How important is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame anyway?
As I read through this year’s list of nominees, this question swirled in my head. Sure, Chic is on the list. Again. For the 11th time, they appear on the list. Then there’s Depeche Mode, Yes, Janet Jackson, The Cars…..Tupac Shakur, Pearl Jam, Chaka Khan, ELO (Electric Light Orchestra), Journey, The Zombies, Bad Brains, J. Geils Band, Joan Baez, Kraftwerk, MC5, Joe Tex, and Steppenwolf. I think I’ve gotten them all.
It seems like every single year I write something about the Hall of Fame. Quite frankly, I detest it. I dislike it to the point where it really isn’t worth my time—yet here I am, writing about it again.
It seems to me that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the one accolade everyone loves to hate. The process, in my mind, is absurd. The nominating committee of the RRHOF Foundation gets together and comes up with a list of nominees. The list is publicized, and then some 600-historians and members of the music industry vote upon the all-powerful although in the past few years (since 2012) they’ve bestowed that same glorious right to vote upon the public, so our collective opinion is also taken into account. The top five vote- getters are then inducted.
First of all, the nominees, or at least a reasonable percentage of them—are questionable. I could sit and name names, but the reality is, those that I may find odd are the same bands and artists that someone else probably sees as shoe-ins. So, I’m just going to leave it that I find a lot of the nominees to be questionable, and the inductees typically make me roll my eyes.
Secondly, Chic has been nominated ELEVEN DAMN TIMES. Come on now. That alone tells me something is screwy about the process. Yes, Chic is disco. Yes, Americans (in particular) have forgotten just how much disco-elements we use in our music even today. Even so, eleven times? Unbelievable.
Thirdly, I’d argue that outside of the US, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame means nothing. Just yesterday, one of my friends commented that they never hear about the RRHOF, and they live in the UK. I have no doubt that’s true. Many (including myself) say that the heart of the music industry is here in America, which is probably why the Hall of Fame works here – but the rest of the world doesn’t care. I can’t blame them, because really, is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that important anyway?
I doubt it. Each year when Nile, as the sole surviving member of Chic is nominated, he graciously tweets something about being happy to be on that list, but he also mentions how many times he’s been on it. In my head, it’s becoming a terrible joke. What makes him any less deserving than Green Day—a band that has been around for a fraction of the time—but was inducted in 2015, the very FIRST year they were even eligible? Absolutely nothing but votes.
Who votes? Who decides? The RRHOF description of their voters is remarkably vague. “some 600 historians and members of the music industry, including those who have previously been inducted.” Then there’s the public, of course. Fans are going to vote for their favorites regardless of whether they’re the most deserving. In the same way I voted umpteen times for Duran Duran to win the MTV EMA this year or “Best World Stage” without watching the other nominees to see if their performance really was the best, fans are going to get out the vote for their favorite, and I can’t blame them. But, that does not equate (in my mind) to being deserving of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Ultimately what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame comes down to is a glorified popularity contest. The only people I ever see commenting on its importance are those who make a living commenting on such things (the aforementioned music historians), those who have been inducted, or perhaps fans. As many Duranies mention, in any interview where the band has been asked, they carefully word their answer about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The band recognizes that the process is entirely political and not at all indicative of any success the band may have had, their continued relevance, or inspiration they may have given to other bands along the way. It is difficult for me to argue the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in any other light, because I too, see the nominating process and the joke it has become.
Each year I read the list of names, and while of course, there are several on there that should and deserve to be there, there are just as many that I seriously question. Even bands I adore, like Depeche Mode or The Cars, I really have to wonder about. What makes them any more deserving?
Most awards come down to popularity. I’m well-aware that the MTV EMA’s are also awarded based on vote. Is it any different? In some respects, yes I think it is. The EMA’s are not trying to decide the most important acts of our time based on the previous twenty-five years (or more) of work. They reflect a single year, and in many aspects they reflect a single song and how it was received by the public.
