Four years ago, I spent my extra time reading a new book that I continue to avidly use as a reference. Mad World, a book written by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein, was released on April 15, 2014. It blows my mind that four years has gone by so quickly.
I know that today is April 16, but I don’t post on Sundays. A day late, but with no less enthusiasm, I wanted to celebrate the anniversary of Mad World.
I am a very avid reader, although lately I’ve found less and less time to dedicate to reading much beyond the current curriculum I’m using to teach my youngest. Over the years, I’ve read books about 1980’s music as quickly as they’ve been released. I tend to read them twice: once at my normal lightning speed, and the next, to savor and digest each word. Don’t ask how many times I’ve read and listened to John Taylor’s autobiography at this point. (Enough to have some sentences memorized. What can I say? I love audiobooks!) Mad World is without question one of the best books about the music that made me into the person, no…into the fan I am. It is by far, my most favorite book about New Wave music. I don’t write those words lightly, and I don’t post them just because I consider Lori a friend.
I didn’t know Lori Majewski before Mad World. She and I are easily as different as Amanda and I, on nearly every level imaginable. Lori is an avid vegan, I am, well…not. (Although I do sneak in a meatless meal to the family—don’t tell them—and even on my own, on occasion!) She has always had appreciation for Red Carpet Massacre, I’ve had to work on my feelings about that album over the years. She’s a John-girl, I’ve been a Roger fan since Planet Earth. Like Amanda, she is far more politically savvy, and definitely more active than I am. Lori is delightfully positive and centered, and me? Well, I’m more of an un-centered, slightly critical, realist. People tend to either like me, or they want me burned at the stake…or both, actually.
Despite…or more likely because of all of those things, I respect Lori. Whereas I have sat and dreamed of what I want to do with my life, she’s done it, and then some. She is unafraid to try, and I am incredibly fearful of failing. Lori is a powerful, positive force to admire. She’s a great listener and advice-giver, too. I consider her a friend and mentor, and someone I obviously don’t mind gushing about on Daily Duranie.
Mad World is an excellent book. Jonathan and Lori devised the book in such a way that they chose a number of bands from the New Wave era, and out of those bands, they chose a song to focus on. They interviewed the artists and bands who wrote (or performed) the songs, and wove those interviews into a very substantial music history of the 80s. Even though I’ve read nearly everything that has been written about 1980’s music, I learned a lot from Mad World. I continue to pull that book down from my shelf as a resource, noted by the binding that has given way over the years. My copy is well-loved.
Since Mad World, Lori has been working on her own Sirius XM morning radio show with Nik Carter. She’s been featured on more than one documentary about New Wave music, and she’s even broadcasted from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies. I realize this is more gushing than necessary, but I think it’s awesome that someone I know is actually on the radio, and not because he/she won a contest by calling in, but because they host the show!
Jonathan continues to write his Bridget Wilder book series (my nearly ten-year-old daughter gives them a big thumbs-up), along with a plethora of other books that every one should have already read or is reading currently. He is the also a co-writer for Unsane, a movie that I am, honestly, too frightened to even go see. (I don’t do scary movies. It’s a mom-thing and I’m not even kidding about that.)
What I really want though, is a follow-up to Mad World. What I don’t understand, is why publishers aren’t busting down their door(s) to get one. Someone, fix this. Immediately. In the meantime, I’m going to go back to brainstorming about my own next attempt at a book proposal. As I’m sitting here writing about the fabulous careers of others, I realize that giving up is not an option.
Happy Anniversary, Mad World! I don’t know where the time went, but I’m awfully glad to have the book on my shelf, and great people continuing to inspire me!
I woke up this morning feeling like I’d been run over. I couldn’t figure it out because I went to bed at a reasonable time and slept very well – which is unlike me. Usually I wake up several times, but not last night. I hurried to get dressed, because I was also late…and rushed to get the youngest ready for the day and out the door. At some point before leaving, I looked at my phone and felt that feeling of dread come over me when I saw my news feed still commanded by post after post in tribute to David Bowie.
That familiar sinking feeling returned as I saw so many of my friends clearly in pain and mourning. My heart nearly broke as I read posts from dear friends as well as from people such as Martin Gore (Depeche Mode), Michael Stipe (REM) on Facebook, and even Conan O’Brien, covered on the Huffington Post. Dealing with the loss of a legendary artist like Bowie is tough enough – he really WAS The Beatles of the 80s (as my favorite New Wave experts Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein wrote in their Yahoo! Music article today), but seeing people you love, admire and care about grieve is a different thing entirely.
David Bowie is everywhere today. He’s all over the iTunes music charts, thanks to an-ever familiar surge in “after death” sales that nearly always occurs – and this is nothing to be sad about. I’ve seen a few lament over the fact that it’s taken death for people to buy his art. I say, as an arts appraiser – that this is the market. I wouldn’t look at it as being sad. It’s a silver lining. David’s music will live on. His music, his image, his ability to reinvent himself over and over again and never rest on his laurels, will continue to inspire for many generations to come. That, my friends, is a gift. Be sad that a man died. Be sad that there is no real cure for cancer, or that his wife and children will be grieving long after you and I get on with our lives, but don’t be sad that David Bowie’s music is being discovered by people who may not have paid attention previously – myself included. Last night my husband and I went through our vinyl collection and pulled out some Bowie albums we haven’t listened to in years. Yesterday, I bought Blackstar. Sure, I’d planned to buy it anyway – but hearing he’d died reminded me to get it. So I did. Today, I’m listening to a greatest hits playlist on Spotify, with songs on it that I’d nearly forgotten about. (As an aside, I’m finding that I listened to FAR more Bowie over the years than I ever realized as I go through his collection….) None of that is bad, in fact, I applaud it.
Still others scoff, saying that today’s generation of music makers won’t be listening to Bowie – they listen to the radio, filled with monstrosity like rap and auto-tuned “fast food” varieties of music that continue to be churned from labels. Artists like that won’t be influenced by true artists like Bowie, and kids who listen to those types of artists obviously won’t be influenced either. I disagree completely. I might not be able to hear it, and I might not be able to see it – but that doesn’t mean the influence doesn’t exist. Just yesterday I’d read a quote from Kanye West of all people, saying that he owes Bowie for much of his musical inspiration. Kanye is about as far out of my musical realm as it gets, to be fair, but I can’t help but applaud the example. After all, who is to say that some 8-year little girl old didn’t, for example, hear “Lazarus” yesterday when her mom was writing a blog and say “Wow Mom, I love his voice.” and then try to copy the sound herself? Or maybe she saw the video for “Blackstar” and then asked to see “Space Oddity” and marveled over the way he looked and sounded? We just don’t know where the influence will come from, or how it might affect future artists. As cynical as I can be about music, the industry and even art in general at times, I refuse to believe Bowie’s influence won’t continue in some fashion. I think we get ourselves into trouble when we start convincing ourselves that inspiration doesn’t flow from generation to generation, and that nothing from our own era has come through because it was simply just “too good”, and music has gone straight downhill from there. That’s one slippery slope.
There’s no arguing the fact that music will never be the same. When you lose a family member, there’s no replacing them in the same exact way. For us, the children of the 80’s, the music lovers, the fans…Bowie was family, whether he was extended family or the head of our musical “household”. Even so, music will go on. Life goes on. The permanence remains.
That’s when it hits me: I must be grieving. That feeling of exhaustion and pain is one I’m familiar with, although I didn’t honestly expect to feel that way from something like this. You see, David Bowie was never a favorite of mine in the way that he was for some of you – and I really do feel for each of you in a way I really can’t put into words. I am so sorry. Grief has a horribly ironically funny way of sneaking up when you least expect.
A friend suggested I listen to his music, certain that I will find something within to touch me – and I have. His hand, whether by physical touch or inspiration, was involved in nearly everything I love in life. The grief, sorrow and loss of my friends, my heroes, and the people I love is also my own.
I was able to take some time and catch the Robert Elms (BBC London) interview with Lori Majewski and Nick Rhodes. Here’s the link for those of you who want to listen. (It starts with Girls on Film at about the 2:31:00 mark)
For the first half, Robert spoke with Nick as they were having “technical difficulty” getting Lori patched in from New York. They talked about New Wave, and how even on American charts – most of the acts were British. Nick spoke of how British acts really wanted to make their mark in America. He also talked about the diversity of the charts and what was available at the time. At this point, Lori is on the line and is able to say that we were very much caught in “middle-aged” American tastes. She’s right. I can remember being at my sitter’s house after school and having to listen to Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” over and over again. On 8-track. It really is a wonder how I made it through that year before I finally discovered KROQ and heard Planet Earth for the first time.
They continue on this theme, and it seems almost astounding to Robert Elms, and I suppose many Brits, that here in America it wasn’t places like New York and LA that drove New Wave. It was suburbia. Lori makes the point that MTV didn’t arrive in NYC or LA (proper) until 1983, but places in middle-America had MTV far earlier. It was when radio stations began getting requests to play Girls on Film in the middle-of-anywhere Kansas or Florida that suddenly New Wave got a foothold. Thank goodness, otherwise we might still be listening to the Piña Colada Song…
Lori also talks about John Hughes films, which, if you’re not from America, I’m just not sure the importance comes across. You just cannot really imagine how vital those films were to 1980s coming-of-age. Movies such as Pretty in Pink, the Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire…those films were what framed our adolescence. They set the bar for what American teens wanted to look like and be like, and that music really became not only part of the soundtracks for those movies, but for our lives. Much of that music IS New Wave.
I think back on my pre-teen/teen years and it’s really impossible to untangle it all. Unlike many people who chose to write off the 80s as some sort of style experiment gone off the rails, those years matter to me. They made me who I am. I interviewed Lori Majewski several months back (you can read that interview here) and we talked the reasons why Duran Duran fans respond so emotionally to the band, even today. Why does this band matter so much to us? Many of us were so young when the band was at the height of its popularity, I know that in my case, I didn’t even have the opportunity to see them (Duran Duran) until I was in college. Even seeing them today has the potential to live out (some of) the fantasies that rolled through my head back when I was twelve. That undaunted, unbridled, RAW teen emotion still exists within. For many, that emotion is not only what keeps us returning for more, it is also what drives us to do some of the crazy things we hear about. Not that I’m judging. After all, I’ve bought tickets to shows I openly swore I would not be attending, I’ve fawned over a band member or two in my time…and I write a blog. When I picture my fandom, I see it as that leopard in a cage that a certain song mentions. Occasionally, the leopard gets out. I’ll bet yours does too.
It is Book Club Monday! There are only 2 weeks left of our latest book and book club. As we hope you know, we have been reading and discussing the book, Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s. This week we are focused on the chapters on INXS, Thompson Twins and Simple Minds. Join us with your thoughts on these chapters!
Before I started reading this chapter, I wondered if the focus was going to be Michael’s death or how the band has attempted to keep going without him. I wouldn’t have criticized that, if that had been the focus. After all, Michael was such a talent, a larger-than-life person. Yet, I knew that the loss of Michael would be felt, would be acknowledged (as it should) through the music, according to the last couple of lines of author’s, Lori Majewski’s introduction about interviewing remaining members of the band, “…I could tell that they were still dealing with the loss 16 years later. But they weren’t melancholy conversations, because we were talking about the part of Hutchence that will never die: his songs.” Truly, I think this is all any artist can hope for–that one’s art, no matter the medium, lives on.
