Monday, February 28, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #113

Time for another New Wave footnote that is deserving of far greater attention.  This time around, we celebrate a fantastic skinny-tie power-pop trio from Staten Island who called themselves Dirty Looks.

Having each been veterans of the New York bar band scene, neither Patrick Barnes (guitars/vocals), Peter Parker (drums), nor Marco Sin (bass) were unfamiliar with toiling away in seedy clubs playing in front of drunken crowds when they began hitting the stage at CBGB's as Dirty Looks in late 1979. It seemed that luck was on their side this time around, however: those early sets resulted in almost instant interest from Stiff Records, and within two months of their first gig, they found themselves in the studio recording their first LP.

That self-titled debut was released in 1980, and remains one of the great hidden gems of the era.  Solid, punchy songs with clever lyrics and just enough attitude made the album a critical success, but the single "Let Go" didn't catch on as Stiff (and particularly their American distributors, Epic) had hoped.

The following year brought about both a second album and, thanks to Epic's woefully misguided meddling, the beginning of the end of the band.  The band recorded Turn It Up in early 1981, submitted it to the label, and went out on tour.  Epic decided they didn't like the record - too edgy, needed to be more polished and mainstream, they said - and asked Stiff to remix the recordings.  Stiff brought in Elvis Costello's production team to clean it up, but Epic still didn't like the result, and refused to release the LP in the US.  The revised version did hit the shelves in the UK, and it was only upon hearing the released version that the band became aware of Epic's 'help.'  Epic withdrew all support for the LP and the tour, leaving Dirty Looks high and dry, and understandably discouraged.

The final straw, though, came later that same year when Island Records offered them a chance to record some demo material for a proposed third record.  Island President Chris Blackwell decided he didn't care for Patrick's voice, and told the band they should do an album of instrumentals.  Without a label, the band trudged on, but when their manager died of a heart attack in 1984, Patrick Barnes dissolved the band and quit the music business for good.  Dirty Looks soon became a forgotten band, suffering a final indignity when a late-80s hair metal band swiped their name.  Nowadays, if you do a Google search on the band, you find a ton about that metal group but almost nothing on the original Staten Island power trio, sadly.

Both albums fell out of print over the years, but both can be had for cheap on a handy CD released about five years ago.  Well worth the price of admission, if only to have that wonderful first record.  For your listening pleasure, here are two audio clips from Dirty Looks: first, my personal favorite of their songs, the 'you-just-don't-dig-our-scene' anthem "You're Too Old," and then the shoulda-been hit single "Let Go." Enjoy!

Monday, February 21, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #112

"[Their debut album is] the equal of the first Sex Pistols or Clash LP, a hasty statement that captures an exciting time," crowed Trouser Press.  "[They] captured the spirit of the times few contemporaries could match," declared Colin Larkin in The Guinness Book of Top 1000 Albums. Dave Thompson, in his book Alternative Rock, asserts that they "[spat] out a failsafe succession of songs which still delineate punk’s hopes, aspirations and, ultimately, regrets."

Pretty heady praise for a bunch of kids from Bideford who gave us only two albums in a brief three-year career, but The Adverts more than lived up to such hype.  The eventually married couple of TV Smith (vocals) and Gaye Advert (bass) formed the core of the group, creating both a sound and a visual that is today more associated with memories of UK Punk style than anything The Pistols or The Clash left behind.  (Check TV Smith in plastic shades and pinned-up jacket lurching about in the first clip below; Thompson accurately noted that Gaye Advert's "panda-eye make-up and omnipresent leather jacket defined the face of female punkdom until well into the next decade.") With the addition of guitarist Howard Pickup and drummer Laurie Driver, The Adverts dove right into the epicenter of the UK scene, The Roxy, opening for Generation X in January of 1977.

They were immediately well received, and would play The Roxy regularly during that year, quickly being signed by Stiff Records thanks to having a patron in Brian James of The Damned.  Their first single, "One Chord Wonders," appeared in the spring of 1977, followed a few months later by their first UK Top 40 hit, the sneeringly clever "Gary Gilmore's Eyes," about a man who awakes from surgery to discover the serial killer's eyes have been transplanted into his skull.  (In reality, Gilmore actually did have his eyes and other organs donated after his execution, and several people did benefit.  Gilmore's is a fascinating if unsettling tale.  Go read Norman Mailer's account of Gilmore's life, crimes and psychosis, The Executioner's Song, for more.)