Ultimately, this post isn’t going to convince anyone of anything. It’s simply a conversation starter in the same way that morning talk shows might spark discussion. Speaking of which, in case you haven’t heard, Lori Majewski (author of Mad World and fellow Duranie who once was the editor of her own fanzine named Too Much Information: the Definitive Duranzine ) along with co-host Nik Carter have their own brand new music talk show called Feedback on Sirius Channel VOLUME. It airs 7-10 AM EST live in all time zones and then repeats as soon as it ends, and is also available on demand. We wish Lori the very best!
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.
Simon talks Hunger Games and Charli XCX with Lori Majewski
If you haven’t caught the Yahoo! music news article written by none other than Mad World author and fellow Duran Duran fan Lori Majewski – you really should.
Personally, I’m looking forward to getting the song. It’s the first time in recent years that I am going to brag to my oldest that she likes an artist (Charli XCX) that collaborated with someone from MY main musical interest. Oh yes, I plan to buy that song and play it non-stop. I’m looking forward to hearing what Simon describes as dark lyrically and the nursery-rhyme melody. Sounds like a perfect fit for me!
The soundtrack is out on November 17th…just a mere 13 days away now. New music, here we come!
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!!
Happy Monday, everyone! We hope that everyone enjoyed their weekend and had a chance to read the next three chapters in Mad World, in order to join in on our discussion! This week, we are reading and talking about Tears for Fears, OMD and Ultravox!
Tears for Fears
Whenever I read these chapters, I find myself wanting to comment on about 10-15 things and then having to pick a few. This chapter, though, was worse than normal. My list is even longer. Do I discuss the origin of the name? How the recording industry was clearly different than it is today? The fans they appealed to? Something else? The two things that really stood out for me over all else are their relationship and some of the decisions that they made in their career.
As someone who is half of a duo (a writing, researching and event planning duo, in our case), I found their relationship to be fascinating. I thought it was interesting that in the UK, everyone assumed that Curt was the frontman and Roland was the studio guy. Yet, that shifted once “Shout” was released and became popular in the States. Then, everyone, at least in America, assumed that they were co-frontmen. I assumed that. I guess I never looked into the band members to find out what the real story was. Yet, I found it interesting that they didn’t really say which way it REALLY was. Were they equals? Was one more significant in one setting or another?
Clearly, their relationship was a significant one. Roland points out that he had to end that relationship before he was able to have kids. I can get that. A band like theirs required significant time, energy and commitment in order to be successful so I’m sure that it did take up a lot of their emotional lives. Yet, Curt also points out that it was the balance between them that formed the sound. I think balance is significant in any band or committee or duo.
The other aspect of this chapter that really caught my attention was how they questioned decisions they made in their careers. Some examples include touring as long as they did in between albums and changing their sound so dramatically between albums. I get this. I question my decisions at work, all the time, too. I would do it even more, if I had a career that had very obvious measures of success like being in a band. I wonder if the real issue isn’t that they made the wrong choices but that they second guess those decisions.
In the interest of full disclosure, Tears for Fears are easily one of my most favorite bands of all-time, New Wave or not. So I’m biased. Extremely biased. The difference between TFF and DD for me (aside from the fact that I tend to like bands that I can shorten to an abbreviation, apparently) is that with Duran Duran, I loved their music AND wanted to marry Roger Taylor. With TFF, I was all-business. I loved their music. It completely consumed me and I, it. To this day, when someone asks me what my favorite album of all-time might be, I have a difficult time choosing between The Hurting and Songs from the Big Chair. I know, I know – what happened to Duran Duran? I love every single part of Duran Duran – even those RCM moments, because it’s part of their narrative, which in turn feels like my own after all this time…but when it comes down to just the music and how it touches my heart and mind, I have to give it to TFF. (The trouble is, for me it really isn’t ever just about the music. I need it all.)
So, even as that sort of fan, I had no idea what their name was really about. I just knew that my father continually messed it up until the day he stopped speaking, calling it Tear of Fear or Fears of Tear…he just couldn’t get it, and I didn’t really know what it meant at all, so to read that it’s about Arthur Janov’s primal therapy made all sorts of sense to me and connected the dots even further. You’d think I had a really tough early childhood and that’s why this music hits me so strongly – and you’d be right.
