorfully illustrated lunch pail type package aimed toward children is credited to a McDonald’s advertising executive named Dick Brams.  The very first nationally released Happy Meals had a circus wagon design and had handles on top to make it easy for kids to carry.

                Inside of the package children were greeted by a hamburger or cheeseburger, cookies,  and small French fries, in addition to a small drink of their choosing.  This would remain the same until McDonald’s introduced their Chicken McNuggets nationwide in 1983.  In recent years the company has attempted to become more health conscious by giving the options of apple slices and milk in addition to the old standbys.

                The first toys inside the Happy Meals were subpar compared to later years.  Kids would find a ‘McDoodler’ stencil, a ‘McWrist’ wallet, or an eraser shaped like a McDonaldland character inside.  Those characters included Ronald McDonald, Grimace, Hamburglar, Birdie the Early Bird, Mayor McCheese, the Fry Kids, and more.  Children were likely pleased with their toys since there was nothing else to compare them to, today though it would be seen as a disappointment.
Image result for mcdonalds 1980's
McDonaldland Characters

      Later in 1979 McDonald’s stepped up their game and had toys in the Happy Meals promoting Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  In the 1980’s the fast food giant would gain a reputation by having some legendary toys in the children’s meals.  Some of the greats include: Changeables which were essentially McDonald’s food products that transformed into robots, McNugget Buddies which were dressed in different occupational costumes, a set of colorful Halloween pails, and the iconic Mac Tonight Moon Man figures.  They also hit on many of the popular kids shows of the 80’s with their toys like Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, Garfield, DuckTales, and more. 

It is easy to see why sales of the meals are still so high.  For example, according to Time Magazine in 2012 1.2 billion Happy Meals were sold worldwide.  Granted not all of the news is great, the childhood obesity rate has grown from 4.2% in 1979 when Happy Meals were introduced to 18.5% in 2017.  That is not all due to one restaurant though.  On a lighter note if you saved any of your toys from that era some are worth good money.  Some of the most valuable include the Roary the Lion Beanie Baby which can go for as much as $750, the 1990’s fad Furby’s are also quite valuable. 

Did you ever have a Happy Meal during your childhood?  Do you still have any of the toys?   Stay tuned for more killer 80’s memories!

Click here for my last Child of the 80's blog all about the Atari 2600!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Child of the 1980's - Atari 2600

                In 2017 it is hard to imagine a time when video games were primitive.  Xbox, Nintendo Wii, and Playstation have all lay claim to some incredible games and consoles.  The graphics and stories are mind-blowing with new advances in technology coming at such a rapid pace.  Handheld consoles, virtual reality, motion-capture, and more have become the norm.  However there was a time not very long ago where a dot bouncing across a screen between two sliding bars was the biggest thing on earth.  Before the more recent games where the graphics mimic reality there was a time when 8-bit graphics were the greatest thing going.  It was during this time, as a child of the 1980’s, where I was introduced to the world of video games.  It was not through Nintendo, or Sega, or Xbox, or Playstation.  It was through the granddaddy of video game consoles, the Atari 2600.

Image result for atari 2600
Atari 2600
                In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s if a kid wanted to play video games it was usually off to the video arcade.  It was less common for a kid to have a home console although a few did exist, specifically ColecoVision and Atari VCS.  Atari had a firm grip on the market though as they had established themselves by creating the game Pong in 1972, one of the earliest video arcade games. The Atari Video Console System was an 8-bit system released in September 1977.  It would sell for between $199-229 ($803-925 in 2017) and popularize cartridge-based consoles with games being loaded into the top of the machine.  The games would be controlled with a simple joystick coupled with one red button.  Initially Atari released nine games with its VCS: Air-Sea Battle, Basic Math, Blackjack, Combat, Indy 500, Star Ship, Street Racer, two versions of Surround, Video Olympics.

