Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Guy Named Kimberly, An L.A. Band Trying To Be British, And A Not Particularly "Logical" Video

Just follow along with me, if you can:

Kimberley Rew (actually a male) was the guitarist in the Soft Boys, a short-lived New Wave/post-punk group led by Robyn Hitchcock (also a male - hey, it's England). Their 1980 album Underwater Moonlight is one of those albums I swiftly try to recommend to people who generally share my taste in music but aren't familiar with anything that hasn't been played on classic rock radio; in other words, while it may have been a complete commercial flop in its day, anyone who likes supremely catchy, playful, and passionate guitar pop would probably like said album. But enough about music that actually, you know, means something to me. After the Soft Boys broke up, Rew formed the Waves and wrote, recorded, and sang a track called "Going Down to Liverpool."
Hey now
Where you going with that load of nothing in your hand
I said hey now
All through this green and pleasant land

I'm going down to Liverpool to do nothing
I'm going down to Liverpool to do nothing
I'm going down to Liverpool to do nothing
All the days of my life
All the days of my life

Hey there
Where you going with that UB40 in your hand
I said hey there
All through this green and pleasant land

It appeared on a UK EP called "Shock Horror!" and later appeared on the band's debut album, which was only released in Canada, for some reason I cannot establish. By this time, American Katrina Leskanich had become the band's primary lead singer, and thus the band became known thereafter as "Katrina and the Waves." They signed with Capitol in 1985 and re-recorded "Going Down to Liverpool" with Katrina singing lead, and also re-recorded another earlier Rew-written song, "Walking on Sunshine," which ... well, you know.

In come the Bangles. Vicki Peterson happened to hear "Going Down to Liverpool" (I assume the original version) from a friend. "Cool, it's all about ... Liverpool! The Beatles were, like, from Liverpool! Let's do it!" I'm not sure the Bangles fully grasped the grim Northern English economic subtext (I believe a UB40 is an unemployment card - at least when it's not a pop-reggae group), but at least they contributed to the gender confusion, since they had a female bassist named Michael. Drummer Debbie Peterson, however, ended up singing lead, and it was probably one of the stronger tracks on All Over the Place, but I don't know if it would have gone anywhere without the video. Because the video features, of all people, the recently departed Leonard Nimoy. Randomly. Just sitting there. He's not playing Spock. He's not doing the Vulcan neck pinch. He's just ... in a music video.

How did the Paisley Foursome achieve this astonishing celebrity coup? Apparently it pays to have famous neighbors. The Hoffs and Nimoy families lived right next to each other and had been friends for quite some time. Wikipedia also mentions that Susanna had been college chums with Leonard's son Adam. Thus, when it came time to do a video for her up-and-coming band, the young ingenue pulled some strings, requested a favor or two, and presto. See, never underestimate the power of an L.A. neighborhood connection. The end result was that the Bangles suddenly had a science fiction icon at their disposal. Whether the song itself had anything to do with Klingons and Romulans was entirely irrelevant. I can just see the conversation now: "All right, we've got $1,000 dollars, a camera, a car, and Leonard Nimoy. Let's make this happen." Some YouTube comment highlights:
You know Spock has ice water in his veins when he watches four hot babes wander away from his car without even batting an eye.

What is it, Spock gets laid once every 12 years? This was that day.

Logically speaking, Susanna Hoffs is the hottest thing in music history.

According to my calculations, there is a distinct AC hum at 1:20, I would suggest a suppressor capacitor across the alternator output - I will get Scotty onto it.....
The mere presence of the late Mr. Nimoy turned "Going Down to Liverpool" into something almost kinda sorta resembling a hit. However, it would take the assistance of a celebrity even more alien and even more creepy to turn the Bangles into genuine stars.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Discography Rediscovered: Faith No More's "The Real Thing" (1989)

I recently began listening to The Real Thing again after hearing that Faith No More was coming out with their first new album in 18 years. Like Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine (the subject of my first Discography Rediscovered) I used to listen to The Real Thing (TRT) a lot in high school. And just like Nine Inch Nails I stopped listening to Faith No More around the time I went off to college.

The Real Thing was the first FNM album to feature Mike Patton on vocals. Previously the band was led by Chuck Mosley, who was kicked out from the band due to narcolepsy (he supposedly would fall asleep mid-set). Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, FNM had already gone through several other lead singers including a stint by Courtney Love at some point. TRT was almost done when they brought on Patton, and you can definitely tell he had to adjust his singing style to compensate, especially when compared to later FNM albums. His voice is somewhat nasally and I find that it's often difficult to understand the lyrics because of this.

The album kicks off with "From Out of Nowhere."  The video for the song (which I've never seen until a week ago) captures FNM's, and especially Patton's style of the time, which might be best described as "kinetic". Watch this video and it becomes easy to compare FNM to one of their contemporaries, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Both FNM and Red Hot Chili Peppers rose to popularity around the same time in the late 80s but if you didn't know that when watching this video you'd think Patton was straight copying Anthony Kiedes' style. Compare this video with RHCP's video for "Higher Ground" which came out the same year and note their similar look, dance style, and even hair.

With both bands hailing from California you could say that Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More were two sides of a similar coin with RHCP being the sunshine-and-heroin funk of SoCal, and FNM being their stoned fog-drenched brothers to the north. It's a bit odd of a comparison to make for me as I really dig FNM but have little love for RCHP.

The second track on TRT and arguably the band's most well-known song is "Epic". With a bizarre music video that only matches the bizarreness of the lyrics, Patton raps and sings a strange number about... it? He keeps referring to "it" but never quite says what "it" is. If you listen closely I think the song is meant as a bit of commentary on consumer culture, with the listener being told how much they should desire "it". Anyways, though it's the band's most famous song it's somewhat of an oddity because this is the only song of FNM's where Patton raps.

The next track "Falling to Pieces" was the follow up to "Epic", and while it shares a similarly strange video it's a perfectly fine song but not necessarily one of my favorites.

Patton's weirdness really starts showing on the bizarrely named "Zombie Eaters". A mellow acoustic guitar gives way to Patton singing from the perspective of a baby. It sounds like a ballad, like Patton might be singing a tender song about his little baby... but then at 2:00 a chugging guitar kicks in and the song takes on a much more menacing vibe. Now it's the baby talking about how he loves to make his parent's lives miserable. There's some real choice lyrics here, like:
Hey look at me lady
I'm just a little baby
You're lucky to have me
I'm cute and sweet as candy
As charming as a fable
I'm innocent and disabled
So hug me and kiss me
Then wipe my butt and piss me
Trust me, this song is chilling once you have your own baby.

At the middle point of the album sits perhaps its most ambitious song. The titular track "The Real Thing" is a sprawling eight plus minute song that comes the closest to a FNM ballad. Just like in "Epic", the real "thing" being described is never fully articulated. For years I've thought the lyrics were referencing the moment of sexual climax but now I'm not so sure. It could also be about the pleasure derived from drugs but then I've read that Patton doesn't partake in any illegal substances (which is amazing considering the overall strangeness of FNM's lyrics). Regardless, it's one of my favorites.

"The Morning After" and "Underwater Love" are fine but I tend to skip them. The awesomely titled "Woodpecker from Mars" is an instrumental appearing late on the album and comes with a slight Arabic tinge.

The second to last track is a cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs". The AMG review (written by Ned Raggett - we seriously have eerily similar tastes in music) notes that this cover "amusingly backfired on the band -- at the time, Sabbath's hipness level was nonexistent, making it a great screw-you to the supposed cutting edge types." If only FNM could foresee that Ozzie would become a reality TV star.

