Welcome to the first post of the book club on the book, Mad World! As Rhonda mentioned last week, we will, generally, be discussing about 3 chapters a week. I will give my thoughts and Rhonda will give hers. Then, we hope that others will chime in with their thoughts! Ideally, it would be great to get a good discussion going that lasts beyond the day of a book club post. I love discussions like that as I learn more and see things differently from hearing points from other people. This week, we will take it slow with the foreword, introduction and the first band, Adam and the Ants.
I suspect that the foreword might catch Duranies attention since it was written by some guy named Nick Rhodes. As soon as I begin reading this, I’m reminded of how Duran Duran opened my world up to so many other bands, artists, genres, etc. I was a little kid when I heard Duran for the first time and became a fan. I knew VERY, VERY little about music. My family wasn’t big into music. I could tell you a lot more about visual artists or politicians than I could music. Yet, my personality is such that when I get into something, I want to know everything. I devour everything and anything I can find. I was that way as a kid and I am that way as an adult. Thus, I remember reading about Duran’s influences and wanting to check out each and every one. I borrowed Chic’s album from the library, for example, as soon as I had heard of them. I am so thankful for Duran for opening my eyes and EARS to so many artists, especially at a young age. Perhaps, that very fact is why music came to be such a big deal for me. Likewise, it seemed like music was a big deal for many of my peers, too.
Back in the early 1980s, it felt to me that everyone was listening to the same music. We all were on the same page even if we had different favorites. Every song was known by everyone or so it felt. Nick mentioned about how music was important for his generation, too. He captured what I have always felt by saying the following about music, “It was an important voice in our culture, a way for our generation to express its singularity.” Exactly. Music represented a generation. For those of us who grew up in the 1980s, it was New Wave. We all know the artists and songs. Of course, we know some better than others or like some better than others, but it is something that unites people of my generation. I love that Nick had the same experience, too. I have to wonder if kids these days experience the same thing with SO many choices available at all times.
Nick dives a lot deeper in explaining how New Wave really came to be from the consequences of punk rock, the development of affordable technology, and more. He described how New Wave developed differently in the UK and in the US. I especially appreciated how he explained the influence of the times and current events on the formation of New Wave. The UK of the 1970s, according to Nick, contained “political turbulence and social unrest.” As a student of social sciences, I have always believed that political happenings and current events have incredible influence on the cultural products of a place and time, especially with music. I loved how Nick then described that bands either expressed darkness or light as a response to the state of the UK at that time. Duran had a balance. Ah, yes. That idea really spoke to me. People always claim Duran to be nothing but a feel good, optimistic, colorful band and I believe, at times, they are. Yet, there have been moments and songs that are the exact opposite. I love that they express the full range.
Nick goes on to describe the New Wave culture as being focused on standing out rather than fitting in. I never really thought much about that, but I can definitely see that and like that. Every artist or band seemed to have a slightly different sound and/or look, which isn’t the case with other genres or musical time periods, in my opinion. I like that they did all strive to be unique. It certainly made it more interesting and enjoyable.
I highlighted a few sections of Nick’s foreword that seemed to jump out at me.
Nick states that each of the bands in the book were “different reflections of similar views. Some chose to express the darkness, others looked towards the light”. This was exactly how I found New Wave to be — there was something for my every pubescent mood. Sometimes I needed Rio, and in others, I needed Blasphemous Rumours. I tend not to notice such wide differences in today’s music, and I’m not ignorant of the fact that much of this probably has to do with my age rather than the quality of music. As Curt Smith states much much later in this book (I’m paraphrasing) – there was a lot of crap music to be found in the 80s. I certainly didn’t listen to top 40 radio with the same sort of enthusiasm that I might have had while listening to KROQ, that is for certain. I think that nowadays I have a much harder time finding “the good stuff”….and not nearly as much time as I need. Anyone else?!?
Nick talks a bit about reality TV and commercial radio — for me personally, these are dirty words. I can’t stand any of it (with the crazy exception for The Bachelor, because I am a melodramatic female at times, admittedly.) He comments about how these mediums have created opportunities for some and taken away from others, and that what is broadcast to the audience is more formulaic. I have to agree. I find that the “hits” of today seem to follow a fairly generic formula. Some may say that New Wave of the 80s has it’s own formula – and I’d agree. It’s called “Creativity”. Ultimately, Nick describes the public attention span as being incredibly short, and again – I have to agree. We have a thing for instantaneous gratification, and when you combine that with the near-endless array of choices available – no one sticks around for long. It really is a miracle that bands such as Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears are still around and care to participate. We thank them.
The introduction is straight forward. The authors not only define the term “New Wave” but describe why they chose it and the format of the book, which is helpful as we dive into each band/artist and song.
I found it useful that they took the time to explain the connection between punk and New Wave. While I’m pretty familiar with the history between the two, it was good to be reminded. The explanation of why artists went towards New Wave as opposed to punk was made clear by the list they provided, including the development of MTV (as Duranies know!), the power of the British music press, Top of the Pops and more.