                Atari would change its console from the VCS to 2600 in 1982 when they released its successor the 5200.  It was around this time that I was introduced to home video games.  I can clearly remember playing games like Pitfall, Missile Command, and Pac-Man at home on weekends or after school.  Pac-Man would go on to become the top-selling game ever on Atari along with a pop culture icon.  Some of the other legendary games that came along through the Atari include Asteroids, Space Invaders, Frogger, Dig Dug, Pole Position, Mario Bros., and Donkey Kong.
Image result for pac man
Pac-Man Screenshot
                I did not get a chance to play all of those games on my home console, as the early 1980’s were still a time where video games were new and rare and still seen as a niche, or a luxury, while playing outside was the go to activity for kids.  However I loved playing my Atari, and so did a lot of other people.  When all was said and done the Atari 2600 sold over 30 million consoles and hundreds of millions of games during its time in existence.
     Atari’s grasp on the throne would come to an end quickly.  Oversaturation of the market led to a huge drop in sales beginning in late 1983.  They continued to slip in 1984 and 1985 with many thinking home video game consoles were fading away.  Then in late 1985 Japan brought its Nintendo Entertainment System to the United States.  It would revitalize the video game industry eventually rendering Atari obsolete and selling more than 60 million units worldwide.
Image result for atari 2600 pitfall
     Ironically more than thirty years after Atari was the biggest thing in video games one can play some of the classics online.  There are original consoles still able to be found on eBay along with the popular Atari Flashback new consoles.  The company also made headlines again in 2014 when 1,300 unsold cartridges, many of them of the huge failure E.T., were uncovered in the desert in New Mexico.  Atari officials said that the burial was of over 700,000 cartridges in 1983 but was frequently dismissed as only an urban legend.

                Despite it being mainly a footnote in the history of video gaming there is no denying the importance of Atari.  I have lots of fond memories swinging on vines as Pitfall, shooting aliens in Space Invaders, and chomping ghosts in Pac-Man.  What were the first video games you remember playing?  Stay tuned for more awesome 80’s memories!

Click here to check out my last Child of the 80's blog about my Introduction to Music.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Child of the 1980's - Introduction to Music

                Music has the ability to conjure up emotion without effort.  A favorite song can make a bad day better.  It can make a workout amazing, a road trip epic, a thunderstorm legendary, and so much more. 
                We all have those songs and artists which bring those emotions up within us.  However do you ever stop to think about where it all began?  Not necessarily how you came to love whatever your music of choice is, but how you were first introduced to music period?
                This question does not need to be relegated to a specific time or age group, someone whose first musical love was Justin Bieber is just as valid as someone who saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Music is a gateway to the soul. 
                For me as a child of the 1980’s my musical introductions definitely fit the period.  I was a child who owned vinyl albums and a Fisher-Price record player.  I was a child who was amazed by audio cassette tapes and the Sony Walkman.  I was a child who when he became a teenager saw the wide availability of something called a Compact Disc.  It was on compact disc that I purchased the album that changed my life more than any other, Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991.  I still own that CD despite it having a severe case of CD rot after 26 years.  However I can still remember vividly two musical milestones in my childhood that I will share.  One is the first song I can actually remember playing, two is the first album I remember owning that I really loved.
                The first song that I can remember hearing was (Just Like) Starting Over by John Lennon. 
     I still have a vivid picture in my head of what that song brings up.  The song itself was released October 24, 1980 as the lead single from his upcoming Double Fantasy album.  The album was a comeback for the former Beatle after spending five years in a semi-retirement.  It comes as no surprise to myself looking back that my introduction to music should be connected to The Beatles as my father grew up as a diehard fan, even a member of the fan club during the mid-1960’s. 
                I have fond memories of hearing that song and album at my Nana’s house.  Though I cannot pinpoint that date I know that it must have been early spring of 1981 as I can remember windows and doors open likely as my Nana would have said ‘to air out the house after winter.’ 
                John Lennon would be murdered on December 8, 1980, only three weeks after Double Fantasy was released.  It catapulted the initially lukewarmly received album into the stratosphere.  After (Just Like) Starting Over other hits would come including Watching the Wheels, Woman, and Beautiful Boy.  It became a sad cap to an amazing musical legacy.
                The first album I remember owning and loving should come as no shock due to my age.  Michael Jackson’s Thriller album dropped just after my 5th birthday in 1982 and I was given a copy as a Christmas present.  The nine songs became the soundtrack to my life for a time.  There were many an occasion when the openings beats of Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ would be blasting on that Fisher-Price record player that I had conveniently stuck in our living room window so that all of the neighborhood kids could come and dance in the front yard.

