This is our final book club for the book, Mad World. We will finish by discussing the last three chapters on Animotion, Band-Aid and the Afterword by Moby. Perhaps, we will also include a little bit of what we learned along the way. I hope you throughly enjoyed the book and the book club as much as we did! Jump in and join us!
Truly, this was an unbelievable chapter and story to read. As I read it, I almost thought that I should be keeping a chart about who did what, when, why, etc. There were so many statements and moves made that affected Animotion that it was hard to keep track. Clearly, VERY clearly, the band members, themselves, did not have control over their band. Much like the lyrics to the song, there is a desperation underlying all of the agreements and moves made by the individual members. They seemed to want to succeed so badly and the little taste that they had made them want more. This desire was so strong that they made some questionable decisions. Unfortunately, those decisions didn’t seem to put them in a better spot in the long run.
Before I dive into the chaos that was the Animotion story, I have to acknowledge what I knew before hand. I knew that Michael Des Barres co-wrote this song and that it did very, very well for him. In fact, before Power Station, this seemed to be his big claim to fame. I never once thought about the actual band who performed the song. I was just happy that Michael experienced such success and I guess I assumed that the band must have as well. How naive am I?! The band’s story shows or reminds that one should never ever assume when it comes to the music business.
Right away into Animotion’s story, I know that this wasn’t going to go well when the song, “Obsession,” sounded nothing like the rest of the album and didn’t match the sound they were going for. It seems to me that it never ends well when ONE song or ONE album goes against the rest of an artist’s catalog. When the band heard the song, one member loved it and thought it was the direction they should be going and the other wasn’t so sure. Perhaps, part of the problem was that the band wasn’t really on the same page to begin with and weren’t comfortable with each other. Yet, of course, reservations were pushed aside as the song moved up the charts.
After that, behind-the-scenes became complete chaos. There was the producer trying to run the show and get in between band members. Then, the record label pushed new songs at them and when the next one didn’t do as well, the label backed off support. A new A&R man comes in filled with hate over everything they had done before. Likewise, new managers determined that key members needed to go and be replaced by Cynthia Rhodes. It seems to me that member, Astrid Plane, summed it up best on page 307 about what it was like to be them then, “You were nothing. You were an item that was going to be on a shelf to be sold, and if they felt like you weren’t sales-worthy, then [they’d] toss you in the trash.” I am left just shaking my head at how horrible and upsetting their story really was. I wouldn’t want any other band or artist to experience something like this, but I suspect their story really isn’t all that unique.
Unlike Amanda, I was pretty naive about who wrote “Obsession”. Of course I know the song – it’s difficult to claim yourself as New Wave fan without acknowledging the song (purely as an aside, my younger sister continues to sing this song to me at the oddest moments, whenever the timing makes sense…to remind me of my Duran Duran fandom. Thanks, Robin.), but I really never thought about who wrote it. I guess you could even say that I didn’t care, because I really didn’t. I just knew the song to be one of those overplayed-to-death songs from the radio. I don’t know that I ever really think about that kind of thing as a music consumer. (except when it comes to Duran Duran and their various guitar players over the years) I was shocked when I read this chapter though. If there was ever any question about how the industry REALLY works – how incredibly unfair it can really be, or how it will chew you up, spit you out and then come back later for more – this is the chapter to read.
Animotion was never one of my favorite bands from this era, and I wholly admit that this particular song had everything to do with that. I suppress a bit of a chuckle when I find that this song wasn’t even their typical sound. It sounds nothing like their music at all, actually. That’s a real problem for this band – because if you’ve got an audience wanting to hear more like “Obsession”, and you’re used to writing something much more similar to say, early Police or Fleetwood Mac, that audience is never going to follow you. Instead, you’ve got a band here who literally floated to the top of the charts on a song that they didn’t write – therefore making nearly NO money on the song (even to this day, it’s the writer of the song – Michael Des Barres – who continues to see handsome royalty checks on this one), and there’s not any way to bring those fans of this song to their back catalog. It is really THAT different. I read stories all the time about bands who are/were famous and yet haven’t a penny to their name(s), and mostly I want to scoff and laugh because really – is that possible? The answer is yes. Yes it is. If you can’t/didn’t write your own music, I’m not entirely sure that you want to “just” be the performer, and especially not after reading this chapter.
I’d like to share a quote from Bill Wadhams, followed by a quote from Michael Des Barres. It’s easy to see that they are two sides of the same coin – two products of the machine.
Wadhams says, “I go on YouTube and see Michaels Des Barres performing at SXSW, and he prefaces ‘Obsession’ by saying, ‘This is a song that I wrote that made me a bloody fortune.’ The year that ‘Obsession’ [was a hit for Animotion], each member of the band made about $50,000; the next year, just about nothing. Whether it’s fair or not, it doesn’t matter because I don’t know that Michael Des Barres ever sang a song that was an international hit. I wonder whether he would trade having been the singer of the hit song for the money, if he would’ve been able to walk out on stage, sing ‘Obsession’, and have people go, ‘That’s the voice, that’s the hit that we love.’ (308)
Des Barres says, “It’s put my kid through college, [supported] two wives, and more besides. One song enters the lexicon of American consciousness, and it will take care of you for the rest of your life.” (308)
Astrid Plane, singer for Animotion, finishes the chapter by adding, “We are still in debt to the record company to this day.” (308)
Lori Majewski’s introduction in this chapter instantly brought me back to my elementary school lunch hour. Why? Simple. I, too, experienced endless debates between Band-Aid and USA for Africa. While her debates might have been about which had bigger stars, mine focused on who was first. No matter how many times and how many ways I tried to explain that Band-Aid was first, that they had started it, my classmates didn’t believe me. This was obviously long before the internet so I couldn’t prove it to them but I so wanted to. In reality, below the surface of the debate, it was more about which was better: New Wave or Motown? Duran Duran or Michael Jackson? You see, unlike so many in 1984, I lived in an area where it wasn’t cool to be a Duran Duran fan. Michael Jackson was the one and only king there. Even now, I have to admit to loving the comments Nick Rhodes made in this chapter about the differences between Band-Aid and USA for Africa. He seemed to be spot on, to me!
