Tag Archives: New Wave

World in My Eyes by Richard Blade

I haven’t given a book recommendation in a long time, but I’m about to offer up a good one!  As most know, I grew up in Southern California, probably about an hour from where I live now. If you really want to look it up on a map, the name of the town is Glendora. I lived in the far-less-than-wealthy, southerly section of the town.

At some point during the summer between fifth and sixthgrades for me (1981), I discovered KROQ 106.7. I don’t really remember much about how that happened, except that it might have been my friend Kristy who kind of led the way.

I had an old clock radio in my bedroom starting in fifth grade.  When I got it, I had no idea about radio stations – so I just turned the dial until I found one that came in clearly playing music. Nearly every morning I’d be woken up hearing “My Sharona” by the Knack. I still twitch funny when that song comes on the radio! Even so, I left the radio untouched because I had so much trouble finding a station that came in, let alone one with music I recognized.

During that summer between fifth and sixth grades though, I started becoming more interested in music.  I asked my friends, and Kristy piped up with “Listen to K-West!”  I didn’t know what K-West was, but I figured she’d know, and so when I went home, I fiddled with my clock radio, adjusting it to the 106-area. It was so hard to fix the dial to get something to actually come in, back then. Move the knob a teensy bit too much and it would be static or you’d not get the button exactly on the right station. It would appear to be on 106, for example, but it would actually be 105 or even 107-something. Annoying.

On that day, something did come in, and it was music I really liked. I had no idea what it was, but I stuck with it. I carefully placed the radio back on my dresser and didn’t touch it, assuming I was on K-West, and that Kristy was right. I never listened for that long, just when I was waking up in the morning. At that point, I wasn’t spending a lot of time in my room listening to music yet. I must have had that clock radio set to that station for a good year before I realized what channel it was. Richard started working at KROQ in 1982, and it is just about that time when I remember hearing his voice on the air. My memory might be a bit faded and mixed up (I’ll admit having to come back and edit this post well after I first wrote it!), but I can remember Richard giving out the call sign for the station like it was yesterday!

From that time on, Richard Blade was a constant part of my life. I listened to him nearly every morning, and he had everything to do with helping me shape my musical tastes. If radio weren’t enough, I watched him on MV3 which became Video One, and later on, once I was 18, if he guest DJ’ed at clubs in Los Angeles, I went. (The Palace in Hollywood, and Fashions on the Redondo Beach Pier to name a couple!)

Most readers might also know that I hold Richard Blade responsible for me meeting my husband. Richard was a near-constant figure at Fashions for years. On his fifth anniversary, I went to the club and met Walt. Sometimes I want to thank Richard for that, and other times—well, being married has its challenges, doesn’t it?! Even so, I have a beautiful family, and my children might not be here had it not been for Richard Blade, which is wild when I think about it! I don’t know that I would have ever known Duran Duran beyond being an obscure band from the UK, and I definitely wouldn’t have had my eyes opened to alternative music. Who knew a DJ could subtly influence the direction of my life?

Since those days, I guess I’ve followed Richard.  If he’s DJ’ing somewhere, Walt and I try to go whenever we’re able. He plays the music my husband and I listen to, and the weirdest thing happens when we are dancing (and yes, he and I LOVE to dance. It is what brought us together to begin with). I forget about the tough stuff, and we both get transported back to those beginning days downstairs at Fashions. It is like we remember what is really important, and get back to the basics if only for a few hours. Those hours have somehow saved our relationship over the nearly twenty-six years we’ve been together! We’ve had the opportunity to meet Richard a few times, have had a photo or two with him, and now my friend Steven works with him quite often, which is really cool to see.

When Richard announced his autobiography, World In My Eyes, I was excited to get my hands on it. Richard markets the book by saying that we’ll read about the bands we all know – including Duran Duran – but the truth is, at least for me, I wanted to read his story. It’s not his knowing Duran Duran or Depeche Mode that makes the book interesting – although for many, I understand it’s a true selling point. I haven’t even downloaded his interviews with some of the bands I know, I’ve been too busy reading! I’m not even halfway through it yet and I can honestly say – the man has LIVED. It is no wonder why he’s so successful, or why he’s been a constant source of inspiration and learning to me personally. He has had a life well-lived.

The book is outstanding so far, and I have just barely gotten to the point where he moves to California. It is easy to fangirl Richard Blade, and I don’t want to seem too gushy. To many in my generation, he is (in a very vague sense) our Dick Clark. We can leave American Top 40 to Ryan Seacrest—we don’t need him. But Richard Blade? He taught me nearly everything I know about New Wave and 80’s music. He’s open, honest, and cares about people and living things. He has no problem arguing his feelings and concerns, and while I might not always agree, I fully respect him.

Richard is the real deal, and I want to congratulate him on such a wonderfully written representation of his life. I know the diligence required with writing a manuscript, much less an autobiography. It isn’t enough to just want to do it, you have to want to do it more than anything. Richard wrote every single word, no ghost-writers involved, which is rare!

I have no problem highly recommending World in My Eyes. As I said, I haven’t even gotten halfway through it, and I would easily put this on the same shelf with Mad World. We are so lucky to have books about our music and the people who influenced us. I hope everyone grabs a copy. With the holidays coming, I think it would make a great present for anyone who loves music, Duran Duran and New Wave/80s alternative, or knows of Richard Blade! At over 500 pages, it’s the best $20 I’ve spent in a long time.

(And no, I wasn’t asked to write about his book, and I’m certainly not being paid to do so – this is all straight from me)

I can’t wait to get back to reading – so I’ve got to wrap this up for now.

-R

*edited because as I could have predicted this morning when I first wrote it – I got the dates all wrong. 🙂

Book Club: Mad World (Animotion, Band-Aid and Afterword)

This is our final book club for the book, Mad World.  We will finish by discussing the last three chapters on Animotion, Band-Aid and the Afterword by Moby.  Perhaps, we will also include a little bit of what we learned along the way.  I hope you throughly enjoyed the book and the book club as much as we did!  Jump in and join us!

Animotion:

Amanda:

Truly, this was an unbelievable chapter and story to read.  As I read it,  I almost thought that I should be keeping a chart about who did what, when, why, etc.  There were so many statements and moves made that affected Animotion that it was hard to keep track.  Clearly, VERY clearly, the band members, themselves, did not have control over their band.  Much like the lyrics to the song, there is a desperation underlying all of the agreements and moves made by the individual members.  They seemed to want to succeed so badly and the little taste that they had made them want more.  This desire was so strong that they made some questionable decisions.  Unfortunately, those decisions didn’t seem to put them in a better spot in the long run.

Before I dive into the chaos that was the Animotion story, I have to acknowledge what I knew before hand.  I knew that Michael Des Barres co-wrote this song and that it did very, very well for him.  In fact, before Power Station, this seemed to be his big claim to fame.  I never once thought about the actual band who performed the song.  I was just happy that Michael experienced such success and I guess I assumed that the band must have as well.  How naive am I?!  The band’s story shows or reminds that one should never ever assume when it comes to the music business.