Despite its success, that single was not included on the original pressings of The Advert's debut album, Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts, which landed in stores in early 1978.  The album didn't need that hit single to carry it; it stood quite well on its own, thank you, with classics like "Bored Teenagers," "No Time To Be 21," "Safety In Numbers," and "Great British Mistake" making it an absolute must-own. If you don't know these songs by heart already, you won't pass Punk Rock 101 until you do.

Over the next year or so, The Adverts toured heavily.  Driver, unfortunately, contracted hepatitis, and was eventually replaced by Rod Latler; keyboardist Tim Cross was also added to the band at this time.  TV Smith was evolving as a songwriter, and The Adverts' sound was maturing.  When their second album, Cast Of Thousands, was released in 1979, it was met with some disappointment by fans who still wanted the raw power of the first album.  The sneer was not completely gone, mind you, but it was buried a little bit further back in the mix.  Taken on its own, it is a fantastic record with more outstanding tunes: "Television's Over," "Cast Of Thousands" and the eponymous "The Adverts" are all strong enough to stand alongside anything from the first record.  But poor press and poor promotion from their label combined to take its toll.  Howard left the band, and soon after The Adverts were no more.

But they did leave behind some great, great music, and deserved to be remembered as one of the best of the original UK Punk Class of '77 bands.  I am so fond of them that I am sharing three clips with you this week: first, the band's appearance on Top Of The Pops performing "Gary Gilmore's Eyes," then a clip for "No Time To Be 21," and finally, an audio-only clip of "The Adverts" from Cast Of Thousands. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Friend In Need

Cindy Coble and I were classmates back in high school.  She was someone others always enjoyed being around: very bright, very sarcastic, very funny, very bold and often the center of attention, which was right where she loved to be.

Fast forward 25 years: Cindy joined Facebook and quickly reconnected with everyone.  Once again, she finds herself the center of attention among her friends, but now she needs everyone's help.  Cindy suffers from Myasthenia Gravis, a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disorder characterized by fluctuating weakness of the voluntary muscle groups, and  which can affect muscles that control eye movements, eyelids, chewing, swallowing, coughing and facial expression, as well as the arms and legs and sometimes the muscles that control breathing. The prevalence of MG in the US is estimated to be about 1 in 5,000 people, and at present there is no cure.

In her own words, Cindy describes how she became an MG sufferer:
In 2007, I was hit by a car while riding my bike, and had to have a double cervical spine fusion. I developed a super bad infection in my spinal cord, that landed me in the ICU for a coupla weeks. I never got better. My neuro thinks a virus or pathogen entered my system, tripped my immune system, and i ended up with Myasthenia Gravis. I used to be very active, totally type "A", and was very athletic. Now, taking a shower or grocery shopping wears me out. This disease is progressive, and there is no cure. Some folks enjoy remission, but generally it comes back. A cure in my lifetime may not happen, but I'd like to think we could make progress for future sufferers.
To her great credit, Cindy doesn't spend a lot of time bemoaning her fate.  That wouldn't be Cindy.  Sure, she has her times of frustration with MG, and more than once she has gone out of her way to thank everyone on FB for understanding as she...
...whine[s] and bitch[es] about slowly losing my abilities to walk, talk, work, hold a fork, crack an egg, bathe my dog, go sledding with my kids, tie shoes, think, swallow, breathe, shave my legs, volunteer, sing, dance, etc. I know I'm a total bitch and breakdowns are always ugly to witness, and I appreciate your jibs, jokes, and posts. Please consider giving blood this season, so many of us require a shitload, it's the best present, and you may mail it directly to me. I promise to share. 
Despite those frustrations, Cindy's personality still comes through in her words.  She is strong in spirit even as MG causes physical weaknesses.  Cindy doesn't live with MG; MG lives with Cindy!

This year, the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America's fundraising efforts take the form of MG Walks.  There are several physical walks scheduled in the Florida area, but for those not local to Florida, there is the Virtual Walk.  This is the walk that Cindy is involved with. Her goal is to raise $2000 toward research for a cure for MG, and she is already over a quarter of the way there!

Here is where you can help out.  Every little bit counts, and if you are able to donate even $5 or $10 towards Cindy's walk, you'd be helping immensely.  There is a link below to donate towards Cindy's goal, and Cindy's page can be found here - please go, read, learn, and if you can, help her reach her $2000 goal.  Or, as she has said, "Even if you're not inclined to donate, take a second to read a little. I thank thee!"

It would mean a great deal to me to know that my readers helped out, and I know it would mean the world to Cindy.  Thank you in advance for your generosity.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #111

Given that it is Valentine's Day today, I decided to find some schlocky New Romantic-styled love song for this week's entry.  Truth be told, this one is a long-time guilty pleasure of mine: a silky, slinky, synth-y bit of Europop that leads us into one of the great New Wave mysteries.

