Happy Monday, everyone! We hope that everyone enjoyed their weekend and had a chance to read the next three chapters in Mad World, in order to join in on our discussion! This week, we are reading and talking about Tears for Fears, OMD and Ultravox!
Tears for Fears
Whenever I read these chapters, I find myself wanting to comment on about 10-15 things and then having to pick a few. This chapter, though, was worse than normal. My list is even longer. Do I discuss the origin of the name? How the recording industry was clearly different than it is today? The fans they appealed to? Something else? The two things that really stood out for me over all else are their relationship and some of the decisions that they made in their career.
As someone who is half of a duo (a writing, researching and event planning duo, in our case), I found their relationship to be fascinating. I thought it was interesting that in the UK, everyone assumed that Curt was the frontman and Roland was the studio guy. Yet, that shifted once “Shout” was released and became popular in the States. Then, everyone, at least in America, assumed that they were co-frontmen. I assumed that. I guess I never looked into the band members to find out what the real story was. Yet, I found it interesting that they didn’t really say which way it REALLY was. Were they equals? Was one more significant in one setting or another?
Clearly, their relationship was a significant one. Roland points out that he had to end that relationship before he was able to have kids. I can get that. A band like theirs required significant time, energy and commitment in order to be successful so I’m sure that it did take up a lot of their emotional lives. Yet, Curt also points out that it was the balance between them that formed the sound. I think balance is significant in any band or committee or duo.
The other aspect of this chapter that really caught my attention was how they questioned decisions they made in their careers. Some examples include touring as long as they did in between albums and changing their sound so dramatically between albums. I get this. I question my decisions at work, all the time, too. I would do it even more, if I had a career that had very obvious measures of success like being in a band. I wonder if the real issue isn’t that they made the wrong choices but that they second guess those decisions.
In the interest of full disclosure, Tears for Fears are easily one of my most favorite bands of all-time, New Wave or not. So I’m biased. Extremely biased. The difference between TFF and DD for me (aside from the fact that I tend to like bands that I can shorten to an abbreviation, apparently) is that with Duran Duran, I loved their music AND wanted to marry Roger Taylor. With TFF, I was all-business. I loved their music. It completely consumed me and I, it. To this day, when someone asks me what my favorite album of all-time might be, I have a difficult time choosing between The Hurting and Songs from the Big Chair. I know, I know – what happened to Duran Duran? I love every single part of Duran Duran – even those RCM moments, because it’s part of their narrative, which in turn feels like my own after all this time…but when it comes down to just the music and how it touches my heart and mind, I have to give it to TFF. (The trouble is, for me it really isn’t ever just about the music. I need it all.)
So, even as that sort of fan, I had no idea what their name was really about. I just knew that my father continually messed it up until the day he stopped speaking, calling it Tear of Fear or Fears of Tear…he just couldn’t get it, and I didn’t really know what it meant at all, so to read that it’s about Arthur Janov’s primal therapy made all sorts of sense to me and connected the dots even further. You’d think I had a really tough early childhood and that’s why this music hits me so strongly – and you’d be right.
I love Mad World and all of the incarnations and evolutions it’s had since it’s release. It’s a song that, upon my very first listen, burnt itself straight to my core, and yes – that line “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I ever had” strikes the right chord within. I had no idea that it went right to Janov’s primal scream theory, as Roland Orzabal describes in the chapter. Another tidbit I learned was that Janov’s theories go along with the tabula rasa theory – “that we’re born, then life etches our character through experiences, both good and bad. So that’s what Curt and I believed at the time. We both felt that the child was sacred, especially the child that was suffering, hence the curled-up little child on the front of The Hurting.” (247) I know that they’ve both changed their opinions on that since having children themselves – but having gone through a very traumatic few years beginning at the age of about 4 myself, I’ve often wondered how I might have turned out without that period in my life…besides,I really can’t fault a theory or two that had to do with their songwriting on The Hurting. If it wasn’t therapeutic for Smith and Orzabal – it was for me.