I love Mad World and all of the incarnations and evolutions it’s had since it’s release. It’s a song that, upon my very first listen, burnt itself straight to my core, and yes – that line “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I ever had” strikes the right chord within. I had no idea that it went right to Janov’s primal scream theory, as Roland Orzabal describes in the chapter. Another tidbit I learned was that Janov’s theories go along with the tabula rasa theory – “that we’re born, then life etches our character through experiences, both good and bad. So that’s what Curt and I believed at the time. We both felt that the child was sacred, especially the child that was suffering, hence the curled-up little child on the front of The Hurting.” (247) I know that they’ve both changed their opinions on that since having children themselves – but having gone through a very traumatic few years beginning at the age of about 4 myself, I’ve often wondered how I might have turned out without that period in my life…besides,I really can’t fault a theory or two that had to do with their songwriting on The Hurting. If it wasn’t therapeutic for Smith and Orzabal – it was for me.
It’s very clear, when you read the references to Everybody Wants to Rule the World, that Curt Smith doesn’t have a lot of use for A&R people. (A career path I’m thankful I did not choose…) I definitely see his point. Arguing over a song’s length by five seconds seems pointless. Oddly, this song was my dad’s favorite – which is why I mention him here. He insisted that it be played to “see him out” the day of his memorial. He would play this song every.single.time. we traveled in his beloved motor home. I highly doubt he knew or even cared what the song was about (I am almost positive he didn’t know a single word, only the melody), but it was his jam. God love him. 🙂 I still can’t really listen to the entire song, but you know he’s probably still nodding his head and rocking to it the way only a dad can somewhere.
It nearly broke my heart when Curt left Roland and Tears for Fears behind, and I often wondered if I’d see the day that they would perform again. Thankfully, not only did I get to see them, but I called my dad at the appropriate moment in the show and had him listen to his favorite. It’s a fond, fond memory for me. I can certainly understand the reasons why Curt left, though. I think being in a band like this can really be all-consuming and it seems as though you can completely lose yourself within. Even so, Curt said it best, “…it’s the balance of the two of us that brings out the sound that is Tears for Fears.” Exactly.
If you follow Curt Smith on Twitter – you find that he doesn’t pull any punches. He believes what he believes, and he doesn’t put up with any BS from fans. He also doesn’t really give a crap what fans might think of his beliefs – and while I don’t always agree, I have to give him credit. He stands with conviction. This has come up several times, once recently when Lorde did a cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. Her version is haunting, almost scarily angry compared to the original. I liked it because it was so different. People came at him from all sides, commenting on how horrible it was, how Lorde destroyed it, and so forth. (sound familiar, Duran Duran fans??) His response was very similar to what he says here in the book. “I hear people saying, ‘Music’s not what it used to be,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah it is. Don’t you remember back then?’ The majority of the stuff we listened to sucked. What you take with you is the really good stuff.”
I’m glad I’ve taken Tears for Fears with me for the ride.
As I read this chapter on OMD, I’m completely reminded of youth and adolescent arrogance. Clearly, the members of OMD had definite ideas about their “art project”, including what were acceptable ideas to write about or not to write about. Even when they describe the shift that took place from writing very unconventional songs to conventional songs, there is this underlining current of judgement against the more commercial, more American songs versus the less commercial, more European ones. This rigid thinking reminds me of myself as an adolescent along with so many of my teenage students.
Now, all of that said, I don’t know that they were wrong to think this way. Clearly, they didn’t want to be like everyone else. They didn’t want to conform to what was common. Obviously, they felt like outsiders. Then, they experienced success. How lucky were they that they were able to meet Tony Wilson who went on to start Factory Records? Then, to have John Peel play their single, which led to be a long term album deal. Their beliefs, whether led by adolescent arrogance or not, were reinforced, for sure. Beyond that, many would say that those more unconventional songs are the better songs.
