Book Club: Mad World (Gary Numan, DD and New Order)

Welcome to week 2 of our little book club on the book, Mad World!  Last week, we discussed the foreword, introduction and the first artist, Adam and the Ants.  This week, we move on to the next three, which are Gary Numan, Duran Duran and New Order.  Like last week, both of us will give our thoughts and would love to hear yours!

Gary Numan:

Amanda’s response: This is definitely one of those chapters that really shed light on how this song was made, the story behind the song.  I knew that Gary Numan had a history in punk until he discovered the synthesizer in the studio.  Yet, even his decision to try it and redo his work to be more electronic seems very punk to me.  After all, one of the messages of punk was that you didn’t need to be a musician in order to form/join a band.  Anyone could do it!  Gary, obviously, took that idea to heart with using synthesizers.  I had to laugh that he would make up answers when asked about synthesizers by the press since he really didn’t know much about them!  I also appreciated learning that the song was written so quickly and on a bass, no less!  How funny is that considering that it is such an electronic song?!  In many ways, as was pointed out, he was lucky to have success with this song since it really didn’t fit the typical radio format, especially by being almost an instrumental and being about a road rage episode, of all things. The other part to the Gary Numan story caught my attention was the interaction with the record label when he shifted his songs from punk to more electronic punk.  I wasn’t surprised that the label wasn’t happy.  I had to laugh that they couldn’t afford to send him back to the studio so they had to go with that.  I suspect that things might be very different now with record labels.

Rhonda:  I read that Lori Majewski didn’t know much about Bowie in 1980…Ziggy Stardust could have been just about anything back then and it wouldn’t have made a difference to her.  I completely agree. I’m actually surprised I stumbled onto Duran Duran, given my own sphere of influence. (My parents were Elvis and The Beach Boys fans. It’s a miracle I heard anything else while growing up) So when I heard “Cars” on the radio – like Lori, it seemed really far-out there, and totally original. However, I can honestly say Gary Numan was never one of my favorites, although I do love this particular song. For me, “Cars” is synonymous with 1980.  

Like Amanda, I chuckle at the idea that his label wasn’t necessarily in favor of the new musical direction he chose (like at all!), but because the label had no money – they had to go with what he’d completed. I don’t know for sure what a label would do now, but I suspect the album would end up shelved…and a new producer would be “suggested” for them to work with. *coughs*  

One thing Gary says that I find both telling and interesting is that he comments …”suddenly you’re doing TV shows with people you’ve loved and admired for years, and now you’re one oft hem, but you don’t feel like you’re one of them – you feel like an intruder that snuck in the back door.”   I really liked that sentence, because I can imagine how weird that must feel to go from being a fan –like any of us — to suddenly being included with those people as a group.  I wonder how many other bands and artists out there recognize that feeling? 

According to Gary Numan, “Cars” took him 10 minutes to write the instrumentals, and another 20 to write the lyrics.  That’s working mighty fast. I know that sometimes, the very best writing I do is what just flows out. It’s not always that way of course, but when it is – it goes really fast.

The other point of interest is that “Cars” was written completely on a bass.  I would have never, ever guessed that. Here we are, reading about one of the most recognizable pieces of electronic music out there – and it wasn’t even written that way.  I must applaud that.

Lastly, his description of what the song means to him really spoke to me.  “I used to think that the car was a tank for the civilian. You could sit inside your car, lock your doors, and it would keep you safe. It puts you in a little protective bubble. You can maneuver through the world, but you don’t really have to engage.”  I think he was really visionary with the way he saw such a simple thing. Many might say that the vehicle just takes you from place to place, and perhaps that’s true…but it is very much how he describes it here. I live in Southern California, not terribly far from LA. We LOVE our cars here – many of us spend hours upon hours a day in them. I always found the idea of taking trains and buses to be strange (as I was growing up), because you’d be forced in such a small area with so many people you really didn’t know.  I’ve probably evolved a little bit since that early thinking – but my car is still my haven. It’s where I blast my music (when I can), and it’s where I do much of my thinking. I don’t have to engage there, which for me is like a vacation at times! 