Right away into Animotion’s story, I know that this wasn’t going to go well when the song, “Obsession,” sounded nothing like the rest of the album and didn’t match the sound they were going for.  It seems to me that it never ends well when ONE song or ONE album goes against the rest of an artist’s catalog.  When the band heard the song, one member loved it and thought it was the direction they should be going and the other wasn’t so sure.  Perhaps, part of the problem was that the band wasn’t really on the same page to begin with and weren’t comfortable with each other.  Yet, of course,  reservations were pushed aside as the song moved up the charts.

After that, behind-the-scenes became complete chaos.  There was the producer trying to run the show and get in between band members.  Then, the record label pushed new songs at them and when the next one didn’t do as well, the label backed off support.  A new A&R man comes in filled with hate over everything they had done before.  Likewise, new managers determined that key members needed to go and be replaced by Cynthia Rhodes.   It seems to me that member, Astrid Plane, summed it up best on page 307 about what it was like to be them then, “You were nothing.  You were an item that was going to be on a shelf to be sold, and if they felt like you weren’t sales-worthy, then [they’d] toss you in the trash.”  I am left just shaking my head at how horrible and upsetting their story really was.  I wouldn’t want any other band or artist to experience something like this, but I suspect their story really isn’t all that unique.

Rhonda:

Unlike Amanda, I was pretty naive about who wrote “Obsession”.  Of course I know the song – it’s difficult to claim yourself as New Wave fan without acknowledging the song (purely as an aside, my younger sister continues to sing this song to me at the oddest moments, whenever the timing makes sense…to remind me of my Duran Duran fandom. Thanks, Robin.), but I really never thought about who wrote it.  I guess you could even say that I didn’t care, because I really didn’t.  I just knew the song to be one of those overplayed-to-death songs from the radio.  I don’t know that I ever really think about that kind of thing as a music consumer. (except when it comes to Duran Duran and their various guitar players over the years) I was shocked when I read this chapter though. If there was ever any question about how the industry REALLY works – how incredibly unfair it can really be, or how it will chew you up, spit you out and then come back later for more – this is the chapter to read.  

Animotion was never one of my favorite bands from this era, and I wholly admit that this particular song had everything to do with that. I suppress a bit of a chuckle when I find that this song wasn’t even their typical sound. It sounds nothing like their music at all, actually. That’s a real problem for this band – because if you’ve got an audience wanting to hear more like “Obsession”, and you’re used to writing something much more similar to say, early Police or Fleetwood Mac, that audience is never going to follow you.  Instead, you’ve got a band here who literally floated to the top of the charts on a song that they didn’t write – therefore making nearly NO money on the song (even to this day, it’s the writer of the song – Michael Des Barres – who continues to see handsome royalty checks on this one), and there’s not any way to bring those fans of this song to their back catalog.  It is really THAT different.  I read stories all the time about bands who are/were famous and yet haven’t a penny to their name(s), and mostly I want to scoff and laugh because really – is that possible?  The answer is yes. Yes it is.  If you can’t/didn’t write your own music, I’m not entirely sure that you want to “just” be the performer, and especially not after reading this chapter. 

I’d like to share a quote from Bill Wadhams, followed by a quote from Michael Des Barres.  It’s easy to see that they are two sides of the same coin – two products of the machine.  

Wadhams says, “I go on YouTube and see Michaels Des Barres performing at SXSW, and he prefaces ‘Obsession’ by saying, ‘This is a song that I wrote that made me a bloody fortune.’ The year that ‘Obsession’ [was a hit for Animotion], each member of the band made about $50,000; the next year, just about nothing.  Whether it’s fair or not, it doesn’t matter because I don’t know that Michael Des Barres ever sang a song that was an international hit. I wonder whether he would trade having been the singer of the hit song for the money, if he would’ve been able to walk out on stage, sing ‘Obsession’, and have people go, ‘That’s the voice, that’s the hit that we love.’ (308)

Des Barres says, “It’s put my kid through college, [supported] two wives, and more besides. One song enters the lexicon of American consciousness, and it will take care of you for the rest of your life.”  (308)

Astrid Plane, singer for Animotion, finishes the chapter by adding, “We are still in debt to the record company to this day.” (308) 

Band-Aid:

Amanda:

Lori Majewski’s introduction in this chapter instantly brought me back to my elementary school lunch hour.  Why?  Simple.  I, too, experienced endless debates between Band-Aid and USA for Africa. While her debates might have been about which had bigger stars, mine focused on who was first.  No matter how many times and how many ways I tried to explain that Band-Aid was first, that they had started it, my classmates didn’t believe me.  This was obviously long before the internet so I couldn’t prove it to them but I so wanted to.  In reality, below the surface of the debate, it was more about which was better:  New Wave or Motown?  Duran Duran or Michael Jackson?  You see, unlike so many in 1984, I lived in an area where it wasn’t cool to be a Duran Duran fan.  Michael Jackson was the one and only king there.  Even now, I have to admit to loving the comments Nick Rhodes made in this chapter about the differences between Band-Aid and USA for Africa.  He seemed to be spot on, to me!

While I knew the story behind the song and how quickly it was put together, reading Midge Ure tell about it makes it all the more real.  They truly put the song together so quickly from writing to recording to getting it airplay.  He tells how easily it could have been horrible and that “it wasn’t that bad”.  I don’t know about the rest of you but I can’t imagine a holiday season going by without listening to the song and hearing it played somewhere.  It lives on.

Of course, the real story of Band-Aid isn’t so much the song itself or the bands involved, but what was pointed out in the introduction.  It marked the end of the party.  The first half of the 1980s, the New Wave era, ended with this song  and what followed with Live Aid and other charity events.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I wish the New Wave era, musically, continued forever as I loved it so.  Yet, I know that, sometimes, it is good for something to be shorter lived.  It wasn’t around long enough to get completely run down and sucky.  I still have mixed emotion about the worldly awareness that followed.  While I’m a political person, I have never chosen music that is overtly political.  I like artists to be smart, thinking and feeling people but not preachy.  Did Band-Aid change people and the industry to become preachy?  Maybe.  It is hard to say but things definitely did change after that.

Rhonda:

The holiday season just isn’t so without this song.  Like Amanda, I wish the New Wave age had gone on longer – I didn’t graduate from high school until 1988 and it could have easily continued that long without complaint from me. I will never forget hearing the song for the first time, or the glee I get each and every time I hear it on the radio during the season.  This single song sums up much of my entire music experience during my formative years.  To this day I smile every time I hear Simon sing his lines, and while I know the song is for charity and it’s purpose was to galvanize the community into support for Africa – to me it’s about so much more. It’s a musical era. It’s my history. It’s the capstone of New Wave, and it was a song ever created for a charity (sometimes I wonder just how much of that message gets lost amongst the noise).  

I don’t know if I like what happened following the release of this record so much.  For me, music changed after that. I won’t even mention the US answer to this song, suffice to say that there have been many attempts to copy what this song tried to do. There is something really kind about “Do They Know it’s Christmas”, and I think that feeling was completely lost after that with “other” attempts. It became production and big industry business. Maybe that’s why I’ve always stuck to British bands….

After that record though, music started having some sort of a conscious, and bands tended to forget that the purpose was to entertain, not preach.   And of course, New Wave as I knew it really ended.  But at the time, when this record came out – I had no idea. I listened to it nearly non-stop during that 1984 holiday season. Ignorance was bliss, and trust me – I was indeed full of bliss that holiday. 