On a completely different note, one thing that caught my attention in this chapter was the mention of how they were considered “alternative” in the US before “If You Leave” hit and what that term meant. Alternative meant that a band, an artist would be off the radar. That same band/artist could be selling a lot of albums. When I discovered alternative, I thought I had found home. I didn’t want to be one of the masses at that point. I wanted to embrace the different, the unusual, the creative. That said, I still don’t understand why one band ended up mainstream and why another ended up alternative.
When I think of OMD, the first songs to come to mind are “Tesla Girl” and “Locomotion”, which means I came in during the Junk Culture album. However, immediately following my “find” of that album…I discovered “Enola Gay” and “Red Frame White Light”, and that was before the movie Pretty in Pink came along for me. I almost never think of “If You Leave” (probably because it was overplayed to the point of ruin). It’s a great song, don’t get me wrong – but I was one of those kids that (aside from Duran Duran because damn it, I found them first!) hated following the crowd. Everyone loved “If You Leave”, so that’s where I took a sharp U-turn.
Even so, one simply didn’t grow up in the 80s without hearing the song. 5 million times. I love that they created something so quickly, and obviously so easily. (and now I know why no one is dancing to the right beat at the end of the movie – something that has bothered me FOR YEARS. No, I wasn’t a romantic back then I guess!)
I always loved their name – it sounded so cool, until my mother gasped and said “Do you know what that name really MEANS, Rhonda Lynn.” (she used this voice a lot back in the 80s. I particularly remember it being used when we viewed Girls on Film one night, together as a family right after I got the videotape after it had been on backorder for three months. Great night. Good times.”) I didn’t care what it MEANT. I just knew it sounded really cool and sophisticated. Isn’t that the way it is with kids?!?
I could go on about their history and what they’re doing now…but there’s one passage in this chapter that I found intriguing that I’ll share here. “…Because some of our contemporaries, their management tell them they need to release a new record because they need a name for their new tour, they can’t just play the hits again. I’ll mention no names, but there are a lot of bands who make records who shouldn’t be allowed to – they don’t have anything left to say, they’re just addicted to the lifestyle and they can’t stop.” (265)
I really don’t know for sure about whom Andy McCluskey is referring. My feeling about this is that who is to say when enough is enough? Just because one person may not feel a band hasn’t anything left to say doesn’t mean that the band feels that way as well. I’m sure what he says is true and that it happens a lot. I’m just happy that I’m a fan who doesn’t really know that side of it. The bands I know and love most have plenty left in them with nothing to prove: they’ve already succeeded and they could live off of their earnings without a problem…but they keep going, and that should be applauded and supported, not judged.
What to hear something sad? My first memory of this song wasn’t the song at all but the video. Why? I had to see it. After all, it was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who, of course, is famous for directing all those Duran videos. Anyway, I’m thankful that it did push me to seek out the song.
As I read about the idea behind the song with how a boy meets a girl and there a wonderful feeling, but as soon as they leave, the feeling goes away. This completely reminds me of the movie, “Before Sunrise,” in which the two characters meet, hang out in the city of Vienna (of all places), and fall in love. Will that love remain after they separate? We don’t know, at least, until the sequel.
Despite, or in addition to, the movie reminders, I love two other things about the making of this song. I love that all members contributed equally. There is always something special when that happens. I also love that the crowd showed how awesome the song was when they played it live. It is hard to deny fan feelings, which proved that the record label was wrong about what kind of edit it needed.
Finally, like Rhonda below, I totally concurred with the statements made about how music was everything in the 1980s. The description of the person saving money to buy an album, showing off that album and then playing it over and over. I think it is safe to say that I could completely relate. I am sad that my nieces and other kids of this generation won’t experience the same thing.
Vienna is one of the most gorgeous songs I’ve ever listened and I still don’t understand why it never quite made it to #1. Yes, this was the year John Lennon was shot…so there’s that. This is why I can’t be in music…I’d lose my mind over things like that. Vienna is stunningly beautiful and romantic in a way that not even Duran Duran could do at the time. (sorry guys) That piano. Those vocals. Besides, Midge Ure.