Like Rhonda mentions in her section, I, too, wasn’t surprised that Original Sin was produced by Nile Rodgers. Much like Duran, they were clearly fans of his and knew that working with him meant that they had were in the current music scene. I suspect artists today still feel the exact same way. Of course, they were such fans that they were nervous about working with him. I can understand that. Nile saw that and knew that he was going to have to deal with that. I love that he did by having the rehearsal of Original Sin be secretly recorded and going with that. Of course, the song created some controversy with the interracial lyrics. It saddens me that lyrics about an interracial couple would cause anyone to be upset, but I’m not surprised by this, especially in the States during that time. This reminds me about how the record label of Duran’s didn’t like Nile’s mix of The Reflex as they felt it sounded “too black”. Clearly, racism was alive and well then.
One thing I always like about reading these chapters is how I learn something new about the artists behind the music. I was fascinated with the statement about how Michael felt that he could talk to people through his lyrics. He didn’t need to talk much and let his lyrics speak for him. On one hand, I love the idea that one’s writing, one’s art truly does show what someone thinks and feels. On the other hand, I know how easily one’s lyrics can be interpreted in multiple ways. Wasn’t he worried that there would be misunderstanding? That said, I guess all forms of communication can be misinterpreted. No matter how his lyrics are interpreted, I, for one, are thankful they were written and made available for all of us to enjoy. Truly, his voice and words live on.
You know what I would love? I would love for the first thought to come to mind when talking about INXS NOT be that Michael Hutchence is no longer with us. But it is, and as much as I try to fight that – I simply can’t.
Some say that Michael Hutchence was sex, personified. I probably wouldn’t disagree. Lori Majewski mentions that his death was the first time she’d lost one of her idols. Again, I wouldn’t argue one bit and there are times when even now, I sit back and think “Wow, did that really happen?” That’s real grief, and it’s unavoidable. She says that in interviewing Andrew and Tim Farriss for this chapter she could tell that they were still dealing with his death. I have no doubt. Grief changes in feeling, but it’s still grief. Jonathan says, “I listen to ‘Devil Inside’, ‘What You Need’, and ‘Never Tear Us Apart’, and I think ‘Boy, could we use a band like that today.’” AMEN.
It was never a surprise to learn that Nile Rodgers had produced Original Sin. One cannot help but hear his influence…and let’s face it…he also worked with Duran Duran (notably after INXS). It’s no wonder the band wanted to work with him – he is a genius. Tim Farriss notes, “We were the first young white band to use Nile. I remember seeing John Taylor, and he was saying how much [Duran Duran] would love to work with him. ‘You used Nile Rodgers, eh? How is he?’ I was like, ‘Awesome man, but I don’t think he likes bass players.’ I was trying to turn him off to the idea. Sure enough, they ended up using him. That trick didn’t work.” I laugh.
What IS surprising, however, is Original Sin was a one-take record. Nile realized the band was in awe of him, so he had them rehearse it – while he had the sound engineer record the entire thing. That’s the way to get ‘er done, Nile. (I know a band that could use some of that again….*coughs*)
More “surprises”…the song was banned in the US, and I’m sure it’s because as Andrew Farriss described, it was the elephant in the room (and still is). It’s so silly when you think about it now, but back then? That was a huge deal. Yes, America is still far behind the rest of the world. To my parents – you just didn’t see that sort of thing in their generation much. Just to let you all in on a piece of my own history: it was a HUGE deal when I dated a Mexican kid in high school. You can’t even imagine. I mean, I’m Italian for crying out loud (my dad was kicked out of places when he was growing up because he was Italian and lived in New Jersey – where that lineage was frowned upon!) – and my boyfriend at the time was half Mexican/half white-as-me, but I practically had to get permission from the Pope before my parents gave me the OK. Ridiculous. My kids don’t even blink when they see people together, which is the way I want it. Things change. We’ve still got a long way to go, but from my point of view, it’s getting better. Slowly.
It seems like the only other thing to touch on is life after Michael. I have a continued difficult time with that – and I’m not even one of their biggest fans. I’m just a fan who loves their music, and I miss them. I’ve had fleeting affairs with some of their lead singers, but none touch the heartstrings of Michael – and I’m not really sure I’d want it any other way. I wish the band would tour again on one hand, and on another I’m not sure it was ever the same…but then, I never expected it to be. I just wish them well.
This is going to sound weird but my most vivid memory of this band and this song was when I was stereo buying. My first CD player happened as a result of my 8th grade graduation. It didn’t last. By sophomore year in high school, I was back to buying a stereo. I couldn’t live without my music! How did I decide which stereo to buy? I decided by listening to this song played loudly in the store on various stereos! While I always liked this song, there was something about hearing it played in such a way that I appreciated it in a much bigger way afterwards.
Two aspects of the Thompson Twins story really caught my attention. First, there was the couple aspect between Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie. Second, there was their very clear decision to be “pop stars”. Both seemed to affect not only the life of the band but also their decision not to reform as Thompson Twins.
Again, like Rhonda below, I had no idea that Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie were together, eventually married (and divorced) and had children together. I’m not ever really surprised when I read about how two people from a band were romantically linked. I think that can happen whenever people work very closely together. What I find more interesting is what it was like for the third member, Joe Leeway. Was he worried about how their relationship would affect the band? What if they broke up? Would they want to become a duo? Clearly, they managed to navigate this but I still wonder what affect it had. Now, of course, Tom and Alannah are divorced. Would they be more interested in reforming, if they were still married? Who knows.
Lastly, I found it very interesting that they made a clear distinction about being pop stars instead of trying to be pop stars. They went this way in order to treat it like a serious job and as a means to achieve their goals. I think things like how you refer to yourself definitely does affect how confident you are, which impacts everything else. Yet, now that they have different careers, does the title hold them back from reforming? They can’t reform because they aren’t pop stars anymore? Again, who knows.
My name is Rhonda Rivera and I am a fan of Hold Me Now. Any hope of being “hardcore” (as my 17-year old daughter Heather says) is finished now, I suppose. Damn. I loved that song the entire way through school, and I still love it today. I miss the band, having bought all of their albums and continuing to treasure them today.
As nieve as I was, I had no idea that Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie were a couple. This explains the song so much, and yet I understand why they kept it private. I had a friend who was in a rock band that was becoming well-known and somewhere early into the journey he told me that he was taking a stage name. I didn’t get it at the time, but now I understand. For him, he was trying to keep the stage life separate from the real life. I don’t know how successful he was (we lost touch), but I can understand the need to compartmentalize.
One thing I truly loved about the Thompson Twins was the audible influence of world music. I think of “You Take Me Up” or “The Gap” and you can’t help but hear the African influence, and it’s done well. The other thing I loved about the Thompson Twins was something I didn’t even realize until I read this book – and that was Nile Rodgers. It isn’t lost on me that among the bands I cared about most during the 80s – Nile seems to be a common denominator. (Not bad for someone who never thought she was a disco fan!)
It’s curious to me that during the writing of the book, Tom Bailey says that he isn’t interested in touring as Thompson Twins, which I really can’t blame him given that he and Alannah Currie are divorced. But not long after reading, I saw that he is actually touring with Howard Jones, Midge Ure and others. Good for him.
Seriously, this is one of those songs that I have to wonder if there is anyone of my generation who doesn’t love it. Much like the movie in which it featured in the soundtrack, it represents that time for so many. Everyone knows it. Everyone loves it.
When I read this chapter, I realized how lucky we all were that it got made. Clearly, the band wasn’t super comfortable to do someone else’s song. (Isn’t that a sign of the times, too? Nowadays, I assume that any popular, radio-friendly song is written by someone OTHER than the artist/singer/band performing it. Then, though, I thought everyone wrote their own songs. I believe that all the songs written in this book, up until this point, were written by the singers/bands themselves, just to prove a point.) Yet, they decided to “smell the coffee” as they phrased it and went with it. I like how they worked to make it their own, though. I suspect is something not done much today as performers just go with what has been given to them for whatever reason.
Throughout this book, there have been a number of themes to emerge. This chapter brings out two of them: how bands dealt with their apparent (but not really) one hit and how this time period was filled with such creativity. I have to say that I truly appreciated how Jim Kerr viewed both. While he knows that he had many, many other quality songs beyond this one, he knows that this is the one that has lived on. He understands that the song now belongs to everyone. It is that HUGE. He also understands the connection to a movie that also connected for so many. There is no bitterness or anger there. I only sensed acceptance. Likewise, I appreciated his attitude when discussing the creativity of this musical era. He talked about how bands all hung out together and would acknowledge chart success. Competition did not seem to be fierce, but part of that seemed to be because each group was so unique. No one had to worry about the other. There was “no collective sound” but an “imagination”. I miss that.
Another “most favorite”. I think I might be better off naming the bands that are NOT on that list – it would be far shorter! When I think of this band, I can’t help but think of “Alive and Kicking” and “Don’t You Forget About Me” first…but bringing up the rear is “Someone Somewhere in Summertime”. I got a massive sunburn while listening to the entire album (New Gold Dream) one year while camping in San Diego, but I still love the song.
I never realized the song wasn’t theirs, and that’s on me. I just assumed…which I’m finding in this industry is a huge “joke is on you” type of error to make. I will say that Jim totally makes it Simple Minds own with his vocals and his “Hey hey hey HEY” at the beginning, and I’m glad that they consider it a pleasure to play. So many times it ends up being the thorn in the side of what was a great career, but they seem to have embraced the fact that the song really broke through the American Ceiling for them. I think what bothers me about the band is that they’ve still got a lot of great music going for them that never gets heard over here, and as a result they rarely tour here, which really bums me out as a fan – but I get it.
Once again I find something poignant to end my portion of the discussion, this time from Jim Kerr himself – about the 80s, “There wasn’t a collective sound like there was a sound of the sixties, but there was an amazing imagination. That was a very potent collection of kids – and we were kids at the time – and I still listen to a lot of that music to this day. (299)
I couldn’t say it better.
It’s nearly the end!! Next week we end our chapter-by-chapter discussion of Mad World by discussing what is likely the most shocking and shameful chapter in the entire book – “Obsession” by Animotion. Then we turn that emotion on it’s head by talking about the most beloved holiday song for nearly any Duranie/New Wave fan: “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, by Band Aid…and then just maybe we’ll do a wrap up of what we’ve learned along the way. Please feel free to join in!!
It is week 9 of our latest book club! The focus is Mad World and this week, we are reading and discussing the chapters on A Flock of Seagulls, Modern English and Soft Cell. We would love to have you all read along and join in the discussion!
A Flock of Seagulls:
The introduction to this chapter is right on. A Flock of Seagulls is a band that seems almost a caricature of the genre and that time period, especially with that hair. As the introduction pointed out, though, we all remember the look! Isn’t that what image was all about? Trying to stick out from the crowd? Getting attention and then staying in people’s minds long after hearing the song or seeing the video? If so, this band had that part down, for sure!!
I absolutely had to laugh that they were aiming to follow the path that Duran went down but they weren’t as electronic as they wanted to be. First, it doesn’t surprise me that Duran was influencing bands even then. Second, I wonder what specifically made they want to follow Duran. If they wanted to be more electronic, why didn’t they follow Depeche Mode, for example? Did they like the fame and attention Duran was getting? Was that it?