The final track once again allows Patton to indulge in some of his zanier tendencies. "Edge of the World" can only be described as sleazy lounge music. Hell, it even inclues the sounds of a sleazy lounge in the background with swilling drinks and men quietly muttering. Sung from the perspective of a sleazy old man who's trying to convince a younger woman to let him be her sugar daddy (he's only 40 years older than her!), it's one of Patton's songs where he's taking on a particular character. The follow up album, Angel Dust, would include several of these character songs.

I do really enjoy this song - it's just an easy listen and a good unwind after the frenetic-ness of the previous few songs and it's even kind of charming. Strangely I remember this track being somewhere in the middle of the album, which I had on cassette.  Wikipedia tells me that I am indeed not having a bout of dementia and that the cassette release did place "Edge of the World" at track six, so there you go.

Faith No More would go on to make two more albums before breaking up. Patton went on to the band Mr. Bungle and became involved more in avant-garde rock. It makes sense, he seemed to like jumping around and trying out different styles and sounds, something much more prevalent in the follow up Angel Dust (which may be the subject of a future entry).

That's it for this round of Discography Rediscovered, until next time.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

"You Belong To The City" ... But That Sultry Blonde Belongs To Glenn Frey

Some people don't know where they belong. Maybe they belong in a seaside resort. Maybe they belong in a one-room shack in Idaho. Well Glenn Frey isn't talking to those people. He's talking to the people who know where they belong. If you're listening to Glenn Frey's smash 1985 single, if you're really in tune with what he has to say, if you really understand him, then you know.

You belong ... to the city.

I'm a little suspicious though. I mean, if you really belonged to the city, you wouldn't have to write a song about it, right? Maybe he was just being borrowed by the city. Maybe he was just traded to the city for half a season.

Or maybe he was trying to write a song for Miami Vice. After all, once you've already starred in an episode of Miami Vice based around one of your own songs, you might as well record a song specifically for Miami Vice, right? I know movie soundtracks were popular in the '80s, but I didn't realize that television soundtracks were popular in the '80s. Can you believe that the Miami Vice soundtrack album was #1 for 11 weeks? And can you believe that Glenn Frey's two biggest solo hits weren't even from proper Glenn Frey albums? Who did he think he was, Kenny Loggins?
It starts, of course, with the sax. Without the sax, there is no city. Then the chug begins. The urban rhythms of the night. Or maybe it's Glenn's washing machine. Perhaps this is the birth of Laundromat Rock. Sorry, the washing machine in my apartment's been broken the last few weeks; obviously I've had laundry on the brain.

The great thing about "You Belong to the City" is that Glenn Frey gives it all he's got. The man thinks he's singing "Stand By Me" or "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." Glenn Frey is so into this song that he won't be able to crawl out of this song. Glenn Frey is so into this song that nobody's heard from him for weeks. His family just reported him missing.

But he works his way up to it. At first, he keeps things sly and sultry:
The sun rolls down, the night rolls in
You can feel it starting all over again
The moon comes up and the music calls
You're gettin' tired of starin' at the same four walls

You're out of your room and down on the street
Movin' through the crowd in the midnight heat
The traffic roars, the sirens scream
You look at the faces, it's just like a dream
I'm totally with him, right up until "just like a dream." That was the best he could come up with? What kind of a dream, Glenn? A good dream? A bad dream? Saying it's "just like a dream" is like saying it's just like anything. But Glenn is unperturbed, as the chords build behind him: "Nobody knows where you're goin'/Nobody cares where you've been." Yeah, and? And??? What does it mean? Is he going to cut to the chase here? You're damn right he is:

"'Cause you be-long to the city! You belong to the night!" There is it. The cold hard truth comes out. This is your world. This is your moment. This is your home. "Livin' in a river of darkness/Beneath the neon lights." A river of darkness, huh? It would probably be pretty hard to live in there. You'd need a wet suit. And maybe an oxygen tank. And one of those water-resistant flashlights. All right, I get it, it's a metaphor.

By the second verse, Glenn turns it up to 10:
When you said goodbye, you were onnnn the run!
Tryin' to get away from the things you've done!
Now you're back again, and you're feeeeeling strange!
So much has happened, but nothing has changed!
Whoa, dude. That is deep. Glenn Frey is tapping into the mystical zen of city-dwelling here. How could so much happen, and yet ... nothing change? It's a paradox, a mind-melting paradox.

And that's it, right? Oh no, sit right down, because Preacher Glenn's still got some more gospel to spread. He mutters a quiet "You can feel it." Then some sax. "You can taste it." A little more sax. "You can see it." OK, that one had some bite to it. So let me guess, he's naming all the senses here, up next is ... "You can touch it"? Well, that doesn't rhyme with "taste it." Looks like ol' Glenny Boy's painted himself into a corner. "You can face it." Ooh, nice recovery. "You can hear it, hey/You're getting near it!" Now the man's not pulling any punches. He's completely abandoned that whole call-and-response thing with the saxophone, because, damn it, he's gotta let it out. "You wanna make it!" Uh-huh. Go on. "'Cause you can take it!" Actually, I don't know if I can.

But even after that gripping testimony, if you still have your doubts as to whether or not Glenn truly belongs to the city, a quick viewing of the music video should erase any misgivings.

As with "The One You Love," right off the bat, there's the saxophone. Glenn Frey doesn't fuck around. The Manhattan skyline. The Brooklyn Bridge. Oh yeah. Eat shit Joe Jackson. Suddenly, that very same saxophone is ... on a TV monitor? Hey, we're in somebody's apartment. The camera pans back to reveal ... the King of Cool himself. He's leaning back on his bed, smoking a cigarette, the Empire State Building glittering through the window, his extremely sexy cat licking itself in the foreground. Another night, another mystery.

Then BOOM! We hit the streets. The man is on the prowl. But who's the lucky lady? Ah, there she is, all dolled up with nowhere to go, lighting candles, watching the tube. You know what she needs? She needs an exciter. She needs the Allnighter. Oh, also, every so often, there's a shot of a TV monitor showing random clips of Don Johnson and that other guy from the show (look, I never watched it) wandering through the same mean streets that Glenn apparently knows so well. In fact, if you've got some extra time to kill, there's actually a weird "alternate universe" video of "You Belong To The City" in which Don Johnson walks around Manhattan like a sex machine instead of Glenn. Pick your poison, America.

Anyway, Glenn's Goddess of Destiny hops into a cab, uncertain of the magic that awaits her. The cab almost hits Glenn a la Midnight Cowboy's "I'm walkin' here!" scene, but he can't stay mad for long, as a he catches a glimpse of ... the Woman. He's got to have her, traffic accidents be damned. She enters a bar, and he follows, but he sits on the other side of room; he's got to stake out the situation first. Some sleazeball tries to light her cigarette, he's probably trying to pick her up, but Glenn can see she's not interested in that guy. No way. There's only one man who can satisfy her PG-13 desire. He steps outside to hail a cab, but she's done messing around with amateurs. She and Glenn start to chat. They walk back to her apartment. The city (to which he so enthusiastically belongs, remember) swirls around them. Also, lest we forget, there's a shot of the saxophone every now and then.

Suddenly, it's morning. Like a Yuppie Rock Don Draper, Glenn casually pops out of an elevator, fresh from another conquest, turns off the security monitor ("Don't worry, Glenn Frey was here, nobody's going to harm this building"), and strolls out onto the street.