Afterword:

Amanda:

Moby does a good job in expressing how New Wave was different–international, gentle, escapist.  I felt all those same things.  I felt that way living in the Chicago suburbs and later even more so when I moved to small town, Illinois.  I longed for anything that wasn’t small town American focused, jean wearing, beer guzzling, hard rock that was all the rage by the time I found myself transported to what seemed like another planet.  I still miss it but there was a desperation then in my youth that led me to reject anything and everything popular for a good number of years.

This book brought me back to my childhood and the music I loved so much.  It reminded me why I fell in love with it and truly what was so good about it.  I loved the imagination and the creativity that everyone seemed to bring.  There was uniqueness in every artist despite having common influences.  As the kid, the music seemed carefree and fun.  Of course, the book also shed light on the stories behind  the music and many of those stories revealed the good, the bad and the ugly.  I learned how quickly some songs were written.  I also learned how easily band members can grow apart even when they were the best of friends.  The music industry might have been kinder then, in general, but still was a thorn in people’s sides too often.  Yet, despite everything that happened to each of these bands, their music remains.  Like Moby, I’m definitely thankful.  I’m also ready for the sequel!

Rhonda:

I don’t think I grew up in a particularly small town, but even so, New Wave was my escape from reality. I was a typical junior high school band nerd. My friends were either band members, or they were also nerds. We didn’t know how to dress, make-up was still a mystery, and awkwardness was probably my FIRST name at the time. The popular girls at my school loved to pick on me, and music was how I escaped the ridicule. I think to some extent, it still is.  Back then I’d come home from school, and the first thing I’d do was turn on the TV in search of music video, or I’d run to my bedroom, flop on my bed and hit my stereo. I didn’t want to hear or see pop – I wanted bands like Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, INXS, Depeche Mode or nearly any other band mentioned in this book. (coincidence? Probably not!) I didn’t have an allowance, and money wasn’t “free-flowing” in my parents house, so I can remember waiting for KROQ to play certain songs so that I could tape them from radio.  The audio quality would be terrible (back then I literally had to take my tape recorder and face it towards one of my radio speakers to make it work, and I nearly cried with joy the day my parents finally bought me a “boom box”…good Lord…) I always loved the boys who were less football, more introspective, and if they played in a band – all the better.  So when I read Moby’s afterword, I find myself nodding in agreement. His story really isn’t much different from my own.  New Wave WAS my adolescence and it did make life bearable. I don’t know what I would have done without it. 

Like Amanda, I’m ready for the sequel. This book was everything I’d hoped, and much, much more.  If you haven’t grabbed your copy yet, I urge you to give it a try. I loved this book so much it’s earmarked and red-lined, with notes in the margins and sadly, a few pages have even come out of the binding at this point. I daresay it’s been well-consumed.

-A & R

Book Club: Mad World (A Flock of Seagulls, Modern English and Soft Cell)

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:

Amanda:
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?
Rhonda:
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.  
Modern English:

Amanda:

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?

Rhonda:

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.

Soft Cell:

Amanda:

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.

Rhonda:

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!

-A & R

Book Club: Mad World (Kim Wilde, Howard Jones, and Berlin)

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!

Kim Wilde:

Amanda:

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.

Rhonda: 

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.  

Howard Jones:

Amanda:

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.

Rhonda:

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. 

Berlin:

Amanda:

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?

Rhonda:

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!!

 

Book Club: Mad World (The Normal, Kajagoogoo, and Thomas Dolby)

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!

The Normal:

Amanda’s thoughts:

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.

Rhonda:

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. 

Kajagoogoo:

Amanda:

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.

Rhonda:

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. 

Thomas Dolby:

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.

Rhonda:

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!!

Book Club: Mad World (Spandau Ballet, The Human League and Heaven 17)

We are continuing on with our weekly book club, in which we discuss each and every chapter of the book, Mad World, one by one.  This is week 4 and this week we are discussing Spandau Ballet, The Human League and Heaven 17.  We invite you to read those chapters and then come discuss with us!

Spandau Ballet:

Amanda’s thoughts:

Isn’t one of the rules of being a Duranie that you are supposed to hate Spandau?  I learned early on that they were rivals, that they were fighting to be the top UK band.  Heck, they even fought in battle on the TV show, Pop Quiz.  Thus, I will wholeheartedly admit that I doubt I ever gave Spandau the chance that any band deserves. I looked forward to reading this chapter so it would give me a  different look at this band, from a Duranie, but not only a Duranie perspective.  Then, I read the introduction and learned how the name was a term Nazis used, but they didn’t know it at the time.  I have to look past that and the rivalry.

I adored the story that Gary Kemp told about the club scene in 1978, in which kids would dress up and go to watch each other.  There wasn’t a band that glued the scene together but they felt that there should be.  They would be that band.  As someone who has spent a bit of time in clubs with a similar feel, I related instantly.  Then, I read that others at the club also had creative ambitions and I am once again reminded about how creative this time period was.

Another theme I keep running into over and over again is the idea that these songs, these important songs were not written to be singles as they did not fit hit singles formulas.  We talked about how “Cars” by Gary Numan didn’t fit the single mold and neither did New Order’s “Blue Monday”.  Now, Spandau’s song, “True,” could be added to the list with its Al Green and Motown influence, its length and its placement at the end of the album.  Clearly, the formula for a hit song did not always matter.

One of the things mentioned in this chapter is how Spandau did not do as well in the States as they did in Europe.  Gary Kemp blamed it on the record company there that, according to him, “made a lot of mistakes”.  Tony Hadley, on the other hand, mentioned that the name was problematic with the Jewish community in the States.  He also didn’t think that “True” was representative of their work.  So, let me ask all of you this.  Could they have been bigger in the States with a different record company and name?  Based on the time period and their style, I have to say that I think they could have been.

Rhonda:

One thing you’ll quickly learn about me in this post is that I don’t follow the rules very well.  I loved Spandau Ballet, and have most of their albums. It never occurred to me until AFTER the DD reunion (from reading about the rivalry online) that I wasn’t supposed to like them, and by that time – I just didn’t care. The funny thing is that I never really put Duran Duran and Spandau in the same musical “camp”, so to speak, other than recognizing that both bands were from the UK.  All I really knew was that I liked their sound, and they dressed nicely. (Funny words coming from someone who relishes her jeans and t-shirts!) Admittedly, I didn’t know that Spandau had other albums before True until later on…but I’m thankful that I bothered to look at all, and if you know the band solely from True, it’s really time to expose yourself to some of their other music, because I think you’ll be shocked! 

Gary Kemp mentions their mystique, by saying that no record company had seen them, and that record companies weren’t even allowed into their gigs.  They had a documentary that Janet Street-Porter had filmed, and that was what record companies could view and decide if they were interested in the band. He compares that to YouTube today, and how no band really has that same mystique because anyone can film you and put that video up on YouTube for all to see.  It certainly does remove some of the curiosity factor, and I still say that media of all types today is meant for quick consumption.  Get it, absorb it, and move on to the next greatest thing. It will be interesting to see just how much of today’s music, today’s media, will really have a lasting effect in the same way that our music did for us.

