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!
-A & R