Or you know what? Maybe he killed her! Where are those damn vice cops when you need them?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Love Over Gold: More Like Length Over Gold

For most bands, an eight minute opening track would seem pretty long. For Dire Straits, eight minutes wasn't long enough. How about fourteen minutes? Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about. "Telegraph Road," the first song on 1982's Love Over Gold, practically makes "Tunnel of Love" sound like a Ramones single. Or, to put it another way, "Telegraph Road" was probably every radio DJ's perfect chance to go grab a quick cheeseburger. In the time it takes me to listen to "Telegraph Road," I could finish one of those maddening jigsaw puzzles where half of it is just a picture of generic blue sky. Why do they make those, anyway? And what's with the album cover? What is this, a Metallica record? A Magic: The Gathering card? At any rate, Lover Over Gold might mimic the five-song format of a classic prog-rock album, but Mark Knopfler wasn't interested in warlocks and wizards.

No, he was interested in the crumbling hopes and dreams of a once-prosperous society. "Telegraph Road" is the story of America. It's the story of a civilization growing, cresting, and declining. Above all, it is the story of a very, very long guitar solo. From Wikipedia:
Inspired by a bus trip taken by Knopfler, the lyrics narrate a tale of changing land development over a span of many decades along Telegraph Road in suburban Detroit, Michigan. In the latter verses, Knopfler focuses on one man's personal struggle with unemployment after the city built around the telegraph road has become uninhabited and barren just as it began.
Yeah, but that was 1982. Look at the place now! All right, let's see what we've got here:
A long time ago came a man on a track
Walking thirty miles with a sack on his back
And he put down his load where he thought it was the best
Made a home in the wilderness
He built a cabin and a winter store
And he ploughed up the ground by the cold lake shore
And that man turned out to be ... Eminem's great-grandfather! No, no, I'm just playin'.
And the other travelers came walking down the track
And they never went further, no, they never went back
Then came the churches, then came the schools
Then came the lawyers, then came the rules
Then came the trains and the trucks with their loads
And the dirty old track was the telegraph road
Then came the Taco Bells, and then came the Best Buys, and then came the Lenscrafters, and then came the Starbucks ... wait, nope, that's not where he's going with this:
Then came the mines, then came the ore
Then there was the hard times, then there was a war
Telegraph sang a song about the world outside
Telegraph road got so deep and so wide
Like a rolling river
OK, then about seven minutes in (!), this whole Ken Burns documentary thing turns into a first-person Springsteen-esque bitchfest:
I used to like to go to work but they shut it down
I got a right to go to work but there's no work here to be found
Yes and they say we're gonna have to pay what's owed
We're gonna have to reap from some seed that's been sowed
And the birds up on the wires and the telegraph poles
They can always fly away from this rain and this cold
You can hear them singing out their telegraph code
All the way down the telegraph road
Damn birds. They don't know what it's like to file for unemployment, do they? There's another verse, but you get the idea: the flyover states are fucked. Hey Mark, you're not even from here. Although everything you're saying is completely spot-on, you don't get to say that crap about working class malaise; only we get to say it.

Did I mention that this is a really long song? To be fair, the "song" more or less ends before the ten minute mark, but it turns out Knopfler needs to jam. So we get a four minute guitar solo, which must be treated with the greatest reverence, like a flag-lowering ceremony. The whole camp is required to stand at attention and salute during the folding of the outtro, and Knopfler's solo is not allowed to touch the ground.

When the record company sat around and said, "All right we need a hit from this thing," I don't know who suggested "Private Investigations," but I would have called that person an idiot. "Private Investigations" is essentially a spoken word monologue (where Knopfler indulges in his Philip Marlowe/Sam Spade fantasies) with some occasional and unexpected piano and guitar crescendos in the background. I don't hear a hook, I don't hear a chorus, I don't hear any singing - it's the birth of Mumble Rock. And yet, in the UK, this peaked at #2. That is why they get paid the big bucks and I don't.
It's a mystery to me, the game commences
For the usual fee plus expenses
Confidential information, it's not a public inquiry

I go checking out the reports, digging up the dirt
You get to meet all sorts in this line of work
Treachery and treason, there's always an excuse for it
And when I find the reason I still can't get used to it

And what have you got at the end of the day?
What have you got to take away?
A bottle of whisky and a new set of lies
Blinds on the windows and a pain behind the eyes

Scarred for life, no compensation
Private investigations

Smoky Dire Straits mood pieces: the stuff that dreams are made of. The obvious single, at least to American ears, was the Side Two opener, "Industrial Disease" (clocking in at a brisk 5:50). With its roller rink keyboard, continuous drumming (not always a given in a Dire Straits song), and stream-of-consciousness verbiage, it sounds for all the world like an early version of "Walk of Life," perhaps crossed with Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues"? It's a jolly little number that treats the broad sociological term "Industrial Disease" as if it were a genuine physical ailment. During one verse, Knopfler comically plays doctor:
Doctor Parkinson declared "I'm not surprised to see you here
You've got smoker's cough from smoking, brewer's droop from drinking beer
I don't know how you came to get the Bette Davis knees
But worst of all young man you've got Industrial Disease"
He wrote me a prescription he said "You are depressed
But I'm glad you came to see me to get this off your chest
Come back and see me later - next patient please
Send in another victim of Industrial Disease, ha ha, splendid!"
Umm, I don't think it quite works like that. Though it didn't set the Hot 100 on fire, "Industrial Disease" was, according to Wikipedia's Dire Straits discography page, a big US radio hit on the Mainstream Rock chart. In the end, it seems American listeners took the title to heart and apparently chose love, given that the album didn't go gold until 1986, but somehow, given that it was arguably their most uncompromising and least commercial release, Love Over Gold hit #1 in the UK, Australia, and several other non-English-speaking nations. Maybe they used the album as a handy way to keep track of their washing machine cycles. Love Over Gold: Songs You Can Time Your Laundry To.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Behind Blonde Eyes: Inside The Fractured Mind Of a Belinda Reborn

Nobody knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

- The Who, "Behind Blue Eyes"
So, when Belinda Carlisle quit doing coke in 1985 (although, as it turns out, not once and for all), a funny thing happened. She started to look a little ... different. And not a "bad" kind of different. I'm not talking a Lindsay Lohan, I-need-a-blood-transfusion different, or a Marlon Brando, I-just-ate-my-pet-chihuahua different. I'm talking more like an "if Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Redford, Brigitte Bardot, Sean Connery, Amy Adams, and Ryan Gosling all had a baby together" different.

Now, particularly in the early Go-Go's days, I would have to say that Belinda already looked pretty good, and if you dare to disagree with me, I will secretly begin stealing your mail every other Thursday. But at the dawn of her solo career, Belinda's appearance rendered terms like "good-looking" woefully inadequate - insulting, even. All of sudden, completely out of nowhere, Belinda Carlisle became ... laughably attractive. She became depressingly attractive. She became so attractive, it was, for all intents and purposes, a joke. Well hardy-har-har. I'd be laughing more if I wasn't writhing in pain. Some of us find late '80s Belinda Carlisle so attractive, it actually hurts to look at her. I have to shield my eyes while I'm watching her videos, the same way I shield my eyes when I glance at the sun.

When I first discovered, via YouTube and other sources, the unfathomable attractiveness of late '80s Belinda Carlisle, I had to ask myself a number of questions. First of all, how did this happen? How did she go from looking like a quasi-lesbian Florida retiree to a living, breathing, reanimated Barbie doll? Some at the time speculated the utilization of surgery, but the woman has always denied it, and I'm far from an expert on such matters, but it seems like her face looked healthy and "naturally" good, not sickly and "artificially" good, the way many celebrities' faces tend to look after a procedure or two. Many wondered if she deliberately tried to "re-package" herself in order to "make it" as a solo artist, but as far as I can tell, the fact that her physical transformation coincided with the start of her solo career was more or less an accident (albeit one her record company certainly appreciated). Nope, I think all that happened is that she quit doing coke and finally settled down with a decent guy.