                It helped that MTV had videos for Billie Jean, Thriller, and Beat It on constant rotation.  Even if I had not gotten the album for Christmas, I would have been asking for it all of 1983.  The album set all sorts of sales and awards marks.  Representatives for Sony Entertainment who owned Epic Records which released Thriller said in February 2017 that the album has sold over 105 million copies worldwide.
                Michael Jackson became the biggest star in the world and his videos were legendary.  For those under 30 it might be hard to separate the more tragic figure Jackson became from the undeniable musical genius he was in the 1980’s.  Back then he was every bit the King of Pop that he named himself later on.  Thriller is to this day the only full album I have on my iPod.
                What are you first memories of music in your childhood?  No matter what your age is those first memories are strong and can shape your tastes forever.  I can look back today and realize how my parents influenced my musical preferences.  Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more totally tubular 1980’s memories!

Click here to see my previous Child of the 1980's blog about the Rise of Nickelodeon!


Monday, October 30, 2017

Child of the 1980's - The Rise of Nickelodeon

                As a child in the early 1980’s choices for television were limited.  In addition to the Big Three networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC there were Boston-based local stations like WSBK TV-38, and WLVI-56.  Though there was cable television offered it was not as common as it is today.  When cable finally came into my life there were channels like ESPN and MTV but they did not appeal as much to an elementary school aged child.  However there was one channel which came along that became my go to for afterschool viewing, perhaps yours too?  That was Nickelodeon.  These are some of the initial classic shows which brought my afternoons and weekends joy during the mid-1980’s.

                Nickelodeon was first launched in April 1979 and was commercial-free until 1984.  The channel was meant to appeal to elementary school aged children roughly 6-11 years old.  I first became aware of Nickelodeon when cable was introduced to my life in 1984.  The shows which were on the network then have remained big parts of my childhood.  Here are just a few of those shows.  How many will bring you flashbacks?

                I can’t begin without my favorite show from those days You Can’t Do That On Television.
     For younger viewers it was where the popular green slime was introduced.  This Canadian sketch show became the fledgling channel’s first hit.  Starring a mostly child cast it debuted in 1979 locally before going international in 1981.  There were tons of funny, gross-out jokes, Barth’s Burgers, locker jokes, and of course saying ‘I Don’t Know’ to get slimed, or ‘water’ to get the liquid poured on your head.  The show was also notable for being the launching point for the career of singer Alanis Morrissette before it was canceled in 1990.

                Perhaps almost as well known was Nickelodeon’s hit game show Double Dare with host Marc Summers.

     The show which debuted in 1986 consisted of families competing against each other in a trivia contest and physical challenges to start and then an obstacle course at the end.  This was what the show became known for with its eight obstacles where you had to capture the orange flags.  The giant nose and Sundae slide were two of the most common rotating obstacles.  The show would be revamped as Super Sloppy Double Dare and Family Double Dare before ending its initial run in 1993.

                Nickelodeon also dipped its toes into the music industry with its countdown show Nick Rocks.

     The half-hour music video show hosted by Joe from Chicago ran from 1984-1989.  The network debuted the show as a way to combat what was seen as more adult-oriented music videos running on MTV.  The show is also known for The Monkees premiering their video ‘Heart and Soul’ on it after a disagreement with MTV.

                Then there was also the network’s Nick at Nite which when it launched in 1985 introduced some classic 1950’s and 1960’s shows to a new generation.  Shows like My Three Sons, Donna Reed Show, Car 54, Dennis the Menace and others were broadcast nightly beginning at 8pm.  It is still running today.

                One of my personal favorites was the delightfully different cartoon Danger Mouse.  

     The British series starred the eye-patch wearing mouse who was billed as the world’s greatest secret agent, parodying James Bond and Danger Man.  The show ran from 1981-1992 and was a staple of early Nickelodeon.  Danger Mouse had his trusted sidekick Penfold and battled his archrival Baron Silas Greenback.  Another rival Count Duckula actually got a spinoff series in 1988.

                Of course no reminiscing about old school Nickelodeon would be complete without Mr. Wizard’s World.

