Top Five Bowie Touchpoints for Gen-Xers

David Bowie’s career spanned six decades, and as such, fans of varying ages have different memories. For those of us who suffered diligently through the eighties and nineties, these five cultural touchpoints might ring a bell. Leave your own recollections in the comments…

5. Bowie and Bing, 1977

This rendition of Little Drummer Boy, originally recorded for a 1977 TV special: Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, became a radio standard in the eighties — adding to the long list of ridiculous things we took seriously. But heck, it’s a nice arrangement… Bowie wrote the Peace on Earth harmony, and the duo recorded just a month before Bing Crosby died, marking one of his final recordings.

4. Cool World, 1992

Cool World is half live-action, half animation and stars Kim Basinger, Gabriel Byrne, and this young up-and-comer named W. Bradley Pitt. It ranked among my very favorite films in 1992, because I was 14, and it was on a relatively short list of PG-13 films I’d ever been allowed to see. So of course I remember it as an edgy, avant-garde masterpiece… In reality notsomuch, but its soundtrack was kick-ass and got (much) better reviews than the film, featuring a song written by Bowie and produced by Nile Rodgers  — Real Cool World — as well as tracks by the Thompson Twins, Ministry, and Moby. The video is quite the slice of the early nineties, too: we never actually see Bowie’s face, but his dance moves rival Christopher Walken’s.

3. The Breakfast Club, 1985

We all know how the movie starts… the lyric from Changes appears on a black title screen. We read it solemnly, knowingly, even though we’re confused as hell. Then the screen shatters, and we’re left with the exterior view of Shermer High School on a gray morning. There’s really not much more to the Bowie Lyric Legend of The Breakfast Club (that I can find), except that Ally Sheedy might have suggested it. Regardless, there it will always be, perplexing viewers until the end of time.

2. The Man Who Sold the World – Nirvana cover, 1993

Fast-forward to 1993, when the thrift store sweaters and plaid flannels started to emerge, along with the fast-and-furious trading of Nirvana albums bootlegged onto Maxell blank cassette tapes. The one that required two blank tapes was Nirvana Unplugged, which included the cover of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World that grungy teenagers everywhere proclaimed ‘the best Nirvana song ever.’ Such wankers, we were.

1. Labyrinth, 1986

Bowie as The Goblin King Jareth was probably the only reason my older brother would ever deign to watch a movie with me in the eighties, but I didn’t care — there he was, pretending not to enjoy one of Bowie’s five original tunes on the soundtrack. Like most of the films from my youth, this one received tepid reviews, but has since become a cult classic. On a side note, I’m really hoping to see a lot of Jareths this Halloween.

The Cosby Effect: Bastardizing my Childhood and Fouling up the Future

Photo via Ted Eytan / flickr

I wasn’t going to throw my hat into this ring, but the Bill Cosby cluster currently in the news is messing with my nostalgic head.

I’m 37 years old … I mention that because, as a young Gen Xer, I was a spectator during what were arguably Cosby’s most active years. We played Picture Pages together first, then I spent a few years imitating Fat Albert’s signature Hey, Hey, Hey greeting.

When The Cosby Show first aired, I was too young to stay up and watch it, so I would creep out of bed and crouch on the stairs where I could see the TV through a small window in the kitchen. When I did graduate to an 8:30 bedtime, I’d watch in my parents room, sitting on the floor with my knees tucked under my chin. I got a special treat once, being allowed to watch his comedy special Bill Cosby: Himself with my parents and cousins… I didn’t understand all of the jokes, but his impressions of his wife breathing through labor and after Novocaine at the dentist had me in hysterics. And even after a first taste proved I didn’t really like them, I still asked my mum for Jell-o Pudding Pops every week.

Cosby’s influence continued into my pre-teen years with A Different World, a spin-off that took place at the fictional Hillman College. In thinking about it today, I realized that the show might not be why I went to college, but it was one reason why I was excited about the prospect from middle school right on up to graduation.

I don’t know if the allegations we’re hearing now are true, or if some are true and some are false, or if Cosby’s silence is an attempt at refusing to dignify lies or avoiding an admission of guilt. Some of the stories we’re hearing have a disturbingly true ring to them, others don’t.

What’s most notable to me, though, is any other public figure from my past probably wouldn’t have me thinking about it so much. If we were hearing about Ron Howard, John Cusak, or another champion of the eighties, I’d probably absorb the headline and wait to see how the story panned out. This one just has me feeling alternately sick and sad. If Cliff Huxtable is an inescapable sod, how will we be able to rein in our cynicism and suspicion of others moving forward? Is this the tipping point at which we enter a world where every celebrity, role model, or influential figure is viewed with a raised eyebrow?

Moreover, will every explosive accusation from now on be analyzed to death by a slew of talking heads who pore over every clip, every interview, and every article looking for something inflammatory, whether it’s the truth or not? Yes, we see this kind of ‘reporting’ already, but the Cosby Circus really has me ruminating on what our media coverage is turning into. In my eyes, the women coming forward are being turned into a side show. If they are telling the truth, that’s another assault on them. If they — or some of them — are lying, they’re positioning themselves as the next permutation of low-rent reality TV. We’re in a world now where a CNN anchor has been given a platform to tell women they should just bite the penis of the man forcing them to perform oral sex. I won’t even get started on how ludicrous that is, but what’s next — a demonstration?

For decades, Bill Cosby has been synonymous with World’s Greatest Dad. I used to put him up on a shelf with the best dads I knew, including my own. I can’t do that anymore, whether it’s the result of his own actions or those of damaging stories spinning out of control. It’s getting too hard to tell… and we need to change the channel. Quick.