As children of the 1980s, we had it all. That is, if by “all” you mean fluorescent socks, tiered haircuts swathed in color, gender bending as a way of life – and bucketloads of buttons. Look, in my crowd you wouldn’t be caught dead without having at least one Major Button Statement on your jacket – be it bomber, jean, leather, army or vintage. How else would anyone know you were cool? (Or, in some cases, a complete idiot.) Today the kids (as they call them) might be transmitting virtual “flair” on Facebook, but for some of us, the real-life button was a major calling card. Since I’m still clinging to my youth with gnawed-on fingernails, here’s a PopTen trip through my vast jar of button-hood, for better or for worse. Dive in with me, wontcha?
1. Duran Duran
May as well start out on a high note. As a complete and total Durannie from about the ages of 13 to … Anyway, the Duran buttons dominate the collection. I still remember feeling an early version of a hot flash every time I came upon one I didn’t have. I didn’t actually wear any when I met the band a few years ago, but the point is: I could have worn a dress of nothing but Duran Duran buttons.
2. To the Max
Seriously, for about 30 seconds I considered wearing this, and by then the whole Valley Girl fad was over. For those who missed the phenom, it began with a song by Frank Zappa’s daughter Moon Unit (I kid you not) which encapsulated many of the phrases gals in Southern California (the “Valley”) were apparently spouting. This particular one, “to the max,” simply meant, “with emphasis.” As in: “The Valley Girl phase you went through made me physically ill, to the max.”
3. General Public
Knowing and admitting to liking General Public in my crowd also meant you needed to have a working knowledge of The English Beat, the pop-ska band they were birthed out of. In fact, if you were very cool you’d actually just call them The Beat. But when I got this button I don’t think I knew any of that – I got it because I’d never seen a ‘Fro with tiger stripes before, and the hair’s owner, Rankin’ Roger, was instantly the coolest person in my book. Years later, it’s hard to look back and not think, “What a dork.” Me, that is.
4. a-haThey were Norwegian, they were cute, and they had The Most Awesome Video Ever (“Take on Me,” duh). They also wore layers of thin leather straps as bracelets, and I copied devotedly. They were never as beloved as Duran Duran, but there was so much potential in those cheekbones. I ended up seeing them live at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. – mere days before graduating from high school on the same stage. I may have taken off my leather bracelets for the event.
5. Frankie Goes to Hollywood Yes, these are three buttons, but like a Pringles potato chip, you can’t have just one with Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Even 20-odd years later, the band is still a marvel of style over substance, marketing over actual ideas. But who doesn’t love their big hit “Relax,” in which the song’s climax is an aural rendition of an actual sexual release – and features lyrics like “relax, don’t do it, when you want to cum”? Racy stuff for an impressionable 14 year old. As for the buttons? Oddly timely today, when you think about it.
6. Feed the World/Live AidOn the morning of July 13, 1985, I woke up in the middle of a dew-drenched field at my summer camp. There’d been a campwide sleepover for counselors and counselors in training, and let’s just say not much sleep was had. I spent the rest of the day in a stupor squinting at “Live Aid,” broadcast on public television and viewed through our crappy analog rabbit-ears, because we were too cheap to have this new invention called “cable.”
7. Dukakis/Regan/BBOh, Lordy, she’s a socialist! These are more late-80s than the other buttons, obtained in college. The first year I could vote I was attending school in Massachusetts, so I joined Gov. Dukakis’ campaign, in which he promised national health care and was booed pretty much nationwide. Also, considered a socialist by some. (Gee, how times change. Slowly.) Around that time I went to a Billy Bragg concert – a British folk/rock singer with proudly-socialist lyrics; any rightie thinking President Obama is a socialist needs to listen to some Bragg to get the real deal – and not only signed up with Billy, but against then-President Reagan. I felt quite radical doing it, too.
This one came along long before I knew what “Sandinista” was or meant, and long before any socialist buttons crossed my path. It’s my complete poseur button, because while I did in later years come to appreciate the joys of The Clash beyond “Rock the Casbah,” frankly when I got this button is was for the cool factor only. But shh, only you and I have to know that.
9. Air Supply
Shut up. I was 12. It happened. Can we move on now? All right, fine: Here’s your trivia of the day. The same guy that wrote “Making Love Out of Nothing At All,” which was Air Supply’s biggest hit ever, also wrote “Total Eclipse of the Heart” for Bonnie Tyler – and Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” albums. Versatility, thy name is Jim Steinman.
10. Things Can Only Get BetterAnd philosophy, thy name is Howard Jones. Whether or not you actually liked the spiky-haired keyboard-playing HoJo (as we fans called him), he actually had some thoughtful, Buddhist-inspired lyrics. When a former friend came at me with Bible verses to “prove” why I was going to hell if I didn’t accept Jesus, I fired back – with Howard Jones lyrics. Hey, I knew my religion – music. And today – could any button be more appropriate than this?
Randee Dawn is the author (with Susan Green) of the forthcoming The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Unofficial Companion (BenBella Books), available in September 2009.