<em>“Sorry Goose, but it’s time to buzz the tower.”</em>
—from the film Top Gun!
On June 30th, 1986 I accompanied my cousin Mike to the town of Cranford, New Jersey to visit a girl he was dating. Cranford is in North Jersey…which I considered to be the worst place on Earth until I visited Provo, Utah.
To share the events of that day in their fullest would take up a month’s worth of columns. I always thought it would make a great screenplay. Here is a short summary of the events:
Mike’s girl was with friends who were crazy. We almost got beat up by a group of large men hanging out at a gas station. I was seperated from my cousin, who in turn was separated from both his girl and his 1980 powder blue Pinto. I ended up finding Mike’s girl, who was hanging out with a kid that was passed out on drugs, only to have her hit on me in a way that most 16 year old boys would have a hard time fending off. Then we walked down the side of a highway where some guy threw a beer bottle at me from a speeding car. When I saw my cousin’s 1980 powder blue Pinto pull up beside us, he got out of the passenger side. Some girl who I had not met during the day’s festivities was driving. She was only 14.
You see, that is why so many who were either raised in New Jersey or, like me, spent the bulk of their summers there, worshipped Bruce Springsteen. We loved his songs because we lived them!
That legendary year of 1986 was 30 years ago. I am old.
It is mostly a good thing for us to look back at our youth with awe and amazement. And we certainly have the right to selectively forget the bad parts. I do. Fact is, the first half of 1986 was terrible for me. And, what happened after the summer ended was not much better. But the Summer of 1986 was worthy of a film with a voice-over—I would hire Paul Giamatti—saturated with dew-eyed nostalgia.
I spent most of that summer at my aunt and uncle’s home in Tuckerton, New Jersey, which was just a short distance north of Atlantic City. It was common for us to head up to Long Beach Island, which is a 17 mile thin strip of bars, palatial beach houses and New Yorkers. I never understood going on vacation in the southern shore towns. Everyone there was from Philly. The purpose of a vacation is to get away from the people you see daily.
For all the good times we had going to the beach—and other unmentionable activities—seeing movies that summer was a big part of my memories. Specifically, there were seven films we watched on LBI during that time. I can recite the list in my sleep. The movies were:
<ul><li>Running Scared</li><li>The Karate Kid, Part II</li><li>Aliens</li><li>Ruthless People</li><li>Ferris Bueller’s Day Off</li><li>Back To School</li><li>Top Gun!</li></ul>
Ah, Top Gun! You need to use an exclamation point when writing about that film or you do not get the full dynamic. Try it with a simple period if you do not believe me. Top Gun. See? It is not the same.
Top Gun! was the highest grossing film of 1986. And it helped define what healthy heterosexual men should act like in the mid-80’s. Or did it?
Soon after seeing the film, a girl who was friends with my cousin saw us at a pizzeria and came over to say hello. Her boyfriend was with her, and he started excoriating Top Gun! His premise was that he hated the film because Maverick, Tom Cruise’s character, was obviously gay.
Whaaaaaaaa? Gay? Tom Cruise? Naval aviators? No!!! It is not gay for a bunch of guys to sit around each other after a steamy shower whilst wearing tighty-whiteys. And the fact that Maverick does not show an interest in the female lead until she dresses in fatigues with her long, blonde hair pulled up under a cap is irrelevant.
You may notice that “Pretty In Pink” was not on the list of films. That had come out in the winter of 1986. Still, the end of that film was a major point of conversation throughout the summer. It was inconceivable to me that Andie left the prom with that spinless, chinless Blane over Duckie. No! No! No!
That film was on HBO a few weeks back and I re-watched it for the umpteenth time. Guess what? I got angry again when she chose Blane. It has been 30 years! I need to get over it.
The theme song from that movie was “If You Leave” by OMD. Great song. “Something About You” from Level 42 was a hit during the summer. I have always adored that song.
Do you know what song was on top of the charts in May of 1986? “Kiss” by Prince. Rest in peace you magnificent genius.
My favorite band of all time, Journey, released it’s much-awaited album this month in 1986. “Raised on Radio” has aged very well. If you were a teenager in Jersey during the 80’s, Journey was a necessity if you wanted any degree of success in picking up girls. They all loved hanging out listening to Journey songs. Do the math.
In July, Bon Jovi released “You Give Love A Bad Name” which unofficially kicked off the reign of the so-called “hair bands.” Motley Crue had opened the door for the genre in 1985 with their album “Theatre of Pain”. Bon Jovi’s breakout song built on Crue’s legacy and created a dynasty in rock music. By the end of 1986, MTV was the exclusive domain for bands with stretch leather pants and bullet proof high hair.
Thirty years ago: great movies, great songs, great summer. And none of it would have happened for me if I had not escaped from those ruffians who were hanging outside of a gas station in Cranford, New Jersey.