We recently had the pleasure of reading Tom Harvey’s The Eighties: A Bitchin Time to be a Teenager. The book tells the story of Tom’s adventures through the 80s, starting in 1980 when Tom was in the sixth grade and ending as the decade closes out and Tom makes his way through college and into adulthood. At times both hilarious and cringe-inducing (his experiences hit mighty close to home), this is the honest tale of growing up amid the backdrop of 80s culture.
Enjoy this Q&A with Tom as he talks about the book and shares his thoughts on 80s matters in general.
LT80s: In the book’s two Appendices (the first devoted to music and the second the movies), how in the world did you keep them so short?
Tom: Great question! The short answer is, it wasn’t easy! As I wrote, I kept thinking about music and movies that were attached to specific memories. The idea of keeping it more organized via an appendix occurred to me about half way through the writing. Once I decided to do it that way, it kept me focused on the story progression without constantly wanting to “veer off” and blather on how much, for example, I love Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” video!
LT80s: You mention that “Breakfast Club” is your favorite movie of the decade. Why?
Tom: There are SO many great movies from the decade and The Breakfast Club holds a special place in my heart. Back in the 80s, anyone who hung around Hollywood (which I tended to do from time to time) got solicitations on the sidewalk . . . no, not THOSE type of solicitations (OK, well, sometimes . . .). Actually people pulled you into theaters for a free movie if you agreed to be a “test” audience. They’d give you two trigger devices and if you liked what you were seeing, you’d hold down the right trigger. Vice versa with the left trigger. My friend, Katherine, told me one time: “I just saw the greatest movie called The Breakfast Club. The version we saw was 3 hours long!” Seriously, can you imagine, NOW, seeing the unedited version of The Breakfast Club? For a movie with no violence, nudity and lines that include “Neo Maxi Zoon Dweebie,” The Breakfast Club is an anomaly that resonates with an entire generation. What kid couldn’t identify with at least one of the characters? As for me, I would have gladly came to Molly Ringwald’s rescue via Emelio Estevez’s character!
LT80s: Gotta ask about the moustache? You start each chapter with your school picture, which is great. You sported a moustache all the way through high school – was Magnum your inspiration?
Tom: The ‘stache for me was simply following suit behind my brother, David. The thing just progressively got darker and thicker starting in the 6th grade! Girls liked it a lot so it stayed! Funny story about how it was finally shaved off. I was, literally, sitting on the couch in the middle of a raging party in Porterville studying for a history exam. A girlfriend of one of my friends, drunk off her keister, sat down next to me and decided, right then and there, that the stache was coming off. This resulted in the entire group of people (about 50) chanting “Shave him, Shave him, Shave him!” Shelby (her real name), drug me into the bathroom and shaved it off.
LT80s: Talk about your time as a male stripper. Can you imagine such adventures in the context of the digital media world? Certainly that only works pre-YouTube!
Tom: Being a male stripper pretty much just landed in my lap, as the book details. I never planned to go into “business for myself.” Hahah. I guess I had the confidence to do it. I was in pretty decent shape physically and it forced me to really watch my diet and exercise like a madman. The pic in the book of me in the restaurant was really the highlight – I’ve NEVER felt such nervous energy. I’m glad that I brought my little point-and-shoot camera each time since, nowadays, no one would believe such a wild story!
LT80s: In what ways do you think being a teenager was better in the 80s? Are there ways in which teens today have it better?
Tom: It’s a cliche, but it’s true: the 80s were a simpler time. We couldn’t hide behind computer screens or converse via text messaging. If you wanted to ask a girl out, you had to physically pick up the phone, dial the number, get past the mom, and actually speak. The big thing for us in Porterville, California was cruising on Friday and Saturday nights. Nowadays, cruising is completely forbidden. I don’t think today’s teens even know what it is. When we got into an altercation on the cruise – which happened from time to time – we resolved it using fists. When teens started carrying weapons and killing each other, the venerable “cruise” was outlawed. Such a tragedy!
As for having it better, I remember thinking on June 6, 1986 – graduation night – that I’d likely not see 99% of my precious classmates again after that night. For the most part, I was right. Today with social media, teens aren’t faced with as big an adjustment of life after high school.
LT80s: Best movie quote from the 80s?
Tom: Oh boy, whatever I say now will likely change tomorrow and the next day and the next! Which to choose . . . Stripes . . . Ghostbusters . . . Stir Crazy . . . I’ll go with this one . . . first of all, I LOVE movies. I look at scenes and scene development and really try to appreciate all the effort the director and actors went through to set it up. One of my favorite scenes is from To Live and Die In LA – literally 5 minutes long on the same shot without a break. William Peterson (Gil Grissom from CSI) has taken evidence from a crime scene and his nervous partner, John Pankow, is chastizing him. The dialogue is a real tongue twister when William Peterson says, “Well I wouldn’t have done it if I was with someone I didn’t trust.” Say that 5 times fast! And this line was 5 minutes into this complex scene where they’re weaving through the empty police station and exchanging dialogue back and forth. I just really appreciate the art these two actors display in this scene.
Also love Gregory Hines’ (may he rest in peace) line in History of the World: Part I. The Roman guard yells, “Seize him!” and Gregory Hines says, “Ah sieze this honkus!”
LT80s: What’s next for you?
Tom: I’ve just completed a draft of my 2nd book, entitled “Don’t Fight With the Garden Hose and Other Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way.” This will fall into Amazon’s humor category and, if all goes as planned, will be published on May 1st. The book has 23 chapters of lessons and observations I’ve made in my 45 years. Some chapters are hilarious. Some will have you crying like a baby!
I do have a Facebook community page, www.facebook.com/86kicks, and people who “like” the page get my regular updates.
I also had a wicked dream the other night and ran into my home office to write it down before I forgot it. So, I plan on writing a 3rd book – this one a psychological thriller work of fiction, tentatively titled “Mary Agnes.”
Lastly, I can’t stress enough how humble I am about people reading my 80s book. Last May over 15,000 downloaded it and it hit #26 on the Free Books On Amazon for that 5 day period. I respond to every email I get about the book and am open to comments, both positive and critical. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.