Back to the ‘80s?

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that lipstick and shoes are economic indicators: during tough times both lipstick sales and heel heights are up.

So what does it say when Vogue takes a look at ‘80s nostalgia in recent couture shows?   You could chalk it up to some marketing maven’s spin on the more the things change, the more they stay the same. Or maybe there’s something in the air, culturally (not to mention politically) speaking that’s taking us back to the ‘80s.

Think about it. First came American Psycho on Broadway just when the personification of the greed-is-good mindset finagled his way into the White House. 2016 also brought two major Robert Mapplethorpe exhibitions in L.A. that became jumping-off points for an HBO documentary on the artist.

‘Stranger Things,’ the Netflix hit series set in the ‘80s, was spawned that year. I caught up, and fell in love with it, in all its innocence and strangeness, a year later. A stroke of not-so-strange genius in casting Winona Ryder (think Beetlejuice,1987) as the mother who knows like no one else that something is rotten in the town of Hawkins?

Innocence may be the operative word here. After the letdown of the ‘70s weren’t we oh-so-ready for the ‘80s, one day footloose, another day burning down the house? That’s the way it was for anyone who just loved rock ‘n’ roll. Concerts and clubs did not feel like danger zones.

There was glamour and, yes, greed. There was Ronald Reagan. There were hints of a mysterious gay plague no one would ever believe it would be as bad as it would end up being.

Looking back now maybe it had the feel of a last chance, even a last dance. Frank Bruni, in the opening essay to the April 17 issue of the New York Times T Magazine focused on the early ‘80s in New York, reminds us that “People lived larger and louder than they had just years before. They also died younger.” And maybe the revival of so many things that echo the ‘80s is here to remind us what a threshold decade it was. Hippies took a back seat to Yuppies. E.T. cast a spell, the Berlin Wall came down.  We were gripped by a royal wedding, fairy-tale style, a woman became the first Supreme Court justice, another woman the first vice presidential candidate.

The environmental disasters that marked the decade—Bhopal, Chernobyl, Exxon-Valdez—were warnings that gave rise to a certain amount of regulatory guidelines but here we are decades later threatening to turn back the clock.

Maybe that’s the real conundrum of the times in which we live:  there’s no turning back from what technology, ‘90s style and beyond, has wrought, even if it has us longing for a kinder, simpler time.  Put to its best use, that same technology makes it easy to relive—and build on—those ideas and moments from an earlier decade that have as much relevance and resonance now.

Could there be a better time than this for a revival of Tony Kushner’s epic play, Angels in America, with its undercurrent of secrets and lies, love and death, corruption that seems mild by today’s standards?

AIDS may not be the death sentence it once was, but it’s still with us. Celebrities like Rock Hudson and Magic Johnson gave HIV/AIDS a high-profile face but it took lots of good people acting up to make the government pay attention. The decade that saw men beaten up by police for being gay also brought them out into the streets in anger and pride. No small irony that it was a decade also marked by the brutal beating of a black man by a group of white men in Howard Beach, Queens. Decades later, there’s no room for complacency.  We’re still fighting for health care, equal rights, equal pay. Gun control. If the medium is the message, we have Twitter and Facebook at their best, and worst, to bring visibility to the fight(s). We also have the ‘80s to thank for the way it took protest branding to a new level.  The powerful, provocative Silence=Death poster/slogan paved the way for pink pussy hats and Black Lives Matter.

So, let’s put on our red shoes and dance. The Donna Summer Musical is lighting up Broadway.  She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee’s 1986 debut movie, is having an updated Netflix reincarnation. Cats, gone from Broadway, is on to its next life in a North American tour that includes Providence, Chicago, Raleigh, and Los Angeles. And let’s remind ourselves, it’s not so much about going back as it is about recognizing all we got from an era that changed our lives.


The sound of one tree falling

I love taking pictures of trees, most often in autumn and winter.  Watching leaves turn a glorious riot of color before they drop to the ground is a gift I never tire of. But there’s something even more compelling when they’re gone, and every knot on every tree trunk, every crooked limb, shows itself.  Until snow comes, there’s no hiding from a sense of feeling exposed.

A few years back, we had a surprise snowstorm on Halloween.  Tree branches snapped. Entire trees toppled, this one across my driveway in the middle of the night.  Nature has her own way of pruning. I didn’t hear a thing.

Gardeners have their way of pruning, too, and I marvel at the precision with which a tree is taken down.  It takes a certain kind of fearlessness (coupled with skill) to be up in a tree, sawing away while helpers are on the ground, directing a branch with ropes.  The saw makes for a very grating noise, yes; then comes the thud.

The view from my kitchen deck is even more open now that the gorgeous ash tree I’ve photographed more than once over the years is gone. I take no credit for the way the light just happened to hit it on a day in late August. Even more mysterious is how turning it into my iPad wallpaper forever gave it a screenshot date. The original photograph is missing and I made a point of capturing newer images of that favorite tree, even if they don’t quite measure up. Maybe there’s a message here.












These days have me hearing trees falling, groaning under the weight of a planet in distress. I spend a lot of time trying to reassure my daughter that all is not lost. Things change. The profit motive (not to mention the vindictive behavior of the psychopath-in- chief) that underscores all that’s being done to undermine the environmental progress we’ve made will give way to a stronger, sounder resistance.

A landscape filled with trees is riddled with metaphor. Light bends leaves, deep, sinewy roots are what keep a tree standing.

Look hard enough and you see trees doing things.

Leaning on one another. . .

Or looking more and more like the terrain in Stranger Things.

This morning was filled with mist and the chill of missing sunshine, neither of which keeps me from walking.


On the way back I decided it was time to take a photo or two of the space left by the majestic ash—which calls to mind a parable as wise as it is touching.  Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree takes a boy from innocence to old age in his relationship to a tree who (physically and metaphorically) gives pieces of herself in response to his needs. He swings from her branches, sleeps in her shade; she lets him cut branches when he needs to build a house and her trunk when he wants a boat in which to sail away.  In the end, when he’s old and tired and simply wants a place to sit and rest, she invites him to do just that on all that’s left of her.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point to one more tree, dreamlike in its artfulness, that gets pride of place on the redesigned Home page of my website. Please take a peek if you haven’t already. Then consider the serendipity that brought me this Counting Crows cover of a Joni Mitchell song with these words:

They took all the trees
and put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half to see ’em