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MUSIC: The '80s are back

This is a big week in Fargo for fans of 1980s-era hard rock. On Saturday, the arena rock act Bon Jovi returns to the Fargodome just two years after the group's area debut.

Jon Bon Jovi
Jon Bon Jovi will perform Saturday in the Fargodome.

This is a big week in Fargo for fans of 1980s-era hard rock. On Saturday, the arena rock act Bon Jovi returns to the Fargodome just two years after the group's area debut.

On Friday, Poison frontman Bret Michaels plays The Venue at The Hub. The Fargo show marks his return to the area for the first time since, well, he played Dakota Magic Casino last May.

Add to the mix the May 1 Skid Row and Firehouse show at The Venue, and this spring is shaping up to be bigger than Jon Bon Jovi's 1980s hair.

While attendance at the latter two shows won't approach the 20,000-some expected for the Bon Jovi show, all of these acts have been able to maintain a good living by touring for years after the height of their popularity.

But quick, can you name the last top-10, or even top-20 song either one of these acts had? You have to go back to 1994's Bon Jovi ballad "Always." (Michaels and Poison last peaked on the charts with 1990's "Something to Believe In.")

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So, if it's not new hits, what is it about hard-rock acts two decades past their peak that still draws fans by the thousands?

"We can kind of expect nostalgia to go in 20-year cycles," said Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse (N.Y.) University. "Twenty years later, when people have a mortgage and job worries, they tend to think back 20 years very fondly."

"A lot of this music is just really appealing," Thompson said, comparing it to works by the Beatles or Elvis Presley that never went out of style.

"It really kind of reclaimed what was so appealing about a lot of rock 'n' roll in the first place. It was loud. It was often disturbing to parents. It was a visceral experience. You not only could hear it, you felt it," Thompson said, referring to '80s hard rock. "It had a real sense of a deliciously celebratory anarchy to it, which is one of the great appeals of rock 'n' roll. This stuff was so the opposite of easy listening."

Perhaps, that why not only the actual acts, but tribute bands that represent that party vibe, draw so well around here.

And even while MTV no longer plays music, the videos exist through novelty programs like VH1's "I Love the '80s" or just a click away on YouTube, iTunes and through games like "Guitar Hero," Thompson said. He also credits "Fargo Rock City," by author Chuck Klosterman, for keeping music on the radar.

But just as MTV made video stars, cable television served to fragment pop culture by offering something for nearly everyone, instead of offering only one option.

"It was the last decade when we were hearing the same music if not deliberately seeking it out. Everybody couldn't help but hear the same songs and see the same TV shows,"

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The result is that while entertainment is more accessible, a smaller portion of people are being exposed to the same music like they were with '80s rock, Thompson said.

"In 20 years when Coldplay is 20 years old, a good chunk of the population will have never heard those songs the first time around."

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

Bret Michaels
Bret Michaels

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