It is Monday and you know what that means! It is the next installment of our most recent book club, in which we read and discuss a book, chapter-by-chapter! This time around we are reading, Mad World. This week, we read the chapters on The Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode and Yaz. We would love to have you read and discuss right along with us!
The Psychedelic Furs:
This entire chapter made me think about what makes a certain band, a certain rock star cool and popular. Lori Majewski mentions in her introduction that Richard Butler, the lead singer, became “one of the most romantic figures in music.” That quote got my attention as I never once thought about him in that way. I am a fan of both of the songs, Love My Way and Pretty in Pink, discussed in this chapter and yet, I never considered him “romantic”. If I read the lyrics, I can see where she is coming from. I suspect that this has less to do with the lyrics or the mood of the song and more to the age we were when these songs came into our lives. I’m young for the typical New Wave fan. For example, Love My Way came out in 1982 but I don’t remember hearing it or knowing it until much later. If I did hear it then, I was 7. I certainly wasn’t thinking “romantic” then.
Later in the chapter, Richard Butler explains how the band had a “cool popularity” and Love My Way threatened that. He explained how with that song, girls started to show up in the front rows and that they had to use back doors because of the fans. He said that they had to be “careful” with this popularity. As someone who studies fandom and fan/celebrity interaction, I totally understood what he meant. On one hand, having that level of fame and adoration must be amazing and addictive. On the other hand, it can and does change people significantly. Perhaps, the goal isn’t and shouldn’t be to be the most popular. It sounds like the point was that they wanted to have “fans” but not in an all-encompassing, overwhelming fan base kind of way.
Similarly, he didn’t seem all that excited with having Pretty in Pink associated with the John Hughes movie starring Molly Ringwald. I was a little jarred by that statement as someone who grew up watching those movies and loving them. Yet, for him, it seemed like he was bothered by how the intention of the meaning of the song seemed to change by its connection to that movie, that storyline. On one hand, I can understand that frustration. On the other, I like songs that can be interpreted in different ways. To me, that is a sign of intelligence by both the songwriter and the listener.
So, to jump on Amanda’s bandwagon – I wasn’t into Richard Butler. I loved Psychedelic Furs, but this is one case where I can easily say I loved the music. Period. Maybe I’m a late-bloomer, but “Love My Way”, “Pretty In Pink” and “Ghost in You” were some of my favorite songs simply because of the lushness of the sound – I don’t think I really listened to the words for interpretation until I was much older. (I think back to how my mom would ask me “Do you know what this song is about?!?” and how often my answer was “No, Mom. I don’t even listen to the words. I just love the music!!”….and I guess it’s not really surprising that my kids answer similarly when I ask them the same question. Sometimes I’m really shocked by what my kids are hearing until I realize that it was the same for me…and I survived.) So to recap: never thought of Richard Butler in that romantic sense….I didn’t listen to the words…and yet I call myself a fan. Awesome.
I’ve seen Psychedelic Furs live a few times, and so it was not really a surprise to me to read “We’ve always been a band that pulls people in. You won’t see me stomping up and down saying, ‘Can you hear me at the back?!’ and ‘Hello Chattanooga! It’s great to be here!’ The amount of words I will say to an audience during a tour is a page of a notebook and they would most be ‘Thank you.’ I don’t like talking much between songs.” (Page 155)
I’d agree. Richard Butler doesn’t say much during a show – and from what I’ve witnessed, this is a band that, when they’re on, they’re good. When they’re off (which I’ve seen more than once), they’re not good and no one is being drawn anywhere. There’s not a lot of “connecting” going on between the band and audience – this isn’t a band you go and expect great showmanship in the same vein as you might from others. Whether that is a good or bad thing really depends on the show, in my opinion.