But here is what I truly wanted to know: "What does it actually feel like to be that attractive? Is one aware of how attractive one is? Does one not really care? Is it annoying? Is it satisfying? Just ... what's it like?" Deep within the caverns of Lips Unsealed, my answer lay waiting for me. And it was even more complex than I'd anticipated. For in providing the answer, Belinda merely raised more questions:
... after cleaning up my act, I saw a profound physical change. I lost the bloat I had from doing coke and drinking every night, especially from my face. I also lived a healthier lifestyle, eating better and working out. I started my day in the morning, a positive change in itself, as opposed to ending my day at that time, and I hit the gym with a trainer, lifting weights and running. All in all, I shed about twenty pounds and received lots of compliments about the way I looked.
Wait, I thought earlier she said that coke helped her stay thin. I guess coke can be whatever you want it to be, but I digress. So, life was an endless stream of awesomeness, right?
... I realized that I photographed well and was considered pretty even though I didn't feel that way about myself.

No, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw me at ten years old, wearing the polka-dot dress my mom had gotten on special at Sears, the one the kids at school knew was my only outfit. Or I saw myself a year or two later in a sleeveless hand-me-down that was lime green with flowers and let me believe when I put it on and did my hair in pigtails that I was pretty like Marcia Brady. Yet then I ran outside just as a car carrying some kids from school drove past and one of them yelled, "Hey, fatso!"

Despite being almost twenty-eight years old, inside my head I was still that girl, scared, awkward, and full of shame and insecurity. I definitely didn't see the beauty other people kept saying I had turned into.
So what we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is the rare instance of a woman who, on the outside, looked like this ...

... but on the inside, still felt like this:

You see, this is why I don't find the laughably attractive Yuppie Belinda insufferable, like I find so many laughably attractive people. This was not a woman who had "always" looked perfect. This was not a woman who'd never lacked confidence, who'd never felt like an outcast, who'd never had to fret about her appearance. I look at laughably attractive Belinda Carlisle and, somehow, some way, I see ... myself. Am I insane? I see a frog who became a princess. I see someone with the personality of an art-school geek, who accidentally ended up in the body of a supermodel. And I see comedy, lots of comedy. She goes on:
There was nothing like being a boutique and hearing women whisper, "Isn't that Belinda Carlisle? I didn't know she was so pretty." (Hey, I didn't know it either). I also heard people say I looked like a young Ann-Margret, whose starring roles in Viva Las Vegas and Bye Bye Birdie had made her one of my favorite actresses.
But I had mixed feelings about such compliments. All through the Go-Go's I never lacked for boyfriends, but the press constantly referred to me as pretty and plump or cute and chubby, which bugged me. Then, as I started to do some early interviews before my album was close to being released, I began to hear the flipside, that I was slim, svelte, and sexy, like a new, hot Belinda Carlisle.

I knew it was all well intentioned. But why did my size even have to be an issue? I was confused enough. Couldn't I just be liked for being myself?

Good question.

No easy answers.
Geez. Sounds kind of ... fucked up. When people make comments like that, they're not really thinking about it all that hard. I mean, what is the "self"? Is it the way a person looks? Is it the things a person does? When we like someone, what is it that we're actually "liking"? If Belinda records an album in the woods, and there's no label there to release it, does it make the charts? Were her dreams as empty as her conscience seemed to be?

Honestly, I'm just a bored blogger with a silly '80s pop singer obsession. I'd hate to fuel our society's fixation on the superficial physical appearance of celebrities but, in the words of the great Abraham Lincoln, "Screw that shit."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

While You See A Chance (For A Slick '80s Career Re-Boot), Take It

OK, so that first solo album didn't work out so hot. What was a Winwood to do?

How about retreat to his farm (where he'd already built his own private studio), and start hatching a plan? I suppose desperate times called for desperate measures. I mean, here was a man who could have invited a Dream Team of British studio musicians to join him in making a follow-up. He invited ... no one. Sometimes a Yuppie Rocker needs to make a solitary sojourn into the unknown, needs to confront his inner A&R man, needs to strip himself down to the bare wannabe-New Wave essentials.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Arc Of A Diver. Yes, Winwood's second solo album was truly a "solo" album. He and Stevie Wonder already shared the same initials, but did that really mean they needed to start sharing the same recording methods? According to Wikipedia, Winwood played "acoustic & electric guitars, bass, drums, percussion, drum machines, keyboards, synthesizers, organ, lead & backing vocals." What, no zither?

At the start of "While You See A Chance," whatever instrument he's playing sounds like an elephant seal's queef, but once the drums kick in, that queef turns into a jet engine, spewing synthesized elephant seal love all over your eardrums. Sound a little gross? Steve Winwood doesn't know the meaning of gross. But that's not quite the best part. Yes, like "In The Air Tonight," "While You See A Chance" has a universally agreed-upon "best part." A tambourine is a simple instrument, but deployed strategically, it can turn a catchy song into a life-affirming gust of wind. Right at 0:40, when Winwood really lets that tambourine fly (better heard on the stereo album mix), "While You See A Chance" becomes that gust. It's like that moment (to use a Bay Area example, although I will neither confirm nor deny that I live there) when you're driving south on Highway 101 through the Waldo Tunnel, and suddenly out of nowhere the entirety of the Golden Gate Bridge comes into view. Or when you're driving west on Interstate 80, and you pop out of Yerba Buena Island, and boom!, there's the western span of the Bay Bridge. You're sitting in a drab, ugly, shitty tunnel, and then the brightness creeps into your eyes, and this world-class vista just hits you. The elephant seal queef synthesizer is that tunnel, and the tambourine is that vista. Wait. That's not it. Yeah. I'm moving on.

"While You See A Chance" is like the "I Have a Dream" speech for white yuppie people. It's like a synth-pop PSA. Believe in yourself, and you can do anything - even resuscitate your solo career!
Stand up in a clear blue morning until you see what can be
Alone in a cold day dawning, are you still free? Can you be?

When some cold tomorrow finds you, when some sad old dream reminds you
How the endless road unwinds you

While you see a chance take it, find romance make it
Because it's all on you

Don't you know by now no one gives you anything
Don't you wonder how you keep on moving one more day your way

When there's no one left to leave you, even you don't quite believe you
That's when nothing can deceive you

And that old gray wind is blowing and there's nothing left worth knowing
And it's time you should be going
"Even you don't quite believe you?" Uh, Steve, don't you mean "even you don't quite believe yourself"? I guess the grammatically correct version didn't scan so well. Forget it guys, he's rolling. The video finds Winwood stuck on the set of Tron with, it appears, Cirque du Soliel's minor league affiliate. The humans of this particular world (if they're humans at all) worship the Plywood Pyramid God, and only speak to each other by reflecting light off their hand mirrors. Personally, I wouldn't want to live there, but obviously Winwood feels right at home. Several YouTube commentators have compared his appearance to Conan O'Brien, but I'm going to go a little more contemporary and say ... Benedict Cumberbatch?

You know, for a boring white guy, Steve Winwood really knew how to groove. He was like a one-man Hall & Oates! I've recently discovered Arc Of A Diver's title track, which has a haunting melody worthy of the Bee Gees but a funky rhythm track worthy of Earth, Wind & Fire - or vice versa. Also, the lyrics make no sense:
She bathes me in sweetness I cannot reveal
For sharing dreams I need my woman
This humble expression meagerly dressed
My eyes so mean it has no meaning

But jealous night and all her secret chords
I must be deaf on the telephone
I need my love to translate

I play the piano no more running, honey
This time to the sky I'll sing if clouds don't hear me
To the sun I'll cry and even if I'm blinded
I'll try moon gazer because with you I'm stronger
"Bathes me in sweetness"? "Moon gazer"? He sounds like he's been listening to too many Donovan records. These lyrics don't even rhyme! Besides, if the sun blinds you, looking at the moon isn't going to help ... because you'll be blind. "I need my love to translate"? Great, now he's using his girlfriend as his foreign language interpreter? Just get a software program for that, Steve. Oh yeah, then his rock 'n' roll starts overeating, and he tops it all off by threatening to rob the past, present, and future at gunpoint:
Arc of a diver effortlessly
My mind in sky and when I wake up
Daytime and nighttime I feel you near
Warm water breathing, she helps me here

Lean streaky music spawned on the streets
I hear it but with you I had to go
'Cause my rock 'n' roll is putting on weight
And the beat it goes on

With you my love we're going to raid the future
With you my love we're going to stick up the past
We'll hold today to ransom 'til our quartz clock stops until yesterday
Whatever, it's got a good beat, and I can drive my Volvo to it.

