Today was a strange day. I had many things on my to-do list, including this blog post. As I sat drinking my morning coffee, scrolling through Twitter, one headline stopped time and flashed me back into the 80s before a tear could fall.
My teen years were lived out in the 80s, with high school graduation in 1986. It was a different time; a different era—before the internet and social media; before computers as we know them now. Manual typewriters, liquid paper, and carbon copies were the norm. Music came in plastic cassette tapes, which needed to be played on cassette tape players, like the one pictured above. We called this handheld unit a walkman. The larger model cassette player carried on a shoulder was referred to as a boom box. Music was everything in the 80s. It etched memories, evoked emotion, in our lives and the movies and TV shows we watched. It was a place to escape from the fearful threat of nuclear war and imminent death.
I am a member of Generation X. Today, the world lost a symbol of our struggle and a beacon of hope that helped more than just this teen reach for the future not in a dreamy, fantasy-like way. No… I’m talking about fighting for what I wanted, no matter the resistance or rejection. With my small group of misfit friends… all scorned by the other cliques at school, supporting me even as they reached for their own dreams.
Our determination and tenacity were born out of adversity, even though in the halls of history, we are the smallest generation. Also known as the invisible generation, by the Boomers who didn’t get us, and the Millennials who think us antiquated fossils.
Today, I mourn the loss of one Boomer who truly got us. Singer, songwriter, and actress, Irene Cara, passed away yesterday at the age of 63. This is the heading that changed the subject of this blog post and the musings of my mind in a fraction of a second. It’s been a decade or more since I thought of her. Yet, today, I’m keenly aware of the impression she made on my young teenage mind.
I was twelve the summer “Fame” hit the theatres. It was 1980, a summer I’ll never forget, not because of this movie, but other events that are not meant for this post. You see, I never watched the movie until 1984. Two years after the TV show, Fame, made its debut. The characters in the movie, except for four, were all different than the TV show. I remember that throwing me as I watched another actress, Irene Cara, portray a much younger Coco Hernandez as she auditioned for a spot at the prestigious school for the performing arts.
That movie was filled with different family scenarios; different cultures and life experiences, but the emotions across the board were the same when each character faced criticism, rejection, betrayal, and depression. Coco wore her emotions on her face. Unlike me, she was an extrovert who used her talents in singing and dance to express her emotions, whatever they might be at any given moment. The Coco in the movie was more insecure at the beginning and more shy, but that faded away the second she sat at a piano, sang, or pulled her leg warmers on over her dance shoes.
Through her eyes, the drive to fight for our dreams was brought to life with a transparent vulnerability I hadn’t seen before. Irene, as Coco, sitting at the baby grand piano singing, “Out There On My Own” will forever be a part of me as an echo of my own emotions during that time.
I wonder, now, if I would have had the courage and determination I did to pursue my dreams if I hadn’t seen both the movie and the TV show? It had an impact that sent ripples outward into my future in ways that I couldn’t see, until today.
Can you relate?
Nostalgia isn’t bad. It is melancholy and uncomfortable, but it’s also necessary so we never forget the lessons we learned. Mine happened to be inside the fictitious halls of a school for the performing arts, experiencing the lives of Coco, Carlos, Bruno, Doris, Leroy, Julie, Ms. Grant, Ms. Sherwood, and Mr. Shorofsky. It changed me in ways I was blind to, until the final curtain fell for an actress I admired greatly.
RIP Irene Cara. Your life impacted an entire generation. We are your legacy as much as the two songs you wrote, for “Fame” and “Footloose.”
If any of my readers haven’t seen these “oldies,” find them in a google search and watch them. You won’t be disappointed, if you can overlook the lack of HD and panoramic cinematography.