I found Richard Butler’s comments about the movie, Pretty In Pink to be pretty sad. The movie gave the music more exposure…even if the song wasn’t presented in the light the band had written. I thought it was interesting that Richard didn’t necessarily think about how many possible fans could have been drawn to their music through that movie – for him it was all about the song and it’s use. In that sense, and based on his activity during their shows, I’m not sure that he derives a lot from the audience or his fans. There isn’t really as much of a give and take sort of connection there as I have seen with other bands, such as Duran Duran, but certainly others as well…and I think his statements here are good example of that. It’s not that I think it’s particularly awful he feels that way, either. What’s fascinating to me though is that he’s also a painter – which is a very sort of introspective sort of art. One doesn’t necessarily connect with their audience when they paint – they connect with the work itself, in much the same way as Butler does or did with his music. Coincidence? Probably not.
I openly admit that Depeche Mode is one of my favorite bands and has been for a long time. It hasn’t been as long as I have been a Duran fan but close. The introduction to this chapter reminded me that Depeche has changed over time, much like any other long lasting bands. In their case, they started out “optimistic” and cheerful unlike many of the other synth pops of that era. Of course, Depeche Mode at this time included Vince Clarke, who later left to form other bands like Erasure. Despite my love for the band, this early period isn’t my favorite Depeche era. I have always preferred the darker Depeche.
Vince described how they were often bored in the town of Basildon as it was a town that had nothing to do for kids. The town is described as just “mud”. It seems to me that music produced from a band in an area like that could either express the frustration, the despair created from the environment or the opposite. Depeche obviously didn’t want their music to match their surroundings. Of course, they also opted for synthesizers over guitars as they were “cheap”. They didn’t need expensive amps like guitars did. Likewise, they didn’t require any knowledge of chords. This reminds me of how Daniel Miller in a previous chapter declared that electronic music was the most democratic. It was more accessible to everyone.
As Vince shared the story of how Depeche got started, I was amazed that one label offered them a spot on the Ultravox tour if Depeche signed with them whereas Daniel Miller offered only a single and they went with Daniel. It seemed like they did because of who Daniel was connected with. I know that Duran looked into who else EMI had signed into consideration when they were trying to decide which label to sign with.
I always wondered why Vince decided to leave Depeche. While this chapter didn’t really explain that much, I did learn that he was truly the leader of the band at that time. Perhaps, his leaving could have been the best thing for the rest of the band as they had to step up and take on more responsibility. This would be needed if the band was going to continue and be successful. Obviously, it worked out well for Vince, too.
Like most teens, I had my happy-go-lucky moment and my depressing moments. Thankfully for me, Depeche covered both rather well. I’d start off with “Just Can’t Get Enough” and end with “Blasphemous Rumours” (my long-lasting favorite). Never did I realize that Vince Clarke had everything to do with my happy moments, and nothing to do with my sadder ones. I feel a little embarrassed to admit that, given that I’ve been a DM fan for almost as long as I’ve been a DD fan – but the two bands couldn’t be farther apart from the ways I choose to practice that fandom. For me, DM is the band I simply listen to in the VERY few quiet moments I find. DD, on the other hand…well, I do write a blog, don’t I? I’ve never seen Depeche Mode live, yet I own all of their albums and a lot of their imports – singles, etc. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything having not seen them. In fact, I rather enjoy that for me – this fandom is EASY. I expect nothing but music, and I’m never disappointed.
Like New Order in some respects, Depeche Mode got me interested in electronic music. I asked for a cheapy Casio keyboard for Christmas one year just because I wanted to be able to learn to play some of their music by ear. It’s funny to me that I never thought to ask for a guitar – I think that generally speaking, the guitar seems a lot more complicated to me. All those strings, chords and fingerings. I can make a lot more happen on a keyboard or synthesizer by fiddling with some knobs and buttons. So, I can understand why Martin Gore went with the synthesizer – and it’s a good thing for us that he did go that route, since everyone in the band followed!
