If anyone needs a reminder about just how prosperous the 1980s were, this was an era when people had so much disposable cash to throw around that they actually had to be warned against the evils of using cocaine. Not just cheap, impure cocaine either, but honest-to-goodness, Colombian-grown, backstage-at-an-Eagles-concert cocaine. Those were some classy years, and they produced some very memorable anti-drug public service announcements. The makers of When We Were Live, a feature-length documentary about public access television in Austin in the ’80s and ’90s, remember this era all too well. Among the relics they’ve dug up is an incredible anti-drug PSA that compares snorting cocaine to playing Russian roulette—and in terms that no one could possibly miss.
A genial-looking, mustachioed fellow in a Crazy Eddie T-shirt is shown happily using a razor blade to cut some coke into lines. This is intercut with footage of the same man loading a single bullet into the chamber of a revolver and then spinning the cylinder. (Also seen for a moment is a cool Lynyrd Skynyrd poster, showing the band at its hairiest.) At the announcement’s climax, the man hunches forward and prepares to inhale some of the good stuff. Cut to black. The deafening sound of a gunshot reverberates on the soundtrack. Get it? Huh? Was that obvious enough?
Since this PSA is so brief, clocking in at only a minute, viewers are highly urged to take advantage of YouTube’s speed adjustment feature and watch it at 0.5 speed. That might seem counterintuitive for a PSA about a stimulant like cocaine, but it works incredibly well. Suddenly, the man’s gun-loading and cocaine-snorting rituals take on a new air of dread and menace. And the instrumental synth music on the soundtrack becomes something else entirely, a song far creepier and more atmospheric. It sounds like a cut from the Drive soundtrack, the echoing drums reminiscent of “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. For anyone who wasn’t around in the ’80s, that was the song of choice for anyone about to snort a line of coke off a picture of Reagan’s face.