1. Elm Street, Jump Street, Easy Street
Johnny Depp, he of the sky-high luxurious locks, chocolate brown gaze and the pout'iest pout of the decade, appeared on my teenage radar with his roles on 21 Jump Street and Nightmare on Elm Street. In the former, Johnny played a narcotics cop that looked young enough to pull off posing as a high school student, and in the latter, he was one of the hapless victims of Freddy Kreuger -- a bed ate him up. As we both grew older I grew to appreesh Mr. Depp for more than just his face. The dude knows how to pick a script. With so many stupid movies launching the careers of pretty young men, it was endearing that Johnny Depp was holding out for more complex roles, demonstrating a respectable preference for artistry over easy money. Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood were wonderfully strange projects where the actor's portrayals were above par for the times, over the top but complex, and then he'd go all understated and quiet for roles such as What's Eating Gilbert Grape. He's a bit odd, sure. Bought an island and lived there for awhile, plus he's cultivated that odd "actor's accent." Rumor ihas it he's now got a house in Woodbury, CT near where my parents live.
2. Androgeny Progeny
Grade school teachers love to torture us with writing assignments like "What I Want For Christmas," "What I Did Last Summer" and "My Hero: _______." In 7th grade my hero was Boy George. Having been raised on a musical diet of soul and R&B, this golden-throated creature and his "blues in high heels" knocked me out of my Buster Browns. In my essay I babbled for six pages, front and back, fangirling from the bottom of my heart all the reasons George O'Dowd (I recall adopting the tweenager's superior tone for simply knowing his real name) deserved to be my hero. I'm sure a great many words were merely attempts to state the importance of his androgynous style, something that I'd never seen before but which shaped my entire world from then forward. I've adored Boy George through decades of mediocrity, too, signing off emails with his lyrics and dressing up in his peerless 80s styles for costume parties. In the 90s Boy George, a complex individual, had run-ins with the law, did community service, went through a drug phase, a fat phase, Jesus Christ alone only knows what else. But it's 2015 and he's back in fine voice and full-tilt boogie awesome. I hope Boy George is fixing to resurrect his fabulous former pop & soul elegance. Just the idea makes me and my inner 7th-grader deliriously happy.
3. Getting Better
In Earth Girls Are Easy Jeff Goldblum sidles out of that salon steamroom door and into our fangirly dreams. If you missed the movie, that's okay, it is pretty dumb. Geena Davis, in real life a Mensa society member and award-winning archer, plays a ditzy underachiever who discovers that a spaceship has landed in her swimming pool with three furry aliens inside. It's an early role for Jim Carrey and Damon Wayons, who are both totes adorbs. But Jeff Goldbum, though. Geena Davis and her girlfriend, played by Downtown Julie Brown, help the alien dudes blend in with the population of the Valley in the 80s, so Julie, a beauty salon owner, shaves them and gives them clothes. Emerging shorn and swarthy in a cloud of steam, Jeff, all cheekbones and lips, gazes at gobsmacked Geena and asks, "Good?" Um, yeah. Very good. Hes like some kind of feral man-beast. Damn, bitch, Jeff Goldbum was a fine ass alien. Throughout his career he delivered performances both awesome and forgettable, sometimes sexy for being sexy like in Jurassic Park ("I bring scientists, YOU bring a rawk stah!") and sometimes sexy for being brainy like in Independence Day, and oh why not, The Fly -- with the beautiful Geena Davis again. "You're getting worse!" "I'm getting better." Role to role, he's consistent, funny, sincere and always with that unmistakably awkward, distinctive Goldblum-ness. His latest is a Microsoft commercial where he coaches disappointed gift-recipients on how to fake-act appreciation. Hopelessly charming.
4. The Brat Pack Representin'
The "brat pack" was the name used to define the "it crowd" of the 80s, playing upon the term "rat pack" that defined the gaggle of entertainers that surrounded Frank Sinatra back in the day. The term "brat pack" managed to convey both the huge star power as well as the snark and swagger of the decade's young Hollywood elite. Who were they? Go to imdb.com, start with Emilio Estevez in 1985, and do a 6-degrees thing -- that's them. Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, you know the Pack. Of all the Brat Pack faces that melted the decade's most jaded hearts, Rob Lowe is the clear superlative. Strong jaw, sincere smile and piercing baby blues for days. Over the decades, from The West Wing to Parks and Recreation, Rob Lowe has managed to maintain the shimmering, flawlessness of his glory days, and is it just me or is this guy improving with a little gray hair and a few wrinkles? I think yes. I have proof. Recently uttered by one of his Parks and Recreation colleagues that may or may not have been Nick Offerman, "His face is magic."
5. Laughing In The Purple Rain
The dude may have spent the better part of the 80s running around in purple velvet and white lace, made up in heavy eyeliner n' done up in an astonishing busby of slick curls. And sure, a fog machine seemed to follow him around. But Prince Rogers Nelson was the shit, and remains the ultimate in badassery to this day. Prince ruled the stage on high heels, gyrating and staring lustily into the camera. The man was not afraid to use his tongue to get a point across, right? Prince blended the sexy licks and swagger of Jimi Hendrix with dance and funk, coming up with something quite new. I absorbed Purple Rain into my blood. Killer songcraft, guitars for days, and he was so prolific he even penned songs for pop stars like Madonna and Sinead O'Connor. Admittedly, in the late 80s Prince went a little overboard, experimenting with long form concept records and new personas, changing his name to a symbol and weirding everyone out with all the God stuff -- pretty much refusing to perform his former sex-driven discography amid rumors of inviting women over to pray. But based on recent appearances, he's made something of a return to pop culture and seems to have found the inner peace he was clearly seeking. Hope so. God makes people so weird. Hope the purple one comes back strong.