This is one time that the label got it right. They could have easily destroyed this song by editing it down to the three-minute single, but after arguing about it for six months, they put it out as is and it worked. Sure, it didn’t hit number one, but as Midge Ure mentions, it sat at #2 for five weeks and outsold both John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” and Joe Dolce’s “Shaddup You Face” (Midge Ure thinks that the song only sold in England, but no…we heard it plenty here too). Ultravox wins!
Midge Ure says something that sums up my entire childhood in the 80s,”[The eighties] was a very different planet. It was a planet where people cared about music. Music was a be-all and end-all to young people. It was our lifeblood. You waited for the next album you were into, you saved up your pennies and you waved it around proudly when you bought, and you played it to death.” This is so true. I still miss those times, because music still very much matters to me. It’s become a bit of a throw-away society now, with each day bringing in the new and throwing out the old with the trash. Nothing matters for very long, which is sad, really.
Join us next week as we tear apart INXS, Thompson Twins and Simple Minds!
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!!
Week 6 of our latest book club is here! We are moving along in the book, Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s. This week, we tackle the following chapters and artists: The Normal, Kajagoogoo and Thomas Dolby! Read those chapters and share your thoughts with us!
I have adored this song for quite awhile now. Maybe it is when it was featured on Only After Dark, a compilation by Nick Rhodes and John Taylor that came out in 2006. Maybe, it was when I realized the connection between this song and bands like Depeche Mode. I suspect, though, that the liking of this song became stronger after seeing Duran include it in their electro set on Broadway in November 2007. I remember how the audience seemed perplexed, at first, then seemed to grasp the coolness. Here is a clip of that:
Right away, author, Jonathan Bernstein, sums up what made this track so cool, so unusual and so important, the machines and Daniel Miller’s “detached delivery”. Exactly. I hear so much of that machinery in music that followed. Likewise, that detached delivery can be heard in many, many songs to follow. It along with other songs like it definitely was a trend setter and would work to change music.
Daniel Miller talked a lot about electronic music and synthesizers in this chapter. One idea that really grabbed my attention is how electronic music was pure punk with the do-it-yourself attitude. He differentiates this with punk rock, which has a similar philosophy but, obviously, sounds differently. I can definitely see his point. Anyone can pick up a synthesizer and play with various sounds without any training needed. There is no need for expensive lessons. Then, of course, he worked to spread that electronic music by starting Mute Records and helping others express themselves through that electronic music.
So the reality is that for a good many years, I danced to this, well perhaps dance is the wrong word…but I was out on that floor and surely I did something akin to bobbing around, for many years before I really knew what the song was or who it was by. It was an anthem of sorts, and anyone who was anyone in the club I went to (Fashions – Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Beach, CA. If there had been a frequent club-goer card, mine would have been gold. Or black. Probably black.) put their drink down, stubbed out the last of the clove cigarette they had in hand, and got out on that floor. Lori Majewski said it best. “…it was our new wave rave’s version of Kool and the Gang’s ‘Celebration’, inviting even those not outfitted in skin-tight PVC to join…the car crash set.” (page 132) Perfect.
I particularly liked reading that Daniel Miller didn’t enjoy Anglo-American music, because that’s really how I felt as a teenager. 99% of the music I loved most was from the UK or elsewhere in Europe, and the more obscure the better. Granted, he’d already rejected most of it by 1970 – the year I was born – but hey, I’m finding out that I wasn’t really quite as alone as I may have thought. Thank goodness for New Wave. I’ll go to my grave saying that. It kept me alive through some of the darker periods of my teen years.
I went around for years saying that I really didn’t like electronica. I hated beat-boxes and a lot of the synthetic, heartless feeling that went into a lot of “today’s” music…specifically the crap (including auto-tune) that you find on a top 40 station. That’s totally unfair of me though, because you don’t have to look very long to find music in my collection that fits that label. I think my problem with a lot of the electronic music out there is that for all the creativity allowed through that medium – a lot of it sounds ridiculously familiar. Not so with New Wave, and certainly not with “Warm Leatherette”. I loved the detached delivery, and a lot of my favorite songs that followed had that same sort of vocals to them. I think I liked the unfeeling, robotic nature – it provided a texture we didn’t have before, and I completely embraced that.