“When things are right, they line up,” said Mike Score, in reference to writing the song, “I Ran.” He had seen a poster at a record company of people running from a flying saucer. From there, he said that the song wrote itself. What caught my attention there wasn’t the story behind the song as much as the line about when things are “right”. As I read each and every story in this book, I keep thinking about what really made the song or the band successful. Is it that it is just “right” so it is meant to be? Is that the artist worked really, really hard? Is it luck? Is it meeting the right person? It seems to me that most of the stories have a combination between all of these. Is that the same with other professions/careers?
Mike Score emphasizes that they wanted the band, the song to be “sci-fi”. It seems to me that there were a lot of New Wave artists out there who also had a focus of sorts on space and/or science fiction. Obviously, Duran did. While I could point out David Bowie as this chapter does, it seems to me that there has to be more to it than just David Bowie. Why then? People landed on the moon in the 1960s. Science fiction was an established genre then. So what was the deal? Could the increased tension of the Cold War do it? Could it be that people were looking for that positive future? Could it be that they were looking for an escape from a world that seemed doomed?
So I liked the hair. It was so completely different from what I was allowed to do with my own (no seriously, I wasn’t even allowed to wear skirts that fell above my knee, and no, I didn’t go to parochial school – that was my dad’s rule!). As I read Jonathan’s little editorial on how he felt about Flock of Seagulls, I have to say – I’m glad I didn’t live in England (probably the first time I’ve ever said that). I would have been just as out of place there as I was at Sunflower Intermediate in Covina, California. (Go ahead, look it up, but it’s no longer a public intermediate school – I think my “graduating class” busted the system or something). I liked their music, and not in a “I secretly listen to One Direction when no one else is around” sort of way. I danced to “I Ran”, and I liked it. So, I’m sure it’s not a surprise that I side with Lori on this one. I loved them, the song, the video AND their hair, and yes – they were cool.
I didn’t think it was such a surprise that they wanted to be like Duran Duran. They were really the first band from the UK that had really made a big splash in America in a very long time – I mean let’s be completely honest, for a while, Duran Duran was the biggest band in the world. I think a lot of bands wanted to be on the road that Duran Duran had already paved, and probably kick Duran Duran out of their way as they went cruising by.
I tend to agree with Mike Score – that when things are right, they do seem to just line up naturally. I hear that a lot, and even in my own life – sometimes the things that just happen naturally turn out to be the best. He makes a similar statement about “I Ran”, that it wrote itself – “as all good songs do.” (200) Over and over again throughout this book, artists make comparable comments about their biggest songs – that they came easily or wrote themselves. I don’t really know what that says, because there are moments when we all struggle with our best work, but as I read I have to notice that it seems to be a very common thread.
Mike’s very last comment in the book is one that I will take with me. “As the band gets bigger, you tend to lose that camaraderie. I think that led to the downfall.” I think this to be very true. It’s as though the band becomes larger than the people within, and everyone wants a piece to control – until the machine – the industry itself – makes the band uncontrollable, never mind the egos within.
I love this song and always have. That said, I never placed it into a soon to be destroyed by nuclear war context. As I read the lyrics and think about it, I can definitely see that. As a historian and social scientist, I find it fascinating when I am able to put songs and musical genres into societal and/or historical context. I understand a society and a time period more and I understand the song more. I now get to do that with this song, too. Very cool.
Of course, Robbie Grey of Modern English, expanded on this idea. I love that the song was also trying to show the good and the bad with people. Even the lyric about “mesh and lace” was to show this. Once again, I am reminded that song lyrics can seem straightforward on the surface and be much more when you dig a little deeper.
He also tells a story about how the band went from playing to 200 people in England to playing to 5000 people in Florida. What struck me wasn’t the idea of a very quick rise in fame that so many from this era experienced, but how Robbie saw the audiences in Europe compared to the audiences in America. European audiences he described as “thoughtful” whereas American audiences just wanted to have fun. I wonder if he would say the same now. Do others agree?
“I Melt with You” is as 80s iconic as anything else I can think of – I know that when the words “New Wave” are uttered amongst friends, this is always one of the first songs they mention. (I know this because I tested my theory at a neighborhood block party last week!) They also mention things like “Madonna”…and that’s when I openly cringe and tell them that it’s time to re-educate themselves on proper New Wave. I’m not invited to many neighborhood parties…
I never knew what the song was about, to be honest – but of course the line “Never really knowing it was always mesh and lace” sticks in my head as easily as “You’re about as easy as a nuclear war”. I really think I spent most of the 80s dancing to the music and not really listening to the words. That came much later.
I don’t know a lot of Modern English’s catalog. Like Jonathan, I was always very satisfied with just hearing “I Melt With You” and never felt like I needed more. So I was genuinely surprised to read that Robbie Grey used to shout rather than sing and that this song was the first he actually sang that way. I always liked the rawness of his voice – it added texture to the song.
Like Amanda, I was surprised to read that there was such a difference between American and European audiences. I mean, Duran has said similar things (I will never forget reading a blog from Roger Taylor that called American’s “raucous”. He didn’t mean it harshly, only that we’re apparently really loud and crazy. That stung, because I don’t see us quite that way. I don’t really understand the difference between the screaming “hard-core loyalty” they talk about from fans in Italy and the roar of the crowd they find here in America, but I have to think there really must be a difference.), but I just don’t really know what it means. I went to the UK for several shows a few years back, and to be completely honest I found the UK audiences to be very subdued to what goes on here at home. I mean yes they cheer, but it’s different. Would I call it thoughtful? I’m not quite sure that’s the right word.
Who doesn’t love this song? I have loved versions by other artists as well as the Soft Cell version, but I have to admit that this is my favorite out of them all. Is it that I know this one the best? Is it that I fell in love with this one first? Is it simply that this version really is the best? I suppose it doesn’t matter why I love it. I just do.
I love the fact that, according to the band’s Marc Almond, they went with this song to cover because doing a “soul song” was the most “un-electronic” thing to do. I suppose that is a little like Duran covering Public Enemy’s 911 Is a Joke. It just seems so out of character and, for Soft Cell, it truly was as so much of the rest of their material was shocking in many ways. Yet, Marc goes on to say how they put their sound to the song, which included, “cold, electronic sound with a passionate vocal.” That description could fit so much of the music I love. Truly.
Marc Almond continues to say that the success surrounding “Tainted Love” made them uncomfortable because of their new young fans and the controversial nature of the rest of the work. I would feel the same way, if I were them. That said, I’m not sure a lot of other artists would have given that two thoughts. A lot of artists would have just seen dollar signs and dollar signs only. I never heard Duran, for example, say that they had any concern about the Girls on Film video after attracting a lot of young fans. Perhaps, it isn’t because they weren’t concerned about their young fans but because they didn’t think the video would be harmful. Still, it is nice to see that Soft Cell did give some consideration to their young fans.
Without any disrespect intended, this is one of those songs that I could go without ever hearing again and not feel the least bit slighted. Once upon a time, I loved “Tainted Love” in the same way I loved “Hungry Like the Wolf”, but time (and radio) has ruined both for me. That said, I have always liked Soft Cell. I loved that their videos were meant to shock, and that they did. I like the avant-garde “art school” nature they had, and I think their videos are superbly odd. I would characterize Soft Cell as the really strange contemporary art that a lot of people rush past in a museum because they don’t get it – and yet you’ll find me standing there staring at a rotting piece of cheese boxed in clear acrylic because I’m trying to understand what the artist is saying. I love that stuff!
I think the real reason I liked Soft Cell and Marc Almond so much was because of something Marc says so eloquently, “Living in sleazy eighties Britain, repressed people leading secret lives, frustrated living in bedsits – it was the total antithesis of what Duran Duran were doing, which was singing about this glamorous life, and living in Rio, and sailing in ships on beautiful seas.” I love an escape. Duran Duran were living a life I had absolutely zero chance of ever experiencing myself – so that attracted me as much as John Taylor’s cheekbones or Roger Taylor’s quiet and brooding eyes ever did. On the other hand, I liked the darkness and obscurity that Soft Cell had to offer. It was the opposite of Duran Duran, and I liked that.
I respect Marc’s feelings for “Tainted Love” in the same way that I completely respect what “Hungry Like the Wolf” is for Duran Duran – you can’t (and shouldn’t) deny what those songs have done, and he’s right, they have to be embraced because people associate you with those songs. I think the problem with a band that has MANY of those songs is that they end up having to play a greatest hits show every night along with a few newbies – and for those of us who don’t need the reward of the hits in order to still support the band, we always end up wishing for the stuff no one else knows anything about. It’s probably a very good problem for a band to have.
Don’t forget to check in with us next week as we chat about A-Ha, Joy Division, and The Smiths!
Welcome to the latest post in our most recent book club! This time around we are discussing the book, Mad World. We will be reading and discussing the chapters on Kim Wilde, Howard Jones and Berlin. Hopefully, you, too, will read those chapters and dive into the discussion!
I knew of Kim Wilde as a kid but I didn’t know her really well. I definitely knew the song, “You Keep Me Hanging On,” and liked it, but I didn’t know enough to say that I was a fan. I never thought about the songs or about the fact that she was a female singer. Did this chapter make me see her and her position in the New Wave musical era differently than just a simple singer? It made me think more about the status of women in the industry, then vs. now, for sure.
Before I get to gender roles, I was struck by her discussion of the lyrics to “Kids in America”. She mentioned the idea that you don’t have to directly identify with the lyrics to be able to sing them or like them. She says this, of course, because she isn’t American singing about kids in America. I have to agree with her. You don’t have to directly identify a lyric to sing it or like it. Look at Duran’s lyrics. I am sure that Simon can’t relate to every single thing he has sung about. In fact, I might argue that a lot of Simon’s lyrics aren’t exactly autobiographical.
During this chapter, it seems clear to me that Kim just rode the waves of her experience. She didn’t think about writing the songs herself, but was content to let her father and brother do it, at least at first. Image wasn’t at the top of her list either. Was that because she was young? Was that because of her personality? A combination thereof? Possibly. Yet, I think about how things went for her as a young female singer compared to the young female singers of present day. Now, image is central to everyone’s career, I think, especially women. This reminds me of last week’s discussion in the discussion about Yaz and how Alison Moyet pointed out the push for women to just act like sexual toys now. Clearly, Kim felt sexy, at times, but didn’t feel sexualized, or objectified, in the way that Alison referred to many female performers today.
My knowledge of Kim Wilde pretty much starts and ends with “Kids in America”. It was a song I heard on the radio and recognized, but I wouldn’t say I know her music beyond that one song. It’s not that I didn’t care for her, it’s that my sights were focused elsewhere.
I never really gave it much thought that Kim was singing a song about America and yet she wasn’t from here. It was just a song. Personally I think that a good writer *does* always identify in some way with what they’ve written or sung about, but just as we say that Simon’s lyrics aren’t always as transparent as they may seem – I think the same can be said for nearly everyone. That said, Kim Wilde didn’t even write the songs. Her father wrote them for her to sing and created an image for her from there. It’s not exactly the deepest story of someone climbing stardom from the rock bottom, gripping by their fingernails to get to the top, you know? I mean, the song is fine – but let’s be realistic about what it was. Was she talented? Sure. Talented enough to get by without her father doing the writing? Not immediately. I think even Kim acknowledges that her part was played elsewhere, with more to come later on. Everyone gets their start somehow.