     It starred Don Herbert as Mr. Wizard and ran from 1983-1990.  This show was Herbert’s second as Mr. Wizard with the original, entitled Watch Mr. Wizard, airing from 1951-65 and 1971-72.  Just in case anyone was curious, Herbert did have a degree in general science, so he definitely was qualified to speak on the subject.  It had the popular Ask Mr. Wizard segment where he answered viewer questions and the show was a hit throughout its 78-episode run.

                There were many other shows and segments that I wanted to mention but perhaps those like Out of Control, Picture Pages, Pinwheel, and others can be saved for another time.  I hope that this has been a majorly awesome trip back to the 1980’s.  More to come so stay tuned!

Click here to check out my previous Child of the 1980's blog, about Early Educational Television Shows!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Child of the 1980's - Early Educational Television Shows

                I don’t know about anyone else, but few things got me more excited during my elementary school years than walking into a classroom and seeing a television.  The big old television sets on the rolling cart meant that we were going to get to watch some sort of video.  Granted it was an educational video, but a video nonetheless.  Sometimes we would get the retro filmstrips with the audio that didn’t quite line up but mostly it was one of a few educational television shows geared toward kids between 6-10 years old.  As a child of the 1980’s these three shows coming up were a huge part of those classroom video days.  Do you remember them?

                For the younger children of the 1980’s, born during the latter half of the decade The Electric Company might not have been on your itinerary for classroom viewing.  The sketch comedy show meant for kids began with its iconic ‘Hey, you guys!’ opening line.  

     Airing from 1971-1977 it helped establish people like Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, Irene Cara, and Bill Cosby.  The show helped kids with spelling and grammar in addition to educational yet humorous sketches.  Created by Samuel Gibbon Jr. The Electric Company won an Emmy and a Grammy during its 780 episode tenure.  Though crossovers from some of the Muppets from Sesame Street helped, the show was ultimately canceled despite being very popular.  It was a staple during my first few years of school but was ultimately replaced by two other more contemporary shows.
     Focusing more toward the scientific realm came 3-2-1 Contact in 1980.  Despite it also being created by Samuel Gibbon Jr. it initially was a flop.  The first season showcased college students discussing science in a place called ‘the workshop.’  It would be shelved for nearly three years before coming back in 1983 retooled with several different child hosts.  This was another show that immediately caught the eye of kids with its catchy intro.  

     It kept our attention with scientific content mostly created by Dr. Edward G. Atkins along with memorable sketches like the Bloodhound Gang who solved mysteries using their knowledge of science.  Airing until 1988 over the span of 225 episodes 3-2-1 Contact was usually the show of choice by my teachers, except for possibly one exception.
     When it comes to 1980’s educational television few things come to mind before Reading Rainbow.  It had perhaps the catchiest theme song with the unique Buchla synthesizer playing over lyrics sung initially by Tina Fabrique.  ‘Take a look, it’s in a book.’  

     Created by and starring LeVar Burton, who was only twenty-six when the show debuted in 1983, this series encouraged children to read.  Every episode would feature recommendations of books to read, though Burton would always say we didn’t have to take his word for it.  There would be celebrity readers as well during the show’s 155 episodes which ran from 1983-2006.  All in all Reading Rainbow would be the third longest running children’s series behind only Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Sesame Street.  It would claim twenty-six Emmys including eleven for Outstanding Children’s Series before it was said and done.
      Few things made school more fun than getting to watch television as part of your learning.  These three shows were a huge part of 1980’s educational television, but I am sure there are more.  What was your favorite early educational television show?  Was it on this list? Stay tuned for more sweet 1980’s memories!