Vince says something else that really hits home with me, “I’m a fan of Kraftwerk, but I’m more of a fan of people like OMD, because I like emotional records. Music affects me changes my insides – it really does.” This couldn’t possibly be any more dead-on. I’ve never been able to articulate why I like some electronic and dislike others. I didn’t really have a good answer for why I’m not into some of the electronic I hear today…until now. The emotion matters. Music has to hit me internally, it needs to stay with me. Some songs do that just because of the music – I don’t know why but they do. Others, it’s the lyrics. With Depeche, I find a lot of both, and equally from the one record that Vince Clark did with them through to what people like to call “Depressed Mode”. Truthfully, their songs ARE depressing – but those songs are also what helped this very-awkward young lady get through some difficult moments in high school.
In this chapter, the song, “Only You,” is described by Alison Moyet, the singer, as a “universal, everyman song.” Vince Clarke agreed that it had a simple arrangement and one he had written after Depeche. He wanted Alison to demo it because she could sing with emotion. She agreed simply because she needed the money. She didn’t desire to be a pop star or have a big hit. I always find it interesting when some artist gains some success without really trying 110%. I always hear the opposite. Success happens with that passion combined with lots and lots of hard work, right? Maybe not always.
Alison’s frustration about the lack of acknowledgement about her work in the band comes through loud and clear in this interview. According to her, people always assume that Vince wrote everything and she was just the singer. She sounds so tired of trying to explain to everyone that she, too, wrote songs for the band. Is this an example of sexism within the music industry? Possibly. I would be interested to know if other female performers who wrote material experienced the same assumption. Yet, she later states how women experienced less sexism then in comparison to present day. Now, she says women have to present themselves as sex toys but then women could express themselves as independent people with a bit of aggression. I have to agree with her that real freedom isn’t always about appearing as characters in male sex fantasies.
I found her definition of being “famous” to be really fascinating. To her, it wasn’t about people all loving her as much as it was about how she was recognized and how people always had something to say about her. Is that the real definition of fame?
I had no idea that “Only You” was written by Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet. I knew it as Yaz, and I knew that I loved it’s simplicity. Sometimes it’s nice just to love something without knowing anything about it – it feels innocent and pure. Sure, I might be naive…and I like it here.
I like the way Alison Moyet describes the song as nursery rhyme simplicity – and how Lori Majewski calls it a lullaby. Those words are perfect. The song is simple, clean and beautiful. My only disagreement with Alison Moyet on this is that I feel you DO have to be a great singer to pull off that emotion – and she does. Period. End of story.
While I would be perfectly content to keep this song on a pedestal of its own and never know the backstory – it’s interesting to read that Clarke and Moyet weren’t really “a band” in the same sense of others in this book. They were so detached from one another, it blows my mind that they could be that detached and yet put out two albums – maybe I shouldn’t be surprised (hello naivety!!) I can absolutely read the frustration from Alison when she talks about how it was assumed that Vince was the creator and she was the voice. I’d like to tell her that for me – it was always her. She was the voice, and I just assumed that for her to sing with that kind of emotionality, she had to have been the one to write the words – if not the music as well. I just didn’t know any different. I’d also argue that for me, I usually assume that the vocalist IS the writer. Maybe that’s just because Duran Duran has trained me to think that way – but I do, and I doubt I’m alone.
I usually leave the comments on Feminism to my writing partner – but on this one, I have to interject. I agree wholeheartedly with Alison Moyet that today – women can’t just present themselves in a male light without being sexually aggressive. It’s annoying – it’s as though the only way a female can portray real power in the industry is as a sex-toy. It’s so insulting to me as a female that women in the industry line up, practically begging for the opportunity to be used in that way – it’s as though they’re willing to do whatever they’ve got to do in order to make it through. It’s gross. I choke on the idea that Beyonce…of all the women on the freaking planet, is considered to be “the most feminist” of female artists. Are you joking? Because she tells men that if they liked it they should have put a ring on it? That’s IT? We have pretty low standards for what qualifies as power these days.
Next week, we take a look at Kim Wilde, Howard Jones and Berlin – so be sure to check in!!