I agree with Amanda that Kim seemed to just ride the wave of her career. It seemed to me as though she knew her place, played her part but had no ambition for more. She was happy with what she had, and perhaps that was a sign (to her) that her real love was elsewhere. I see that she’s still recording and signed to a label, but I also see that she has had other interests in her life. Some people are not necessarily designed to do only one thing in their life, and maybe Kim Wilde is among them.
I love that Howard Jones thought about what message he wanted to send with his first single. I love the message about going after your number one dream, too. Obviously, if he had the chance to write, perform and release a single, then he would be showing the world that dreams do come true. I like the idea of that. Of course, if he wasn’t successful, would the message still ring true? As he points out, this was part of his own struggle to feel like he was in control of his own future. It also puts him against the grain of the time since he was optimistic about the future when many others were not.
As the authors pointed out in the introduction, there were other elements of Howard Jones that didn’t fit into the usual New Wave scene. Two things that he mentioned that shows this include the discussion on image and the discussion on his lyrics. First, while he did have some spiky hair, he didn’t feel it super necessary to dress in a crazy sort of way. He felt that if people wanted to wear jeans and a t-shirt, that’s cool. Likewise, if people wanted to be more “flamboyant”, that would be fine, too. Clearly, he wasn’t as focused on image in comparison to so many other artists of the time. Second, he mentioned that the importance that the song lyrics be such that people could relate to them. His lyrics were grounded in reality versus lyrics like David Bowie’s that he called “meaningless”.
In many ways, Howard Jones and Kim Wilde provide an interesting contrast to each other. On one hand, neither one let image dictate. On the other hand, Kim was more open to lyrics she didn’t directly relate to. Perhaps, this has everything to do with Howard being a songwriter and Kim being initially just a singer. That said, I see both of their points and, as a listener, I appreciate both–lyrics that I can relate to and lyrics that I don’t. To me, quality lyrics is more important.
Howard Jones has always been a favorite of mine, and it’s because of those lyrics. He writes songs that make me think, and I like that. I also liked that for Howard, he was more interested in writing quality songs than he was with being cool in order to attract attention. I think I sensed that immediately – and it drew me in. He didn’t fit in, *I* certainly didn’t fit in much in high school, and I just liked his music. Easy.
I was completely struck by what Howard shared about David Bowie…particularly because it is exactly, without question, what I feel when I hear his music. I like David Bowie’s music. I cannot stand the lyrics most of the time. I don’t get any meaning from them. I don’t feel lighthearted. I don’t feel anything. As Howard says “Art for art’s own sake is just not me. I like being able to relate to what people are saying.” That’s exactly it. I know that this is practically blasphemy coming from a Duran fan – but it’s the truth for me. I’m really not a Bowie fan because I just never quite got it. Hey, we all have our faults.
Howard Jones has to be one of the most grounded musicians I’ve ever really read about. Perhaps for a lot of people that makes his story boring – it certainly isn’t ever going to hit headlines, but I like that about him. He’s married, he has children, and he writes amazing music. It’s as though he hasn’t allowed that one portion of his life – his career – to BE his life or to transcend all else. I applaud that.
Unlike Kim Wilde or Howard Jones, Terri Nunn of Berlin, right away in this chapter, discussed image and their focus on it. The image she wanted the band to have was “elegant but sexy”. She wanted to seem grown up and classy with dresses and martinis. The band should be able to fit in with bands like Roxy Music. I can appreciate that aesthetic as Duran portrayed that image, too, at times with their cool suits and fancy drinks. Like Duran, they also went for a bit of controversy to get attention. I can understand the motive for doing something like doing a song like “Sex (I’m a…)” even if it didn’t go exactly as planned.
It seems to me that Berlin’s story is like so many others. Once a hit happened, the ego exploded like it did with Terri Nunn’s demands about how playing “Take My Breath Away” at the Academy Awards should be. Of course, the fame also means that there is a cycle of life from studio to road to studio to road with little real interactions and few, if any, real relationships. In the case of Berlin, they fell apart, which seems pretty normal to me. I would think that kind of lifestyle would be exhausting and would cause tension and irritation for most people, no matter how great the relationship was to begin with. Thus, the bigger question to me isn’t why Berlin couldn’t survive but how come some bands do survive. What do those bands have that most bands do not?
It is funny to see how image really mattered to some bands and not to others – although to be fair I think that most bands cared about image in the 80s, even if it was about making sure that they were completely different from anything else out there. (conversely nowadays I think image is about making sure you’re exactly like everyone else, oddly enough…)
Being a child of the 80s, I grew up watching “The Metro” on Video One or MV3. (But I had no idea that Richard Blade and Terri Nunn were almost married!) I would look at Terri Nunn and immediately sense that there was no way on this God’s green earth that I’d ever be as cool. That alone made me respect her and love her music…and that voice? She was amazing then, and she’s amazing now. I will say this though: just as many people say that Duran Duran would be nothing without Simon LeBon because he is the “voice” (a stance I do not agree with, personally)….I think that is why Terri has been able to continue on as Berlin. She’s the voice and the image. I didn’t ever even acknowledge that other people might have been in that band, because to me it just didn’t matter. Now whether that is something to applaud or something to fuss over probably depends on whether you’re Terri Nunn or one of those other guys in the band.
Oddly, I was never a fan of Take My Breath Away. It’s a great song. Terri sings it beautifully. I also heard it about ten million times over the course of a single summer – and while it’s a beautifully sultry piece, I’m still a much bigger fan of “The Metro”. I think it might be due to what Jonathan Bernstein said – it’s much more European-sounding than American.
I live in Orange County (CA) and as a result I see ads for Berlin playing all over the place. I’ve seen them several times, and they put on a great show. Terri Nunn does an excellent job, and while sometimes you’ll go see a band that was big in the 80s and they’ll kind of seem like they’re just there to pick up their paycheck….that has never been the case with Terri. She still looks HAPPY to be there, happy to connect with the crowd. I believe that is why her shows sell so well, because it’s impossible to come away without feeling just a little fired up, and who doesn’t want that??
Next week we’ll be discussing Flock of Seagulls, Modern English and Soft Cell, so do some reading at the beach or poolside and join in!!
My history with Duranie friends is rather short. While I have been a die-hard fan of this band since the moment I first heard Planet Earth, I didn’t really get involved beyond my love affair with the music until much later in life. Sure, I went to a few shows and had a few schoolyard friends that, for a short time liked to talk about Duran Duran at lunch and break with me, but I didn’t get to know many of you until rather recently. I’m happy to say though, that for many others, their friendship truly goes back decades. Many of you likely met your best pals while standing in line for a show, or at a signing, or maybe even while waiting at the studio. For Lori Majewski and Patty Palazzo, that’s about where their friendship began, and it is the memory of seeing the two of them together, animatedly chatting over history with the band, their two very different yet very similar paths in life, and even the love they very clearly have for one another, that will likely bring smiles to my face for the foreseeable future.
Patty and Lori are people that I admire and look up to in this community. That’s not hard to envision: let’s face it (and I’m going to be blunt) Patty has worked for fucking John Taylor. Never mind that Patty is incredibly talented (she is), and that I can’t even scribble nicely with a crayon (I can’t) – I just stand in admiration that she took her talents and made a dream career out of it. Yes, I’m enamored. Lori’s story is equally inspiring. Unlike many of you, I was completely unaware of fanzines until recently. That’s right, I lived a shockingly shallow and sad life as a kid. I just didn’t know. So, hearing that Lori sat down at a relatively young age and asked herself, “What job can I do that will allow me to interview Duran Duran?”…and then not only meet that goal but basically smack it out of the ballpark by working for many of the magazines I once read as a kid (Sassy, Teen People, Entertainment Weekly to name a few)…well, I really wanted to talk with them and finally got brave enough to ask. We met at a coffee shop in Hollywood, I got out my iPad and started recording.
The one thing that came across in the interview was friendship. There is so much love, respect and friendship between Lori and Patty – I hope I always remember that about that day. In doing the research for our own manuscript and through writing for the blog each day, we recognized that the relationships we have between one another keep us coming back as fans…as much as the music does. I wondered if at this point, they’d even still call themselves fans of Duran Duran, much less Duranies. Quivering a bit from nerves, I asked if they still referred to themselves that way.
Then Lori said something that made me think twice about what I might really be asking.
“Why wouldn’t she, is more the point.”
To which Patty immediately replied, “Well yeah, of course I am.” Patty continues, “I mean, it’s more about being a fan of their music.”
I would have let Patty slide on that, but Lori is a seasoned journalist, and she pressed on. “Well, what do you mean? I mean, there’s one definition. Do you love them”, Lori questions.
Patty agrees. “I mean, it’s different when you’re closer to the band. There’s a difference, but the bottom line, being a fan of the music, I don’t think that changes. ”
So they’re both still fans. Both still Duranies at heart. Check! What about their favorites? Do they have favorite songs?
After giving it some thought Lori responds, “…I would have to say New Religion because it’s so funky and so different, you know what I mean? It’s unlike any song by anyone, and unlike any song they have too, which is pretty amazing. But I’d also have to say that like from modern day Duran, I’d have to say The (Man Who Stole A) Leopard, because it’s one of the best songs they’ve ever done…The Valley…and I’d also say Careless Memories.”
Patty chimes in with her own favorites, “New Religion…Skin Trade…I was obsessed with that song,” stretching out the word ‘obsessed’ for emphasis. She continues, “that whole album actually…and The Valley from modern day.”
I tepidly step on the path leading to Red Carpet Massacre, which is an album that seemed to resonate with Lori.
“They don’t repeat what they’ve done before, and I will be the first one to tell you that I love Red Carpet Massacre. I feel like the fans unfairly judged it, and I feel like there are some of my favorite songs on that record,” says Lori. “I love it back to front, and front to back. I’m glad they worked with Timbaland, and I’m glad they worked with Justin Timberlake because it brought out a completely different side of them. OK so they moved onto something else afterward…why would they want to repeat that? But…I don’t think it should be denied.”
Patty agrees, explaining, “…and it’s part of the story, and it’s evolved. They couldn’t have made All You Need is Now without Red Carpet Massacre.”
Lori continues, “But…the thing about this era, the New Wave artists, is that they evolved, and they made a different record each time. Whether you loved it, or disliked it, you have to respect the fact that they didn’t want to go where they’d been before. Look at a Katy Perry album, it’s the same one, one after another after another. You look at, you know, Rihanna. She does what someone else told her to do. The fact that these guys, especially at this age, with the money they have, they don’t have to do anything… (and they) challenge themselves each time? That’s admirable, and that’s why they’re still around…and that’s why I’m proud to be a fan.”
Their story is not yet finished, and it is true that while fans may not have felt quite as positively about Red Carpet Massacre as other albums, all of that work is part of their narrative, part of their story. It is difficult to imagine that one day, we will look back on their work as a collective, completed whole. Rather than citing one album as necessarily better or worse than others – it will sit as a finished epic novel, and a completed soundtrack for those of us along for the ride. Lori and Patty seem to have a much greater understanding of this than I.
Steering the conversation back into positive territory where I cannot get myself into trouble quite as easily, I ask about favorite videos.
This time, Patty is the first to answer, “Skin Trade, I love the video for…and White Lines.”