Check out my previous Child of the 1980's blog here!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Child of the 1980's - First Books You Read

                One of the first accomplishments of any child along with walking and potty training is learning to read.  According to WebMD children often start to learn to read in First Grade.  Granted what they learn to read is very simple, usually a few words mixed with lots of colorful images.  These books can end up being very special to children as they are associated with a positive achievement.  I don’t know about anyone else but I can still remember the first books I learned to read on my own.  I am here to share a few of my favorites.  Let’s see how many great memories come flooding back with these titles, authors, and photos.
                My First Grade year in school was 1984.  I do not remember when exactly I first learned to read, that is a question my mother could answer.  However when I stop and think of the books I enjoyed as a child a few come to mind immediately.
One of Richard Scarry's Busytown Books
                There is a name that should be very familiar to all children of the 1980’s.  In my mind those old enough to have had concrete memories from the decade count, so basically 1975-1985 is your date range, anything after you’re a child of the 1990’s, sorry.  Anyway, that name is Richard Scarry.  Scarry was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1919, close to my home of Cape Cod.  His most well known books concerned that of Busytown, a place inhabited by anthropomorphic animals like cats, dogs, pigs, foxes, and others like the popular Lowly the Worm who rode in an apple car.  These books were published from the mid-1970’s on, right in the wheelhouse of all 1980’s children.

     Ironically even though Scarry gained a lot of his notoriety through his Busytown, including two animated series, his career began in 1949 as an illustrator for the equally beloved Little Golden Books.  In total Scarry would publish more than 300 books during his forty-five year career which ended with his death in 1994.  These books have sold more than 100 million copies and are still readily available today for all parents who loved them as children and want to keep that tradition alive.

                The other books I wanted to mention were by a man named Roger Hargreaves.  The name might not ring a bell but if I mentioned Mr. Men and Little Miss it might come flooding back.  The British author, born in 1935, created the Mr. Men series first beginning in 1971 with Mr. Tickle.  The books were simple and to the point.  Each was based around one particular characteristic of the man or miss.  Some of the Mr. Men characters included Mr. Greedy, Mr. Happy, Mr. Silly, Mr. Lazy, and Mr. Funny.  The books would tell a story focused around that one character trait.  The brightly colored main characters stood out and their colors and shapes changed to fit the special trait the book was about.
Mr. Tickle by Roger Hargreaves
     Hargreaves had gotten the inspiration for the series when his son Adam, who is now also an author, asked him what a tickle looked like.  That question led to thirty-nine Mr. Men books being released between 1971 and Hargreaves’ death in 1988.  Little Miss books followed in 1981 beginning with Little Miss Bossy.  There would be twenty-four Little Miss books published before his death as well.
     After Roger’s death his son Adam took over the franchise and is still publishing books to this day.  Total there are now eighty-five books between the two series which have combined to sell more than 100 million copies.  The new books as well as the classics are still readily available as well for those looking to stroll through childhood again.
     Those are just a few of the books I remember truly enjoying during my first few years of reading.  I am sure there are many others I have not mentioned.  What are your favorite picture books you remember during your childhood?  What made them special to you?  Do you share them with your children?
                Thanks for reading and come back soon for some totally rad 1980’s memories!

Friday, June 23, 2017

My Cape Cod Roots

            I feel that I was born at the absolute best time to appreciate Cape Cod for all that it is and was.  I am old enough to remember things ‘the way they used to be’, yet young enough to enjoy the way things are.  For those who are dying to know, I was born in 1977.  I straddle the line between generations that gives me insight into two worlds.  I am of the age where I was able to see and experience a little bit of Olde Cape Cod and watch as my home changed and adapted with the times.

              During my childhood landline telephones and phone booths were common.  I remember waiting for friends to call, and actually having to remember people’s phone numbers.  Yet as an adult I love the convenience and technology of smartphones.  I do not believe I could recite anybody’s phone number today.  However I could still rattle off my old home phone number, my Nana’s number, and a few friends from middle school as well.

            Throughout my childhood I would be tossed outside by my mother during summer to go off and play with my friends, only coming home when it was almost dark.  I do not believe we ever feared being abducted, though I am sure the bad people were not something invented in the last twenty years.  The Cape seemed more innocent though I am sure that it was not.

            I was born at a time when vinyl albums were mainstays.  I had a collection as a seven-year old that might shock people today with artists like Ratt, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Van Halen, and Motley Crue lining my shelves.  Of course I had the first pressing of Michael Jackson’s Thriller as well and used to play it loudly out of my window on my Fisher-Price record player so all of the neighborhood kids could dance in the yard.  I had young hip parents which influenced my style growing up.  However as much as I loved making cassette mixtapes off of stations like Cape 104 and 96.3 The Rose I can honestly say I prefer MP3’s and iTunes to Maxell and Memorex.