Although "Night Train," arguably the world's greatest Giorgio Moroder homage, deserves a mention, the real hidden gem of Arc Of A Diver has got to be "Spanish Dancer," where Winwood funks it up harder than Rick James and George Clinton in Patti LaBelle's backyard hot tub. He programs the synthesizer to what sounds like its "Japanese harpsichord" setting, and then for six minutes he just goes to town. It kind of sounds like a laser beam trying to perform Swan Lake, but hey, I'd pay to see that. I wouldn't call it much of a "composition': there's a nice bridge, but there's either no chorus, or no verse, I'm not sure which. He probably thought, "I don't need no chorus or verse, I'm fucking Steve Winwood." Well, when released as a single, it flopped like a Spanish dancer, but don't worry '80s: Steve Winwood, Yuppie Rocker, had seen his chance, and he was only just beginning to take it.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

I Can Smell It Coming In The Air Tonight AKA Phil Goes Solo, Holds Nothing Back (And I Mean Nothing)

It's lying there. In the darkness. Out beyond the shadows, unspoken and unknown. It comes creeping silently, seductively. That irrepressible dread, that demonic '80s spirit. It's been hiding in the cracks and crevices for too long. It's time for it to emerge.

First there is a drum machine. It is slow - unnervingly slow. Why isn't it faster? Why does it not rush? What is it waiting for?

Then the guitar. But not just any guitar. It's an eerie "only plays one note at a time" guitar. You don't want to mess with this guitar.

Now an organ. It's a low note. It's like a frightened orphan, curled up in a ball, alone in the alleyway while the monsters close in. It doesn't belong out here - out here in the valley of the forsaken. Then more organ. This one is playing higher notes. Who knows, it might even be the same organ. This one is at least capable of playing a melody. It's bringing a little comfort to the afflicted. Does anyone even live out in this place? Are there any humans who dare to make their presence known?

Yes, there is one. These are his words:
I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
I've been waiting for this moment, all my life, oh Lord
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord, oh Lord
In this post-apocalyptic wasteland, there is only one man left standing. And that man ... is Phil Collins.

"In the Air Tonight" isn't just a Phil Collins song. It is a silent vortex within the mind. It is an interstellar wavelength of doom and despair. It is an ocean of sound, filled with the blood of 70,000 virgins (as opposed to, I don't know, salt water?). "In the Air Tonight" is somehow Phil Collins' very first solo single, and yet it is also his last will and testament. He could have died in a car crash the day after completing it, and yet his name would have lived on far outside the realms of Genesis lore.

"In the Air Tonight" is Phil Collins' ultimate statement of purpose. Those who laugh at "Sussudio," those who spit in the face of "Another Day in Paradise," must nevertheless pause and kneel before the great stone god that is "In the Air Tonight." It has something that no other Phil Collins song has. It has ... como se dice? It has ... cojones. From Wikipedia:
Collins wrote the song in the wake of a failing relationship with his wife. Collins has described obtaining the drum machine specifically to deal with these personal issues through songwriting, telling Mix magazine: "I had to start writing some of this music that was inside me." He improvised the lyrics during a songwriting session in the studio: "I was just fooling around. I got these chords that I liked, so I turned the mic on and started singing. The lyrics you hear are what I wrote spontaneously. That frightens me a bit, but I'm quite proud of the fact that I sang 99.9 percent of those lyrics spontaneously."
Dude must have been going through some serious shit. If this is what divorce is like, I'd rather just settle for a separation or something. Whatever kind of pizza Phil ate that morning, I wouldn't want a slice of it.

Some lead singers of established groups go off and record a "solo album," but it basically sounds like their groups' usual albums. "In the Air Tonight" is truly the sound of Phil Collins sitting in an empty room with only his twisted psyche as companionship. This vocalist isn't just Phil Collins: it's RoboPhil Collins. This is Hal-9000 Collins. This is a sentient operating system isolated on the furthest satellite outpost in the galaxy. Or maybe it's just Phil Collins with a cool echo effect. Whatever. On the second chorus, his circuitry starts to melt and bleed into itself, as the main Phil is joined by an unnervingly higher-pitched Phil and a menacingly lower-pitched Phil in the left channel, and the words "night" and "lord" start to bounce down the great steel corridors of this mostly abandoned space ship, never to reach another's ears until the next alien race stumbles upon the sound waves in approximately 15 million years. At the start of the second verse, I'm pretty sure RoboPhil's eyes glow a hideous red as he turns to the camera and inhumanly shouts, "Well I re-MEM-BAH!"

All fine and dandy, but that's not the best part. You see, "In the Air Tonight" is one of those rare pop songs with an actual, official, federally sanctioned "Best Part (TM)." Usually, when someone says, "This is the best part!" they're full of shit. But when you're talking about "In the Air Tonight," there really is a universally agreed-upon "Best Part," from which no observer is allowed to deviate. The "Best Part" occurs precisely at the 3:40 mark. It is not up for debate. It is not a matter of opinion. It is true in the sense that 7 being the square root of 49 is true.

The Best Part ... is the entrance of the drums.

You know what moment he'd been waiting for all his life? The entrance of the fucking drums. That's what he'd been waiting for all his life. And it was worth it.

"In the Air Tonight" may the only pop song in which the entrance of the drums is genuinely the Best Part. Sometimes they can be a great part, or a memorable part, but rarely are they the Best Part. However, according to his suspiciously obscure memoir (that shares its name with this song), Collins reveals that the distinctive debut of his "gated drum sound" was, if you can believe it, something of an accident:
When we were originally recording the song, there wasn't supposed to be any drums. Any. What happened was this: I was laying down a vocal overdub, when I looked over at the drum kit. There was the nastiest cockroach you'd ever seen. He was an ugly little fucker. I thought I could get him with my drumsticks. So I sang, "It's no stranger to you and me," and I figured, "Well, the take will probably be ruined, we'll just do it over again," but I really wanted to smash this guy. He was a wily one, all right. I hit my snare, and the tom-tom, and then the snare again, but fucking hell, he crawled away! So then I figured, all right, might as well keep drumming. When we played the track back, it sounded good, so we left it in.
What is it about this drumming moment that is so great? Let me tell you. It's ... the tension. For the first three and a half minutes, you just know something is going to happen, but you don't know what. It's like being locked in that massive space station, and the oxygen is slowly, slowly leaking out of the cabin, and then BAM! A thousand air ducts all burst open at once. You can breathe again, but God damn, did it have to be so startling?

Apparently, what was hiding in those sealed air ducts was an army of flesh-eating spiders, because that might explain the ever-increasing intensity of Phil's singing as the song fades. He lets out a fairly nasty "awwwl mah lyyyfe!!" around 4:37, followed by a particularly harrowing "oh laww-huh-oh-oh-awwd!!" around 4:50. I think the space arachnids are finally chewing his eyeballs out at the 5:10 mark.

