The Forgotten Generation

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My daughter recently started high school.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one.

As I walk into the stands at her school’s football games, past the sidelines, I sometimes get very visceral flashbacks of my own days on a football field, the very same field on some occasions.

I never played a down of the sport.

I was an equipment manager for the team.

You can call us water boys if you want to be spiteful.

But we did so much more than that.

I think back to a stadium of vacant bleachers; not a player in sight. Just us managers, setting up for the game, maybe taking the field and throwing around a few balls ourselves if there was time.

In the latter half of those years, if it was a home game, something off of Journey’s Escape album would likely be blaring over the PA system, helping the moment to somehow become bigger than life.

When I hear Neil Schon’s soaring lead guitar at the end of “Stone in Love”, and Ross Valory breaking into that melodic bass line in lock step underneath, I don’t even need to be in a football stadium.

I am instantly transported back to that vast, empty field on a crisp, fall evening under the towers of bright lights and I’m hit with a distinct, somewhat bittersweet feeling.

This deeply embedded memory would not likely have seemed significant to anyone outside of it, fading quickly into obscurity before barely anyone even knew it existed. In some ways, it mirrors the time in which I grew up.

By nearly all accounts, the post-World War II baby boom that occurred in many countries ended in 1964.

I was born in 1965. Back then, the concept of naming generations wasn’t really a thing. The earliest record of the term “baby boomers” being used seems to be around 1963, about 17 years after the boom started.

In similar fashion, those of us that followed the baby boom were not referred to as Generation X until the early 90s, when I was out of college and well into adulthood and the working world.

What this means is that for my entire childhood and teenage years, I belonged to a no-name generation. Which tracks.

People tend to associate Gen X not with our growing up years of the 70s and 80s, but with the trappings of the early 90s grunge music.

I was certainly affected by the culture of that time, even growing out my hair. And I do have some of the defining characteristics of Gen X.

But being in my mid-twenties when all of that occurred means that I don’t identify with it in the same way as those who grew up in it. Lots of flannel, teen angst, cynicism, slackers, and such.

Both the Baby Boomers and the generation that proceeded them, which Tom Brokaw would eventually label “The Greatest Generation,” were strongly defined by the reality of war.

In the 40s, my father dropped out of school at age 16, lied about his age and enlisted in the Navy and was shipped out to the war.

The late 60s were rife with societal unrest and upheaval, with a central point of contention being the Vietnam War and the horrors experienced by those who fought in it.

By the time I was a teenager we were far removed from all of this. The thought that we could be involuntarily sent thousands of miles from home to fight and kill was almost incomprehensible to most of us. (Younger boomers can probably relate to this as well.) 

Toward the end of my freshman year in college, I did get an idea in my head that signing up for the Army Reserves to help with tuition costs was a solid plan.

Just going for the physical felt like an isolating, humiliating and dehumanizing experience.

I didn’t pass. Which was the best thing that could have happened, as boot camp would have likely scarred my delicate psyche for life if I even had survived it. And the thought of 19-year-old me defending the country should have been scary to everyone.

No, my teenage years were in stark contrast to the cataclysmic times that preceded us.

My friends and I spent much of our spare time at the video game arcade, pizza joint or the movies. Most of the places we frequented were newer establishments, only to become obsolete just a decade or two later and cease to exist, as if our collective experience was destined to be swallowed up quickly into the past with no trace of evidence.

The six-theater multiplex would give way to the giant 24 screen megaplex.

The indoor mall would be torn down and replaced by an outdoor mall.

Some high schools closed permanently.

Video game arcades were suddenly all the rage – and then almost completely disappeared just a few years later, as home consoles such as Nintendo and Sega took over. I remember once trying to take my nephew, who was visiting from out of town, to a video game arcade I hadn’t frequented in a couple of years.

Only to find that it was it not only closed down:

but the entire strip mall that housed it had been plowed to the ground – and was just gone.

If we’ve learned anything from Billy Joel’s magnum opus, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (Tom Breihan rated it a “1”), every generation has defining moments and important things happening. Of course, one must set aside the fact that the song ends with Billy shouting out “Rock and roller cola wars…” – which is not very historically significant at all – and works against his point.

Despite the song’s flaws, Billy’s overall premise was not wrong. But are all eras of history remembered equally? 