Lori is quick to follow, definitively saying, “I’d say Lonely In Your Nightmare. You know, every time I say that, and I see that video it reminds me of when Patty and I helped John do…when he donated his clothing for that exhibit in Venice. Patty and I went to his storage and got all of his stuff out and…”
Patty jumps in, explaining when this took place and what clothes were offered to the exhibit, “During his solo years…Like the red Rio suit, the Anthony Price…the leather jacket from the first album, the military…”, she trails off.
“…when he pulled out that red suit…”, Lori muses, remembering the day.
“The Save a Prayer peach …”, Patty trails off again.
I’m starting to realize that they take as much glee in their fan girl memories as I do with my own…which makes me smile as I attempt to keep myself calm enough to remember to ask questions!
Lori continues, “and John actually said, ‘I don’t even remember where I wore this’…and I said in a moment of… fan ridiculousness, ‘Hi. Lonely In Your Nightmare video, before it turns black and white when you sit down at the bench and the birds fly off. That’s where it’s from.” She grins at the memory. “He just smiled because you can’t deny who you are, the more famous you get…that’s where it all started. That video for me: the black and white and color, it’s one of my…you know…it’s such a romantic song. It really showed how special they were, I thought. It was on that compilation video when we were growing up, everyone…I mean, you knew all their videos and then that came out and it unearthed all these videos I had not seen and I mean, you know, one long scream…”
This is when I started to be more comfortable in the interview, because I realized that underneath all of the “published author-ness”, “famous magazine editor-in-chief-ness”, “friend to John Taylor-ness” and “famous graphic artist-ness”…they were truly Duranies. It’s our one common denominator, and that is comfortable ground for this blogger to walk on. So I smiled at the fan girl moment, and kept going.
How did all of this really start? How did Lori decide to become a journalist, and how on earth did Patty become brave enough to go after her dreams…and can they teach me how to stop letting the world pass me by? I started with Lori, by first admitting that I’d never heard of the Too Much Information fanzine until recently…and I mean really recently.
“When you said you were on a leash”, says Lori, referring to a comment I’d made about my parents being strict, “I ripped the leash off and my father threatened to give all the doormen at all the hotels pictures of me so that if they saw me, they would make sure to tell me to go home.”
“Seriously?” Patty asks exactly what I’m thinking. My father would have grounded me, plain and simple…and it was that fear that kept me in line. I didn’t want to disappoint my dad. Fear of getting in trouble kept me on the straight and narrow…and it still kind of does to this day.
Lori answers, “Yes. You know, I did live in fear of that, but it didn’t stop me. I was a good girl for a long time, I was an ‘A’ student until Duran came to New York to record Big Thing. I was a junior in high school, starting going…you know cutting the afternoon or going right after school and not doing my homework…they were there for a good couple of months working on that record and so that’s when I dropped from #1 in the class to a still-respectable #4. Not bad.”
I personally could not even fathom cutting school to go see the band back when I was in high school, but I keep that thought to myself out of fear of looking completely lame.
Then Patty nearly says what was in my own head. “That was so beyond my realm at the time. Growing up in Akron, it was inconceivable.”
I agreed. Even though I lived in a suburb outside of Los Angeles, in my mind Covina may as well have been thousands of miles away.
Patty continues, “You know, kids were going to the studio and meeting them, and hanging out, and like I couldn’t even imagine. You know, it didn’t…when they came to town it didn’t even cross my mind to GO there. Not that I wouldn’t have had I thought about it, or had I been in a group of friends that suggested it.”
Lori adds, “Yeah, but if we knew each other we would have gone together.
Patty smiles wistfully, “Yeah, I probably would have gone had I known you.”
Thoughtfully, Lori surmises, “I was just going to say, I wouldn’t have thought to go sit outside of a recording studio or a hotel either, but…when I was waiting for Duran Duran tickets at the Beacon Theater in 1987, there was a girl there (turning to Patty) I introduced you to her at the signing the other night. I haven’t seen her now in about 15 years. She came to the signing, she lives in LA now but at the time she lived in New York. She and her friends were waiting in line and we waited in line two days to get tickets. We got to know each other and eventually after they decided that they could trust us and liked us, they told our group of friends where Duran Duran stays when they come to town. They took us to their hotel and to the studio, and so I wouldn’t have had any idea either, except for a very nice group of girls.
After agreeing that in our collective experience, not all Duranies are that nice…we move on. How did Lori go from wanting to be a teacher to writing a fanzine and becoming the editor of Teen People and later, a co-author of Mad World?
Turns out, Lori had a plan. “But, I have to say though, I had a fall-back. I always thought, ‘I’ll be a news reporter. I’ll work at The Daily News in New York as part of my goal.’ I wanted to either do crime or a local reporter that really championed the disenfranchised or things like that. I mean, in my heart I wanted to do music and entertainment writing but I just thought that’s too cool, I’d never achieve that. You know, ‘failing that, this is what I want to do’. Lori pauses to straighten in her chair and goes on, “So with Duran as a dangling carrot, I went into college and started the Plan B to teach myself Page Maker. I became a Journalism major at school, and you know my goal was to interview them. But, I interviewed them by the time I was a junior in college for my college paper, which was great for my paper. But even though I’d already achieved that, (interviewing DD) it I guess it was what helped me get my first internship, which was at Spin Magazine.”
Lori smiles at the memories and is kind enough to ignore my gushing, “That was where I met my co-author, Jonathan Bernstein. And then it actually became real. So before that, I worked at The Weehauken Reporter and the Jersey Journal and I covered fires, and I did a thing called Ms. Fix it. People would write me: ‘my welfare check hasn’t shown up, can you help me find it?’, and I had to go through the bureaucracy and track it down and stuff like that. But then, after the internship at Spin, I got my job at YM. And I was an entertainment editor. So that kind of led me to believe I can actually do this.”
Just as I’m thinking about how it might have been to work for a big magazine, Lori tells a story that I just love:
“In fact it was while I was at YM, and I’m not sure if we knew each other yet or we JUST knew each other (referring to Patty), it was while I was at YM that I had my first lunch with John, and I was like ‘Ok, I have actually kind of achieved it.’…like…and I remember, he went to pay for it, and I was like ‘Nope. I have an expense account.’ She says it again while chuckling, for emphasis, “John, I will pay for this. I have an expense account.” As we all laugh a bit, Lori explains, “I thought I was so fancy. He giggled actually. He knew me as the kid on the street. You know, the kid outside the studio, the kid outside the hotel… and now I was interviewing him. So you know, it was a cool transition.”
Patty indulges my curiosity about her beginning steps into this journey by answering, “I was living in Cleveland. It was like the summer of ’95. That was when the internet was sort of starting. AOL was happening, and I’d had a little studio set up with my friend in Cleveland and with the limited access that we had, I remember hearing that there was like a message board or something and I’d heard talk that John was starting up a label, and there was like a mailing address for fans to get involved. I’d put together a really nice package of a t-shirt, some samples of my work, and said, you know, if you’re looking for a logo for the label or any design work, this is what I can do. You know…and she (Bev Raff, John’s assistant at the time) fucking called me…she ended up responding. She loved it.”
Lori adds her thoughts to the memories of that time, “Also around that time, we were kind of, you know…I remember sitting with her somewhere…”
“He was approaching fanzines and the fan base…it was like a grass roots thing,” Patty says, and I immediately see how humble she really is about her success.
Lori continues, “He really approached that project really well. I remember us being in Philadelphia maybe…and talking to her or something?? First of all, Patty could have sent it from China and never met Bev, and Bev would have loved what she did. There was a sort of nice, I felt we got to know her a little bit at the right time. You know, that was just a very special time in John’s finding himself.”
Patty recalls, “I remember she approached me, I ended up doing the B-5 Records logo and then that started to coincide with Neurotic Outsiders. I think it was like December of ‘95, I went to LA to see the show at the Viper Room. After that show Bev sat me down with John and we talked about conceptualizing that logo (Referring to the B-5 Records logo), and then I remember he (John Taylor) turned to me and said, ‘Do you want to do a logo for my band?’ meaning Neurotic Outsiders.
(How many fans out there would give a body part to have this happen? Yes, yes I thought so.)
As I try to collect myself, Patty goes on, “Yeah, like the next day Bev took me to Hein’s house. Hein Hoven, who worked on Feelings are Good, which is the album he was working on at the time…”
As any good friend should, Lori interjects to make sure I see what’s what. “See, Patty can’t say this about herself, but I can say that John’s an artist – so he sees another artist and he knows. She could have hated Duran Duran, she could have loved Duran Duran, so that didn’t matter. It was truly that he liked her style.”
Granted, I may have been thinking about my own talents, or lack thereof…but her comment snaps me out of my reverie and back into the present.
Patty isn’t quite finished with her tale from that evening though, and she finishes with a flourish. “That was another thing too, even throughout his whole solo period, he really didn’t speak much of Duran, because it was still a little raw. I remember so much about that night at the Viper Room. The first thing I said to him, Bev brings me over, he’s sitting in a booth, she introduces me and he’s sitting over there with a cigarette.” Patty smiles at Lori.
Clearly we’ve reached a pinnacle here, because Lori excitedly interrupts, “Oh my God, remember that!?!”
Patty looks at me pointedly and continues, “The first fucking thing I say to him is, “You shouldn’t smoke that.”
I can’t help myself and I laugh, because really, that’s beautiful.
“And he said ‘I know, I know’, and he put it out. I mean come on!”, Patty grimaces and then laughs. It’s clear the memory still makes her cringe a bit and all I can think of is that nearly everyone I’ve ever met who has spoken to the band have had their cringe-worthy moments. They happen!
Lori recalls, “You hadn’t decided yet about moving, and I remember you were like ‘should I move to New York or LA?’ and of course I advocated for New York. But you know…when John Taylor wants to hire you I guess…”
Patty interrupts, “And that’s how that decision was made, that’s when things started to happen. It was New Years Eve, 1995, my brother-in-law and I drove out with my car and a U-Haul trailer.”
Once again I’m reminded that focusing on your passions, the things you love most, really can provide reward and success, and I say as much to Patty. She nods and responds, “I mean, when I was a teenager in high school, and it was the graphics that…a lot of musical artists, but you know, being a big Duran collector, the graphics…and Notorious was the first one again that really stuck with me. The whole campaign…on the tour, the t-shirts that they had…”
“Oh, those t-shirts were incredible. I think that’s why you identify with Skin Trade so much.”, Lori adds.
Patty agrees, “Perhaps so. It’s all one big package. My fantasy at the time was to work with Frank Olinsky from Manhattan Design. He did the MTV logo. My fantasy was working there with them. My other fantasy was heading the art department at Capitol Records. I used to sit at my dad’s office, at his desk and pretend like, (mocking herself and pretending to sit a desk barking orders) ‘Yeah, you know, get the artwork up!’ It was like you know…artwork and doing that which actually was a passion. I don’t remember wanting to do anything else.”
We continue chatting, discussing the reasons behind John’s solo career and the rewards in doing so.
Patty surmises, “…with John’s solo career, some people now are saying ‘I wish I knew about that then’…because the internet wasn’t how it is now then either. You know, with the internet – if it was the way it is now back then, the plethora of websites and message boards and such, you know then I think it would have been different. It was just meant to go the way it did.”
Patty concludes by saying something that I believe will strike a chord (so to speak) with every fan: (It was) “Something he needed to do so that he could go back to the band.”
