Tag Archives: Daily Duranie book club

Books Never Read Better

The title is my weird attempt to switch up one of John Taylor’s frequent phrases in his autobiography.  If you have read the book, you know that he wrote the phrase, “Music never sounded better,” a lot.  I twisted around for the title of this blog.  Needless to say, I’m not feeling particularly clever or witty right now.  No, I’m feeling pretty desperate for the weekend.  The third week of school is always busy, overwhelming, stressful, or whatever appropriate adjective could fit there.  The ten to twelve hour days are sucking the life out of me, which is why the lame title.

Instead of thinking about the upsetting world events (or American politics–same difference) or the mountain of grading I have, I want to think back to this time in 2012.  Five years ago this month, John Taylor’s autobiography was released and he was traveling around the UK and later the US to do various book talks and signings.  I have fond memories of that time period.  First, I was so super excited to read the book that I downloaded it from Amazon UK because I couldn’t wait for the US release.  I even ordered a British copy as well as buying for American copies as well.  Once downloaded, I cleared my schedule, laid on my couch and read until my battery ran out.  I think I read the book in like a day, which is not my style at all.  I’m usually too impatient to continue to read that much despite my love of reading.

Then, in October of 2012, I attended one of those book signings and talks in Chicago even though I had no business attending.  In October of 2012, I was working about 80 hours a week.  I was teaching full time and I was campaigning full time, too.  My level of exhaustion was so strong that I barely made it to election day without literally collapsing.  Yet, I couldn’t miss this chance to see John read his book in person or to have him sign my copy (and one for Rhonda!).  Thus, I drove down to Chicago, about 2.5 hours, attended the event and drove back, knowing that I had to be at work the next day.

Like reading the book, I have distinct memories of that event.  For example, I remember being in line, chatting with friends and fielding constant campaign calls.  I wanted to just focus on John Taylor that night but couldn’t.  Honestly, I feel like that is the story of my life.  When I’m at work, I sometimes want to focus on fandom and what’s the latest tweet or post from the band.  Sometimes, I’m able to squeeze in a glance or two.  Likewise, when I’m at home or campaigning, other aspects of my life demand my attention.  It is rare that I just focus on one role I have in life.  I feel like I have to multi-task all the time.  I not really a fan of that.

What is interesting, though, is that when I think about reading John’s book, I don’t remember being districted or interrupting (other than the battery drain).  No, I was able to be laser focused and I liked that.  Of course, the book had a fascinating focus that led to a little book club on here as I reread and led discussion on it.

Anyway, I wouldn’t mind another book by John Taylor or about John Taylor to totally distract me from real life.  I think I could use it and it would give me an excuse to just say, “to hell with,” my grading or my household tasks or whatever else I need to do.

-A

Book Club: Mad World (ABC, Devo and Echo and the Bunnymen)

Welcome to week 3 of our latest book club!  This time around we are tackling the book, Mad World, chapter-by-chapter.  The chapters we will be discussing feature the bands ABC, Devo and Echo and the Bunnymen.  Read and join in on the discussion!

ABC:

Amanda’s reaction:

I absolutely had to laugh at the story about how Martin Fry got involved in a band.  I loved that he was writing for a fanzine and went to interview a band before joining it.  So, if his story and author, Lori Majewski’s, story didn’t prove it already, there definitely can be a future after writing a fanzine.  Maybe, the same could be true for bloggers…

Martin starts his story by saying that he realized that he could never be as punk as the Sex Pistols or the Clash.  Instead, he loved disco and decided to focus on the opposite of punk.  I think a lot people can relate to this, whether it is about music of this era, music of another era or even another type of art form.  I think whenever anyone in the arts wants to be creative, there is a push to find a niche, a spot in which one could really make a mark instead of just following a trend.  It is interesting that a lot of bands of this era all seemed to have the same push and all focused on dance related music.  Martin goes on to describe a mania of sorts that seemed to exist in the UK at the time with these bands as they were all trying to make it and make it first.  Truly, this reminds me of periods I have studied in Art History class where artists are all hanging out with each other or near each other, developing similar styles and pushing creativity to a new level.  I always had a sense of this as a fan about the level of musical creativity at this time but reading this confirms it.

He goes on to discuss the meaning behind the song, “Poison Arrow” and how many people could relate to the idea of having someone walk away from you.  Yet, despite his attempt to write songs from the heart, he felt that he was “hiding” rather than “showing” in his writing.  I can relate to that.  While I might try to be open in my writing, I never quite feel like I get there.  What is interesting to me is that he thinks that songs are more open now.  I’m not sure I agree with that, especially with the number of songs written by one person and sung by another.

Rhonda:

Admittedly, I was surprised to read that Martin Fry was a fanzine writer. Lori Majewski wasn’t kidding when she said (to me) not to sell that (stuff) short!! Who knew??  

I think that much of the 80s for bands was finding a way to insert themselves into the narrative that was already being written.  No one wanted to sound like everyone else, and plenty of bands were willing to take chances in order to find a way for their voices (or music as the case may be) to be heard. I don’t think there’s any denying the disco influence in ABC’s music – particularly what can be heard in “Poison Arrow”, but others as well.  I also should probably come clean and say that this particular song was never a favorite during this time period for me, but again – that’s really the one thing about the 80s that I adore: no two songs really sounded the same. Yes, it was all a type of dance music (and even I spent a fair amount of time dancing to “Poison Arrow” over the years at various clubs), but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.  Look at Spandau Ballet or Haircut 100…both are bands that Martin Fry mentions as being of the same musical vein, yet they’re incredibly different, and within those bands themselves, every album they released was different from the last.  You can’t help but applaud that.  