It would appear that those of us who grew up in between the Boomers and the 90s kids are part of an era that is somewhat forgotten.

In terms of music, when I look at my time in high school, 1979-1983, we didn’t have anything quite like the Beatles and the British invasion before us, and Nirvana, et al. after.

Disco had permeated our junior high years.

Though it wasn’t dead in the fall of ‘79, it was seriously losing its foothold, and in my suburban almost all-white, all-boys high school, it was nowhere to be found.

There wasn’t that one sound that dominated my high school years, but instead, many styles of music, and artists, old and new, competing for attention, including a second British invasion, and it was all a bit scattered. Synthesizers were more prominent than ever, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they somehow tied everything together.

When something extraordinary such as The Wall exploded into the atmosphere, it was more of a last gasp of the classic era of rock, and nothing quite like it followed.

Many people nowadays speak highly of the mainstream rock that was popular at the time. In real time, it was often dismissed as too cheesy to measure up to what came before it, nor did it culturally dominate like the flashier hair metal that was in its infant stages and would eventually take over.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller burst into the pop atmosphere my senior year.

It goes without saying that it was an absolute game changer and would go down in history as a certified candidate for the Mt. Rushmore of albums.

That said, it was the first shot fired in the transformation of 80s pop as people probably most remember it.

The flood gates were just opening.

For the time being, top 40 radio was in flux.

Rather than continue to try and describe the different kinds of music which were co-existing without one ring to rule them all:

I’m just going to offer a playlist of songs that were current during my high school years and that I genuinely liked, (though I wouldn’t always have copped to it) and for the most part still do.

You will see that it’s stylistically all over the map; at times jarringly so. My tastes may have been broader than others, but I do believe that it paints a picture of the divergent trends and cultural shifts that were transpiring at the time.

Absent from the list is a great deal of groundbreaking music, particularly punk and edgier new wave, that didn’t quite reach my environs.

We would see the albums in the record store, and they held an exotic and somewhat verboten allure, but no one I knew purchased them.

Though I came to love quite a bit of it in my later years, it wasn’t something I experienced back then.

Many of us didn’t.

If we had, maybe it would have provided more definition to our high school days, and simultaneously make us look way cooler than most of us were. Not long after I graduated, my younger sister Elise would embrace much of the music that to us had been underground, and she indeed was (and is) much cooler than I could ever hope to be.

So: who were we? 

I don’t have a definitive answer. Because I’m not sure there is one.

I don’t think I could define my generation by a general zeitgeist, nor by the events we witnessed, or a stand many took at the time. And a generation is never a monolith, anyway. There were certainly pockets of resistance that didn’t fit in to what I have been describing.

As well as: people of a different background, orientation, or ethnicity that shaped their experiences in not the same way as mine. In all these respects, I would soon encounter much more diversity in college.

But without the visible threat of something impossible for the whole of the younger generation to ignore, such as a compulsory draft, there was no mass upheaval. Perhaps the fact that we didn’t, in large numbers, question or rebel against the prevailing thinking and politics of the time, or speak out against injustices is part of why we are remembered -or not remembered – as we are, fair or not.

In the end, for me, it wasn’t about what was going on around us.

It was about the people with whom I interacted and spent time, and the memories we created.

I will always cherish those days and they will likely retain a powerful hold on me.

But I also see as an adult that on multiple levels, I need to move past that insular world in which I grew up. I am convinced today that it is essential to have an awareness of what is happening in the here and now and in the world around me as a starting point.

To ignore it, or to view it strictly through the lens of the past and my own experience, is akin to fading away like so many of the buildings that we frequented those many years ago.

In the late ‘00s, while reflecting on those fleeting days of being a nameless horde, and what it all might have meant, I wrote and recorded a song about it called “The Forgotten Generation.”

Much of what I’ve said here expounds on what was conveyed in the song. You can hear it here:

And here is the playlist, as promised:

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rollerboogie

Music is what brought me here, but I do have other interests. I like ill-advised, low budget movies that shouldn't even be close to good, but are great, and cats too.

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thegue
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September 21, 2023 6:56 am

Great read Roller!

