Thursday, April 22, 2021

Eighties Fan

I'm working on a post about the literary Brat Pack of the 1980s. It's an idea that sidled up and tapped me on the shoulder as I was re-reading one of my favorite novels, Sad Movies by Mark Lindquist,  the brat-packer no-one ever remembers. 

It could be a while before I get round to writing the post. It's going to take a fair amount of research and a good deal of effort and I'm not sure I have it in me just yet. I might need a run-up.

I wanted to do something while the urge was fresh, though, and as I was reading I had another idea. Or, more accurately, someone else's idea. It was something Belghast posted recently. He's started a new series he's calling Mixtape Mondays. It's a great notion. I wouldn't hesitate to steal it but I'm nowhere near organized enough to go weekly. I have enough trouble nailing my monthly music roundups. 

Sad Movies is riddled with songs. Maybe not as many as movies, but a lot. How would it be if I made a one-off mixtape of all the songs the book mentions by name? I could probably manage that. I don't have a Spotify account but I could throw a YouTube playlist together...

Yeah, I could. You'll notice I haven't, though. By the time I'd finished compiling the full list I was certain sure I didn't want it permanently linked to my YouTube channel. There are a lot of songs and artists here I like but...

Maybe it would be better to stick to a single blog post. That way it can bloom briefly then disappear back into the darkness. And if anyone should ever happen on it at some future time at least it will come with context. Namely that I didn't choose any of these and I'm not claiming I like them! Although I do like most of them...

So, in the name of giving the people want they never asked for and almost certainly don't want, here are all the songs that get name-checked or have their lyrics quoted in some old book you never heard of. And of course I'm going to monologue throughout. You know that's why you come here. Okay, it's why I come here. Close enough.

unspecified - Siouxsie and the Banshees - And we're off to a flying start. This is playing in the next room at the beginning of the novel but Zeke, the protagonist, only mentions it because it's so loud he can't hear what people are saying. He doesn't say what song it is. So much for specificity! I've gone for her cover of This Wheel's On Fire, which was a hit in 1987, the year the book came out.

Mad World - Tears For Fears - This has been overused to the point of parody but when the novel was written it wasn't anything like the cliche it's become. It's a great song. It can hack a little overexposure.

Psychocandy (album) - The Jesus and Mary Chain - Also heard through the wall. The album, one of my all-time favorites, is playing at the party but someone takes it off and puts on The Smiths instead. Sounds like a good party. I've gone for the first track, Just Like Honey, because why not? And although I must have heard it a thousand times it only now occurs to me to wonder who the female backing singer could be. According to Wikipedia it's Karen Parker, of whom Fan site Aprilskies says "Apparently she was Bobby Gillespie's girlfriend at the time. She also drummed for the band at one early gig because Bobby had hurt his hand the night before". So now we know.

How Soon Is Now? - The Smiths - It's that man again. If only we'd known, eh? Oh well.

68 Guns - The Alarm - Here's a tune I never thought I'd mention, let alone feature, in anything I wrote, ever. Wales' cut-price answer to The Clash, ten years too late. Also a straw in the wind for the fate of my first marriage. Here's a tip: never review the gig  you've just been to as you're on the way out of the theater, particularly if the person you're talking to is the one whose idea it was to go in the first place and especially particularly if your review consists of a forensic dismemberment of their favorite band's thin, vacuous, derivative sound and lack of songwriting skills. It's rarely received well.

I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts - X - I don't really know X's stuff. They've always been around but I never really paid all that much attention to them. In the novel Zeke puts on "a tape of a local band, X" because the "incredibly unhip" Australian DJ on the car radio "is speaking as if we must be as stupid as he is since we're listening to him". I think the context suggests Lindquist doesn't expect the readers to know who X are, which is probably fair. They were always a local band, although when your home town is L.A. that means something a little different.

Let It Be - (album) The Replacements - Another moment when a whole album gets referenced. Again I've gone for the opening track, I Will Dare. Like X, The Replacements are one of those bands I've always been aware of but never really listened to. Paul Westerberg has a strong rep as a songwriter but on the few exposures I've allowed myself I'm not really feeling it.

This Is The Day  - The The - I get the impression The The were a lot bigger in the U.S. than they ever were over here, where they (he) came from. I don't think I could name a single one of their tunes. I definitely couldn't hum one.

What's So Funny ('Bout Peace Love And Understanding?) - Elvis Costello - This is a great song but even at the time I didn't much like Elvis's version and that was when I still liked Elvis himself. It's the version mentioned in the book, though, so we're stuck with it. And it is very eighties.

New Year's Day - U2 - Wow. Just... wow. There's really some stuff on this list I never imagined would appear on this blog, ever. To be scrupulously fair, I do like the intro. Until Bono starts singing. Then there's no way back.

Blowin' in the Wind - Bob Dylan, as played by a street musician. This busker "classic" turns up as Zeke watches two homeless men, one of whom only has one leg, fight outside his window. The street musician and the people watching him all stop to watch the fight instead. I'm sorry to report that no such interruptions curtail the performance I've linked. If you take my advice you'll come up with one of your own.

Boys Don't Cry - The Cure - This is a bit of a cheat in that Zeke considers listening to it then decides against it because the Cure are "too nocturnal". Are they, though? Are they really?

unspecified - Velvet Underground - He also rejects the Velvets because he's "stopped dead by a memory of Lou Reed posing like a geek in a Honda scooter commercial". And you can see his point. But as Lou said at the time "I gotta pay the rent, too, and can’t you take a fucking joke?"