All of this memory recall gets them thinking about their friendship.
Lori muses, “It’s funny to think that there was a time that we didn’t know each other.”
Patty agrees, “I know, I know because it feels like we’ve known each other forever. You know what I remember from that signing? (Referring to the album signing for Thank You) I had the Perfect Day single scratch and sniff, and they all signed it. I went down the line, and then I was talking to you, and actually, I also had t-shirts for the band because I had a t-shirt line.” Patty explains, “After I graduated college and I was still in Cleveland, a friend and I had a little t-shirt company…and I brought t-shirts for all the guys. I was giving them and getting different things signed, and I was talking to you (Lori), and I left, and completely forgot the single. The one that was signed by every one… remember I walked out on to the street and I saw you again and I was like,
‘Oh my God…I forgot the single!’ I have a feeling that you went up and got it.”
True friendship is all about the little things, like someone grabbing a forgotten CD when another is trying to keep the inner fangirl under control. It’s a finely tuned system, the friendship between Duranies. Patty and Lori’s friendship is nearly as long lived as the band’s career, which is the case for many Duranies out there. I’ve often wondered if the band really understands the friendships that have been made as a direct result of Duran Duran.
Lori seems to believe they do. She says, “Well, I always say, and I’ve talked to you about this (motioning to Patty), there was a time that I was waiting out somewhere for John. In London?…it was definitely in the early 90s, maybe I wasn’t even out of college yet, and John came out and we were talking, and he was like ‘Have you guys been here for a long time?’ he was concerned. I was with Eileen from Philadelphia and a couple of other girls and we’re like ‘No, we’re just hanging out talking…I haven’t seen this one in a year and that one in a few months, and so…’, and he was saying, ‘You know, Amanda (referring to his ex-wife Amanda DeCadenet) was worried that you guys had been out here a long time. I said to Amanda, don’t worry about it Amanda. It’s not all about me…they love hanging out with each other.’ And I thought that was the cutest thing, because that’s absolutely true. You know…there’s one side of it, which is them (Duran Duran), but then there’s the other side of it (that) the best friends I have in this whole world are because of Duran Duran. And my husband.”
The conversation then turns to the criticism the band (and others) receives from fans. I ask how Lori handled the fanzine criticism back in the day.
“Well, I had worked with Sassy as an intern, and Sassy had an ironic “Oh my God” voice, so I used that voice in the fanzine. So, most of the time it was very endearing toward the band. I remember a friend of mine wrote an article, a review of one of their shows and it wasn’t all that positive and we would get you know, mail about that. Lyndsay Parker, she’s a friend of mine, an editor at Yahoo! Music, wrote a book, a memoir about being a fan. She said the other night to me that she got a lot of flack from fans who, she said, you know, she’s a journalist and she said she was very honest about certain points in their career…she said…she was critical, but the point (is that) the book is called Careless Memories. You know, it’s called this because, she’s a fan. She wrote about them because she loves them. I don’t think she was overly critical. But then there are other people who are overly critical of the band, and to that I say, ‘Do you call yourself a fan?’ For instance, I was at SXSW a couple of months ago and we did an interview with Gary Numan. He said that you know, he finds it hard to go on Facebook and Twitter because there are (people that call themselves) fans that go on there and are like, ‘How come you didn’t play this?’ or, ‘I can’t believe you’re wearing that!’ or ‘Fix your hair like this.’ And he’s like ‘That’s not why I’m on here…if you guys want to engage with me, don’t criticize me to a point that it’s so picky.’ You know? So I think there’s a certain range. There are the people that will love them no matter what and never see the cracks in the pavement so to speak, and then there are those who are overly critical. I think I lie somewhere in the middle? But as I said, I don’t know where I was saying this or who I was talking to…here’s the thing about Duran Duran, there’s been things I loved, and there’s been things I didn’t love as much. But, I love that they take chances, and that they are major risk takers…”
Patty chimes in, “Well, and I think about all the critics in the past of the band. You can’t not acknowledge the fact that after thirty plus years, they’re still doing it. They’re still…and they’re doing it with grace, I think. Compared to certain other acts, I mean, you can’t deny that. They’re not just doing the hits. You can’t deny what they’ve done and what they’re still doing.”
Lori nods, adding “And remember, they’re very popular right now, they have kudos, the credibility and the gravitas, but they did not have that up until very recently and yet they still did what they wanted.”
And as for this next album, DD14?
Lori responds, “You know, after two years of working on this new record they’re finally jelling and you know what? Look at how amazing that is that they kept at it? Whereas like, they don’t HAVE to do this album. They could retire. They could come out every couple of years and do a hits tour, but the fact is that they’re still at it? That’s why they got into it in the first place. Because they love it.”
Patty is quick to give some insight, “…and again, I don’t think that it wasn’t that they weren’t happy with what they’d done, but as they keep evolving the project…they’re like they’re happy with this and then six months down the road they’ve done more and then like “This is so much better”. When they get something, they know it, and when Simon is really inspired the lyrics start popping.”
“Remember these aren’t guys”, Lori begins, “they’re not guys who are 19 or 20 that live in the same town now, John has to go over there for extended periods of time, they all have families, Roger has a young child…so…”
“They don’t have a label breathing down their neck, either”, reminds Patty.
So what is coming up next for these Duranies? I ask Lori about the possibility of doing a sequel to Mad World.
Lori chuckles, probably because she’s been asked about this a thousand times, and she begins, “I’m trying to relax and not think about that? You can’t help but not think about it, because everyone asks about that. But, I think it will organically evolve especially if we decide on which artists we want to do. I’m not sure if it will be exactly the same, but we hit upon a formula that’s pretty special. Fellow journalists have said to me that we weren’t very critical about it. You know, this is not like…Like Punk Never Happened, which happens to be one of my favorite books about the era. (In that book) They don’t let the artists speak at length, the journalists speak at length. We allowed the artists to do the bulk of each chapter, in their own voices, in their own words. And I think that is a formula that I’d like to stick with. Because look, it’s nice that people like our opinions but we keep them to a minimum. This is really about the artists. I’m not a critic. But I’m definitely a music journalist, an entertainment journalist, but I’m not a critic because I don’t really want to criticize. I found that a very uncomfortable part of the exercise whereas Jonathan, he’s definitely been a critic. He’s OK with that. Yeah, but me? I’m uncomfortable with that because I think as an editor and a journalist, we’re told to keep our opinions out of it. So when it came to writing this book, writing in first person, I was kind of, at points, actually really anxious. You remember this, Patty. I was really nervous about putting my opinions, thoughts and anecdotes in there because I was like, I’m not used to putting myself in the story. But it turns out, that’s what a lot of people are responding to because if you’re more of a critical type of person, you identify with Jonathan’s story. And I feel like, a lot of the American fans, the Duranies and the wide-eyed fans, they can see. You tweeted at me yesterday and said ‘I totally feel the same way’(when I said that looks are great but it’s about the music), and I said… ‘Yeah, and you know, when I say things, we have similar stories even if we grew up on different coasts.’ To that balance, if you just read the book and you only got Jonathan’s point of view, you would be turned off and if you read the book and only got my point of view, other, you know, it wouldn’t be a serious read.”
I ask about the dynamic between Jonathan and Lori, because in every great partnership, there is definitely a dynamic that evolves.
“Our dynamic is that”, Lori begins to chuckle as she answers, “is that he’s curmudgeonly and I’m wide-eyed, ‘Oh my God I love everything.’ I’m breathless, and he holds his breath. That’s completely how we are, and that’s how it works, but he’s even more excited about the next book than I am.”
During an interview I watched with Michael Des Barres, Jonathan characterized their dynamic as “She was backstage and I was out front”. I asked Lori how she felt about that.
Lori laughs, “He was sometimes not even out front. He doesn’t even like going to shows.” As we all laughed, Lori continued, “No, he freely admits that. He really loves the album cover, he loves the vinyl…well not always vinyl, just the music, the product. He is not about the live experience, he’s not about meeting the band. He doesn’t want any of that. Whereas me, I want it all. I want the 360 experience and you know, I really identify with…you know, wasn’t it John Taylor who said he didn’t ever want to buy a record by an ugly band? And he was of course joking but there’s something to be said about the fact that this era stimulated us. You know, by the sound of the music, by the looks, by the videos. It all came together and it was just like this chemical reaction. And look, Patty’s an artist for that reason. It wasn’t just, ‘Oh, he looks pretty.’ It’s the way they styled themselves, the way they took, they paid attention to every detail.”
Patty adds, “Down to the typeface.”
I comment that I really don’t know of a lot of bands that have ever paid such meticulous attention to the minute details.
Lori agrees, “Not a lot. Especially nowadays.”
“Particularly nowadays its so,” Patty tries to explain, “like a one-way street, like everything. Every female artist has the same picture close up face of theirs on the cover, with the same font, all beautifully airbrushed, gorgeous picture.”
Lori interjects, “Because you know, you worked on those records. Red Carpet Massacre, you know…you actually worked directly with the label and you know how little thought they would have put into the cover, and that’s why Duran had to work on it, because it really, you guys all brainstormed on it and you brought something beautiful to life rather than just ‘OK, here you go.’
“I remember because they had the label’s mock-ups and they were like “Oh my God, we need to do something”, Patty comments.
So I ask Patty about her future plans for Punkmaster and her freelance work. At the time, I didn’t know she still worked for Pam and Gela on a freelance basis, but she’s quick to bring me up to speed.
“They don’t do as many graphics as they did with Juicy – it’s two different companies – but they do some graphic tees. It’s more type-oriented, but I’ve been doing all of those for them, I’ve done some printing for them too, actually. I did some print runs of some of the shirts they’re selling in stores right now. No, in terms of work-wise, they’ve been very good to me. They’ve made a point to ask me if I wanted to work with them on this venture, you know it’s all free-lanced based, I’m not, you know, full time with them, they’re very small anyway. And even with their book I helped out. That was trickier, like, you know with John’s book I did the cover and that was again, that was one of those things where the publisher was going to do it and he was like, ‘No, I’m going to hire her’, it was good to pick whatever he wanted. With Pam and Gela the publishers had a little more control…I sent a bunch of ideas over and then the publisher just took that, and then the inside too, with the photo pages, I designed that. (As for Punkmasters) That has sort of been put on the backburner a little bit for the past two years. Yeah, because when I started with John’s book, that really took over a big portion of it, because it started as the cover and then it expanded to the whole inside. All the photos – you know I actually went through and pretty much picked the photos and then he came in and said, ‘Yeah, let’s do that’ and then we worked together on narrowing the photos down. That actually started as photos that were going throughout the chapters, not just one per chapter head, but then the publisher came back and cut that. So there was a little back and forth on that for a while, but then you know, it makes sense the way we were left with it. So that took a big chunk of the year and then we did the t-shirts, the nine shirts from that, so that was sort of like that year’s new t-shirt line because that was enough work in and of itself. Then I started getting more with Pam and Gela, and some freelance jobs here and there as well, some friends of some other musician friends, I did some album covers…So that just took up more of this last year. Then I got to the point this year where I’m like, OK, I think I’m going to…I need to put out a new line…so I feel like I’m kind of re-launching.
And what about Duran Duran? Is there more work ahead for Patty there too?