It’s very clear, when you read the references to Everybody Wants to Rule the World, that Curt Smith doesn’t have a lot of use for A&R people. (A career path I’m thankful I did not choose…) I definitely see his point. Arguing over a song’s length by five seconds seems pointless. Oddly, this song was my dad’s favorite – which is why I mention him here. He insisted that it be played to “see him out” the day of his memorial. He would play this song every.single.time. we traveled in his beloved motor home. I highly doubt he knew or even cared what the song was about (I am almost positive he didn’t know a single word, only the melody), but it was his jam. God love him. 🙂 I still can’t really listen to the entire song, but you know he’s probably still nodding his head and rocking to it the way only a dad can somewhere.
It nearly broke my heart when Curt left Roland and Tears for Fears behind, and I often wondered if I’d see the day that they would perform again. Thankfully, not only did I get to see them, but I called my dad at the appropriate moment in the show and had him listen to his favorite. It’s a fond, fond memory for me. I can certainly understand the reasons why Curt left, though. I think being in a band like this can really be all-consuming and it seems as though you can completely lose yourself within. Even so, Curt said it best, “…it’s the balance of the two of us that brings out the sound that is Tears for Fears.” Exactly.
If you follow Curt Smith on Twitter – you find that he doesn’t pull any punches. He believes what he believes, and he doesn’t put up with any BS from fans. He also doesn’t really give a crap what fans might think of his beliefs – and while I don’t always agree, I have to give him credit. He stands with conviction. This has come up several times, once recently when Lorde did a cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. Her version is haunting, almost scarily angry compared to the original. I liked it because it was so different. People came at him from all sides, commenting on how horrible it was, how Lorde destroyed it, and so forth. (sound familiar, Duran Duran fans??) His response was very similar to what he says here in the book. “I hear people saying, ‘Music’s not what it used to be,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah it is. Don’t you remember back then?’ The majority of the stuff we listened to sucked. What you take with you is the really good stuff.”
I’m glad I’ve taken Tears for Fears with me for the ride.
As I read this chapter on OMD, I’m completely reminded of youth and adolescent arrogance. Clearly, the members of OMD had definite ideas about their “art project”, including what were acceptable ideas to write about or not to write about. Even when they describe the shift that took place from writing very unconventional songs to conventional songs, there is this underlining current of judgement against the more commercial, more American songs versus the less commercial, more European ones. This rigid thinking reminds me of myself as an adolescent along with so many of my teenage students.
Now, all of that said, I don’t know that they were wrong to think this way. Clearly, they didn’t want to be like everyone else. They didn’t want to conform to what was common. Obviously, they felt like outsiders. Then, they experienced success. How lucky were they that they were able to meet Tony Wilson who went on to start Factory Records? Then, to have John Peel play their single, which led to be a long term album deal. Their beliefs, whether led by adolescent arrogance or not, were reinforced, for sure. Beyond that, many would say that those more unconventional songs are the better songs.
On a completely different note, one thing that caught my attention in this chapter was the mention of how they were considered “alternative” in the US before “If You Leave” hit and what that term meant. Alternative meant that a band, an artist would be off the radar. That same band/artist could be selling a lot of albums. When I discovered alternative, I thought I had found home. I didn’t want to be one of the masses at that point. I wanted to embrace the different, the unusual, the creative. That said, I still don’t understand why one band ended up mainstream and why another ended up alternative.
When I think of OMD, the first songs to come to mind are “Tesla Girl” and “Locomotion”, which means I came in during the Junk Culture album. However, immediately following my “find” of that album…I discovered “Enola Gay” and “Red Frame White Light”, and that was before the movie Pretty in Pink came along for me. I almost never think of “If You Leave” (probably because it was overplayed to the point of ruin). It’s a great song, don’t get me wrong – but I was one of those kids that (aside from Duran Duran because damn it, I found them first!) hated following the crowd. Everyone loved “If You Leave”, so that’s where I took a sharp U-turn.