Duran Duran:

Amanda’s reaction: Right away, during the introduction to this chapter, I find something that pops out at me.   The quote on page 35 that catches my attention, “They saw it as their duty to live out the lifestyle they depicted in their wildly overproduced videos.”  Duran is described on the same page as “bathed in decadence and debauchery”.  Hmm…  Were Duran’s videos overproduced?  Sure.  Did Duran seem to have a jet set lifestyle filled with “decadence and debauchery”?  Absolutely.  Did they see it as their “duty” to live like the videos showed them to live?  Duty is the word that sticks with me.  Duty represents to me an obligation, a requirement.  I’m not sure I agree that they thought this was their duty.  I’m not saying that they didn’t present a lifestyle, a fantasy.  I just don’t know that they thought it was their “duty” to do so.  I could see a means of promotion.  Of course, as I type this, I start laughing.  Here I am…criticizing one word just like people often do with this blog overlooking the entire point.  Moving on…

I thoroughly enjoyed Lori’s comments about how Duran chose her.  I could completely relate, especially when she said, “I have lived for them, lied for them and questioned my own sanity over them.”  Yes.  Yes, I most definitely relate.

I knew the history of the song, Girls on Film, and have even heard the demo featuring Andy Wickett, assuming the demo heard here is legitimate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76qS-tEJvZQ

I also knew that Simon wrote the song with exploitation of women and models in mind.  I like that he said how he wanted the song to be fun, but filled with substance.  Of course, there is some sexuality in there, too.  I think that is the thing that drew me to Duran—fun with substance.  It isn’t mindless.

I found it really interesting that John Taylor found himself self-conscious about his bass playing as time went on, resulting in what John described as his “playing practically disappearing”.  I love that Mark Ronson was the one  who could convince John to play like he used to.  I am thankful, for sure.  On a similar note, I found it interesting that Roger wanted to sound like Chad Smith, the drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers when he came back, but that John pointed out that he couldn’t play with Chad Smith.  This is fascinating in light of the news that Duran will be playing with the former guitarist of RHCP.

Rhonda: I love reading what the band thinks of their own music. I mean let’s face it: I have a blog and I will openly tell anyone what *I* think of their music on any given day: both good and bad; but the band doesn’t always have that same luxury. That said, I did laugh when I read John’s opening statement (in the book) about the band. While I would agree that the critics didn’t always know what to do with them – I can’t truly say it’s because the band was perfect. I think it was because the band was too damn pretty for critics to actually listen to the music and take the words seriously.  Perfect?  Probably not.

Simon says that he wanted the band to be edgy, not too soft – and fans know that whenever Simon is asked about lyrics, particularly lyrics from earlier in their career such as those from GOF, they are about sex.  Well, Simon doesn’t disappoint here, does he?  I’d never given some of the lines from this song much thought. I knew the song was about the modeling industry and much of it being the clichés that Nick describes, but it’s not a song I really mull over much – given the video and all, it seems pretty well cut and dried in that respect.  It wasn’t too terribly long ago that someone responded to one of our posts here – the subject of the post was the image of the band and how at times, that has put them in a very odd juxtaposition for their fans (and themselves).  The person who responded reminded me that the their branding, at least initially was basically sex. The band were branded as sex objects. (probably another reason why critics have had such an issue)  The teen magazines, the videos, even the songs and the explanation of lyrics at times have made them to be  unattainable, untouchable, sex objects. I suppose that worked, and probably backfired at times for them as well.  My “problem” as a fan is that I see so much more than that in the band. It was and is great hook I suppose, but just as Simon’s lyrics ALWAYS cry out to be understood beneath what you see on the surface, I feel the band themselves are very much the same. 

I’d also like to comment that just as Nick sees that the band is in their fourth decade as “absurd”…so do we. Where did that time go…and how is it that only now in my forties am I seriously writing a fan blog?!?  We can all be absurd together, Nick. 