Patty smiles, “Oh yeah. And I have been…I still help them with that. Even since starting my t-shirt company I’ve still done…a lot of times Wendy will call me up and she’s like, ‘We need something for this’, or ‘We need the Magus logo redrawn’, …yeah I’ve done little things. Whatever comes up in the future, I’d be more than happy to help.”
Lori jumps in to remind Patty of the Mad World shirts she’s worked on.
“Yeah, so the one Mad World shirt that you saw that John (Lori’s husband John) in, we’ve got another one which is really fun actually”, mentions Patty.
“Bad. Ass.”, Lori announces.
Patty continues, “I don’t know if you remember the Punkmasters shirt, the Bach and Roll Suicide with the Bowie? I’ve actually got a few more in the same vein, and the one in particular is Mozart, but with the Adam Ant white strip and the little braids? Amadeus Ant? And that’s got the Mad World at the bottom, and when I launch the Punkmaster line we’ve got those two Mad World shirts, so kind of like when I collaborated with John for his book, these two shirts are for Mad World…they’re like a capsule collection, so that’ll come out with the new Punkmasters line.”
I look forward to seeing what comes next, and I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear from Lori or Patty!
Part of the reason I love blogging so much is that I don’t really follow rules. I’ve never taken a single journalism class in my life, so I don’t know enough to keep my own head out of the story. When I interview, I’m constantly interrupting and trying to have a real conversation. When I write, I openly say what I think, sometimes getting myself into real trouble. I break all of the rules, happily, blissfully unaware. So, as I end this post – I just want to say thank you to Lori and Patty. They took a couple hours out of their day to spend time with me talking about fandom, friendship and Duran Duran. I will be forever grateful to them – and that’s not just me playing a “kiss ass” Duranie, it’s really me saying thank you. I feel like I made new friends that day, which is the very best part about doing this blog and being a Duranie.
Welcome to week 5 of our latest book club! This time, we are tackling the book, Mad World, chapter by chapter, band by band. This week we are discussing the chapters on Dexys Midnight Runners, Bow Wow Wow and The Waitresses. We would love for you to read those chapters and jump in to discuss them with us!
Dexys Midnight Runners:
The chapter begins with a reminder that this band is really known for this one hit wonder, “Come On Eileen” despite the driven nature of the leader and the fact that there was a lot more to them than this one song. I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be to have had done a lot of work but only to be recognized for ONE song. ONE. Clearly, that frustration hasn’t stopped them for continuing forward and continuing to make music.
One of the thing that their story hit home for me was the strange juxtaposition being a pop or rock star must be. On one hand, Kevin Rowland, the leader, needed to make music and discussed how it felt it saved him. Otherwise, he would haven’t made it, he thinks. Like many artists, he needed to express himself. He needed to create. On the other hand, the business and promotion side of it was not something he enjoyed. He didn’t like the pressure and didn’t like the non-stop workload. Yet, it seems to me that to truly make it, one has to be both that artist, that creator and that salesman. That must be super tough.
Ok, so before I jump in – I’ll admit it, I only know them for “Come on Eileen”. It’s true, I suck for not finding more of their music, and I’m sort of sickened by myself this morning (as I was when I first read this chapter). Happy? Good.
One of the most poignant passages I read in this entire book came from this chapter though – and it was written by none other than Jonathan Bernstein. “There comes a time when you’re happy not to hear any new music from your idols, no matter how much time, love and money you’ve invested in them over the years. It’s not like tha tfor Dexys fans: We’re in it for life.” I think this holds true for many of the bands I once admired. The bands had run their course for me – and either I moved on, or the band moved on, and I was able to make peace with that. However, this passage certainly describes exactly how I feel about Duran Duran. No matter what kind of music they choose to explore next, no matter how much I may have not cared for one thing or another that they’ve done, I am always going to be ready for more. I enjoy the constant exploration and evolution of their career, and I completely respect what Jonathan meant.
For me personally, this song IS happiness. How can you not be joyful when you listen to the song? It’s upbeat – even if it changes timing several times throughout the song, and you can’t help but not sing along. I especially like the fact that they didn’t start out to write a song like that – I always hate reading things like that about bands I admire anyway. That whole “it was completely contrived” type of thing really annoys me, it’s the same thing as sitting down to write a hit song. So formulaic, and I really don’t want to believe that’s how the industry works – so to read that this song came about from hard work and just organically became what it is, well, I applaud that even IF we Americans never heard anything else from them on our radios.
I also have to say that reading Kevin Rowland’s account of what fame was like for him as “Come On Eileen” rose up the charts really made me think. He talks about how he’d get on a bus in Brum and the driver would want him to go back to the depot to meet his coworkers. He wouldn’t want to disappoint people, but it never stopped. I think that is why, as a fan, I think twice before approaching band members like that. I feel guilty in a lot of ways as a fan, because on one hand, of course I want to meet my idols – who wouldn’t?!? But on the other hand, aren’t they ever allowed to just BE? I see it happen often enough after shows and things, which perhaps that’s normal enough, but just on regular days? I don’t think I could handle it – I treasure my privacy.
As I admitted when I started writing, I only know them for “Come On Eileen”…but today that’s going to change. I’m going to check out One Day I’m Going To Soar. You know, it’s never to late to find something new, and there’s something very wrong about being that person who never bothered to even try as I’m sitting here writing a music blog. I find the division between what really interests listeners in the UK and Europe versus what gets attention here in America so striking. I can understand why Rowland might not hold his breath for one of their albums to do well here, but you never know.
Bow Wow Wow:
Malcolm McLaren is an incredibly fascinating character in music history with his role with the Sex Pistols, Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow. Clearly, he made his mark. My goodness, he kicked Adam Ant out of his own band and got a 13 year old to be lead singer of this band. A 13 year old! As someone who teaches kids that age, I can’t even wrap my head around that. Was this move all about getting outrage from the public? Was it all about getting attention through controversy? Nonetheless, I’m not surprised that this band did not last long, especially when it is based on the lead singer, Annabella Lwin’s youthfulness. You can’t stop aging and you can’t really control people, either.
Clearly, Malcolm had an ability to read that something wasn’t secure within Adam and the Ants. He was able to play on the worries band member, Leigh Gorman, had about getting fired and about how Adam wasn’t fitting with the music. It seems like he found a crack and exploited it to get the band to kick Adam out, from reading Leigh’s version of the story. As Rhonda mentioned last week, clearly, friendship and loyalty were not characteristics at the top of the list for some of these bands and band members. Like her, I have a hard time relating.
Malcolm’s formula for a successful band was “sex, style and subversion”. Bow Wow Wow fit that formula with things like album covers with Annabella naked next to her clothed bandmates. As a kid, when I heard this song, I had no idea her age. If I did, it wouldn’t have bothered me but as an adult, as a teacher, it definitely does. Thankfully, the guys in the band were decent guys but the fact that she was told not to talk much just adds to my discomfort. I’m well aware that art is supposed to make you uncomfortable, at times, and supposed to question what society finds unacceptable. Still…
Then, history repeated itself when the band went on to kick her out three years after she joined the band like what was done to Adam Ant. Sometimes, reading more about the band and the history behind the song makes me want to check out more or put them back in steady rotation. The exact opposite happened here for me.
There are two stories in this book that absolutely shocked me. This is one of them. (The other comes later)
Like most Americans of nearly ANY age – I’ve got this song in my music library. I loved it as a kid, I loved it as an adult. The group itself had music that made me want to dance, and made me think of summer for some reason. Maybe it was the guitar, because it’s very similar to the surf-style guitar that groups like The Beach Boys utilize. (If you know my name, you’ll recognize that yes – I was named after one of their songs. Isn’t that cute? No. No it is not. I pity the kids out there named Rio. I really do…but I digress.) Regardless, Bow Wow Wow occupy a happy, childlike place in my mind…and now I know why! It just never occurred to me that when I first heard this song in 1982 that the lead singer and I were probably only months apart in age. Except she was naked on the cover of a record album and I wasn’t even allowed to wear miniskirts above my knee…
When I read this chapter, the last person I really had any respect for was Malcolm McLaren. As in, I really had none. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize talent. I know the Sex Pistols and I don’t take that away from him. I also recognize exploitation when I see it. I know Jonathan called him Nostradamus, and I have difficulty with that. The logical, sensible part of me agrees – exploitation is what this business is all about, of course. But, that pesky human side desperately wants to believe that it’s not all so damn contrived and planned all the time. I hate the fact that he (McLaren) brought this young, young girl into this band clearly to create a stir. I’m shocked as a parent that no one stopped them from putting her on a picnic blanket completely naked next to her bandmates (who were dressed, of course). I see the implications that she was young and innocent (the nakedness serving as a sort of nod to a savage young woman being tamed into society by the knowing men, which in turn is exactly the idea behind the painting from which the album cover was based upon -“Le déjeneur sur l’herbe” by Manet. ), and while I know it was a different time… the very point WAS to shock.
It’s just so clear that McLaren really wanted Annabella Lwin there purely for shock value, and once he was finished with her – he did with her as he’d done with Adam (Ant) and fired her. It’s such a throw-away industry, full of use and abuse. It’s any wonder that so many of these bands are even still looking at one another, much less continuing to create music. How can they all look at themselves in the mirror each day? It makes me wonder as a fan just how many souls are truly left in music, or if they’ve ALL been sold just to make a buck.
The introduction to this chapter discusses the record label, ZE Records, and how it was super fashionable and that many still love their catalog. Before, I even dive into the story of this song, I feel a bit of sadness by the loss of a bygone era, when record labels could be cool and could represent a sound, a musical meeting of the minds. We certainly don’t have that anymore.
The story behind the song, “I Know What Boys Like”, reminds me of the first version of Duran’s “Girls on Film”. Apparently, rejection weighs heavily on young men’s minds in that multiple people would feel it necessary to express something about how girls didn’t seem interested in them. In this case, Chris Butler used his wonderings about why the women in his local bar were not interested in going home with him. “Girls on Film” originally discussed how women in pictures were so unattainable. Of course, here, Chris Butler ended up getting a female, Patty Donahue, to sing the lyrics and express the idea of toying with men only to reject them in the end. Yet, they weren’t a band yet as Chris had to scramble to get one together after a DJ heard the song and played it for Island Records.
I suspect that part of the reason that the song captured the attention of the public is because men and women are constantly trying to understand each other in order to take part in the dating world. That theme is a timeless one, for sure.
I agree with Amanda regarding record companies. I do miss the days when they weren’t so incredibly corporate and you’d have maverick companies like ZE that actually produced things of interest. Nowadays we have to rely on true indie bands to do that – and they’re tough to find.
This song, “I Know What Boys Like” was one of my favorites back in the day. I am honestly not even sure I completely understood what it meant when I’d listen and giggle along with my friends…I just knew I liked that the woman had the upper hand for a change. (Listen, I was in junior high at the time. My hair had more frizz than Brillo, I was awkward and played the clarinet of all things. I liked the singer’s attitude, but I can assure you – I had NO idea what boys liked back then, except that it certainly wasn’t me.) As bitter as Chris Butler might have been towards women – well, I was that way towards the 13 and 14 year old boys at my school that never even noticed me standing against the wall at school dances. So this song came to mean something to me – it was as though this singer was the girl I wanted to be in my dreams. Ha! I’m still not like that!! It amuses the hell out of me that Butler wanted to know the enemy – because in my head, it’s always been the guy that was the “enemy”, so to speak.