Devo:

Amanda:

Quite a quote to start the chapter on Devo about how society was “devolving into a state of passive, drooling idiocy” and how anything was okay as long as “it was wrapped in a bright package”.  To me, this summarizes the exact criticism surrounding New Wave, that it was just a bright package.  Yet, Devo was created to express the outrage about this.  I had no idea.  I had also heard/read somewhere about how “Whip It” was really a criticism about society and culture, but didn’t make all the connections until reading this chapter with the connections to propaganda.

As someone who is fascinated by social activism and social movements, I find it incredibly fascinating that the disillusionment of the late 60/early 70s protest movement in the US helped the members of Devo think about how to really create change.  Instead of doing what most activists do, they decided to use the system itself to try to change things.  More specifically, they wanted to use advertising and marketing to affect change.  To me, this is a very radical notion.  Their radicalism clearly continued in not only how they performed but also the relationship with their audience.  They didn’t like the people coming to see them and vice versa.  It is like they wanted to create anti-fans.

Rhonda:

Mark Mothersbaugh said that their goal wasn’t to piss people off…and I have to take a little issue with that. When you’re making statements like what Devo did, taking stances and trying to create some awareness and force some change; your goal is 100% to create emotion, cause a reaction.  That’s what art is all about, isn’t it?   That IS the goal, so for him to say that…well…I’ll admit I’m not completely buying it.  Gerard Casale goes even further, saying “If these people hate us, we’re on the right track because we don’t respect them either.”  Not that I think they were wrong for feeling that way, but it’s been my own personal experience that having no respect for people (particularly the audience you’re performing in front of) does very little to diffuse anger. 

What I find most interesting about Devo, through reading this chapter and other things I’ve seen over the years, is that listeners must keep in mind that this is a band that sees what they do as performance art – and rightfully so.  While they are definitely making their own statements about the world, they follow that up with the movies they created, and their own special brand of propaganda.  You can’t forget that this is a band who was highly influenced by the Communist propaganda of (then) Soviet Union and China, and they saw what they were doing here in the US as the American version of all that.  Say whatever you will about “Whip It” or any of their music for that matter, they were an intelligent band who knew how to broadcast their message back in that day, cleverly disguising it as something quite different (S&M, etc.) from what it really was mocking. And now, every time I see a Swiffer commercial that uses the song…never mind Disney being the “geniuses” they are known for being in the industry and using child stars to create Devo 2.0. I have to smile just a little.  If people only knew…

Echo and the Bunnymen:

Amanda’s thoughts-

I admit it.  I simply adore this song so I was very excited to read more about it.  The introduction to the band is dead on the money, I think.  Echo and the Bunnymen was all about despair, for the most part.  Then, my mind gets blown when I find out the truth behind the “him” in the song.  It isn’t about Ian McCulloch, the lead singer, but about a higher power.  As he talks about the lyrics, I could see that, but I would have NEVER guessed that in a million years.  Perhaps, this is partly because this song entered my life when I was dealing with a difficult relationship and I associated the song with the relationship.

The other thing that this chapter made me realize is how each city in the UK, during this time period, seemed to have its own culture.  I love how Liverpool’s scene is described as filled with a mixture of lost souls whereas previous chapters talked about places like New Order’s Manchester.  It fascinates me, in a broad, social science way about how this musically creative time period had all these artists who had a broad consensus about things like influences, the desire to be unique, etc., while having smaller geographic areas had what seems more like their own subcultures.  Fascinating.

Then, I absolutely adore the story of their first show.  I wonder if all bands/artists had shows in which something like failing equipment happens or something similar.  Yet, they managed to turn the show around and fell into a “flow”.  Lesson there, clearly, is that one moment of failure isn’t failure.

Rhonda:

So, Echo and the Bunnymen.  I must have been the one person out of my group of friends who was not completely bowled over by this song. I don’t know what it was, I don’t know why…I just know that while everyone else was writing “Echo and the Bunnymen” on their Pee-Chee folders, I was still writing interlocking DD’s all over mine, along with a few Spandau Ballet’s, TFF’s and of course a bunch of DM’s. I suspect I just didn’t want to fall in line with my friends. And truthfully, The Killing Moon didn’t really speak to me (back then) in the same way as Blasphemous Rumors or The Hurting, and no – I really don’t know why. So when Ian McCulloch says it was the greatest song ever written…I’m sure my friends from high school would all agree, but I’d still be waving around The Hurting or Mad World and calling it genius.  I love the song now and I wish I had taken the time back then to really listen to the lyrics, but I was honestly more keen on Lips Like Sugar and Dancing Horses then, and more of a Killing Moon fan now. Funny how that works.

One thing that makes me a forever fan of this band?  One simple fact: Ian McCullough is easily as irritated by Bono as I.

Til next week – happy reading!!!

-A & R

Daily Duranie Book Club – Mad World (Foreword, Introduction, and Adam and the Ants)

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.

Foreward:

Amanda’s Take:

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.

Rhonda:

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.

Introduction:

Amanda’s Thoughts:

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:

Amanda’s Points:

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!

Rhonda:

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

Going crazy, wanna come along? Daily Duranie Book Club – Mad World

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Well, we’re not really going crazy…but we’re definitely taking a trip down the MAD side of things because for the next several weeks, Amanda and I are going to talk about Mad World each Monday here on the blog, and we’d love for you to come along for the ride!

Just as we’ve done in the past, we’re going to do this as a sort of book club where we take a chapter or three each week (which amounts to discussing a few bands) and talk about them.  We want to open this up to discussion – so if you want to follow along and participate, feel free to comment with your thoughts as we go along. We encourage that here!

This will begin next week on the blog – and we’ll do the first 3 chapters in the book.  This gives you some time if you haven’t gotten your copy of the book yet!!

-R