And great minds – I’ve been listening to your playlist, and most songs have a connection to my life in middle school (or my freshman year in HS)… but yesterday I created a playlist from that same era, mostly of forgotten songs. If you have suggestions to add, let me know, but Mt started it all with his reference to Ian Gomm’s “Hold On”:

https://spotify.link/u0kIn6IWgDb

lovethisconcept
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September 21, 2023 12:03 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

I really like the “Jones Generation” designation that you mentioned below, although I had never heard it before. I really do feel like the “boomers” who came of age after the draft and the Viet Nam withdrawal had a different experience than those who came just a bit earlier. That said, I knew most of the songs on yours and thegue’s lists. I was out of high school, but still of an age to be listening to music constantly. And, fortunately, Nashville, at that time, had radio stations that played a variety of formats, and a wide variety of music within those formats. That isn’t so much true today.

cstolliver
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September 21, 2023 5:27 pm
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Yeah, I’m technically a boomer, as I guess is my younger brother (I was born in ’63, he in ’64) but there’s no really discernible difference between our shared memories/life experiences/family stories and my sister, who was born in 1967 and thus would be Gen X. The only significant distinction is that she was 5 when my parents split where I was 8 and my brother 7 (the split occurring in the summer of ’72 before our respective birthdays), so she does not really remember any of their married life or my mom’s presence in our house, where I do.

On topic: Loved both your playlist and that of and and recognized more than 95% of both lists. I graduated from high school in ’81, so more of your list resonates with the college me.

Again, great job with this piece. I like your song … it reminds me both of the early ’80s music as well as some of the sounds of the mid/late ’90s.

Phylum of Alexandria
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September 21, 2023 7:41 am
Reply to  thegue

Can confirm that I’ve never heard of any of these.

cappiethedog
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September 21, 2023 2:32 pm
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I didn’t recognize 2, 10, 11, 13, and 14.

My favorite was Ian Gomm’s “Hold On”.

Do people remember Frankie Smith’s “Double Dutch Bus”?

It charted.

It peaked at #30.

I miss the concept of regional hits. The Kinks’ “Destroyer” was always playing on the radio. It stalled at #85.

cappiethedog
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September 21, 2023 5:08 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

A band called The Ali’is(AW-LEE-EASE) covered “Here I Am”, so we never got to hear the Air Supply original.

In my opinion, the most spectacular example of a regional hit is Sparks’ “Wonder Girl” topping the charts in Montgomery, Alabama.

This is a terrific essay, rollerboogie.

Oh, boy. We’re so far into the future, we’re mourning the loss of smaller cineplexes.

I miss the one screen, one movie model.

And “Destroyer” rocks.

cstolliver
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September 21, 2023 5:13 pm
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RB, do you remember another local Chicago hit, from 1980, Off Broadway’s “Stay in Time”? WLS played the heck out of that song.

Phylum of Alexandria
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September 21, 2023 7:35 am

I am from the early nub of Millennials, which is the younger half of a microgeneration that is sometimes self-labeled as Xennial.

We’ve got Gen X traits, as well as Millennial traits, and as such are apart from both.

Some examples: Xennials were some of the last kids to be trusted to play outside on their own, and also, our childhood memories were 100% internet-free. But, given that we did grow up with home gaming systems, we were more coddled and more introverted than older Gen Xers.

I think it’s a similar case, except that some intrepid soul actually came up with a name for us, and made their case online. Otherwise we would be this forgotten in-between group, just like yours.

Some suggestions: Gen W? The Pop Group? The Blank Generation?

(you can take it or leave it each time)

Anyway, thanks for the very thoughtful write-up.

Also:

Water sucks! Gatorade is better!

Zeusaphone
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September 21, 2023 8:21 am

I graduated high school in 1984. Our generation was not defined by war but by angst. We grew up knowing that if someone was careless, drunk, crazy, clumsy, or stupid enough the world might end at any moment and there wasn’t a damn thing we could do about it.

It is odd that Boomers are remembered for the music they listened to as kids while GenX is remembered for the music made by its members. The music Boomers made, primarily disco and new wave, is glossed over as an aberration. Bob Dylan isn’t a boomer, Madonna is a boomer.

cappiethedog
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September 22, 2023 3:21 am
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“Madonna is a boomer.”

You just blew my mind.