Go ahead and Google the name Cee Farrow.  Go on, I'll wait...yeah, didn't find much, didja? Almost every entry led you either to the video or an mp3 of the song "Should I love You?," didn't it?  And the ones that didn't took you instead to other people seeking information about Cee Farrow.  Hate to disappoint, but I'm not going to be adding much at all to the collected info about this gentleman in this post.  I'll only be sharing what I have learned, and sharing his wonderful song.

Oh man, what a great song this is!  Neither a heartfelt declaration of love nor a beseeching of the Universe to send him his soul mate, "Should I Love You?" is an utterly detached yet not completely cold declaration of something that might approximate love.  On the one hand, it's a fairly typical tale of unexpected infatuation (he's caught off guard by "this strange feeling I can't explain," sees his girl "everywhere I look" and hears her name "in every place"); on the other hand, he's way too cool to be affected by her and weighs his options rather cavalierly ("Should I love you forever" vs. "life without you seems such a bore").  While he never quite reaches an answer, his off-handed, can't-be-bothered delivery makes it clear that he follows the teachings of the character Mike Damone in Fast Times At Ridgemont High: "The attitude dictates that you don't care whether she comes, stays, lays or prays. Whatever happens, your toes are still tapping."

A former model, Cee (Chris) Farrow debuted with this single and it's accompanying video in 1983.  The clip saw extremely limited airplay on MTV; the single saw almost none on the radio.  I recall hearing it and loving it at the time and searching for years to find the record.  Turns out he released a full album, Red And Blue, that same year, and then disappeared, only resurfacing once with a dance single, "Imagination," in 1991.  During his time away from the recording studio, he and his wife April were apparently fairly well-known West Hollywood scenesters and nightclub owners. Farrow passed away in 1995 from a brain hemorrhage related to AIDS.  

And that, my friends, is literally all of the information I could find about him.  It's amazing that his music didn't find a wider audience.  With a sound and look that were seemingly influenced by both Peter Murphy and David Byrne, an obviously sharp wit (gawd the video is filled with subtle jabs at the entire 80s club scene!), and an impeccable sense for good songwriting (trust me, you'll be singing that "should-I should-I" chorus for days), Cee Farrow should have been huge.  Instead, he became one of the most mysterious footnotes in New Wave.

Enjoy the cheesily fantastic "Should I Love You?" Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

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Friday, February 11, 2011

New Poly Styrene Single!

The first single from Poly Styrene's much-anticipated comeback album, Generation Indigo, was released this week.  If you haven't heard it yet, here's the clip.

Poly, of course, is the former lead singer of X-Ray Spex, one of the first wave of UK Punk bands back in 1977, and has recorded only sporadically in the years since.  Generation Indigo is scheduled for release March 28.  This first single, "Virtual Boyfriend," is promising, although it takes awhile to get going.  Once it kicks in, though, it latches very comfortably into your brain.  There is a nice little nostalgic New-Wavey feel to it.  Not bad, though falling just a bit short of the mark set by her Christmas single, "Black Christmas" (which will not be on the album), and the track "Thrash City" that was previewed on her Facebook fan page a couple of weeks ago (which will be).

Looking forward to the full album, and interested in your thoughts on the single:

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Back Where I Belong

"You know where dreams like that will take you.
In any event, it makes no difference now.
This is for the times you told me everything would go wrong.
This is for the way you put me back where I belong..."
 - "Back Where I Belong" by Dumptruck

WritingImage via WikipediaI've been writing a lot lately, I'm pleased to report.  Very little of it, you will notice, has ended up being posted here.  I want to change that, but it's not easy - for me anyway.  Writing is both a very extroverted and an extremely introverted exercise.  There are things I write for public consumption and things I write that are for no one's eyes but my own.  I suppose that's true for many people, but somewhere along the way last year, the two became so tangled for me that writing of almost any kind came to a near cessation (not a good thing at all, considering much of the work I do for my employer consists of copy and content writing!), and time was needed to sort things out and restart the machine.

As I noted here earlier, one thing that I did that really allowed the words to begin flowing again was to consciously remove all of the constraining Rules of Writing that I was forcing myself to follow in hopes of finding my way back to the place where I can write freely and happily.  One Rule I have not yet been successful in letting go is the notion that whenever I write, for whatever purpose, that I must write about something.  I must have a subject! Where is this sentence or paragraph or essay or marketing piece or journal entry going?  Define! I must define!  Have you any idea how restrictive that is?