What drew me to Spandau Ballet is that their sound was really quite different from anything else of that period. The band embraces that, as Gary mentions, “Spandau has two things that make us sound like no other band: Tony’s unique and powerful voice and Steve Norman’s amazing saxophone that we always like to include. It’s the sound of our soul, if you like.”   I completely agree with him – just as you can’t find anyone else that can harmonize like Simon; I don’t think you can copy Tony Hadley, or find anyone that plays like Steve.  The uniqueness of the bands during this period are what still keep them alive today.  There was never a real “formula” that any of these bands followed – and I think that is what kept it all feeling fresh and new for me.  It’s also where I cultivated my strong dislike of what I call the “Top 10 Hit Formula” that certain producers seem to really hang their hat on these days.  I’m sure it existed back then as well, I just didn’t pay it (Top 40 radio) much attention. 

Having now read Mad World completely through twice, one of the saddest things to read in nearly every single chapter (for me) is the “That Was Then, This is Now” section.  There seems to always be a tinge of wistfulness, perhaps sadness, and sometimes even a bit of lingering anger depending upon the band in question, and for me – Miss 80s Music Fan – it’s heartbreaking.  Maybe it’s just the idea of looking back on the full experience that sparks emotion for me, I’m not sure. Tony Hadley says something that I still find myself thinking about and considering as I sit to write this book discussion, “But we’re still old friends, which is great. We can all go and have a pint and a meal, and we’d all laugh and joke and tell stories. But it’s not the same, and it never will be.” 

When I think about that, I can’t really argue with Tony Hadley. Life experience changes your perspective, and things must have certainly changed since the 80s. When you reunite, I would imagine you come back to that proverbial table with all of that baggage, along with anything else you’re still dragging along for the ride. It can’t ever be exactly the same, but is it enough to build upon?  That would be my question.

The Human League:

Amanda’s reaction:

Right away, we learn that this chapter is going to be different.  Phil Oakey, the singer, refused to meet with the authors.  I so wonder why.  Perhaps, he will think differently now that the book has been published.

I like how Lori Majewski, one of the authors, points out that nowadays it is obvious what songs are about, but then, songs made the listeners work for it.  I agree and I loved working for it.  I still do.  I love trying to figure out what a song is about, which is probably one of the reasons I love Duran songs so much.  They aren’t obvious, even when they appear to be so.  It seems that Phil Oakey, himself, was like this, too, according to Martyn Ware who described him as “otherworldly” while being the “best chum” and “aloof” at the same time.  Now, I’m even more fascinated by him and his decision not to talk to the authors.

Likewise, I found their approach to lyrics so interesting.  The fact that they banned words like love, which led to topics like philosophy and science fiction.  It sure seemed like a way to push them past the usual.

Rhonda:

I really don’t understand why a musician wouldn’t want their story to be included in this book, unless they just didn’t understand what was being done. Sometimes I think that these musicians…INCLUDING my ever-favorite Duran Duran, just don’t get it, which is at least partially why this blog even exists. They don’t understand, and maybe sometimes they don’t/can’t care, that their music has resonated with fans so much that for many of us – their songs are as much a part of who we’ve become as people as say, our hometown, our high school, and the friendships we’ve made along the way. No matter…I wish Phil Oakey had participated, because his music and his voice made a difference in my youth.

That said, I love that Jonathan and Lori chose to include “Being Boiled”, because it is a great song – it’s dark and obscure, brooding and hypnotic.  The more I hear early New Wave, the more I know that is where my musical soul lives and breathes. Just as Lori said – I adore that unless you really sit down and pay attention, you’re likely to have no idea what the song is about.  I appreciate that the song lyrics weren’t so watered down and obvious back then.  I think that nowadays (not to sound so “Get off my lawn, kids!”, but seriously…) everything is so dumbed down, so EASY, the public gets so bored.  They’re not even given a chance to prove they’ve got brainpower in there somewhere.  

Martyn Ware explains the real gist of Human League, and I find it to be the case for many (if not all) of the bands I adore from this period. “Right from the start, we wanted people who listened to us to regard it as entering into our world, where we could, over a period of time, flesh it out with our artistic content. So it’s not just about music. It’s about lyrical content, it’s about the kind of films you watch, it’s about the kind of novels you read, it’s about the kind of visual art you like. It all fed back into a worldview.”  I don’t think that it’s necessarily a surprise to find that when I’m with fellow fans – Duran fans for instance, there are more than a few of us that like the same sort of books, or the same sort of art.  So many of these bands intertwined their visual presence with their musical presence. I always say the music of this period is three dimensional in a way that you just will not ever find again, and it’s precisely due to the reasons that Martyn Ware states.  

Heaven 17

Amanda’s ideas:

The story about how the manager of Human League worked to kick Martyn Ware out of the band was pretty shocking and sad.  I wonder what the manager, Bob Mast, would say about it.  Did he really think that Phil could be a solo singer?  Did he think he would be better off without Martyn?  This story makes me sad since Martyn and Phil were such close friends.  Yet, obviously, he didn’t let stop him as he got a new singer within just a couple of days.  That’s impressive.  I wonder how many people could bounce back from being kicked out of their band and losing their best friend at the same time.

One thing that Heaven 17’s story highlights for me is the use of sides back in the era of albums.  The one side, Pavement, had songs written still as Human League and were more electronic and the other side, Penthouse, wasn’t.  I miss the album.  I do.  Even if I put a whole album on, unless it is vinyl, it isn’t the same as have an A side and a B side where bands could do exactly what Heaven 17 did here.

One thing about Heaven 17 that I was surprised by was that they didn’t tour and instead focused their money on videos.  I do love that they ended up touring with Human League in 2008.  That seems fitting.

Rhonda:

I definitely prefer vinyl to digital. It’s not even a contest…vinyl has a warmth to it that just cannot be translated to digital, never mind the more obvious fact that I miss having two sides to an album.  Maybe I’m just stuck in the 80s, in which case, that’s fine too. 

I am one of those people in the world that lets friend loyalty dictate certain things. I would never, for instance, even remotely entertain the idea of ditching a friend so that I could move up the business ladder.  That’s probably why I’m going to stay a blogger forevermore, so that I don’t HAVE to deal with office politics, and that’s just fine by me.  I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be kicked out of a band by a best friend…but yet this sort of backstabbing seemed to happen a lot back then.  It’s all about success and what you’re willing to do to get there. (My question remains whether any of these bands really know when they’ve gotten that success and whether they really ever enjoyed it once they were there – it all seems to be something people only see in hindsight!)

I liked Heaven 17 fine, and “Temptation” is probably their most recognizable song, but they weren’t on my short list.  For me, the big story here is how they were freed from the self-defined shackles of Human League in order to explore other influences.  I liked that they weren’t into the “fame” side of things: they viewed themselves as “valued artists and musicians”. The fact that they had a hard time breaking America because they wouldn’t tour with Coors is interesting. I wonder how many American bands would have sold their souls to be on that tour?  That’s one thing I find fascinating with many of the UK bands of this period: they stuck to their ideals.  