Even so, one simply didn’t grow up in the 80s without hearing the song. 5 million times. I love that they created something so quickly, and obviously so easily. (and now I know why no one is dancing to the right beat at the end of the movie – something that has bothered me FOR YEARS. No, I wasn’t a romantic back then I guess!)
I always loved their name – it sounded so cool, until my mother gasped and said “Do you know what that name really MEANS, Rhonda Lynn.” (she used this voice a lot back in the 80s. I particularly remember it being used when we viewed Girls on Film one night, together as a family right after I got the videotape after it had been on backorder for three months. Great night. Good times.”) I didn’t care what it MEANT. I just knew it sounded really cool and sophisticated. Isn’t that the way it is with kids?!?
I could go on about their history and what they’re doing now…but there’s one passage in this chapter that I found intriguing that I’ll share here. “…Because some of our contemporaries, their management tell them they need to release a new record because they need a name for their new tour, they can’t just play the hits again. I’ll mention no names, but there are a lot of bands who make records who shouldn’t be allowed to – they don’t have anything left to say, they’re just addicted to the lifestyle and they can’t stop.” (265)
I really don’t know for sure about whom Andy McCluskey is referring. My feeling about this is that who is to say when enough is enough? Just because one person may not feel a band hasn’t anything left to say doesn’t mean that the band feels that way as well. I’m sure what he says is true and that it happens a lot. I’m just happy that I’m a fan who doesn’t really know that side of it. The bands I know and love most have plenty left in them with nothing to prove: they’ve already succeeded and they could live off of their earnings without a problem…but they keep going, and that should be applauded and supported, not judged.
What to hear something sad? My first memory of this song wasn’t the song at all but the video. Why? I had to see it. After all, it was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who, of course, is famous for directing all those Duran videos. Anyway, I’m thankful that it did push me to seek out the song.
As I read about the idea behind the song with how a boy meets a girl and there a wonderful feeling, but as soon as they leave, the feeling goes away. This completely reminds me of the movie, “Before Sunrise,” in which the two characters meet, hang out in the city of Vienna (of all places), and fall in love. Will that love remain after they separate? We don’t know, at least, until the sequel.
Despite, or in addition to, the movie reminders, I love two other things about the making of this song. I love that all members contributed equally. There is always something special when that happens. I also love that the crowd showed how awesome the song was when they played it live. It is hard to deny fan feelings, which proved that the record label was wrong about what kind of edit it needed.
Finally, like Rhonda below, I totally concurred with the statements made about how music was everything in the 1980s. The description of the person saving money to buy an album, showing off that album and then playing it over and over. I think it is safe to say that I could completely relate. I am sad that my nieces and other kids of this generation won’t experience the same thing.
Vienna is one of the most gorgeous songs I’ve ever listened and I still don’t understand why it never quite made it to #1. Yes, this was the year John Lennon was shot…so there’s that. This is why I can’t be in music…I’d lose my mind over things like that. Vienna is stunningly beautiful and romantic in a way that not even Duran Duran could do at the time. (sorry guys) That piano. Those vocals. Besides, Midge Ure.
This is one time that the label got it right. They could have easily destroyed this song by editing it down to the three-minute single, but after arguing about it for six months, they put it out as is and it worked. Sure, it didn’t hit number one, but as Midge Ure mentions, it sat at #2 for five weeks and outsold both John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” and Joe Dolce’s “Shaddup You Face” (Midge Ure thinks that the song only sold in England, but no…we heard it plenty here too). Ultravox wins!
Midge Ure says something that sums up my entire childhood in the 80s,”[The eighties] was a very different planet. It was a planet where people cared about music. Music was a be-all and end-all to young people. It was our lifeblood. You waited for the next album you were into, you saved up your pennies and you waved it around proudly when you bought, and you played it to death.” This is so true. I still miss those times, because music still very much matters to me. It’s become a bit of a throw-away society now, with each day bringing in the new and throwing out the old with the trash. Nothing matters for very long, which is sad, really.
Join us next week as we tear apart INXS, Thompson Twins and Simple Minds!
-A & R