Virgindog
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September 21, 2023 9:49 am

I’m a late Boomer (and bloomer) and you’ve captured the importance of the Vietnam War very well. My family had talked about moving to Canada so I could get out of the draft. We have Canadian roots, so it made sense in a couple ways, but we were lucky. The draft ended just before I turned 18.

I’m in the office today and my employer blocks a lot of stuff online so I can’t listen to your song or playlist yet, but I still like music from the late 70s and early 80s. New Wave was punk’s cousin, and both had the back-to-basics ethos that tickled me. Much as I loved prog, stripping rock down to its base ingredients made it more visceral and exciting.

So I hope your playlist includes The Police, The Pretenders, and Talking Heads, but that’s just one dog’s opinion.

thegue
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September 21, 2023 4:27 pm
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V-Dog,

As I was listening to roller’s playlist and my own, I wondered if you had a Spotify account. I follow rollerboogie, and I would follow you…

IF you made a list of all your punk tracks from “the wrong side of the tracks” minicolumn you used to write on the Mothership!

(I’d create one, but searching back thru all the comments these days is…well, tedious)

Virgindog
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September 21, 2023 4:55 pm
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I’m not on Spotify but I can easily put together a list for you. If you really want it, that is. It’s likely to have hundreds of songs.

Virgindog
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September 21, 2023 6:40 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

LOL, do you guys want everything or just the songs I wrote about? If you remember, there were a lot of bullet points under each article listing every single released during that time period.

thegue
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September 21, 2023 6:48 pm
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What you wrote about!

If you thought it important enough to go into detail, I’m in.

Maybe I’ll make a Spotify playlist out of it

Virgindog
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September 21, 2023 11:04 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

Alrighty, the Punk Side Of Town Playlist is at https://billbois.com/punksideplaylist.html. Use at your own risk. Do not operate heavy machinery while using the Punk Side Of Town Playlist.

mt58
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September 22, 2023 2:20 am
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Do not taunt the Punk Side Of Town Playlist.

JJ Live At Leeds
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September 22, 2023 2:39 am
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I’d say I recognise around 70% of these which leaves plenty still to discover for the first time. That’s my playlist sorted for work next week.

Can’t help thinking that The Anemic Boyfriends and Johnny Moped sound like they belong in the imaginary band name poll.

Virgindog
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September 22, 2023 7:39 am

It’s entirely possible that Spotify won’t have some of these, especially The Anemic Boyfriends. Those DIY 45s with under 1,000 copies made are hard to come by.

Phylum of Alexandria
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September 22, 2023 7:46 am
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I have since decided that Youtube playlists are the best I can do for obscurities. One good thing is, the more obscure they are, the less likely they will be taken down.

Virgindog
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September 22, 2023 8:24 am

If I have time today, I’ll redo it with the original YouTube links, though I’ve discovered a couple don’t work anymore. I’ll see what I can do.

thegue
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September 22, 2023 12:35 pm
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I’m putting together the Spotify playlist as we speak, and V-Dog is right…a lot of them are NOT on the platform!

You make a good case as to why some of them aren’t, but Nick Lowe’s “Bay City Rollers…”??!! I mean, why??

Virgindog
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September 22, 2023 4:54 pm
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It was only a hit in Japan. Does Spotify have a .jp version?

thegue
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September 22, 2023 4:40 pm
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It’s not finished, but it’s a good start

JJ Live At Leeds
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September 21, 2023 11:22 am

My daughter also started high school two weeks ago, happens at 11 over here. It is a moment of ‘how did we get to this point?!’ reflection. Hope that she’s settling in well.

I’m aware that I am Gen X, being born in 1976 and I sort of know how it relates to early 90s grunge and slackers and Douglas Coupland but I couldn’t tell you anything about how that has apparently shaped me. I haven’t been paying attention on that front.

Geography seems to play as much a part as era. I grew up in a rural area in the far north east corner of England. Culturally I’d say it was behind the times and it did have the feel of a forgotten about part of the country but it did have benefits in allowing extra freedom to roam wherever we liked as kids.

Musically I was an outlier in being into alternative music. There was a clique of metalheads but mostly it was mainstream rock and pop all the way. To be on the outside of that meant you weren’t cool in the culturally conservative landscape of my out of the way location. Which is fair enough, I was in no way cool but also meant that in terms of belonging to a generation, I certainly didn’t have any feeling of kinship to the majority of my high school generation.

