50s vs 80s: Ever Wonder Why the 80s Look Like the 50s? Ask the 70s.

The 50s vs 80s

In the dopey hippie-mentors-square-padawan film Flashback, Dennis Hopper, riding easily on his 60s street cred, optimistically observed that “The 90s are going to make the 60s look like the 50s.” Uh, yeah. Somehow, Hopper’s character missed the fact that another era already looked like the 50s — the 80s — thanks to an over-investment in mid-century nostalgia made in the 70s. More to the point, the 80s version of the 50s seems to have supplanted reality, rendering the era as a postmodern play-date sandwiched between the bomb and the pill. And the 80s too, seem to have become conflated with its own rosy vision of the 50s. The eras are linked, in part, because they bookend the Cold War — that, and Reagan clearly nicked his haircut from the Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank, which has just opened in 1950.

How the 70s made the 80s Look Like the 50s

Consider a recent “Totally 80s”-themed event presented by the Santa Rosa Charter School, the poster for which featured a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers, the sunglasses first made iconic in the 1950s by the likes of James Dean and Roy Orbison. On the wane by the early 80s, the brand enjoyed a stratospheric resuscitation after inking a deal with Burbank-based Unique Product Placement, which pimped and subsequently placed the shades in about 300 movies and television shows into the mid-80s (could Risky Business-era Tom Cruise have peered through another brand of sunglasses as darkly?).

Our cultural yen for 50s nostalgia began steeping in the 70s, most notably with George Lucas’ seminal (and best) flick American Graffiti (which is actually set in the early 60s — per its bus ad “Where were you in ’62?”). That Lucas only had to wait 11 years before shooting his 1973 love-letter-to-a-bygone-era is testament to how radically the world had been changed by the 60s.

Likewise, given the cultural baggage of the 70s (Watergate, disco), family-oriented television eagerly embraced Happy Days, which owes a substantial genetic debt to American Graffiti, as well as much of its principle cast. Ditto its spin-off Laverne and Shirley. 1978’s Grease, set 20 years prior to its release, deepened the nostalgia craze with catchy tunes and the momentary resurrection of 50s teen idol Frankie Avalon. Moreover, revival act Sha Na Na had its own short-lived show in 1977 and Richard O’Brien’s rock opera paean to 50s science fiction double features, The Rocky Horror Picture Show began its climb to cult status.

Though the bridge to 50s had been built in the 70s, it took yet another Happy Days spin-off to cross fully into the 80s. And it wasn’t Joanie Loves Chachi. Even more improbable, it was the man from Ork. Robin Williams’ ADHD-afflicted spaceman Mork first appeared in the fifth season of Happy Days in a thinly-veiled launch of the character in his own series, Mork and Mindy, which ran from 1978 to 1982. In at least two more instances, Mork interacted with the Fonze et al, bouncing between both shows and eras because, as he professed, he enjoyed the 50s when life was more “humdrum.”

50s vs 80s: If Looks Could Kill

The idealized 50s of Richie Cunningham and crew germinated for three years and sprouted as the Back to the Future franchise in 1985. As aspiring rock guitarist Marty McFly, Michael J. Fox’s time travel itinerary finds him departing the 80s and arriving in the 50s via an upgraded DeLorean. And, of course, the Wayfarer-wearing Huey Lewis performed the film’s signature tune “Power of Love” (Lewis’ “Hip to Be Square” ode to social conformity was later used to better, if chilling effect, in the 80s-set American Psycho).

Thanks to the abundance of 50s imagery, fashion at my 80s-era junior high began to morph, which accounts for the unfortunate outbreak of flat-tops. Just as suddenly, Godzilla tchotkes demanded shelf space, Peggy Sue got married and 50s-inspired diners spread with a virulence not seen again until the advent of Starbucks. Seth MacFarlane’s gang at The Family Guy observed this later 80s/50s phenomena in “I Dream of Jesus,” episode 2, season 7. Upon entering a diner donned in 50s decor, Lois observes to her kids “There’s a lot of history here. 50s diners were really popular in the eighties.”

If Santa Rosa Charter School’s “Totally 80s” event is any indication, the tide of 80s nostalgia is rising. Perhaps they got it right and instead of skipping down Memory Lane in Sperry Topsiders, wore their Wayfarers at night so as not to be blind The Day After. In the real 80s, kids, we didn’t expect a flashback — just a flash.

