In my recent dollar bin shopping spree at Amoeba, I finally got around to picking up Donald Fagen’s post-Steely Dan solo debut, The Nightfly. It’s very typical Fagen — jazzy, sardonic, nerdy, and wonderfully creative all at the same time. I remember the first single, “IGY (What a Beautiful World)” being played a bit on the radio, but the second single, “New Frontier”, was the one had the video on MTV and became the memorable hit.
I loved the use of animation in this video, multiple styles used to show multiple facets of the song itself: the (then modern) computer graphics to show the futuristic layout of new housing developments; the early Vogue ads and the Picasso paintings come to life; Soviet propaganda hinting at the impending Cold War. And my two favorite bits of animation: the cowboy-hatted, pistol-packing general marching around and shooting at rogue Commie nukes (a distinct nod to the old UPA films), and the bendy, lo-fi-but-cool jazz band.
[That last one had a particular effect on me; a few years later when I went through my jazz phase in the mid-80s, I would often visualize this particular image while listening to it late at night on my headphones.]
[Also, a quick bit of interesting trivia: the directors of this video, Annabel Jenkel and Rocky Morton, also directly my other favorite animated video, Elvis Costello’s “Accidents Will Happen.” Furthermore, they’re the co-creators of the Max Headroom franchise, and also co-directed the Super Mario Bros movie.]
I was listening to this track the other day and thinking about the sounds of the radio, pre-1989, before the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, we all listened to the popular sounds and were aware of the possible political threats out there. Some of us kept it separate, some of us mixed the two Amnesty International-style.
We weren’t oblivious or ignorant of world issues out there; we just chose not to be completely frightened or doom-laden about it (Prince’s “1999” comes to mind, for instance). We’d gotten so used to the elephant in the room that we just treated it as part of the furniture, and felt reasonably sure that in its advanced age and sedentariness, it probably wasn’t going to act up any time soon. Our reaction to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the USSR wasn’t so much a patriotic whoop of victory as a sigh of happy relief that it had finally gone away.