Attack of the 80s Laser Cowboys

Because I’ve been stuck home sick for the last week or so, I’ve had the chance to catch up with my TV during my sporadic waking hours, including renewing my acquaintance with recent commercials. The one that really seems impossible to avoid at the moment is Heineken’s 2016 “Moderate Drinkers Wanted” clip:

Having been afflicted by its earwormy invocation of Bonnie Tyler, I decided to take little trip down Nostalgia Lane to remind myself about the 80s. Why? Because those who do not remember history are doomed (we’re told) to repeat it, and by golly, I have no intention of doing some of that stuff ever again. (OK, some of it I never stopped doing, but why quibble?)

My explorations of the past unearthed two things of interest to me:

Laser Cowboys!

Like almost every other Bonnie Tyler video (indeed, like most of the other videos of its kind at the time), this thing makes no sense. It was off-the-rails wacky at the time, and yet somehow that seemed normal. I remember it being normal. Why are the choir ladies flapping around? Who knows! What’s with the glow-in-the-dark whips? Kinky! I admit the deck-slats-as-percussion/piano thing at the beginning was very nearly inspired.

This is not a rational exercise in filmmaking.

Of course, the song itself isn’t exactly a model of subtlety and restraint, which is what’s awesome about it. It’s almost sad that the driving, epic energy of the song isn’t really captured by the goofy laser cowboy action. This performance needed visuals with considerably greater verve (fewer long panning shots, etc.)

Still: I think I must have been delirious the first time I watched this, ’cause dayum.

The Cavalcade of Covers on Cover Up

I do remember watching Cover Up when I was in junior high and really liking it a lot (perhaps that explains things…). I mean, I know I watched it. I remember when Jon-Erik Hexum died and was replaced with that other guy whose name I never recall.* “Holding Out For A Hero” (sung by someone other than Bonnie Tyler) was the opening credits tune for that show’s single season (1984-85). Before I tried re-watching it, I remembered the basic plot outline, and had some vague idea that I might sort of recall some of the episodes. I did not, however, recall another blessed thing about it. I found most of the first season on YouTube (I’m sure the rest is there, I just haven’t gotten to it yet).

Wow.

Leaving aside more detailed comments about the show itself (flashes of actually decent dialogue — mostly Hexum’s — buried in forgettable fakery and some sketchy details that might laughably be called “plots” if you’re just drunk enough), the thing that I really noticed this time around was the music, for both good and ill.

The good: The instrumental score for the show was almost obsessively driven by “Holding Out For A Hero” — the melody becomes a constant theme in the background of important scenes, often in surprisingly subtle and almost beautiful arrangements. Yet even those arrangements had a whiff of the factory about them, a sense that I had heard their like. Why? Probably because they were a pretty good example of 80s TV scoring, competently executed and skillfully modular in nature. The experience of listening to it reminded me that I need to pay closer attention to contemporary show scores, to see if that’s still going on (I’m sure it is).

The ill (other than me, although I am also still very ill): Every moment not filled with that oddly tasteful and sort of charming pro-forma TV score was filled with cover and Muzak/instrumental versions of Pop Hits of the 80s. It’s important to notice that these were sound-alike covers, not the original recordings, in almost every case. There were Michael Jackson covers, Cyndi Lauper covers, reggae-flavored instrumental versions of same when the characters were supposed to be in the Bahamas, fancy classical versions of same at US Embassy parties (there were a lot of embassy parties)…yeah. The only non-cover I think I heard — and I can’t swear to this — was a snippet of John Waite’s “Missing You”.** Otherwise, it’s all thin-sounding covers of then-contemporary hits. It’s as if the music department said, “well, we can’t afford to pay to use the whole original recording when all we want is the catchiest 30 seconds of the song, so let’s see what we can get away with,” and…magic happened! There came a point when I had to start muting every photoshoot and party scene, because the covers were so annoying. I felt weirdly cheated by them (although, as I recall from the time, it was a pretty common practice — episodes of Knight Rider were full of the same stuff, for example). It was like seeing a boom mic in the shot, or the tell-tale signs of a badly done stunt — a jarringly obvious fake that drew unintended attention to every other artificial thing in the scene. It turned even the rare moments of acting competence into school play declamation.

I know there’s something very, very clever to say in here about a television show in which actors pretend to be photographers/special ops dudes-cum-models doing undercover work to the strains of constant cover songs. I am too tired to say that very clever thing, so I draw your attention to it in the hope that you may come up with a quip of your own.


 

 

*Antony Hamilton, who also died too young.

**Check out this 2009 version he did with Allison Krauss — that darn song’s endurance is thoroughly earned.

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About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. Otherwise, I labor to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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