            I am old enough to remember walking, or driving, to the video store to rent VHS tapes.  Yet I am young enough to fully enjoy Netflix and Hulu and the instant gratification they provide.  Sure I played Atari 2600 and the original Nintendo but they were bit parts of my childhood.  Admittedly I did spend a good amount of time at the arcade but Rampage wasn’t going to beat itself!  It was a time when walking seemed more common, like after family meals on holidays.  There was always a place to walk as a family.

            I am old enough to have seen the first two schools I attended close.  I went to South Yarmouth Elementary School on Route 28 with Laurence MacArthur as my principal.  The school would eventually bear his name before being closed in 2013 and reopening as a campus for Bridgewater State University in 2015.  I then attended John Simpkins Elementary located on the same plot of land.  It served as the town’s first high school before Dennis-Yarmouth opened in 1957 and housed Grades 3-5 after.  It closed in 2006 and was transformed into the Simpkins School Residences, senior housing, opening in 2014.

            I am old enough to remember the Cape Cod Mall in the days before it expanded.  In those days it was anchored by Woolworth, Filene’s, and Jordan Marsh and had a separate cinema on the property.  I remember spending Friday evenings searching Record Town and Tape World for my next musical interest.  However I am also young enough to enjoy the convenience of what the expanded Mall has brought with so many stores under one roof.

            I am old enough to remember Cape Cod icons such as Thompson’s Clam Bar, Mildred’s Chowder House, Joe Mac’s, and Mill Hill Club.  There were fewer Shaw’s and Stop & Shop’s and more Angelo’s, Purity Supreme, and A&P’s.  I frequented Bassett’s Wild Animal Farm in Brewster and visited the legendary Cape Cod Coliseum, although it was to see Sesame Street On Ice.

            I am old enough to remember the grounding of the 473-foot freighter Eldia at Nauset Beach in 1984 and not believing how big it was.  I saw the breach of North Beach in Chatham in 1987 and am amazed at seeing it healing itself.  Hurricane Bob and the ‘Perfect Storm’ of 1991 made me appreciate the wonders of electricity after losing power for many days.

            My childhood was a time when drive-in theaters were still the norm.  At their peak there were nearly 4,000 drive-in theaters in the United States, as of 2017 that number has dwindled to 338.  The Wellfleet Drive-In is all that remains of their legacy on Cape Cod.  However I have fond memories of being elementary school aged and visiting the Yarmouth Drive-In across from Captain Parker’s Pub.  I was lucky enough to see movies like E.T., Return of the Jedi, and Flash Gordon in the warm summer air.  Other drive-in theaters in Dennis, Hyannis, and Falmouth once dotted the Cape decades ago as well.

            I remember there being more salamanders and fewer turkeys and coyotes.  I was warned about jellyfish stings when stepping into the ocean, Great White sharks not so much.  I remember the noon whistle in Yarmouth scaring me on numerous occasions.  I remember more Friendly’s and fewer Dunkin’ Donuts, Bradlees instead of Walmart.  Cape Cod seemed much larger then.  A family trip to Edaville Railroad in Carver felt like a drive across the country.  Today Chatham, Provincetown, and Falmouth feel an arm’s length away.

            Amazingly for all of the changes I have seen in my time there are some things which remain the same.  The scent of Cape Cod Potato Chips cooking as you pass along the Mid-Cape Highway between Exits 6 and 7.  106 WCOD on the radio.  Delicious ice cream during the summer from places like Four Seas, Lil’ Caboose, and Ice Cream Smuggler.  Kids and families sledding on the golf courses during winter.  The Barnstable County Fair in July, the Cranberry Festival in Harwich in September, the Yarmouth Seaside Festival in October.

            Then there is the natural beauty of Cape Cod.  It is everywhere.  The National Seashore is as close as one can get to how the Cape must have looked when it was first discovered.  Summer drives along the shore routes in Eastham up through Provincetown are heavenly.  Route 6A is a blast to the past with its historic homes and tree shaded scenery, just like I remember as a child.

