With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.
Though I grew up in the age of Miami Vice, Sledge Hammer! and The A-Team and Sting, Billy Idol, Duran Duran, Dire Straits, Phil Collins, Madonna, Depeche Mode and Peter Gabriel and Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop 2, The Golden Child, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Three Amigos!, Return of the Jedi, Crocodile Dundee, The Secret of Nimh, Innerspace, 3 Men and a Baby, Gremlins… it was the 90’s where I left nostalgia behind and began forming my individual self in Kierkegaardian fashion. It was where I discovered American Psycho, Nine Inch Nails, Quentin Tarantino, Portishead, The Coen Brothers, N.W.A. Radiohead, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Thievery Corporation, David Sedaris, Erykah Badu, Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz, Atom Egoyan, Barbara Kingsolver, Massive Attack, Zentropa, Spalding Gray, Mark Rylance, Unforgiven, The Silence of The Lambs, David Mamet, Wilco, Eric Bogosian, Kate Winslet, Helmut Newton, Whit Stillman, Alexander Payne, Will Self, Clockers, The Sopranos, Hal Hartley, David Fincher, Saint Etienne, Angelique Kidjo, L.A. Confidential, Cocteau Twins, Billy Bob Thornton (One False Move and Sling Blade), Patrice Leconte, Pedro Almodovar…
Part of that new self was culture-driven leaving other parts wanting. I used culture to try to explain and entertain myself. Eventually, my soul and little man I kept chained in the cell deep inside me faced reckoning. It wasn’t until late in the 00’s that it all fell apart… allowing me to rebuild myself into the person I avoided 20 years earlier.
So much of my 80’s culture was enjoyable but doesn’t hold up for a 41 year old man the way my 90’s culture does. One way is by placing it in nostalgia and seeing how it does or doesn’t resonate. I can remember going to see these 80’s movies. I remember who I went with, or how I reacted in the theater, or something that may have happened prior to going to the theater. I probably won’t see The Secret of Nimh or Return of the Jedi ever again. I remember how thrilling it was to receive a new Tom Clancy and tearing through all 500 plus pages like kids did with Harry Potter books. I probably won’t read Patriot Games or Clear and Present Danger ever again.
With most 80’s culture I have the memory but not the substance. Not the quality. And the exciting thing about my 90’s culture is that I have the nostalgic remembrance, the first time I discovered Rob Seetoo’s review of Reservoir Dogs and saw it in the theater a week later, the first time my father and I saw Spalding Gray in person, in his flannel shirt, behind his desk, mesmerizing his audience, the first time I heard “Lebanese Blonde” or “Sunken Treasure” or “Apple Tree” or “Sour Times” or Angelique Kidjo’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” cover, the first time I wept at the conclusion of Monsieur Hire… I have these memories along with a more complete self albeit better mental health.
Today I can return to these early discoveries and see the brave struggle and often hard won success over 20 years. I can see how far these artists have come and appreciate their 1990’s accomplishments with invigorating newness.