What is usually very sobering to me, are the “That Was Then, This is Now” sections in the book. I can’t help but be surprised, if not quite flabbergasted, and certainly a bit sad by the fact that even with a song like this – one that has been covered and has lasted over the years, that Chris Butler is NOT driving that Maserati. It’s the truth of the music business, I suppose. Most never really become millionaires, most never live the life that Duran Duran portrays in their videos (or even in their real lives). We (well…*I*) always think that with a single song like this, it’s instant riches, and that’s just not the case much of the time. The real reward comes from seeing the place the song takes in music or pop culture history, I suppose….but it really bugs the hell out of me that someone like Chris Butler can’t send his kid to Harvard, and yet we’ve got Justin Bieber living like a king. There’s just something wrong with that picture (for me).
Join us next week as we tackle The Normal, Kajagoogoo, and Thomas Dolby!
We are continuing on with our weekly book club, in which we discuss each and every chapter of the book, Mad World, one by one. This is week 4 and this week we are discussing Spandau Ballet, The Human League and Heaven 17. We invite you to read those chapters and then come discuss with us!
Isn’t one of the rules of being a Duranie that you are supposed to hate Spandau? I learned early on that they were rivals, that they were fighting to be the top UK band. Heck, they even fought in battle on the TV show, Pop Quiz. Thus, I will wholeheartedly admit that I doubt I ever gave Spandau the chance that any band deserves. I looked forward to reading this chapter so it would give me a different look at this band, from a Duranie, but not only a Duranie perspective. Then, I read the introduction and learned how the name was a term Nazis used, but they didn’t know it at the time. I have to look past that and the rivalry.
I adored the story that Gary Kemp told about the club scene in 1978, in which kids would dress up and go to watch each other. There wasn’t a band that glued the scene together but they felt that there should be. They would be that band. As someone who has spent a bit of time in clubs with a similar feel, I related instantly. Then, I read that others at the club also had creative ambitions and I am once again reminded about how creative this time period was.
Another theme I keep running into over and over again is the idea that these songs, these important songs were not written to be singles as they did not fit hit singles formulas. We talked about how “Cars” by Gary Numan didn’t fit the single mold and neither did New Order’s “Blue Monday”. Now, Spandau’s song, “True,” could be added to the list with its Al Green and Motown influence, its length and its placement at the end of the album. Clearly, the formula for a hit song did not always matter.
One of the things mentioned in this chapter is how Spandau did not do as well in the States as they did in Europe. Gary Kemp blamed it on the record company there that, according to him, “made a lot of mistakes”. Tony Hadley, on the other hand, mentioned that the name was problematic with the Jewish community in the States. He also didn’t think that “True” was representative of their work. So, let me ask all of you this. Could they have been bigger in the States with a different record company and name? Based on the time period and their style, I have to say that I think they could have been.
One thing you’ll quickly learn about me in this post is that I don’t follow the rules very well. I loved Spandau Ballet, and have most of their albums. It never occurred to me until AFTER the DD reunion (from reading about the rivalry online) that I wasn’t supposed to like them, and by that time – I just didn’t care. The funny thing is that I never really put Duran Duran and Spandau in the same musical “camp”, so to speak, other than recognizing that both bands were from the UK. All I really knew was that I liked their sound, and they dressed nicely. (Funny words coming from someone who relishes her jeans and t-shirts!) Admittedly, I didn’t know that Spandau had other albums before True until later on…but I’m thankful that I bothered to look at all, and if you know the band solely from True, it’s really time to expose yourself to some of their other music, because I think you’ll be shocked!
Gary Kemp mentions their mystique, by saying that no record company had seen them, and that record companies weren’t even allowed into their gigs. They had a documentary that Janet Street-Porter had filmed, and that was what record companies could view and decide if they were interested in the band. He compares that to YouTube today, and how no band really has that same mystique because anyone can film you and put that video up on YouTube for all to see. It certainly does remove some of the curiosity factor, and I still say that media of all types today is meant for quick consumption. Get it, absorb it, and move on to the next greatest thing. It will be interesting to see just how much of today’s music, today’s media, will really have a lasting effect in the same way that our music did for us.
What drew me to Spandau Ballet is that their sound was really quite different from anything else of that period. The band embraces that, as Gary mentions, “Spandau has two things that make us sound like no other band: Tony’s unique and powerful voice and Steve Norman’s amazing saxophone that we always like to include. It’s the sound of our soul, if you like.” I completely agree with him – just as you can’t find anyone else that can harmonize like Simon; I don’t think you can copy Tony Hadley, or find anyone that plays like Steve. The uniqueness of the bands during this period are what still keep them alive today. There was never a real “formula” that any of these bands followed – and I think that is what kept it all feeling fresh and new for me. It’s also where I cultivated my strong dislike of what I call the “Top 10 Hit Formula” that certain producers seem to really hang their hat on these days. I’m sure it existed back then as well, I just didn’t pay it (Top 40 radio) much attention.
Having now read Mad World completely through twice, one of the saddest things to read in nearly every single chapter (for me) is the “That Was Then, This is Now” section. There seems to always be a tinge of wistfulness, perhaps sadness, and sometimes even a bit of lingering anger depending upon the band in question, and for me – Miss 80s Music Fan – it’s heartbreaking. Maybe it’s just the idea of looking back on the full experience that sparks emotion for me, I’m not sure. Tony Hadley says something that I still find myself thinking about and considering as I sit to write this book discussion, “But we’re still old friends, which is great. We can all go and have a pint and a meal, and we’d all laugh and joke and tell stories. But it’s not the same, and it never will be.”
When I think about that, I can’t really argue with Tony Hadley. Life experience changes your perspective, and things must have certainly changed since the 80s. When you reunite, I would imagine you come back to that proverbial table with all of that baggage, along with anything else you’re still dragging along for the ride. It can’t ever be exactly the same, but is it enough to build upon? That would be my question.
The Human League:
Right away, we learn that this chapter is going to be different. Phil Oakey, the singer, refused to meet with the authors. I so wonder why. Perhaps, he will think differently now that the book has been published.
I like how Lori Majewski, one of the authors, points out that nowadays it is obvious what songs are about, but then, songs made the listeners work for it. I agree and I loved working for it. I still do. I love trying to figure out what a song is about, which is probably one of the reasons I love Duran songs so much. They aren’t obvious, even when they appear to be so. It seems that Phil Oakey, himself, was like this, too, according to Martyn Ware who described him as “otherworldly” while being the “best chum” and “aloof” at the same time. Now, I’m even more fascinated by him and his decision not to talk to the authors.
Likewise, I found their approach to lyrics so interesting. The fact that they banned words like love, which led to topics like philosophy and science fiction. It sure seemed like a way to push them past the usual.
I really don’t understand why a musician wouldn’t want their story to be included in this book, unless they just didn’t understand what was being done. Sometimes I think that these musicians…INCLUDING my ever-favorite Duran Duran, just don’t get it, which is at least partially why this blog even exists. They don’t understand, and maybe sometimes they don’t/can’t care, that their music has resonated with fans so much that for many of us – their songs are as much a part of who we’ve become as people as say, our hometown, our high school, and the friendships we’ve made along the way. No matter…I wish Phil Oakey had participated, because his music and his voice made a difference in my youth.
That said, I love that Jonathan and Lori chose to include “Being Boiled”, because it is a great song – it’s dark and obscure, brooding and hypnotic. The more I hear early New Wave, the more I know that is where my musical soul lives and breathes. Just as Lori said – I adore that unless you really sit down and pay attention, you’re likely to have no idea what the song is about. I appreciate that the song lyrics weren’t so watered down and obvious back then. I think that nowadays (not to sound so “Get off my lawn, kids!”, but seriously…) everything is so dumbed down, so EASY, the public gets so bored. They’re not even given a chance to prove they’ve got brainpower in there somewhere.
Martyn Ware explains the real gist of Human League, and I find it to be the case for many (if not all) of the bands I adore from this period. “Right from the start, we wanted people who listened to us to regard it as entering into our world, where we could, over a period of time, flesh it out with our artistic content. So it’s not just about music. It’s about lyrical content, it’s about the kind of films you watch, it’s about the kind of novels you read, it’s about the kind of visual art you like. It all fed back into a worldview.” I don’t think that it’s necessarily a surprise to find that when I’m with fellow fans – Duran fans for instance, there are more than a few of us that like the same sort of books, or the same sort of art. So many of these bands intertwined their visual presence with their musical presence. I always say the music of this period is three dimensional in a way that you just will not ever find again, and it’s precisely due to the reasons that Martyn Ware states.
The story about how the manager of Human League worked to kick Martyn Ware out of the band was pretty shocking and sad. I wonder what the manager, Bob Mast, would say about it. Did he really think that Phil could be a solo singer? Did he think he would be better off without Martyn? This story makes me sad since Martyn and Phil were such close friends. Yet, obviously, he didn’t let stop him as he got a new singer within just a couple of days. That’s impressive. I wonder how many people could bounce back from being kicked out of their band and losing their best friend at the same time.
One thing that Heaven 17’s story highlights for me is the use of sides back in the era of albums. The one side, Pavement, had songs written still as Human League and were more electronic and the other side, Penthouse, wasn’t. I miss the album. I do. Even if I put a whole album on, unless it is vinyl, it isn’t the same as have an A side and a B side where bands could do exactly what Heaven 17 did here.
One thing about Heaven 17 that I was surprised by was that they didn’t tour and instead focused their money on videos. I do love that they ended up touring with Human League in 2008. That seems fitting.
I definitely prefer vinyl to digital. It’s not even a contest…vinyl has a warmth to it that just cannot be translated to digital, never mind the more obvious fact that I miss having two sides to an album. Maybe I’m just stuck in the 80s, in which case, that’s fine too.
I am one of those people in the world that lets friend loyalty dictate certain things. I would never, for instance, even remotely entertain the idea of ditching a friend so that I could move up the business ladder. That’s probably why I’m going to stay a blogger forevermore, so that I don’t HAVE to deal with office politics, and that’s just fine by me. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be kicked out of a band by a best friend…but yet this sort of backstabbing seemed to happen a lot back then. It’s all about success and what you’re willing to do to get there. (My question remains whether any of these bands really know when they’ve gotten that success and whether they really ever enjoyed it once they were there – it all seems to be something people only see in hindsight!)
I liked Heaven 17 fine, and “Temptation” is probably their most recognizable song, but they weren’t on my short list. For me, the big story here is how they were freed from the self-defined shackles of Human League in order to explore other influences. I liked that they weren’t into the “fame” side of things: they viewed themselves as “valued artists and musicians”. The fact that they had a hard time breaking America because they wouldn’t tour with Coors is interesting. I wonder how many American bands would have sold their souls to be on that tour? That’s one thing I find fascinating with many of the UK bands of this period: they stuck to their ideals.
They toured again with Human League in 2008, and Ware says something that I believe is a common thread among nearly every band of this period, “We’re mates now, but I wouldn’t say there’s been closure.” I swear I’ve read similar tales from every band in Mad World. Maybe it is partially the British culture – maybe it’s easier just to sweep it all under the rug?
Have something to add? Comment below!!
Join us next week as we discuss Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Bow Wow Wow and The Waitresses!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
An outspoken examination and celebration of fandom!