The belonging part only came around with my university years 1994 to 97 when I’d moved away from home and Britpop took hold. Again though, in my mind I associate it as a musical movement rather than a generational thing especially as Noel Gallagher was always banging on about the Beatles and the 60s.

All of which is to say, to each their own. Really interesting to read how others have experienced and been shaped by a vastly different location and then a timeline not too different from my own.

JJ Live At Leeds
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September 21, 2023 12:49 pm
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Yeah, its a big shift at 11 to go from a Primary school of 300 to a High school of 1,400+ with teenagers who are pretty much fully grown. Adapting well so far though. By the time she left Primary school she seemed to have already reached that jaded teenage phase where she couldn’t be bothered to tell us about her day. Very much, been there done that, nothing new to tell you. Now though she’s full of enthusiasm, getting home and won’t stop talking about everything that’s happened. I know it won’t last so we’ll enjoy it while we can.

cstolliver
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September 21, 2023 11:23 am

Well done, rb. I’ll have more to add when I get home from school/work.

dutchg8r
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September 21, 2023 12:36 pm

Humans are funny creatures in our need to be part of something.

“I’m an alumnus of [insert HS and/ or college]”

“My hometown is…”

“My favorite team is…”

“My favorite musician is…”

“Ford/Chevy sucks”

“Dogs rule”

“Cats Rule”

You get the gist. Do we NEED to have a label though? I’ve always wondered that. Like, is it necessary to have to subscribe to a definition in order to be defined? I’ve always summed myself up as an 80s Child. Those were my formative years. But I don’t know how much of that decade defined me as opposed to simply impacting me.

You didn’t choose your screen name for no reason, rb – embrace your 70s Child inner self! 😉

Funny enough, I was chatting with Mr Dutch the other day about the school district I spent 11 years in in Pennsylvania- literally 1 black family in the entire district, no other minorities really aside from the 2 girls adopted from South Korea, hardly any new families moved in or moved out. It was as stagnant and white as you could imagine. With a graduating class of 120. I knew even as a kid we were in a bubble, and that most of my classmates would be happy to remain in that bubble the rest of their lives. I did not want to be one of those people.

So when our family moved to Orlando my senior year, and I become one in a senior class of 530, it was a breath of fresh air. 90% of the people were transplants over the years, and it was worldwide, not like a bump over from the neighboring school district transplant. Most people in that situation would hate that kind of change, especially teens, but I am quite glad to have gotten a college experience before actually going to college. Point is …. I forget my point now. It happens. I’m old. 😁

thegue
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September 21, 2023 4:29 pm
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This might explain why I backpacked Europe in ’92 then went to live overseas.

My family has NEVER left the United States, except for my stepbrother, who does Disney Cruises around the Caribbean.

blu_cheez
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September 21, 2023 6:44 pm

My favorite Gen X (proud member – born 1970) quote:

Gen X: The only generation that became 30 at the age of 10 and still is 30 at 50.

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September 21, 2023 6:46 pm
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Oh, and: great article.

thegue
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September 21, 2023 6:46 pm

All this talk of regional hits made me realize I forgot to add a popular Philly band The A’s whose 1 hit just missed the Billboard 100.

I’ve added it to my playlist.

For obvious reasons, I didn’t recognize the Chicago regional hits

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September 22, 2023 4:53 pm

Thank you for this article rollerboogie! I am three years younger but related to all the points you made. I think I hung out with friends at the same places described and was amazed when they were all closed 20 years later.

I would say I was sheltered not spoiled as a teen in the 80’s. I was scared to death about a new war starting and the draft being re-instated as I was slowly becoming aware as a teen of what had happened in Vietnam (and started watching the various movies about it – Apolocalypse Now, Platoon, Casualties of Way, and Full Metal Jacket.) Full Metal Jacket messed me up at the time when it came out.

I do not know what to label our generation, but I do think Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Freaks and Geeks have stood the test of time to give people a feel of what our teen years were like.

Thanks again!

Last edited 9 months ago by mjevon6296
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September 22, 2023 9:11 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

Also love “My Bodyguard”!!

cappiethedog
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September 23, 2023 11:21 pm
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“You broke my nose.”

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