New Order:

Amanda’s thoughts: I adore how Jonathan Bernstein described the song, Blue Monday.  The idea of it being a “black cloud hanging over the dance floor” is so very fitting to me.  In my younger days, I used to spend quite a bit of time dancing the night away in “goth” like clubs and this song would always come on.  It didn’t matter if it was retro night or not, it would get played.  As soon as the first note would start, I always wondered why the DJ would play something so upbeat sounding.  Yet, as soon as those lyrics started, I remembered.  It isn’t happy.  Not at all.  It is like misery decided to dance.

Again, this seems very fitting to me for a band that used to be Joy Division and sang songs like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” with a lead singer who died from suicide.  Then, the last piece of the puzzle to understanding this song is added when I read that this song was the band’s response to the negative criticism that they were receiving after Ian Curtis’s death.  Truly, it all makes sense now. I thought it was interesting when Peter Hook mentioned how people were either Joy Division fans OR New Order fans.  They were not both.  I haven’t found that, in my experience.  I would say that I’m a fan of both.  Granted, I choose to listen to one over the other, depending on my mood.  I wouldn’t choose to listen to them both at the same time or mix them up like I could with Duran Duran and Arcadia.

I found the relationship between Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook fascinating.  Clearly, these two did not see eye-to-eye and had both a personality conflict and a musical one as well.  Peter claimed that Bernard wanted to turn down the bass.  Yet, the claim that is made is that this conflict is what helped to produce quality music.  Hmm…this sounds a little familiar.  After all, Duranies know that there was always tension between guitar and keyboards in Duran.  Many of us might say that tension is what made those first few albums so great for Duran.  This leads me to wonder how many other bands have the same sort of tension.

Rhonda: As Peter Hook mentions – there are Joy Division fans and New Order fans.  I am truly a New Order fan.  I knew almost nothing about Joy Division except that Ian Curtis was originally in the group and committed suicide, a fact that seems to define the band(s), unfortunately. In my case, I knew about New Order and fell in love with “Bizarre Love Triangle” before I ever even knew who Ian Curtis was.  Sure, I was probably just very uninformed, but I also think it allowed me to just enjoy the music. No judgment. No pretenses. Freedom.  I never knew of the internal struggles. The grief, or lack thereof.  I didn’t know Bernard Sumner OR Peter Hook, and I think that in a lot of ways – the saying “Ignorance is bliss” probably applies, and I embrace that, because I just enjoy the music. Period.

I can’t even THINK about New Wave in the 80s without Blue Monday or Bizarre Love Triangle coming to mind. For me, these songs are part of the framework of ME, so I’m thankful they were included in this book.  

As I read through this chapter, admittedly I had difficulty keeping it all straight. Peter Hook calls New Order “New Odor” (which feels so incredibly sophomoric), and yet I get his frustration, so I don’t want to say he’s being immature. I think he describes where it all resides in his head and heart brilliantly.  “Because of the group that I loved and put 32 years into, I’m fighting them tooth and nail. This is a divorce.”  I think that as a fan, the only real thing I can focus on IS the music here.  Hook says it best when he talks about “the largeness of this thing we’ve created” and how it’s being ruined with the petty squabbles. On the outside, I can see that. If I were in the middle of it all though, I’d imagine I’d see it quite differently.  The only thing I can really do is love what they created, and think about the fact that nearly every band I’ve ever loved has had this crazy internal struggle—there’s got to be something to that, hasn’t there?

While we have absolutely no problem chatting amongst ourselves, we really hope that some of you will join in – many opinions are way better than just two! -A & R

2 thoughts on “Book Club: Mad World (Gary Numan, DD and New Order)”

  1. I’d like to join in the chat, but certain names were famous only in the UK and never sold in Italy; also, for age reasons, I’m too young to know them and I’m discovering them only now in my early 40s.
    That’s why I just love reading your comments.
    Your awesome feedback actually are like a guide in that territory, to me. Rock on!

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