They toured again with Human League in 2008, and Ware says something that I believe is a common thread among nearly every band of this period, “We’re mates now, but I wouldn’t say there’s been closure.”  I swear I’ve read similar tales from every band in Mad World.  Maybe it is partially the British culture – maybe it’s easier just to sweep it all under the rug?  

Have something to add? Comment below!!

Join us next week as we discuss Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Bow Wow Wow and The Waitresses!

 

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

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

ABC:

Amanda’s reaction:

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

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

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

Rhonda:

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

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

Devo:

Amanda:

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

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

Rhonda:

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

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

Echo and the Bunnymen:

Amanda’s thoughts-

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

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

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

Rhonda:

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

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

Til next week – happy reading!!!

-A & R

Book Club: Mad World (Gary Numan, DD and New Order)

Welcome to week 2 of our little book club on the book, Mad World!  Last week, we discussed the foreword, introduction and the first artist, Adam and the Ants.  This week, we move on to the next three, which are Gary Numan, Duran Duran and New Order.  Like last week, both of us will give our thoughts and would love to hear yours!

Gary Numan:

Amanda’s response: This is definitely one of those chapters that really shed light on how this song was made, the story behind the song.  I knew that Gary Numan had a history in punk until he discovered the synthesizer in the studio.  Yet, even his decision to try it and redo his work to be more electronic seems very punk to me.  After all, one of the messages of punk was that you didn’t need to be a musician in order to form/join a band.  Anyone could do it!  Gary, obviously, took that idea to heart with using synthesizers.  I had to laugh that he would make up answers when asked about synthesizers by the press since he really didn’t know much about them!  I also appreciated learning that the song was written so quickly and on a bass, no less!  How funny is that considering that it is such an electronic song?!  In many ways, as was pointed out, he was lucky to have success with this song since it really didn’t fit the typical radio format, especially by being almost an instrumental and being about a road rage episode, of all things. The other part to the Gary Numan story caught my attention was the interaction with the record label when he shifted his songs from punk to more electronic punk.  I wasn’t surprised that the label wasn’t happy.  I had to laugh that they couldn’t afford to send him back to the studio so they had to go with that.  I suspect that things might be very different now with record labels.

Rhonda:  I read that Lori Majewski didn’t know much about Bowie in 1980…Ziggy Stardust could have been just about anything back then and it wouldn’t have made a difference to her.  I completely agree. I’m actually surprised I stumbled onto Duran Duran, given my own sphere of influence. (My parents were Elvis and The Beach Boys fans. It’s a miracle I heard anything else while growing up) So when I heard “Cars” on the radio – like Lori, it seemed really far-out there, and totally original. However, I can honestly say Gary Numan was never one of my favorites, although I do love this particular song. For me, “Cars” is synonymous with 1980.  

Like Amanda, I chuckle at the idea that his label wasn’t necessarily in favor of the new musical direction he chose (like at all!), but because the label had no money – they had to go with what he’d completed. I don’t know for sure what a label would do now, but I suspect the album would end up shelved…and a new producer would be “suggested” for them to work with. *coughs*  

One thing Gary says that I find both telling and interesting is that he comments …”suddenly you’re doing TV shows with people you’ve loved and admired for years, and now you’re one oft hem, but you don’t feel like you’re one of them – you feel like an intruder that snuck in the back door.”   I really liked that sentence, because I can imagine how weird that must feel to go from being a fan –like any of us — to suddenly being included with those people as a group.  I wonder how many other bands and artists out there recognize that feeling? 

According to Gary Numan, “Cars” took him 10 minutes to write the instrumentals, and another 20 to write the lyrics.  That’s working mighty fast. I know that sometimes, the very best writing I do is what just flows out. It’s not always that way of course, but when it is – it goes really fast.

The other point of interest is that “Cars” was written completely on a bass.  I would have never, ever guessed that. Here we are, reading about one of the most recognizable pieces of electronic music out there – and it wasn’t even written that way.  I must applaud that.

Lastly, his description of what the song means to him really spoke to me.  “I used to think that the car was a tank for the civilian. You could sit inside your car, lock your doors, and it would keep you safe. It puts you in a little protective bubble. You can maneuver through the world, but you don’t really have to engage.”  I think he was really visionary with the way he saw such a simple thing. Many might say that the vehicle just takes you from place to place, and perhaps that’s true…but it is very much how he describes it here. I live in Southern California, not terribly far from LA. We LOVE our cars here – many of us spend hours upon hours a day in them. I always found the idea of taking trains and buses to be strange (as I was growing up), because you’d be forced in such a small area with so many people you really didn’t know.  I’ve probably evolved a little bit since that early thinking – but my car is still my haven. It’s where I blast my music (when I can), and it’s where I do much of my thinking. I don’t have to engage there, which for me is like a vacation at times! 

Duran Duran:

Amanda’s reaction: Right away, during the introduction to this chapter, I find something that pops out at me.   The quote on page 35 that catches my attention, “They saw it as their duty to live out the lifestyle they depicted in their wildly overproduced videos.”  Duran is described on the same page as “bathed in decadence and debauchery”.  Hmm…  Were Duran’s videos overproduced?  Sure.  Did Duran seem to have a jet set lifestyle filled with “decadence and debauchery”?  Absolutely.  Did they see it as their “duty” to live like the videos showed them to live?  Duty is the word that sticks with me.  Duty represents to me an obligation, a requirement.  I’m not sure I agree that they thought this was their duty.  I’m not saying that they didn’t present a lifestyle, a fantasy.  I just don’t know that they thought it was their “duty” to do so.  I could see a means of promotion.  Of course, as I type this, I start laughing.  Here I am…criticizing one word just like people often do with this blog overlooking the entire point.  Moving on…

I thoroughly enjoyed Lori’s comments about how Duran chose her.  I could completely relate, especially when she said, “I have lived for them, lied for them and questioned my own sanity over them.”  Yes.  Yes, I most definitely relate.

I knew the history of the song, Girls on Film, and have even heard the demo featuring Andy Wickett, assuming the demo heard here is legitimate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76qS-tEJvZQ

I also knew that Simon wrote the song with exploitation of women and models in mind.  I like that he said how he wanted the song to be fun, but filled with substance.  Of course, there is some sexuality in there, too.  I think that is the thing that drew me to Duran—fun with substance.  It isn’t mindless.

I found it really interesting that John Taylor found himself self-conscious about his bass playing as time went on, resulting in what John described as his “playing practically disappearing”.  I love that Mark Ronson was the one  who could convince John to play like he used to.  I am thankful, for sure.  On a similar note, I found it interesting that Roger wanted to sound like Chad Smith, the drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers when he came back, but that John pointed out that he couldn’t play with Chad Smith.  This is fascinating in light of the news that Duran will be playing with the former guitarist of RHCP.

Rhonda: I love reading what the band thinks of their own music. I mean let’s face it: I have a blog and I will openly tell anyone what *I* think of their music on any given day: both good and bad; but the band doesn’t always have that same luxury. That said, I did laugh when I read John’s opening statement (in the book) about the band. While I would agree that the critics didn’t always know what to do with them – I can’t truly say it’s because the band was perfect. I think it was because the band was too damn pretty for critics to actually listen to the music and take the words seriously.  Perfect?  Probably not.