While I knew the story behind the song and how quickly it was put together, reading Midge Ure tell about it makes it all the more real. They truly put the song together so quickly from writing to recording to getting it airplay. He tells how easily it could have been horrible and that “it wasn’t that bad”. I don’t know about the rest of you but I can’t imagine a holiday season going by without listening to the song and hearing it played somewhere. It lives on.
Of course, the real story of Band-Aid isn’t so much the song itself or the bands involved, but what was pointed out in the introduction. It marked the end of the party. The first half of the 1980s, the New Wave era, ended with this song and what followed with Live Aid and other charity events. I have mixed feelings about this. I wish the New Wave era, musically, continued forever as I loved it so. Yet, I know that, sometimes, it is good for something to be shorter lived. It wasn’t around long enough to get completely run down and sucky. I still have mixed emotion about the worldly awareness that followed. While I’m a political person, I have never chosen music that is overtly political. I like artists to be smart, thinking and feeling people but not preachy. Did Band-Aid change people and the industry to become preachy? Maybe. It is hard to say but things definitely did change after that.
The holiday season just isn’t so without this song. Like Amanda, I wish the New Wave age had gone on longer – I didn’t graduate from high school until 1988 and it could have easily continued that long without complaint from me. I will never forget hearing the song for the first time, or the glee I get each and every time I hear it on the radio during the season. This single song sums up much of my entire music experience during my formative years. To this day I smile every time I hear Simon sing his lines, and while I know the song is for charity and it’s purpose was to galvanize the community into support for Africa – to me it’s about so much more. It’s a musical era. It’s my history. It’s the capstone of New Wave, and it was a song ever created for a charity (sometimes I wonder just how much of that message gets lost amongst the noise).
I don’t know if I like what happened following the release of this record so much. For me, music changed after that. I won’t even mention the US answer to this song, suffice to say that there have been many attempts to copy what this song tried to do. There is something really kind about “Do They Know it’s Christmas”, and I think that feeling was completely lost after that with “other” attempts. It became production and big industry business. Maybe that’s why I’ve always stuck to British bands….
After that record though, music started having some sort of a conscious, and bands tended to forget that the purpose was to entertain, not preach. And of course, New Wave as I knew it really ended. But at the time, when this record came out – I had no idea. I listened to it nearly non-stop during that 1984 holiday season. Ignorance was bliss, and trust me – I was indeed full of bliss that holiday.
Moby does a good job in expressing how New Wave was different–international, gentle, escapist. I felt all those same things. I felt that way living in the Chicago suburbs and later even more so when I moved to small town, Illinois. I longed for anything that wasn’t small town American focused, jean wearing, beer guzzling, hard rock that was all the rage by the time I found myself transported to what seemed like another planet. I still miss it but there was a desperation then in my youth that led me to reject anything and everything popular for a good number of years.
This book brought me back to my childhood and the music I loved so much. It reminded me why I fell in love with it and truly what was so good about it. I loved the imagination and the creativity that everyone seemed to bring. There was uniqueness in every artist despite having common influences. As the kid, the music seemed carefree and fun. Of course, the book also shed light on the stories behind the music and many of those stories revealed the good, the bad and the ugly. I learned how quickly some songs were written. I also learned how easily band members can grow apart even when they were the best of friends. The music industry might have been kinder then, in general, but still was a thorn in people’s sides too often. Yet, despite everything that happened to each of these bands, their music remains. Like Moby, I’m definitely thankful. I’m also ready for the sequel!
I don’t think I grew up in a particularly small town, but even so, New Wave was my escape from reality. I was a typical junior high school band nerd. My friends were either band members, or they were also nerds. We didn’t know how to dress, make-up was still a mystery, and awkwardness was probably my FIRST name at the time. The popular girls at my school loved to pick on me, and music was how I escaped the ridicule. I think to some extent, it still is. Back then I’d come home from school, and the first thing I’d do was turn on the TV in search of music video, or I’d run to my bedroom, flop on my bed and hit my stereo. I didn’t want to hear or see pop – I wanted bands like Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, INXS, Depeche Mode or nearly any other band mentioned in this book. (coincidence? Probably not!) I didn’t have an allowance, and money wasn’t “free-flowing” in my parents house, so I can remember waiting for KROQ to play certain songs so that I could tape them from radio. The audio quality would be terrible (back then I literally had to take my tape recorder and face it towards one of my radio speakers to make it work, and I nearly cried with joy the day my parents finally bought me a “boom box”…good Lord…) I always loved the boys who were less football, more introspective, and if they played in a band – all the better. So when I read Moby’s afterword, I find myself nodding in agreement. His story really isn’t much different from my own. New Wave WAS my adolescence and it did make life bearable. I don’t know what I would have done without it.
Like Amanda, I’m ready for the sequel. This book was everything I’d hoped, and much, much more. If you haven’t grabbed your copy yet, I urge you to give it a try. I loved this book so much it’s earmarked and red-lined, with notes in the margins and sadly, a few pages have even come out of the binding at this point. I daresay it’s been well-consumed.
-A & R