6. Just a Good Old Boy
Be still my 9-year old heart, the crush I had on Bo Duke! Our whole family watched The Dukes of Hazzard on Friday nights. My brother and I loved The Incredible Hulk, Different Strokes, and Happy Days, but we lost our shit over The Dukes of Hazzard. The dumbest of all prime time shows, we worshiped those Duke boys, especially surfer-boy, blue-eyed Bo with the dreamy smile and flop of blonde hair. Bo always drove the General Lee, making sweet jumps and going up on two wheels. The show holds up not-at-all from an adult perspective, from the ridiculousness of two punk-ass cousins constantly baiting the local cops and causing havoc around town, to the specious lifestyles of these Dukes. What did they do for a living? Why did they drink buttermilk, can you even DO that? And why did they weld their car doors shut? But in those days, nobody minded. These days, formerly round-chinned, angelic John Schneider is a chiseled, ruggedly handsome actor playing bit parts on TV here and there, including a reprisal of Bo Duke in a TV commercial along with Tom Wopat.
7. Domo Arigato, Mr. Shaw
Mr. Roboto was one of the first videos I saw when MTV first launched. Really, thank God for MTV. One of the benefits of music video was introducing a person to a band she may not have otherwise discovered. In those days, my parents were raising us on an awesome and steady diet of soul and R&B with some jazz and classic pop like The Beatles and Donovan, and my eldest cousin introduced the heavier rock like Ozzy, Van Halen and Led Zep. But if not for MTV I wouldn't have been introduced to bands like The Cars and Styx. I grew to love Styx, and found my first guitar god in one Tommy Shaw. I tore out a full page from Hit Parade and pinned the blonde shredder to my bedroom wall along with my other boyfriends. He has changed a lot, but today's guitar wizard is still a major dude, older and wiser with just the right amount of scruffitude, and the man still wails like a demon on that guitar.
8. The Fresh Prince
Way before The Fresh Prince of Bel Air came on TV (1990), Will Smith appeared on MTV along with DJ Jazzy Jeff and Ready Rock C, making a sensation with the hit single "Parents Just Don't Understand." I was more used to the edgier, politically-charged rap style of trailblazers like Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, so The Fresh Prince brought a more fun, accessible rap to a white Connecticut teenager at just the right time. Will Smith helped provide a cultural handshake, always a stroke of brilliance in a musical artist. And man, did I love me some Will Smith, so yeah, I watched The French Prince of Bel Air in college. I learned all the lyrics to the long version of the theme song (it's longer than you think) and even though we were both no longer teenagers I somehow still feel like I "grew up" with the Fresh Prince. These days, he's still a huge talent, still presents as a super nice guy, still keeps himself in great shape. He goes skydiving, plays basketball, and he's raising some very talented, gorgeous kids too. I will watch Will Smith in anything.
9. Success Hasn't Spoiled Him Yet
I don't recall if it was Jessie's Girl on the radio or the appearance of Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital, but my friends and I wigged out over Rick Springfield. We listened to Working Class Dog and Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet, on vinyl, over and over, we danced to every song, we knew his dog's name, we called each other squealing on the phone whenever Dr. Noah Drake did something amazing. We heard he lived in Glendale, California so we looked up Glendale on the map at the library, which is a very very old sentence to say. We felt a teenage girl's ownership over the guy, and if memory serves we made our parents take us to see him in concert three times. Right now he's in a movie about a band's life on the road, starring Meryl Streep as bandleader. I will probably see it. I should also check out some of his music after 1987, I have been remiss. Sorry Rick, there was a lot going on, but I'll getchoo, boo.
10. Uncle Jesse
Another General Hospital heartbreaker, John Stamos joined the show as a mad, bad dude they called Blackie Parrish. That is literally the only fact that I can recall. They don't exactly write soap operas for longevity. Blackie Parrish offered a titillating combination of babyfaced cuteness along with this dark, swarthy bad boy thing, and given his perpetual seething anger, he was a big hit with girls of an age -- my age -- where we wouldn't have known what to do with him if he suddenly showed up at the skating rink where we spent our Saturdays. These days the same girls would probably just give him some nice soup and tell him to use a coaster, but tell him in no uncertain terms that it's absolutely ridiculous how handsome he still is all these years later. John Stamos is, right now, starring in a new TV show as a grandfather who didn't even know he had a kid, let alone a kid with a kid. I won't be watching it, because...why would I watch that...I'm betting it's canceled by the time you read this. However, fantastic casting in an actor of grandfatherly age who does not look like anyone's idea of a grandfather. I mean, really, John Stamos, what the hell, pretty boy.
Before I go, there was one young man that, had he gotten the chance to make it out of the Hollywood drug scene, would be at the top of my list. I'm sure of it. He was an exquisite beauty and a fine actor. My age exactly, River Phoenix died when we were 23. His death hit me hard personally, and it felt like the world at large had suffered the loss of a genuine talent that never even got the chance to develop into greatness. What a shame. Forever young, rest in peace, River.
1970 - 1993