The Normal was the “parent” EDM of my generation (but far, far more creative than what you hear today, in my humble opinion!) I know from reading Mad World that Daniel Miller hates that term – but without The Normal, there wouldn’t have been a Mute Records, and without Mute, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Goldfrapp might not have happened. For that alone I owe a huge thank you to Daniel Miller.
This song and band always makes me laugh. I can’t help it. Maybe it is their look or the name. Perhaps, it is the fact that Nick Rhodes produced it and got him his first number one, even before Duran. Nonetheless, every time I hear the song or see the video, I laugh. The introduction reinforces this as the authors mention how their success was sudden and “mocked”. I suppose my reaction even today shows this. It isn’t that I don’t own the song or don’t have fond memories of it because I do. There is just something about this band that creates a certain amount of ridicule. That said, the introduction pointed out why they are important to know, though. They were an example of a band without a long past, who did want to shock in some way. They did affect things, no matter that people did not take them seriously.
Lead singer, Limahl’s, story about how much he loved music and wanted to use it as an escape from the no-future mining life is not a unique one. Yet, unlike some, he actually went for his dream. He mentioned how being young helped both him and his band mates. Being young meant that they weren’t as worried about everything and just went for it. I admire that. When I was young, I did everything to become safe and secure when I should have just taken some risks.
I was hoping to learn more about the name. They named their band to shock people and there was some connection to the movie, The Mirror Crack’d, according to this chapter, but, as someone who hasn’t seen the movie, I’m at a bit of a loss. Can someone explain it?
Of course, I loved the story about how Limahl met Nick at the Embassy Club. How brave of Limahl to just try to get Nick a copy of their demo tape. Then, Nick loved it and got EMI to sign them! Amazing!! If we could all be so lucky! He is right that Duranies were interested because Nick produced them. Many of us are like that even today in that if there is a connection to a member of Duran, there is likelihood that some/most/all of us will check it out.
Speaking of fans, I thought it was interesting that as a gay man, he didn’t want to talk about his sexual orientation when they had a lot of teenage females fans despite his belief that teenage fans don’t/didn’t actually want to have sex with the rock star. I often wonder that. Would rock stars who are gay get the same level of attention? Respect? Intensity of fans? I would like to believe that things are better now, but, in 1983, I don’t blame Limahl for keeping it quiet.
It didn’t take Nick Rhodes to get me to love “Too Shy”. In fact, I don’t think that I realized Nick had anything to do with them until later. I just didn’t know. If I remember correctly, I heard them on the radio, made a note of their name – and found them on a cover of a magazine, of course. Sure, Limahl was pretty, and once I did realize that Nick was involved, I wanted to see what they were all about. So yes, in that sense I suppose Nick did drive me to buy their album.
What I remember most though, was how my friends gave them almost zero time. None of my friends felt they had staying power, and a good many of them thought they were TRYING to be Duran Duran. Fair assessment? I’m not sure. They didn’t last long enough for me to decide. I think that ultimately, they really weren’t a lot more than a pop band trying to make a splash with what they had. They hit fast and hard, and were gone within a blink of an eye. Not many gave them much credence beyond (or including) “Too Shy” – if I ever thought the critics were hard on Duran Duran, all I had to do was see what they had to say about Kajagoogoo before realizing DD had it easy in comparison. They’d written this band off before it even got started.
Limahl says something in this chapter that really gets my “fan” blood percolating a bit, though. He mentions that the Duran Duran fans were interested in what Nick was doing with Kajagoogoo. True statement. It’s the one immediately following though that I think is incredibly rude and unfair: “You know how fans are in that obsessive way.”(page 141) To begin with: that “obsessive way” probably made you some cash over the years Limahl, so you’re welcome. Secondly, that sort of thing is really called “MARKETING”. When you are a fan of a band, or someone in a band that works on a new project – it doesn’t mean you’re obsessive to check that new project out. It means you’re curious, and that curiosity paid off a bit for Kajagoogoo. So while I would agree with Amanda that yes, that sort of thing still happens even to this day, it’s not necessarily out of some sort of crazy obsession. If that were the case, what happened with John’s solo material, or even better – The Devils? Fans don’t know much about either of those things unless they were very interested, and from what I’ve been able to tell – not many were. So that’s where I take issue with Limahl and his ego.