Simon says that he wanted the band to be edgy, not too soft – and fans know that whenever Simon is asked about lyrics, particularly lyrics from earlier in their career such as those from GOF, they are about sex.  Well, Simon doesn’t disappoint here, does he?  I’d never given some of the lines from this song much thought. I knew the song was about the modeling industry and much of it being the clichés that Nick describes, but it’s not a song I really mull over much – given the video and all, it seems pretty well cut and dried in that respect.  It wasn’t too terribly long ago that someone responded to one of our posts here – the subject of the post was the image of the band and how at times, that has put them in a very odd juxtaposition for their fans (and themselves).  The person who responded reminded me that the their branding, at least initially was basically sex. The band were branded as sex objects. (probably another reason why critics have had such an issue)  The teen magazines, the videos, even the songs and the explanation of lyrics at times have made them to be  unattainable, untouchable, sex objects. I suppose that worked, and probably backfired at times for them as well.  My “problem” as a fan is that I see so much more than that in the band. It was and is great hook I suppose, but just as Simon’s lyrics ALWAYS cry out to be understood beneath what you see on the surface, I feel the band themselves are very much the same. 

I’d also like to comment that just as Nick sees that the band is in their fourth decade as “absurd”…so do we. Where did that time go…and how is it that only now in my forties am I seriously writing a fan blog?!?  We can all be absurd together, Nick. 

New Order:

Amanda’s thoughts: I adore how Jonathan Bernstein described the song, Blue Monday.  The idea of it being a “black cloud hanging over the dance floor” is so very fitting to me.  In my younger days, I used to spend quite a bit of time dancing the night away in “goth” like clubs and this song would always come on.  It didn’t matter if it was retro night or not, it would get played.  As soon as the first note would start, I always wondered why the DJ would play something so upbeat sounding.  Yet, as soon as those lyrics started, I remembered.  It isn’t happy.  Not at all.  It is like misery decided to dance.

Again, this seems very fitting to me for a band that used to be Joy Division and sang songs like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” with a lead singer who died from suicide.  Then, the last piece of the puzzle to understanding this song is added when I read that this song was the band’s response to the negative criticism that they were receiving after Ian Curtis’s death.  Truly, it all makes sense now. I thought it was interesting when Peter Hook mentioned how people were either Joy Division fans OR New Order fans.  They were not both.  I haven’t found that, in my experience.  I would say that I’m a fan of both.  Granted, I choose to listen to one over the other, depending on my mood.  I wouldn’t choose to listen to them both at the same time or mix them up like I could with Duran Duran and Arcadia.

I found the relationship between Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook fascinating.  Clearly, these two did not see eye-to-eye and had both a personality conflict and a musical one as well.  Peter claimed that Bernard wanted to turn down the bass.  Yet, the claim that is made is that this conflict is what helped to produce quality music.  Hmm…this sounds a little familiar.  After all, Duranies know that there was always tension between guitar and keyboards in Duran.  Many of us might say that tension is what made those first few albums so great for Duran.  This leads me to wonder how many other bands have the same sort of tension.

Rhonda: As Peter Hook mentions – there are Joy Division fans and New Order fans.  I am truly a New Order fan.  I knew almost nothing about Joy Division except that Ian Curtis was originally in the group and committed suicide, a fact that seems to define the band(s), unfortunately. In my case, I knew about New Order and fell in love with “Bizarre Love Triangle” before I ever even knew who Ian Curtis was.  Sure, I was probably just very uninformed, but I also think it allowed me to just enjoy the music. No judgment. No pretenses. Freedom.  I never knew of the internal struggles. The grief, or lack thereof.  I didn’t know Bernard Sumner OR Peter Hook, and I think that in a lot of ways – the saying “Ignorance is bliss” probably applies, and I embrace that, because I just enjoy the music. Period.

I can’t even THINK about New Wave in the 80s without Blue Monday or Bizarre Love Triangle coming to mind. For me, these songs are part of the framework of ME, so I’m thankful they were included in this book.  

As I read through this chapter, admittedly I had difficulty keeping it all straight. Peter Hook calls New Order “New Odor” (which feels so incredibly sophomoric), and yet I get his frustration, so I don’t want to say he’s being immature. I think he describes where it all resides in his head and heart brilliantly.  “Because of the group that I loved and put 32 years into, I’m fighting them tooth and nail. This is a divorce.”  I think that as a fan, the only real thing I can focus on IS the music here.  Hook says it best when he talks about “the largeness of this thing we’ve created” and how it’s being ruined with the petty squabbles. On the outside, I can see that. If I were in the middle of it all though, I’d imagine I’d see it quite differently.  The only thing I can really do is love what they created, and think about the fact that nearly every band I’ve ever loved has had this crazy internal struggle—there’s got to be something to that, hasn’t there?

While we have absolutely no problem chatting amongst ourselves, we really hope that some of you will join in – many opinions are way better than just two! -A & R

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

Welcome to the first post of the book club on the book, Mad World!  As Rhonda mentioned last week, we will, generally, be discussing about 3 chapters a week.  I will give my thoughts and Rhonda will give hers.  Then, we hope that others will chime in with their thoughts!  Ideally, it would be great to get a good discussion going that lasts beyond the day of a book club post.  I love discussions like that as I learn more and see things differently from hearing points from other people.  This week, we will take it slow with the foreword, introduction and the first band, Adam and the Ants.

Foreward:

Amanda’s Take:

I suspect that the foreword might catch Duranies attention since it was written by some guy named Nick Rhodes.   As soon as I begin reading this, I’m reminded of how Duran Duran opened my world up to so many other bands, artists, genres, etc.  I was a little kid when I heard Duran for the first time and became a fan.  I knew VERY, VERY little about music.  My family wasn’t big into music.  I could tell you a lot more about visual artists or politicians than I could music.  Yet, my personality is such that when I get into something, I want to know everything.  I devour everything and anything I can find.  I was that way as a kid and I am that way as an adult.  Thus, I remember reading about Duran’s influences and wanting to check out each and every one.  I borrowed Chic’s album from the library, for example, as soon as I had heard of them.  I am so thankful for Duran for opening my eyes and EARS to so many artists, especially at a young age.  Perhaps, that very fact is why music came to be such a big deal for me.  Likewise, it seemed like music was a big deal for many of my peers, too.

Back in the early 1980s, it felt to me that everyone was listening to the same music.  We all were on the same page even if we had different favorites.  Every song was known by everyone or so it felt.  Nick mentioned about how music was important for his generation, too.  He captured what I have always felt by saying the following about music, “It was an important voice in our culture, a way for our generation to express its singularity.”  Exactly.  Music represented a generation.  For those of us who grew up in the 1980s, it was New Wave.  We all know the artists and songs.  Of course, we know some better than others or like some better than others, but it is something that unites people of my generation.  I love that Nick had the same experience, too.  I have to wonder if kids these days experience the same thing with SO many choices available at all times.

