Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"The dreams in which I'm dying..."

I've always loved music, but growing up in the early 80s I especially loved new wave.  I still remember liking the sound of "Cars" by Gary Numan when it was new in 1979.  In fact, it was the 'different' songs like "Pop Music" by M and "I Ran" by A Flock of Seagulls that really resonated with me, and I got used to the 'are-you-kidding-me?' reactions from others.  Even though new wave was very popular where I grew up, most of my friends listened to rock and pop music so I always felt like I was on the musical outskirts.  I guess I still feel that way.
"In the U.K.... new wave was initially code adopted by journalists and disc jockeys eager to be perceived as cool but too nervous to actually use the word 'punk' with all its threatening implications. In America, new wave was an umbrella the size of a circus tent. It covered synth pop, ska, goth, alternative rock, bubblegum, Eurodance, industrial, new romantic, blue-eyed U.K. soul, and electronic dance music. It was a Tower of Babel populated by American bands who wanted to be British, British bands who wanted to be German, and German bands who wanted to be robots. It was an insane asylum whose patients were predominantly ambiguous, untouchable males with sucked-in cheeks, 3-D makeup, and wedding-cake hair."
Seldom have I laughed as much as while reading Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein.  I didn't have MTV at home so I didn't know a lot about the bands I loved – and I was surprised at the HUGE EGOs many of the new wave "artists" had – Limahl of Kajagoogoo and especially Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen – particularly considering their relatively modest popular success.  Some really saw themselves as "artists," and sometimes eschewed the popularity that came, while others actively and determinedly pursued it (Duran Duran).  And there was no shortage of competition and jealousy among them:
Curt Smith, Tears for Fears: 'People say, ‘music’s not what it used to be,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, it is.’ Most of the stuff we listened to sucked. What you remember is the really good stuff. But there was a ton of crap in the 80s. For every one of us, there was a Flock of Seagulls.'
Mike Score, A Flock of Seagulls: 'The word that springs to mind is jealousy. Curt Smith may be living in a little fantasyland that Tears for Fears was something spectacular.'
The book is made of edited interviews with 3 dozen new wave bands.  It's got a little history of each band (as well as a 'where-are-they-now' follow up) and focuses on an important song.  But it's all the little bits of info that I found so interesting, like how Mike Score of A Flock of Seagulls got his iconic hairdo, or Adam Ant giving fashion tips to Michael Jackson (the famous red hussar jacket), and how OMD drove an old car with mushrooms growing in the floor even while their songs were at the top of the charts because of the evil record companies. The only band profiled that I didn't know was The Normal, and the only other band I don't have any music from in my collection was Joy Division (I'm more of a New Order fan).  Still, the book sent me scurrying to listen to songs I somehow missed – like "Kings of the Wild Frontier" by Adam Ant and "Being Boiled" by the Human League – and digging out CDs I haven't listened to in a while (New Order).  Not all the chapters were interesting – ABC, Spandau Ballet, Dexy's Midnight Runners, and even Howard Jones (whose music I LOVE) – but I had so much fun reading it and wish there was a follow-up with more bands.  Just a few of the highlights for me (mostly paraphrased rather than quoted in full):
  • Peter Hook of New Order: 'Musically, I love Adam and the Ants. They’re one of my favorite groups. But it was very difficult for me as a Northern male to relate to the dandy look. We would’ve been laughed out of Manchester had we even considered it. Bernard [Sumner] and I used to go out in London with all them lot… We looked like working-class yobs, and everyone else was dressed up as a pirate.'
  • Kim Wilde: 'When it was a hit in America, they were like, 'Why East California'? Why not all the way over to the west? I was trying to come up with any excuse why my dad might have written 'to East California,' and if you ask, he'll just say 'Cause it sounded better'... When I feel self-conscious about saying 'New York to East California,' I think of The Police singing 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,' and I don't feel so bad.'
  • Andy Rourke, The Smiths: 'Morrissey used to buy his – I was going to say 'shirts,' but they were actually blouses – from a clothing place for fat women in Manchester. These women's blouses that nobody wanted became Morrissey's trademark. He used to like tearing them up and throwing them into the crowd.'
  • Midge Ure: 'People consume music in a very different way. It doesn't seem to be as all-important as it used to be for us. Kids have got computer games and a million other things to keep themselves entertained. We had music and our imaginations, and that was it.'

No comments:

Post a Comment