According to Wikipedia, the sound of "In the Air Tonight" was so unprecedented that when Phil played the track for legendary Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun, the label boss listened to the first minute or so and said, "Where's the drums? I can't hear the drums!" Phil said, "Just wait, they're coming." Ahmet said, "Well the kids don't know that! You gotta put some drums on earlier!" So on the original single mix, Phil added some quiet drums to go along with the drum machine. I didn't know what the hell Wikipedia was talking about until I saw the video, which features this mix. I actually don't think it alters the feel of the song in a particularly detrimental way, but if this was the single mix of the song, I certainly never heard it on the radio in the '80s, nor have I heard it on the radio since. The kids could wait for the drums after all, Ahmet.

Although the video doesn't take place on an abandoned space station, it's creepy enough, I suppose. It's a gigantic close-up ... of Phil Collins' face! In black & white! Then he's sitting in an empty room, apparently re-enacting the children's book Goodnight Moon. Then he ends up in some abandoned laboratory with more doors than anyone could possibly need. Then his face turns into a blotchy infra-red blob. Check, and mate.

Oh, there's one more piece of business I've neglected to mention: the "urban legend." You know which one. Let's take a look at the verse in question:
Well if you told me you were drowning
I would not lend a hand
I've seen your face before my friend
But I don't know if you know who I am
Well, I was there and I saw what you did
I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off the grin, I know where you've been
It's all been a pack of lies
From Wikipedia:
An urban legend has arisen around "In the Air Tonight," according to which the lyrics are based on a drowning incident in which someone who was close enough to save the victim did not help them, while Collins, who was too far away to help, looked on. Increasingly embroidered variations on the legend emerged over time, with the stories often culminating in Collins singling out the guilty party while singing the song at a concert. Collins has denied all such stories; he commented on the legends about the song in a BBC World Service interview:

“I don't know what this song is about. When I was writing this I was going through a divorce. And the only thing I can say about it is that it's obviously in anger. It's the angry side, or the bitter side of a separation. So what makes it even more comical is when I hear these stories which started many years ago, particularly in America, of someone come up to me and say, 'Did you really see someone drowning?' I said, 'No, wrong'. And then every time I go back to America the story gets Chinese whispers, it gets more and more elaborate."
Yes! As it should! (Also, I'm assuming Chinese whispers is the British version of Telephone?). I will never fail to get a kick out of this legend, which has taken on such prominence, even Eminem referenced it in "Stan." But honestly, how is this supposed to work? Phil sings "if you told me you were drowning," meaning if. He's suggesting a hypothetical, not saying he's actually watching someone drowning. Plus, he sings those lines in the first person, and he also sings the "I was there and I saw what you did" lines in the first person. So how could he have been the guy who let someone drown, and also be the guy who watched that guy?? It doesn't add up. It just doesn't add up.

But hey, I never thought the whole Dark Side of the Moon/Wizard of Oz thing worked either. The truth is, the song isn't actually about a guy drowning, or Phil Collins getting a divorce, or any one of the number of things you might have heard in the school yard. All those interview quotes are just a red herring. Rather, in a shocking passage from In The Air Tonight, Collins finally sets the record straight:
A month after my fifteenth birthday, I began to experience a terrible abdominal pain. Imagine feeling as though you dreadfully needed to pass gas, but could not. For whatever reason, I simply could not leak the necessary air. This went on for weeks. I finally visited the hospital, and was diagnosed with a rare intestinal condition named gastronitious pluggedupitious: the inability to fully pass gas. They told me there was no known cure as of yet, but with medication, they would be able to mollify the symptoms. There was one more bit of hope: many sufferers, at a certain point in adulthood, would suddenly experience a natural cure, but there was no way to know when that moment would come. In the meantime, I needed to simply tolerated the discomfort.

Oh, I could let out a tiny toot here and there, but for the life of me, I couldn't quite get that one solitary oomph I was ultimately longing for. It was that way all throughout the early years with Genesis, the grueling tours, the endless cans of beans, the long nights in the airport, trying to twist this way and that, hoping that precious bubble would finally squirm its way out into the open. I never told my wife, I never told Peter or Tony or Mike. I bore my burden with silent dignity.

It was August, 1979. We were staying in our country estate. I was relaxing the in den, while Mrs. Collins was in the bedroom. Suddenly, I felt a tremendous gurgle. I knew it was no ordinary rumbling of molecules. It slowly traveled downward, pushing up against my rear passageway. I shifted awkwardly in my chair. Was this the moment my gastronitious pluggedupitious would finally subside? I didn't know what the consequences of my rude gesture would be, but I felt I was prepared for the fallout.

With a sonic crack reminiscent of thunder, the fart to end all farts escaped my body. Mrs. Collins, caught unawares, was so appalled by the lifetime of rancid odor filling her abode, she immediately demanded a divorce. And so I lost a spouse, but gained an intestinal tract. Not to mention, my greatest solo recording.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

All Over The Place: All Bangles Are Equal (But Some Bangles Are More Equal Than Others)

World's greatest pop culture myths:
  1. Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen in a chamber beneath Disneyland
  2. Mama Cass choked to death on a ham sandwich
  3. Susanna Hoffs was the lead singer of the Bangles
"Could've fooled me," you're inclined to say. "Then what the hell was she, the maid?"

When the Bangles originally started out, Susanna Hoffs was not the lead singer. See, the Bangles didn't believe in a lead singer. They were a utopian collective, a four-woman Woodstock Nation, where everyone played a part, and where all those rigid patriarchal roles were for losers. Well, Susanna was one of the lead singers, along with Vicki Peterson, although Michael and Debbie occasionally sang lead and often chipped in on harmonies. The point is, in the early days, it was definitely not "Susanna Hoffs and these other chicks" (by contrast, Belinda Carlisle was, is, and will always be, without question, the lead singer of the Go-Go's). You'd think the public would've just let the Bangles be.

At the time of their debut long player, however, no one cared. The general consensus is that, as with the Go-Go's, the Bangles' first album was their best, but unlike the Go-Go's, it wasn't exactly their most ... commercially successful. Nope, All Over the Place peaked at #80 instead of #1, but for many fans of the Paisley Underground sound, All Over the Place is the Bangles' only real album; to these hardcore party liners, everything after this was just shameless pop sleaze. Unfortunately for them, I like shameless pop sleaze. But yes, even though I haven't actually listened to the Bangles' other albums, I doubt they're better than this one.

All Over the Place works as an album. It does contain a couple of singles, but it doesn't feel like it was conceived with singles in mind. Mostly it's just a non-stop retro '60s Hofner and Rickenbacker fiesta, with the band aping every Standells and Easybeats B-side they could get their hands on. That said, it still has a punchy New Wave/power-pop production that sounds very much like its time, i.e. it's obvious what kind of music the Bangles were into, but they updated it and gave it their own energetic twist. I do wonder, however, if there are bands who were genuinely influenced by the Bangles. Wouldn't you just be influenced by the Bangles' influences? It's like a band being influenced by Coldplay instead of Radiohead.