White Wedding - Billy Idol - This is peak '80s, isn't it? Props to Billy for making the transition from punk to... whatever this is. It's fascinating in retrospect to see who was able to convert a moment into a career and who remained forever trapped in time's amber. For a while, there, Billy looked like he was going to make it. Then he didn't.

How Much More - The GoGos - What fascinates me even more at this long remove is how gappy my experience was at the time. I lived music in the eighties. I thought I was paying serious attention. And yet there are vast, cavernous holes in both my knowledge and my understanding. The GoGos are of seminal importance and they're exactly the kind of band I loved back then - and yet I barely remember registering their existence. If I had a time machine all I'd use it for is to go back and live through everything I lived through the first time, only this time I'd try and notice more.

unspecified - Duran Duran - Mentioned only so they can give focus to how bad things are getting. Ditto MTV. There's a whole riff about going to a restaurant and MTV playing in the background and kids watching it and their parents occasionally getting sucked in and then realizing what they're doing and turning away, embarrassed. As Zeke's friend Y.J. Ogvassed observes "Television is interesting if you have the time to watch the decline of western civ." Ironic, really.

Teach Your Children - Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - Here comes the anomaly. Zeke, Y.J, Zeke's girlfriend Becky and Y.J.'s dog Blackie go on a road trip to meet some space aliens, the Orgonians. ("You want to drive to Oregon?" - Becky). They start out listening to KROQ out of L.A. but reception gets patchy and then Duran Duran come on so they swap to "one of those retro stations that play nothing but "classic rock"". Isn't it reassuring to know you can still do exactly that more than thirty years later? You'll almost certainly hear the same songs.

All You Need Is Love - The Beatles - I have always liked this clip. It seemed like history to me when I was in my teens and that was ten years before Sad Movies was published. Of course I was only able to read about it. I was long past my teens before I finally got to see it.

Circle Game - Joni Mitchell - This marks the moment when Zeke has enough of the past and flips in a tape that represents his present. Fast forward almost a quarter of a century. Lana del Rey covers Joni's For Free (magnificently) on her latest zeitgeist-defining album. The past is always with us. Or the sixties. Same thing.

Here Comes A Regular - The Replacements - Them again. Zeke really likes them. I'm guessing so does Mark Lindquist.

Like A Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan (live version) - The actual Dylan this time, playing on another retro station as the gang drive back to L.A. after the Orgonians fail to show (or do they?). "The crowd's roar rises into a cathartic frenzy and we've drunk just enough to scream along insanely as though the song is our story. Facetiously, of course". My stepdaughter had a baby last year. She named him after Bob Dylan. The past is always with us. Or the sixties. Same thing.

Stairway To Heaven - Led Zeppelin - Speaking of things that are always with us... I never liked Led Zep. Not even when I was a heavy metal/hard rock mid-teen. I thought this in particular was portentous and overblown even then - and I willingly listened to E.L.P. ! The characters in the book don't have quite my distaste for it but they're uncomfortable all the same:

" "I loved that song, once upon a time", Y.J. says. 

"So did I", Becky says. 

"Me too", I admit. 

We look at each other sheepishly and laugh".

Communication Breakdown - Led Zeppelin - Another radio song. Seems to be entirely co-incidental that it places directly after another Zep classic. If there's a significance I can't see it.

Don't Wanna Be Like That - Joe Jackson - Someone else who seems quintessentially eighties now. I'm not sure he did at the time. I liked his first album a lot but he always seemed to be like a kind of cross between Graeme Parker and Elvis Costello with a little bit less bite than either.

Suspicious Minds - Fine Young Cannibals - Looking at their Wikipedia page, FYC seem to have been a lot more successful than I remembered. I almost had them in "one hit wonder" territory but they had two U.S. number ones and a bunch of other hits. They were also born out of the ashes of The Beat, who were always my favorite two-tone band. Curious I never liked them much.

Manic Monday - The Bangles - This one's been overplayed a little but it still sounds good coming out of a car radio. Not that cars have radios any more. To no-one's surprise, I'm sure, I love The Bangles. I really like Susannah Hoffs, especially the covers she does with Matthew Sweet. Here they are covering Yes's I've Seen All Good People, of all things.

1999 - Prince - Talking of songs that have been overplayed... Still works, though, no matter how many times you've heard it.

These Days - R.E.M. - R.E.M. have always seemed to me like the boiled potato of indie rock. Plain, simple, wholesome. Nothing wrong with them but you're not going to get all excited when you get a helping. I never for one moment imagined them being as energetic - frantic even - on stage as they seem to be in this clip. Maybe I have them pegged wrong. Probably too late to worry about it now.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John - Back when he could sing. He's unlistenable now. It's very interesting, having listed all these tracks out in the order they appear in the book, how the recognition factor ascends. At the start it's decidedly indie. Then it moves through more mainstream alt acts towards the great beasts of the historic past, ending up with some of the most popular, best-selling acts of the day. I wonder if that means something? 

Heroes - David Bowie - Saving the best for last, eh, Mark?

 "My favorite old Bowie tune is playing. "Though nothing, nothing will keep us together, we can beat them, forever and ever, we can be heroes, just for one day." and my arm is around Becky and I'm thinking I should outgrow this song and wondering if I ever will".

No, you won't. No-one ever does.

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