While the authors admit that the 1980s was a bit ridiculous, they also point out what was good about it. The bands/artists were not manufactured and had tons of imagination and personality. From my stand point, this is what made the era fun. The ridiculousness wasn’t so evident to me as a kid. Now, I see where the criticism comes from, but it doesn’t matter that much to me. Perhaps, those fun memories of my childhood over shadow any negative.
Rhonda: I liked the introduction, but I tend to shy away from the characterization of the artists being ridiculous. Call the bands excessive at times. Ridiculous though? I think this lends itself to some discussion if others care to chime in. In hindsight do you agree that some of the music, videos, images, etc. from this time were ridiculous?
I guess I just don’t see their creativity in that same way. I see the desire to be individual during a period of time when the world still tried to set and keep firm boundaries. People were beginning to push the limits, escape the stranglehold of societal labels and explore the far-reaches of originality. I feel that the artists of this period – particularly those that were discussed in this book, were indeed following that trend. I see New Wave as a response to an angry Punk. Rather than just be screaming angry, artists use the music, the visual, the imagery to explore the emotion (Thank goodness for those London Art Schools), and art begins to entangle with emerging technology. To be fair, I don’t think the point of the authors was to necessarily say that yes, the music of this era was really beyond the seriousness of critics. Instead, I think they were saying to those critics, “Listen, you might not have liked this…but you really do need to give the music it’s just due. It is still around, and it is still continuing to inspire.”
Adam and the Ants:
Adam and the Ants isn’t an artist I’m super familiar with. I blame my age for that. I was pretty young when they had their big hit here in the States (Goody Two Shoes in 1982). That said, a number of things really grabbed my attention while reading this chapter. First, the music press was a significant force in the UK. I had always heard/read/known that from Duran history, but this confirms it. I am completely intrigued that an artist like Siouxsie and the Banshees (similar style) was accepted by the UK music press but Adam and the Ants weren’t. I wonder why that is. I know that Siouxsie and the Banshees became well-known during the height of punk. Could that be it? Could the greater association to punk equal more respect? No matter the reason that Adam and the Ants weren’t accepted, it certainly was significant as it influenced lyrics and even their image. I suspect that this power of the British music press will be a theme throughout the book.
Second, I always knew that punk was a really, really big deal for all artists of this era. Yet, I really got that after reading that Adam quit his first band, Bazooka Joe, after seeing the Sex Pistols in 1975. By 1979, punk was still influencing. This time, they wanted the opposite of punk, which led Adam to change the band. I loved that he then combined influences from history (Napoleon), Native American culture and art history (Futurists). Of course, this also mixed with Adam’s frustration of the record industry. I knew that the look of the stripe was a combination of pirate and Native American. What I didn’t know was that it was a “declaration of war” on the record industry. Similarly, the song, “Kings of the Wild Frontier,” was about being held back by society whether due to race or class or whatever.
The last thing that really caught my attention was how they felt that punk eventually became conformist and boring. I wonder if this criticism was a factor when Adam decided to take off the makeup. Is this concern about becoming boring and conformist one for all artists of this era? Could this be part of the reason that Duran is always so concerned with updating their sound and look?
On that note, next Monday, we will move along to discuss the next 3 chapters, which include Gary Numan, some band named Duran Duran and New Order. Happy reading!
One thing that I found throughout this entire book was that the chapter read much better as I listened to the song/artist in question. As often as I might listen to music from this period, reading the book and contemplating the places from which many of the songs were written and how they’ve survived over the years allowed me to hear the music with nearly brand new ears. I’d encourage our readers to do the same – it creates a much more multi-dimensional experience!
I liked Adam and the Ants, and I loved Adam Ant. I have to admit that much of Adam’s music was among my first real foray into KROQ in the 80s. I can remember sitting at my friend Christy’s house back in about 1981(ish), just before I really got into Duran Duran. We would whisper about his lyrics in her bedroom – because we dared not talk loudly about the things that Adam Ant made us think about – her parents would have flipped, because in all honesty, for us Adam WAS sex in 1981. He seemed blatantly sexual, almost daring pretty young adolescents like us to think about what his songs were about (and I’ve come to decide that in most cases, we were wrong, but boy did we ever enjoy laughing and giggling as we listened).
I found it fascinating that Adam used the Apache war stripe as his own personal declaration of war against the record industry. I found that to be an ongoing theme throughout this book, and I blame my surprise on my age at the time. Oh to be ten and not have a care in the world again….
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Adam Ant live. He’s one artist from the 80s that I’ve kicked myself repeatedly for missing. That’s the trouble I find with many of these artists in the book – I haven’t seen them live. However, I’ve promised myself that I’m going to take the opportunity to see as many that are still touring as I can. No more waiting if I can help it. I’m happy to hear that Adam is still recording and touring, even if I missed my chance to see him here – and yes Adam, 16 years is still worth the wait, although I’m really hesitant to say that here on this blog….Duran Duran, I am looking at you.
Looking forward to next week – please feel free to chime in with your own comments and discussion!!
-A & R