Let’s Get Spiritual: Olivia Newton-John

Pop-star, actress and healthy lifestyle advocate Olivia Newton-John recently visited the wine country to tape episodes of the nationally syndicated integrative health show “Healing Quest,” joining Sonomans Judy Brooks and Roy Walkenhorst as co-host. During a wrap party at Sullivan Vineyards in Napa, she had a chat with Daedalus Howell.

DH: it’s the 26th anniversary of “Lets Get Physical” and I’ve go to say, the video for the title track forever changed my perception of gym culture. That had to be at least double platinum, right?

ONJ: Oh, actually it’s more than double platinum I’m glad to say – it sold everywhere. It was crazy. It’s 30 years since “Grease” next year too. I know – it’s unbelievable.

DH: Has your perception of the world changed since then?

ONJ: I’ve always had a pretty good perception of the world. The world is always the same it’s just your perception that changes. I’m sure I’ve gone through some – a lot – of difficult times but I’ve always seen the glass half-full, you know and I’ve always been fortunate. I’ve have a few periods where I would say I was pretty depressed but they were for reasons, they weren’t not for non-reasons, not just because I was just unhappy.  There were causes for them. But I’m great now.

DH: Can I assume these are the same that have led you to become more spiritual?

ONJ: I think I’ve always had a knowing-ness, a belief, but I think I definitely believe in something, whatever you want to call it. Everyone has a different name for it. I think we’re all looking for peace love and compassion.  We’re all looking for the same things.

DH: I’m always looking for my keys. But, you know, in that “key to wisdom” kind-of-way. I’m sure you have a better calling.

ONJ: I think now that my purpose is greater than what I believed it would be. If you’re lucky enough to maintain a career and get older, then lucky enough to survive both, you want to give back. I think that’s part of my duty and what I want to do and it feels good. My life, my whole journey, seems to be geared towards healing in many different ways.

DH: In your TV show you integrate both your media personality and some of your spiritual inclinations as well.

ONJ: And my music. They play my music on the show and they integrate that into healing moments on the program. I have a new CD called “Grace and Gratitude” that you probably haven’t heard. It is a healing CD and takes you though the chakras of the body, the emotional parts of your body, and each song is a healing. That’s all I can describe. I wrote it for myself but in doing that I think I’m hopefully going to help other people. And it’s just a peaceful piece.

DH: Do you have a higher consciousness when you’re performing? And I mean that in the spiritual way.

ONJ: Different maybe. I’ve always enjoyed singing and performing and enjoyed people.  I mean “Grease” was the most fun movie to make.  We had such a blast making it. I think that it endures because the energy is transmittable.  You can feel it through the screen.  Everyone talks about the energy and excitement. That was the cast and producer Alan Carr, who would used to come and rev us up all the time.

DH: I feel a cast reunion coming on.

ONJ: Well, I don’t know.  Next year is the big one – maybe we will.

DH: Tell me more, tell me more.  I mean, tell me more about what are you working on besides the show?

ONJ: I’m building a hospital in Melbourne,  Australia with it wont’ be in my name I’m very proud to say and a wellness center attached to that. We’ve been working on that for four years and that is a huge undertaking but we’ve raised 45 million dollars and we’re getting close to our goal. I’m walking the Great Wall of China in April to raise money and awareness for the hospital.

DH: I’d recommend sensible shoes.

ONJ: Very good thinking.  Yeah, I think high heals will work. No actually I’m going to be in very heavy training for that. It will be a blast it will be very exciting an incredible challenge for next year.

DH: But ultimately, there’s a healing premise behind it all. I’ve come to understand that wine is healing in moderation.

ONJ: Wine, yeah, ultimately in moderation, there was such controversy about breast cancer and wine for a while and then they kind of changed there minds that there is so many good things in it that it probably works out that one glass a day is fine. I think being relaxed about your health is probably just as important any way.

DH: Because stress is a killer.

ONJ: Yeah, it’s one of the major killers. One of our shows said that for 90 percent of people who go to the doctor, the causes of their illness are stress related.

DH: I don’t even go to the doctor because it stresses me out.

ONJ: [laughing] That’s right it’s better not to go – probably die of the stress before you get there.

DH: How do you manage to everything you do? It’s like you have career A.D.D. Do you keep a list to keep track? Or tattoo everything on you or something?

ONJ: I have a diary and an assistant that points me in the direction of what I’m doing at the time.

DH: I should get an assistant – my diary’s not doing it. And my diary makes horrible coffee.

For more information about “Healing Quest,” visit www.healingquest.tv.