This was a band that reunited for the sole purpose of making money, that much is clear. A lot of bands do it, but some just can’t figure it out to make it work for the long term. This one is on that list. Nick Beggs, who is incredibly talented in his own right, said it best, “It’s not a great song, it’s just a reasonable pop tune” He’s right, and it’s OK to have an iconic song from that time period under your belt. A lot of these bands have them, and sure – if you look hard enough, you can certainly see the debris field they left behind. It’s called “my life”….. and just as Nick Beggs says, “…music can transport us across the years to where we once stood.” Absolutely.
Here is a little story for you. Every time I mention Science at work (I teach in a middle school), I say, “Science as in she blinded me with.” The kids, of course, have no idea what I’m talking about but it doesn’t stop me. I can’t help it.
I found his songwriting process fascinating. First, he had to come up with an image and he adopted the professor look as he had family in education and because he knew he couldn’t be a “pin-up”. Then, he wrote a storyboard for a video to go along with a song title he had. He didn’t know what the song would sound like but he had the title. This, of course, is the exact opposite of how Duran works with music first then lyrics, with the title being towards the end.
I love that he got Dr. Magnus Pyke to be in the video and that the video became his claim to fame rather than his scientific work. (In case you didn’t know, Dr. Pyke was a British scientist.)
Of course, after Dolby experienced commercial success, the record label wanted him to make more songs with the same formula. Like the young Limahl in the previous chapter, he decided not to go the safe route and told them no. He makes an interesting point. He says that people think that the music is “fake” if an artist changes styles or genres. Does the music industry really put artists into a box? Has Duran felt that way or felt like they had to keep to a certain formula? On the other side of the coin could be artists trying to be or sound like something they are not? You can’t blame fans for not wanting that, either.
Amanda, you should really play your students the video at the end of each school year or something so that way they better understand your psychotic ramblings. (I can say that because we’re friends…and because I’m 2000 miles away from her right now.)
I remember watching Video One (or MV3 as it was called even earlier on) during the week with Richard Blade, and invariably he’d play “She Blinded Me With Science” or “Hyperactive”…both of which I loved. I think just from watching the videos and listening to the music, even as a kid, I sensed he was a genius. I liked that he didn’t seem like just an everyday rock star. I mean, sure…Simon LeBon is great and all, but there is something equally intriguing to me about Thomas Dolby because he wasn’t afraid to push boundaries and he’s willing to try something completely new. I stand fascinated by his marketing of “A Map of the Floating City” because rather than just continually blame the demise of the industry, it’s like Thomas Dolby sees it as a challenge, so he comes up with a damn video game for it. Who does that?! Thomas Dolby…because he’s a genius!!
I also found his comments about the music industry pretty true-to-life. I think that once a band or artist found their niche – even to this day to a large extent – it’s tough to break out of that. Part of it, in my opinion, is that record labels are freaking lazy. They don’t want to have to try to sell something different once they’ve figured out how to market a band. While I think it’s pathetic that bands weren’t given the leeway to discover themselves in a lot of ways, I can also see the business-end. Look at how fans have reacted to what Duran Duran have done over the years. It’s not always a bed of roses, even though we all say (and we do all say this) that we admire the band for taking risks. And we do. As long as they adhere to the sound we’re used to. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone. So, for a label, where it all comes down to dollars and cents through image and sound – once that’s all been hammered out and proven successful, they don’t want to change that formula. We’ve read that again and again. The trouble is, I don’t know many bands, particularly from this era – that were willing to keep remaking the same album over and over again. That formula works far better today than it ever did in the 80s.
What’s up for next week you ask? Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode, and Yaz! We’d love to see some comments on the discussion, but until then – we’ll just keep talking!!
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.
An outspoken examination and celebration of fandom!