For all its charms, I feel like All Over the Place is more about the surface pleasures. If the lyrics don't exactly blow me away, they're effective enough, but I don't quite get a sense of the Bangles as people: what are their struggles, what drives them to make music, etc. I mean who are the Bangles, really? That said, one of the more appealingly enigmatic songs is the album's leadoff track and first single, "Hero Takes a Fall," which, incidentally, is one of the tracks where Susanna sings lead.  She sounds like she's anticipating a nice plate of schadenfreude for a serial womanizer:
The hero is exposed when
His crimes are brought to the light of day
Won't be feeling sorry, sorry, sorry
On the judgement day
Wasn't it me who said
There'd be a price to pay

And I won't feel bad at all
When the hero takes a fall
When the hero takes a fall

Your mother told you stories
You substitute with girls who tell you more
Suddenly your sycophants are chanting
Slogans at your door
We're seeing through you now
I saw it all before

Emotion is a virtue
For you it is the one fatal flaw
Sittin' on your throne and drink and think and
Should return your call
And the story's got an ending
Look out, here it comes, here it comes
In the video, the girls are playing for alms on the street corner, and Susanna is wearing triangles for earrings. No, I mean, like, actual triangles - the musical instrument. Vicki probably could play "Hero Takes a Fall" on Susanna's earrings. As Ms. Hoffs bemoans in the band's Behind the Music episode, "How did I put on the high heels with the bobby sock lace things in the 'Hero Takes a Fall' video? What were we doing? We're wearing like a thousand pounds of junk jewelry, but at the time we felt like we had a look." Oh, and each of the girls stars in a little "side bit" where they do something untoward to a mannequin (making this video perhaps my second-favorite '80s video to feature mannequins, after the Alan Parson Project's "Prime Time"). Vicki plays a cowboy, Michael plays a businesswoman, and Debbie plays a socialite, respectively. However, at the 1:04 mark, we are treated to the wonderful sight of Susanna Hoffs dressed in a French maid's outfit. Yowsers! Her sultry power is so intense, it literally makes a mannequin's head fall off. As the YouTube cognoscenti puts it: "Hoffs as a French maid, i need a cold shower!" Or "I think Susanna's kiss would have done the same effect on me :p"

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Fantastic Two AKA The Curious Case Of Andrew Ridgeley

Eurosleaze, thy name is Wham!

Seriously, has there ever been a group more flagrantly sleazy than Wham!? They even had an exclamation mark in their name! Wham! were so Eurotrashy they made Bryan Ferry look like Donny Osmond. But while I will freely admit that, on the one hand, the material on their debut album is absolute throwaway '80s crapola, on the other hand ... gimme all you got, boys. I don't know what it is. You just can't keep a good Wham! down. Come on AMG, that one-and-a-half star rating was a total overreaction. I mean, I have heard one-and-a-half star albums. I served with one-and-a-half star albums. One-and-a-half star albums were a friend of mine. Senator, you're no one-and-a-half star album.

Despite my better judgement, I feel like every track has at least ... something going for it. Take "Love Machine." At first I thought, "Hey, this is an impressively silky slice of string-laden sophisti-pop, I can't believe this gem is such an obscurity," and then I realized it was actually a cover of a 1976 #1 hit by the (post-Smokey Robinson) Miracles. Whoops! Well, even if George Michael didn't write it, Wham!'s version still has an entrancing British R&B vibe, anticipating, if by accident, the likes of Soul II Soul and Lisa Stansfield.

Face it, for any other shitty British dance-pop act, a tossed-off album track like "A Ray Of Sunshine" could have been their biggest hit. Sure, the chorus makes no sense, but neither does the Bible, and look how many people love the Bible: "Sometimes you wake up in the morning with a bass line/A ray of sunshine/Sometimes you know today you're gonna have a good time/And you're ready to go." Sometimes, I wake up in the morning with a giant impression of a pillow stitch on my face, but same difference. Another sleeper cut, "Nothing Looks The Same In The Light" has the kind of eerie downtempo groove that Air or DJ Shadow have desperately been trying to replicate ever since. You heard it here first.

Aside from the previously discussed "rap" songs, Fantastic boasted two other monster UK singles. "Bad Boys," not to be confused with later hits by The Miami Sound Machine and Inner Circle, respectively, is more or less gloopy dance club garbage, but like an alluring Upworthy headline, I just can't keep myself away. Here George plays the rebellious teenage scion:
Dear mummy, dear daddy
You had plans for me, I was your only son
And long before this baby boy could count to three
You knew just what he would become
"Run along to school
No child of mine grows up a fool
Run along to school"
When you tried to tell me what to do
I just shut my mouth and smiled at you
One thing that I know for sure

Bad boys
Stick together, never
Sad boys
Good guys
They made rules for fools, so
Get wise
I feel like probably the worst thing George Michael ever did as a teenager was steal a grape from the produce section, but in this video, he is bad, bad, bad. There's even a scene at the end where Michael and Ridgeley dance in an alleyway while wearing leather jackets and sunglasses. Somebody call the cops.

The first time I watched the video for the album's fourth hit, "Club Tropicana," I wondered who smeared a jar of vaseline onto my computer monitor. Then I realized, "Oh, wait, that's how they wanted it to look." Seriously, was this video just a giant excuse for George Michael to cavort around a pool while wearing as little as possible? Some choice YouTube comments:
If these chicks were looking to get laid they came to the wrong place

I'm a construction worker. We listen to this song all the time on the jobsite. I just hired three new guys on my crew - an Indian Chief, a Sailor, and a Cowboy.

George must have waxed as he's a hairy fuck. Smooth as silk here.

When you are George Michael you are allowed to throw drinks into the pool.

A big shout out to Mexican Burt Reynolds working the bar!

Ah, but now we come to the crucial question of our age: can Wham! really be considered a band if it only consisted of two members, and one of them didn't actually do anything?

No, seriously, what exactly did Andrew Ridgely do? Did he play any instruments? Guitar, apparently. Because that's the first thing I think of when I think of Wham! Did he sing? On the first album, he's not even credited with "shouts." Did he co-write songs? Yeah, about four of them. In the history of popular music, I don't think any man has been able to get away with doing so little while being one half of a duo. It sounds like he was there mostly so that George Michael could have someone to hang out with. Although a few YouTube commentators claim to find him attractive, to me he seems like he's playing the role of Robin Gibb to George Michael's Barry Gibb. The befuddled cries of YouTube commentators echo in the night:
Still struggling to understand the point of Andrew Ridgeley in this duo. Did he make the tea, or something?

Is there a Wham! song where Andrew ever has a line?

Great mysteries of the twentieth century. Who Shot JFK. What Happend to Amelia Earhart. What was Andrew Ridgleys contibution to Wham.
However, at least according to this random post I found on a blog called Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict, Ridgeley was essentially George Michael's svengali, his Henry Higgins, his Colonel Tom Parker, his Berry Gordy. As the author Sam Tweedle surmises, "without Andrew Ridgley there most likely would have never been a George Michael nor a Wham!" The thing is, the svengali is usually not an actual member of the band:
In the early days they were an odd pair. Andrew was the good looking, confident, popular and stylish of the pair, while George was chubby and shy with an acne problem. However, through his mother, who was one of the most feared teachers in the school, Andrew was given the chore of taking George Michael under his wing. It was in this forced pairing that Andrew and George learnt that they had something in common. They both had a love and passion for music. George was a talented song writer and musician while Andrew…well…. Andrew liked to listen to it. Andrew knew that, together, George and he had what it took to be a pop star. I mean, George was an incredible song writer and a capable singer, and Andrew could dance and look good.

Andrew took it upon himself to teach George how to style his hair, how to dress, how to have that winning personality and how to be charismatic on stage. I mean, if Andrew was going to look good, George was going to have to as well. Within months Andrew had successfully turned George Michael from a nerdy introvert into a charismatic lead singer.
You mean to tell me that, back when it all began, George Michael was the ugly one? George Michael, with his atrocious lack of charisma, was the one who was going to drag this duo down? I guess bad boys really do stick together. That is, until the obvious occurred:
The idea was that George would write the songs while Andrew would deal with the public. Traditionally, Andrew was the more charismatic and well spoken of the pair. However, by being the voice and face of Wham! the public became more and more interested in George instead of Andrew. They wanted to know what he had to say and as his confidence as a performer, song writer and public figure grew, George naturally began to eclipse Andrew.
Or, in the parlance of Mel Brooks, Ridgeley was the Schwartz-ring. George Michael thought he needed the ring in order to defeat the Dark Helmet of pop music competition, but then one day he realized that, as Yogurt so eloquently put it, "The ring is bupkis! I found it in a Cracker Jack box!"