Nick dives a lot deeper in explaining how New Wave really came to be from the consequences of punk rock, the development of affordable technology, and more.  He described how New Wave developed differently in the UK and in the US.  I especially appreciated how he explained the influence of the times and current events on the formation of New Wave.  The UK of the 1970s, according to Nick, contained “political turbulence and social unrest.” As a student of social sciences, I have always believed that political happenings and current events have incredible influence on the cultural products of a place and time, especially with music.  I loved how Nick then described that bands either expressed darkness or light as a response to the state of the UK at that time.  Duran had a balance.  Ah, yes.  That idea really spoke to me.  People always claim Duran to be nothing but a feel good, optimistic, colorful band and I believe, at times, they are.  Yet, there have been moments and songs that are the exact opposite.  I love that they express the full range.

Nick goes on to describe the New Wave culture as being focused on standing out rather than fitting in.  I never really thought much about that, but I can definitely see that and like that.  Every artist or band seemed to have a slightly different sound and/or look, which isn’t the case with other genres or musical time periods, in my opinion.  I like that they did all strive to be unique.  It certainly made it more interesting and enjoyable.

Rhonda:

I highlighted a few sections of Nick’s foreword that seemed to jump out at me. 

Nick states that each of the bands in the book were “different reflections of similar views. Some chose to express the darkness, others looked towards the light”. This was exactly how I found New Wave to be — there was something for my every pubescent mood. Sometimes I needed Rio, and in others, I needed Blasphemous Rumours. I tend not to notice such wide differences in today’s music, and I’m not ignorant of the fact that much of this probably has to do with my age rather than the quality of music. As Curt Smith states much much later in this book  (I’m paraphrasing) – there was a lot of crap music to be found in the 80s. I certainly didn’t listen to top 40 radio with the same sort of enthusiasm that I might have had while listening to KROQ, that is for certain. I think that nowadays I have a much harder time finding “the good stuff”….and not nearly as much time as I need.  Anyone else?!? 

Nick talks a bit about reality TV and commercial radio — for me personally, these are dirty words. I can’t stand any of it (with the crazy exception for The Bachelor, because I am a melodramatic female at times, admittedly.) He comments about how these mediums have created opportunities for some and taken away from others, and that what is broadcast to the audience is more formulaic. I have to agree. I find that the “hits” of today seem to follow a fairly generic formula. Some may say that New Wave of the 80s has it’s own formula – and I’d agree. It’s called “Creativity”. Ultimately, Nick describes the public attention span as being incredibly short, and again – I have to agree. We have a thing for instantaneous gratification, and when you combine that with the near-endless array of choices available – no one sticks around for long. It really is a miracle that bands such as Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears are still around and care to participate. We thank them.

Introduction:

Amanda’s Thoughts:

The introduction is straight forward.  The authors not only define the term “New Wave” but describe why they chose it and the format of the book, which is helpful as we dive into each band/artist and song.

I found it useful that they took the time to explain the connection between punk and New Wave.  While I’m pretty familiar with the history between the two, it was good to be reminded.  The explanation of why artists went towards New Wave as opposed to punk was made clear by the list they provided, including the development of  MTV (as Duranies know!), the power of the British music press, Top of the Pops and more.

While the authors admit that the 1980s was a bit ridiculous, they also point out what was good about it.  The bands/artists were not manufactured and had tons of imagination and personality.  From my stand point, this is what made the era fun.  The ridiculousness wasn’t so evident to me as a kid.  Now, I see where the criticism comes from, but it doesn’t matter that much to me.  Perhaps, those fun memories of my childhood over shadow any negative.

Rhonda: I liked the introduction, but I tend to shy away from the characterization of the artists being ridiculous. Call the bands excessive at times. Ridiculous though?  I think this lends itself to some discussion if others care to chime in.  In hindsight do you agree that some of the music, videos, images, etc. from this time were ridiculous?

I guess I just don’t see their creativity in that same way. I see the desire to be individual during a period of time when the world still tried to set and keep firm boundaries. People were beginning to push the limits, escape the stranglehold of societal labels and explore the far-reaches of originality. I feel that the artists of this period – particularly those that were discussed in this book, were indeed following that trend. I see New Wave as a response to an angry Punk. Rather than just be screaming angry, artists use the music, the visual, the imagery to explore the emotion (Thank goodness for those London Art Schools), and art begins to entangle with emerging technology. To be fair, I don’t think the point of the authors was to necessarily say that yes, the music of this era was really beyond the seriousness of critics. Instead, I think they were saying to those critics, “Listen, you might not have liked this…but you really do need to give the music it’s just due. It is still around, and it is still continuing to inspire.”  

Adam and the Ants:

Amanda’s Points:

Adam and the Ants isn’t an artist I’m super familiar with.  I blame my age for that.  I was pretty young when they had their big hit here in the States (Goody Two Shoes in 1982).  That said, a number of things really grabbed my attention while reading this chapter.  First, the music press was a significant force in the UK.  I had always heard/read/known that from Duran history, but this confirms it.  I am completely intrigued that an artist like Siouxsie and the Banshees (similar style) was accepted by the UK music press but Adam and the Ants weren’t.  I wonder why that is.  I know that Siouxsie and the Banshees became well-known during the height of punk.  Could that be it?  Could the greater association to punk equal more respect?  No matter the reason that Adam and the Ants weren’t accepted, it certainly was significant as it influenced lyrics and even their image.  I suspect that this power of the British music press will be a theme throughout the book.

Second, I always knew that punk was a really, really big deal for all artists of this era.  Yet, I really got that after reading that Adam quit his first band, Bazooka Joe, after seeing the Sex Pistols in 1975.  By 1979, punk was still influencing.  This time, they wanted the opposite of punk, which led Adam to change the band.  I loved that he then combined influences from history (Napoleon), Native American culture and art history (Futurists).  Of course, this also mixed with Adam’s frustration of the record industry.  I knew that the look of the stripe was a combination of pirate and Native American.  What I didn’t know was that it was a “declaration of war” on the record industry.  Similarly, the song, “Kings of the Wild Frontier,” was about being held back by society whether due to race or class or whatever.

The last thing that really caught my attention was how they felt that punk eventually became conformist and boring.  I wonder if this criticism was a factor when Adam decided to take off the makeup.  Is this concern about becoming boring and conformist one for all artists of this era?  Could this be part of the reason that Duran is always so concerned with updating their sound and look?

On that note, next Monday, we will move along to discuss the next 3 chapters, which include Gary Numan, some band named Duran Duran and New Order.  Happy reading!

Rhonda:

One thing that I found throughout this entire book was that the chapter read much better as I listened to the song/artist in question.  As often as I might listen to music from this period, reading the book and contemplating the places from which many of the songs were written and how they’ve survived over the years allowed me to hear the music with nearly brand new ears. I’d encourage our readers to do the same – it creates a much more multi-dimensional experience!

I liked Adam and the Ants, and I loved Adam Ant. I have to admit that much of Adam’s music was among my first real foray into KROQ in the 80s. I can remember sitting at my friend Christy’s house back in about 1981(ish), just before I really got into Duran Duran.  We would whisper about his lyrics in her bedroom – because we dared not talk loudly about the things that Adam Ant made us think about – her parents would have flipped, because in all honesty, for us Adam WAS sex in 1981.  He seemed blatantly sexual, almost daring pretty young adolescents like us to think about what his songs were about (and I’ve come to decide that in most cases, we were wrong, but boy did we ever enjoy laughing and giggling as we listened). 