            Yes I feel I was born as the absolute perfect time when it comes to the history of Cape Cod.  I have watched the Cape change in some ways and stay the same in others.  This is only my story though, what things do you remember about Cape Cod as children?  What changes have you enjoyed?  What changes have you not liked?  Thanks for reading.  

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Chris Cornell & My Life

            Another sad, unnecessary loss.  Another voice that hugely influenced my formative years gone.  I know that I am only one of millions who woke up to the heartbreaking news that legendary frontman Chris Cornell was dead.  It makes it even sadder knowing that likely it was suicide.  It’s like a punch to the gut.  Reminds me a lot of Robin Williams, someone who was so loved and so influential yet could not find their own inner peace.
This was going to start off as a tribute to such a great musician and voice, and it still will, but before that I need to address the ‘how.’
            I saw someone on Twitter write today that ‘depression doesn’t care who you are.’  It is so true.  I have dealt with my own bouts of depression over the years.  The worst one came in 2001-2002.  It was at this point that I was on three different medications to combat this illness that is so hard to describe and so hard for people to see.  It is more than just ‘feeling down.’  It is much deeper than something you can just ‘snap out of.’  It just becomes your life, your own prison that you sit in waiting for another shoe to drop, the shoe that brings you back to who you were.
            For me I had a wake up call when my three medications negatively interacted.  I could not get up from my bed, feeling as if my stomach was full of liquid.  I thought it could be a GI bleed.  911 had to be called and paramedics had to come to get me.  They had to literally unscrew my bedroom door off its hinges to be able to get the stretcher inside and wheel me out.  At the hospital when trying to set me up with an IV the nurse missed the vein and ended up filling much of my right elbow with fluid.  It was a bad scene, I was angry at myself, at my head, that I had allowed this depression to take me down this road to where I was being rushed to the ER due to medication complications.  However that was not my true wake up.
            My aha moment was looking off to the right as I was being wheeled out of my house and seeing my 2-year old niece terrified and upset at what she was seeing.  I had never felt so badly as I did then, knowing that something going on with me caused that fear.  She made me fight it.
            I left the hospital and vowed to never take another pill for depression again.  I quit all three meds cold turkey.  Yes, I have had bouts of depression in the 15 years since, including one this year, but no matter what I try to put it all in perspective and keep going one day at a time.  I was lucky to have family and friends who helped see me through it because I let them know what I was going through.
            The sticking point is that last part.  Those going through depression need to summon that strength to tell someone what you are going through.  If not it can mask itself as someone being busy, or being anti-social, or numerous other things.  The thing is Chris Cornell had people that loved him, his wife and two kids and family beyond that who could have helped.  It may feel like you are weak because you are dealing with depression and asking for help, but it is the opposite.  It takes strength to admit you need a hand in life.  I did it and am here today.
            Chris Cornell joins Scott Weiland, Layne Staley, and my non-family hero Kurt Cobain on the Mount Rushmore of Grunge artists who are now gone.  It is amazing how death hits this genre so often.  He had one of the greatest voices I have ever heard in music.  With an unbelievable range and power that could reach through the speakers and slap you in the face.  I will not going into depth about favorite songs, they will be shared below.  Chris could be soft and soothing, or hard and untamable, back and forth.
            His gift was so strong that he made a name for himself with three different bands, Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and on his own.  The Seattle scene of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and more.  This is the music that I identified with, this is the music I grew up with.  It is sad and yet fitting that the people responsible for creating so much of this music were every bit as flawed and human as me.  This is what made them relatable. 
            I am so sad that Chris Cornell ended his life last night.  His memory will live on in his wife and kids, and of course his music.  Thank you Chris for being a huge part of the years that made me who I am, I will not forget you.  Rest In Peace

            Below I am sharing my ten favorite Chris Cornell tracks, in no particular order.  Take a listen and see why this loss hurts so much.  Thank you.

Soundgarden - Superunknown

Audioslave - I Am the Highway

Chris Cornell - Sunshower

Temple of the Dog - Say Hello 2 Heaven

Soundgarden - Fell On Black Days

Soundgarden - Outshined

Audioslave - Shadow On the Sun

Chris Cornell - Billie Jean

Soundgarden - Rusty Cage

Soundgarden - Birth Ritual