There was a time back in my school days when I wrote short stories for my friends.  They were always written in very free form, stream-of-consciousness style.  I seldom used constructs like paragraphs or plot or, at times, even punctuation.  I started at a point and just wrote, and let the words take me wherever they wanted to go.  The resultant pieces would be beautiful patchwork quilts of phrases and images and characters.  Some characters would recur from story to story; some would appear briefly and then never again; rarely would the same characters end the story they had begun.  I wrote until the words stopped, and when they did I knew I was done.  One friend described reading them as akin to reading the transcript of a bizarre dream, with unrelated scenes melting into one another and non-sequitors abounding in a complete loss of logical direction.  Yet, when you are within a dream like that, actually dreaming it, it all somehow seems to make perfect sense.

I miss being able to write like that.  Over the years, that disappeared, in part I think because the OCD that at times clouds my thinking also clouds my writing, telling me it must be perfect and must follow strict, orderly rules, or else it is not good.  I have tried to sit down and purposefully write in that style again, but the words do not come as they once did.  I know why, of course: I'm trying rather than simply doing.  I'm trying to force the process rather than allow it to happen.  It's the writing equivalent of trying to push a wet noodle uphill through jello.

So I am trying to get back where I once was. Back to a place where I can write more freely, without writing about anything in particular. Back where I belong.  To do so, I am undertaking some writing exercises.  The Six Word Sunday posts I've started here are a part of that.  I am making use of Write Or Die, a fantastic and highly recommended tool for just getting words out on the paper.  I am challenging myself to write in formats I am completely and utterly uncomfortable in (poetry, script writing, narrative fiction, et al.) and I am submitting those pieces to various places for publication under assumed names or anonymously or, when brave or comfortable or drunk enough, under my own name, just to see what happens - just to put it out there.

I would like to begin posting more free-form things here in the hopes that I might get some feedback from you, both supportive and constructively critical.  Or, if it's complete crap, tell me that.  But I need the feedback, and I know my readership here is not the most vocal. Many a post goes un-commented upon around these parts!  But this time, I am asking for your help.  Your input will be extremely valuable.  Deal?

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Monday, February 7, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #110

"Lawnchairs are everywhere
They're everywhere
And my mind describes them to me..."

That particular bit of paranoid nonsense is the chorus of one of the most wonderful one-hit New Wave obscurities in the genre's history, the 1980 single "Lawnchairs" by Our Daughters Wedding.  ODW was among that early batch of synthesizer bands who had not succumbed to the Europop glossiness of the New Romantics, but instead were plinking away robotically and winking ironically at those listening to their off-kilter lyrics and skittish melodies.

Keith Silva, Layne Rico and Scott Simon started playing together in San Francisco in the late seventies, trying their hand at guitar-based Punk, but found little success.  By 1979 the three had reunited in New York City and agreed to get the band back together, but this time they replaced the guitars and drums with synths and rhythm machines.  They built a following among fans of like-minded bands such as Mi-Sex, The Units and Silicon Teens, and in 1980 had their first two singles out on the independent Design label; first "Nightlife," then their cult favorite, "Lawnchairs."

In 1981 they were picked up by the EMI label and released an ep, Digital Cowboys, which, in typical major-label fashion, contained a re-recorded version of "Lawnchairs." This new, far more polished and far less appealing version of their "hit" was quickly issued as a single to replace the earlier version.  EMI was moving the band toward a more commercial sound, smoothing the rough edges and making their music more accessible to the MOR crowd. The track "Target For Life" showed promise, though.

ODW's first and only full-length album, Moving Windows, soon followed, showing even more potential.  They found themselves on tour with Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark, The Psychedelic Furs, and other such MTV-approved New Wave bands, and they might have found similar success had they not had a severe falling out with the bigwigs at EMI.  The label pulled support for the record, which quickly sank into obscurity, and that was the end of Our Daughters Wedding

All of ODW's records fell out of print, but in 2006 very nearly all of their recordings, including both versions of "Lawnchairs," were collected for a CD release, Nightlife: The Collection.  Missing only one album track and a few b-sides and obscurities, it is as complete a discography of ODW as you could hope for.  Unfortunately it, too, is now out of print and fetches high dollars if you can find it.  You'll have better luck tracking down the vinyl - just be sure when you find the "Lawnchairs" single you have the 1980 Design records version, not the EMI re-release from a year later!

There is no video clip for "Lawnchairs," just the audio-only clip below. Enjoy this obscure New Wave gem!

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