I found it fascinating that Adam used the Apache war stripe as his own personal declaration of war against the record industry. I found that to be an ongoing theme throughout this book, and I blame my surprise on my age at the time. Oh to be ten and not have a care in the world again….

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Adam Ant live. He’s one artist from the 80s that I’ve kicked myself repeatedly for missing. That’s the trouble I find with many of these artists in the book – I haven’t seen them live. However, I’ve promised myself that I’m going to take the opportunity to see as many that are still touring as I can. No more waiting if I can help it. I’m happy to hear that Adam is still recording and touring, even if I missed my chance to see him here – and yes Adam, 16 years is still worth the wait, although I’m really hesitant to say that here on this blog….Duran Duran, I am looking at you.  

Looking forward to next week – please feel free to chime in with your own comments and discussion!!  

-A & R

Careless Memories of a Mad World, LA style!

Yesterday afternoon, I packed up my Mad World book, picked up my own chauffeur from work (my husband!), some Daily Duranie wristbands (do you have yours yet?!?), my camera and made my way up to the Sunset Strip to one of my favorite bookstores: Book Soup!  My mission was to have my book signed by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein, authors of Mad World.  I’d never been to a book signing that had a DJ along for the ride, spinning tunes as we stood in line.  My husband Walt commented as we stood in line hearing Echo and The Bunnymen that it felt like we’d been propelled back in time to the early 80s. Observant, that husband of mine…. I loved the music, and yes, I did stay long enough to catch the familiar chords of Girls on Film flowing in the air.  But back to that signing…

Book Soup is not a huge bookstore. It is this fabulous, homey feeling bookstore in the heart of the Strip. Situated just up the street from the likes of the Key Club, Viper Room and The Whisky among others, it’s in an unlikely spot, which is very much part of it’s charm. It reminds me of the independent bookstores I’d find on the main street of Glendora or Covina – my home town(s).  Not only can one find books in Book Soup, but there’s vinyl as well – bonus!!

As I arrived last night and stepped into the store, there was no way you couldn’t be immediately swept away back to the 80’s. Kajagoogoo was playing, and no – I can’t listen to “Too Shy” without thinking of Nick Rhodes. I’m forever cursed. Thanks Nick. I wound my way to the line snaking around the perimeter of one side of the store, and as I stood in line, I dared myself to think back to what it was like listening to these songs in the 80s.  I was pretty young back then, and if I only knew where it all might lead me… (and if I could figure that out now, well, maybe I’d actually be making a decent living!!) I just remember a time when I could turn on the radio and song after song would carry me away from my teenage problems to a world of daydreams.  Nowadays I struggle to find a regular radio station that I can actually stand to listen to more than a song or two. The joys of aging, I suppose.

I looked up as I stood in line and caught the wandering eye of Lori Majewski,  as she glanced to see how far back the line began. She  waved. I started to wave back but then thought to myself, wait a minute. She couldn’t possibly recognize you, Rhonda. She doesn’t even KNOW you. Now you’re waving like an idiot. Awesome. So I looked around, only to find that no one else was looking up.  She was waving my way after all.  Great job, self-confidence.  *begin slow clap here*  I swear it was it was my own personal Ducky moment from Pretty in Pink.  (watch the end of the movie if you don’t know what I mean…and why on earth do you not know what I mean?!?)

As I recovered from that moment (there are just times when I’m glad the band ISN’T there, you know??), I saw Patty Palazzo walk past me – and so I did what any normal person might do any Duranie might do, I got out of line to go say hi! I’d never met Patty before, but I have exchanged emails a few times….and actually, we’d agreed to talk that night about setting up an interview for the blog!! (I’m so excited about this news that I might burst! No really. I just ate carrot cake. I might honestly burst.) I don’t know where my courage came from because I am really not this brave ever, but I walked up and said hello, and even dared to hug her.  *gasp* I don’t know WHERE that came from, because my friends – Rhonda is not a hugger. I like personal space. I am not touchy-feely.  But I hugged Patty last night, and I’m pretty sure I violated her personal space.  Maybe this is why I’ve never really gotten anywhere near the band…I’m a closet hugger!!! *gasp* This is really why I should never be allowed to go to events like this unattended. (meaning without Amanda) I even got Patty and a few new friends to wear our Daily Duranie wristbands! Amanda should be so proud…because I had those darn wristbands in my bag, and I kept thinking to myself: do I dare hand them out? Really? Should I? Will I look as super cool as I do right now if I hand them out?

(The answer is no. No Rhonda…you never looked super cool to begin with, so…you’re safe. Go with it.) So I did! Never mind that it took my darling husband three or four tries to get a decent photo…

wristbands

Before I knew it, we were up to the front and Jonathan Bernstein was doing everything possible to make sure I knew it was time to hand over my book. I was too mesmerized by the process to see that he was practically grabbing my book out of my hands. (so sorry!) The next thing I knew, I was being introduced to Lori Majewski by Patty, and we’d set up a time to get together for something I’m not going to talk about just yet…you’ll have to just watch this space! (Again, I’m really thinking I might burst. Remind me that carrot cake is never an acceptable breakfast substitute…)

photo

It’s blurry (sorry Jonathan…I hope your photographer was better than mine!)…but it is a very cool memory.  Admittedly I am fangirling just a bit over meeting Lori. Back in the day, before writing Mad World, before Teen People, she was the editor of a Duran fanzine. How cool is that?? I don’t know where in the hell I was back then, but I intend to ask her all about that…when we meet up for that thing I’m not going to talk about just yet!

If that weren’t enough, and it’s really not EVER enough (I believe there’s a John Taylor quote to be had somewhere in there), after I had my books signed I had the chance to run into Duranie friends.  I know that I’ve lamented here about how much I miss the band, and I do. Maybe that’s overly sentimental, but I miss seeing them play and I especially miss that sense of “one-ness” that we all feel with them when the show is going right. We’re all in that same place together feeling the same thing. It’s a remarkably cool feeling that I hope all fans get to experience at one time or another. However, it’s in moments like some that I had last night that I remember how much I miss my friends from afar. Friends from the UK, Europe, the midwest, east, northwest…southeast…I’ve been very lucky to have made real friends in a multitude of places, and last night I had just the smallest taste of getting to see some of them again. We don’t gather very often, and it was really nice to catch up with a few of them. Friendships are the one collective “thing” about being a Duranie I treasure most. Well, there is the music too…I mean, duh… (can’t really forget to mention the band, can I??), but I love seeing friends from all over.

The night ended relatively early for us, as we had to get back home, but it was really a great night and I’m glad I went to the signing. If you haven’t gotten your copy of Mad World yet, do yourself a favor and look for it on Amazon. I have read the entire thing once and am going back through it a second time.  Jonathan and Lori did a fantastic job interviewing all of the bands, and there is just so much information in there – things we never would have ever known about the music we grew up with.  It is genuinely worth the read.  You should see my book, I was telling Jonathan last night as we left that my book is all marked up, highlighted, red-lined, complete with notes in the margin!  (Note to self: next time, bring a book that is not already marked up with your notes in it…)

-R