Another vestige of the '80s setlist cooked up by Heckman and myself for the class reunion last year. I think we actually performed it, too. The idea at the time, and the idea I've basically carried forward into this version, was to do it as a jangly, earnest folk ballad to try and restore some of the gravitas that it had in its day, but is difficult to hear now due to the production values, as if, perhaps, it was actually the same song as "Fall On Me". Perhaps it really didn't have any gravitas at the time, but it sure as hell felt like it... the Cold War was still on, and real, and we felt it. I don't think that whole fear of annihilation vibe survives very strongly in the perception of the '80s as it should, and the reason for that is simple and sad: unlike the '50s and '60s, the '80s didn't leave behind any preposterous "duck and cover" instructional films about how to survive a nuclear attack. Because by then we knew we were totally screwed no matter what.
Perhaps I'm being reductive about it, but sure as shootin' I was expecting the world to get blowed up real good any old day during my childhood. So this song was kind of a big deal in my mind, which is odd because it completely predates any true interest in pop or rock music on my part. I associate that with the way novelty music, or music related to films or TV, tends to involve kids before they start responding to music on an emotional level, and "99 Red Balloons" is sort of like a movie in and of itself, thereby standing out to me from the run-of-the-mill pop radio fare. The same is true, for in some ways the same reason, of, among others, "Mr. Roboto" by Styx, but "Mr. Roboto" pretty much sucks and offers nothing more these days than a laugh about how nuts we were to listen to such thing. "Balloons" is different, though, because underlying the story there is something emotional... profoundly emotional, in fact, although we might not have known it at the time, assuming as we did that global fatalism was the only reality we'd ever know. Whatever... both Heckman and I agreed that the song is actually pretty awesome and still produces some chills up the spine when we hear it now.