Perhaps Wham!'s ability to contain a prominent member who quite transparently did nothing is the duo's greatest achievement. Professor Higglediggle writes:
Mr. Ridgeley's negligible contribution to Wham! was, ingeniously, the band's decisive artistic masterstroke. As pop music performers, rising to the top of a facile and frivolous profession, Wham! managed to critique the shallow mores of the star-making apparatus by achieving this simple coup de grace. To those who posed the query, "Does it take genuine talent to become a pop star?," Wham! provided the unsettling riposte with Andrew Ridgeley, being, "Apparently not." As Baudrilliard spoke of the "simulacrum," a creation so far (re)moved from the organic article that it then becomes mistaken for the very item it was designed to (re)place, so Andrew Ridgeley, ipso facto, served as a "simulacrum" of a pop star. One knew he was a star, and yet one could not recall exactly why.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How To (Temporarily) Drop Your Coke Habit: Marry A Total Narc

So after realizing, at a Hall & Oates concert, that her new squeeze Mr. Mason wasn't a conceited twerp after all, Belinda still decided to play it cool for a little while, right? Pffft, you should know better by now. From Lips Unsealed:
I moved in with Morgan the next day. Everyone thought it was crazy. They thought we were crazy. Morgan and I said they didn't understand. We thought it was the most natural thing in the world. We were in love.
In love! The birds sang, the flowers bloomed, the urinals flushed. Those other kids, they didn't get it, man. They were just jealous. Because nothing is crazy once you've found your true Yuppie sweetheart. It should be noted, however, that moving in with a man she hardly knew was probably the least crazy thing Belinda had ever done, as she quickly illustrates with her next couple of paragraphs:
Of course, he didn't have any idea he had gotten himself involved with a cocaine addict. He looked at me through a haze of affection. It blinded him to reality, a reality that I strove to conceal. I showed him the very best of me, the person I wished I was, the person I might have been if not for the whole secret life I had going on as a drug addict.

I was able to hide my coke addiction, but it took major effort and tons of lies. I was slow in moving my stuff from the Marina on purpose. I used my condo as a hideout, a secret den where I could go and get high in safety. At night, after Morgan fell asleep, I snuck out and went to my old place and got high. I always left little notes on the bed for Morgan, saying that I went out to get Pepto-Bismol.
?!?!?! That must have been a lot of imaginary Pepto-Bismol. Morgan really must have been wondering about the strength of Belinda's digestive system. I mean, we all get the runs now and then, but to need Pepto-Bismol ... every night? Hitler should have tried that excuse on the Allies. "You just invaded Poland!" "No I didn't, I was just out getting some Pepto-Bismol." Nevertheless, Belinda's love hit her like a shockingly urgent bowel movement:
My feelings for Morgan were deeper, stronger, and more mysterious and fulfilling than any I had ever felt in my life. He was unlike anybody I had ever met. He was attractive, elegant, smart and sophisticated, and very funny. I couldn't understand why he had been so aloof when we met. He was totally opposite from that arrogant guy.

Morgan drove a Ferrari. Although I had always thought guys who drove those sleek sports cars were creepy, Morgan looked appropriate in his car, just like he did in his finely tailored suits. It fit without pretense or attitude. He enjoyed himself and lived with a sense of fun, panache, and style.
Just admit it Belinda, you wanted to be a Yuppie. It's OK. It was the '80s. It happened to everybody. Even Steve Winwood! But contrary to popular belief, not every Yuppie was quite so approving of the magical powder:
Sometime toward the end of February, Morgan figured out the truth about me. I had been going back and forth at night between his condo and my dealer while he slept. I would buy the coke, come back, sit in the living room and get high, and then smoke cigarettes on the balcony.

I don't know what I was thinking.

Clearly, I wasn't thinking.

I was gone. Subconsciously, I was begging to be found out.
The coke wasn't your high, Belinda. The danger was your high.
One morning Morgan woke up and came into the living room. He saw me seated on the couch, bending over something. As soon as I heard him, I shoved it under the couch. He saw me, though, and asked, "What are you doing?"
Nice, the old "shove it under the couch" routine. "Oh, nothing honey, I was just ... admiring the floral pattern on these seat covers! Excellent upholstery choice, dear."
Instead of waiting for me to answer, he reached down and pulled out a mound of coke that I had piled up on a magazine. He took it out on the balcony and with a look of utter disgust dumped it over the side.
Noooooo!!! Morgan nooooo!!! That was her next album's whole advance!
I was busted, so completely busted. I hadn't moved. It was like I was waiting for him to do something.

"I'm sorry," I said, dissolving into tears. "I'm sorry."

He was upset and didn't know what to do. Neither did I.

He never gave me an ultimatum; I simply knew that I had to get sober. And that's what I did - sort of.
Bravo, Belinda, bravo - wait, what? "Sort of"? What do you mean, "sort of"? What the hell does it mean to be "sort of" sober? Good question - and lo and behold, she actually answers it:
As any recovering addict knows, you can't be "sort of" sober. It's all or nothing. But I devised my own plan. I didn't want to check into rehab; I couldn't stand the thought of seeing my dirty laundry unfurled in the press. In retrospect, it shouldn't have been a big deal. If I was going to admit I had a problem, it shouldn't have mattered if I admitted it to one person or a million. What did matter, though, was admitting the whole and honest truth to myself, and I couldn't do that.

I thought I was taking the right steps when I confessed to Morgan and then sought out Charlotte, who was recently out of rehab and attending meetings. She was extremely understanding and helpful. With her help and encouragement, I stopped doing coke right away.
Stopped ... doing ... coke? Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and no, that's not coke in his beard. This was truly a landmark moment in Western Civilization. If Belinda Carlisle could stop doing coke (well, you know, for a little while), then anything was possible. The Berlin Wall could crumble. The U.S. could end the embargo against Castro's Cuba. This was a great day for all of us. Well, "sort of":
She took me to twelve-step meetings and I began attending Cocaine Anonymous meetings on my own, too. But I concocted or rationalized my own version of the program, one where I could drink, pop pills, and do hallucinogens - anything except cocaine. That was my one rule: no coke.
Good rule.
I was proud of my progress. Once I told someone who had a number of years of sobriety under his belt that I was in "the program," a euphemism for being sober and attending twelve-step meetings. He asked if I attended meetings. I said, "Sometimes." Skeptical, he asked who my sponsor was. I said that I was sponsoring myself. Seeing that I was serious, he shook his head slightly, an almost imperceptible acknowledgment that I didn't get it, and said, "Okay, good luck."
Slick. That's like being your own parole officer. No conflict of interest there.

But I'm burying the lede here, which is that, contrary to my initial impression of the Belinda Carlisle career arc, the start of her unexpectedly corporate solo career did not actually coincide with out-of-control drug use. So wait, you mean to tell me that this former hardcore L.A. punk rocker dove headfirst into late '80s Top 40 bubblegum ... with a clear head? You mean to tell me she went Yuppie ... knowingly? Well, a lack of cocaine consumption doesn't necessarily translate into a "clear head" (as we shall see), but yes, you might consider this something of a twist. If anything, her "sort of" sobriety may have been the driving force behind her shameless and emphatic embrace of the Yuppie ethos. Maybe she never really liked punk rock; she just liked the drugs! Actually, I think she liked both, but after being scolded by her husband for those late night "Pepto-Bismol" runs, it turns out she didn't stick with either.