Posts Tagged ‘Bananarama’

Robert Louis Stevenson drew a map of an island and was inspired to write Treasure Island. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about a Hobbit and from there drew a map of Middle-Earth. Many writers start writing after being captivated by a drawing or a photo. Others cut pictures out of magazines to help them visualize their characters or some aspect of their stories. Writing is surprisingly visual.

For my book, I bought 10 irregular sheets of poster board at an art supply store. The biggest is about 2’x3’. I took all the book covers, magazine photos, and old postcards I’d collected with a mountainous, railroady theme and spray-mounted them on these boards. I glued a balsa-wood frame to the back of each to keep them from warping, then hung them on the walls around my corner desk. This way I write while looking at the physical setting my characters are moving through.

I also drew a map of the where the action is, but my illustration skills are stuck in the sixth grade, when I struggled to draw a creditable starship Enterprise. (Still working on that one.) I keep redrawing the map for practice but I’m not getting better at it. I know the look I want and at some point I’m going to hire an actual artist to do it.

Meanwhile, it occurred to be that I could one-up Tolkien and RLS. (Boy, I never thought I’d get to say that.) I love building models. My book is full of trains. Why not build a model of something I’m writing about?

Micro 1

Nature is always trying to come indoors and take over. If you leave your car parked too long, nature will grow under it and eventually over it. Same with trains. Open-top cars left on a siding will eventually support enough wind-blown dirt and weeds to initiate agriculture. I’ve hiked past abandoned bridges that were turning into gardens way up in the middle of the air. Look at what happened to the High Line in New York:

High Line

I thought I was going to have one such bridge in my book, with an abandoned gondola astride it. So I made one. (This was also a way to sneak a garden railroad into my wife’s garden.) The wood came from an old dish drainer. The plants are a type of sedum that’s pretty much indestructible. It all lives outside; I’ll bring it in when winter comes.

Micro 2

I tried to sell these photos to Classic Toy Trains, but for some reason they weren’t enthused about showing their readers how to destroy their classic toy trains. They were very nice about it, though.

Micro 3

After further thought I decided to put this bridge in my second book. At least I’m thinking ahead. For my next construction project, I considered a half-size caboose replica, but I had some doubts I could secure trackage rights for the backyard. Maybe I’ll build that miniature Cape Cod lighthouse after all. It could double as a doghouse.

Today I went to the gym for the first time since the Write-a-thon started, so I’m feeling particularly virtuous this evening. My new mantra is short and intense workouts rather than lengthy and laid-back. Blood, not just contusions.

Random Pick of the Day
Ministry, Filth Pig (1995)
Sometime in the early 1980s I saw The B-52s at Kane Hall at the University of Washington. The opening act was a Seattle band called The Blackouts. It was an unlikely pairing, as The Blackouts were dark and noisy and The B-52s are light and zany. But it’s a rock-concert tradition to pair like with unlike. A tavern here in Portland just had Wicked Sin opening for The Punctuals. I didn’t go. I knew it was wrong.

The Blackouts eventually met a heavy-metal industrialist named Al Jourgensen and under his leadership formed Ministry and became even darker and noiser. Filth Pig is a good example. On this disc, Ministry did everything it could to clear the dance floor. The album name was thought up by a 16-year-old boy with bad skin and no hope of getting laid. The cover art is grotesque. The track listing is unreadable. Most of the songs are as listenable as a space shuttle in need of a new muffler. The singing is not so much singing as it is screaming at Orcs.

But! This album has their cover of “Lay, Lady, Lay” (track 9, since you’ll never decipher the info on the CD). The first time I heard it, I thought it was a joke. I listened a second time because I was looking forward to the laugh, but I didn’t laugh. I just listened. Now I’ve heard it many times and I think it’s beautiful. (Dylan does it again.) “Lay, Lady, Lay,” and tracks 1, 2, and 10 redeem Filth Pig for me.

Random Pan of the Day
Fun Boy Three, Waiting (1982)
The musical equivalent of the plastic garbage floating around in the Pacific Ocean. David Byrne produced this thing, after producing another inept record earlier in the year, The B-52s’ Mesopotamia. But 1982 also saw Talking Heads’ first live album,  the excellent The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads. Strange year for David Byrne…The only FB3 song worth its weight in vinyl is one of their two collaborations with Bananarama, “Really Saying Something,” and in that one they let the girls sing the leads.

I know I said I wasn’t going to do anymore music reviewing while the Write-a-thon was on, but I can’t seem to rein myself in. So many bands to insult, so little time.

 

In 1986 I spent six glorious summer weeks at the Clarion West Writers Workshop. I went to class Monday through Friday to study with six science fiction and fantasy writers and editors: Ed Bryant, Suzy McKee Charnas, Particia McKillip, Joan Vinge, Norman Spinrad, and David Hartwell. (I had to quit my job to go.) From this experience I learned that I had little future as a science fiction and fantasy writer, so I fell back on Plan B, which was to grow up to become John Updike.

That didn’t work either, but I still treasure my Clarion experience. (Loyal Reader Linda was one of the logistical wizards who ran Clarion that year, so let me thank you again, Loyal Reader Linda, for your most excellent work.) Clarion runs a Write-a-thon along the lines of National Novel Writing Month to help raise money for the workshop. This event is also a good way to force yourself to write faster, dammit.

I just signed up for this year’s Write-a-thon, which runs from June 23 to August 2 (concurrently with the workshop). Here’s my Write-a-thon site. Contribute if you feel like supporting literature, or just follow along. I’ll report my progress in this blog.

No, I am not writing a science fiction or fantasy novel. It’s not something Updike would’ve written, either, as I’ve replaced all the sex with trains. Just kidding. All the sex is on a train. With aliens. Which reminds of a class I took two years ago in how to write erotica. The instructor, a woman, wrote supernatural/science fiction erotica. She told me that the number-one question she received after reading a story in public (usually at a sex shop) was, “Did that really happen to you?” She had to restrain herself from saying something like, “Why yes, my boyfriend is a centaur.”

Write on!

Random Pick of the Week
The Charlottes, Things Come Apart (1991)
Includes their cover of “Venus.” You may remember from the original by Shocking Blue (who were Dutch) and the dynamite interpretation by Bananarama (English) that this is a voice-driven song. The Shocking Blue’s singer, Mariska Veres, had enough sex appeal to swamp Britney Spears, plus she was singing in a foreign language, plus she sounds like a man. Bananarama, of course, had those three pure-pop-voiced women.

Mariska Veres
Mariska Veres circa 1970

Bananarama
Bananarama circa 1986. In 1980 they sang back-up in concert for The Nipple Erectors.

The Charlottes (another English band) don’t even let their unnamed singer into the song for the first 50 seconds, and when she does join in she’s an island of calm. Or she’s lost at sea. You pick. They turn “Venus” into a guitar rally that stops cold around the 4-minute mark, then rises from the dead and moseys along for another 2 minutes. This song should be cut in half or doubled! The strangest thing of all is that I find myself air-drumming along rather than air-guitaring. The rest of these songs sound like outtakes from “Venus,” except for “Beautify,” which shows some restraint, and “By My Side,” which takes up almost 10 minutes of this odd album.

Random Pan of the Week
Various artists, Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity (2008)
The Neil Young presented here is frozen in the 1970s, with a heavy concentration on Harvest and After the Gold Rush. There’s not much you can do with marathons like “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Down By the River” (basically the same song), though a couple of women try, one on the banjo. Nobody takes on “Cortez the Killer,” which I suppose was disqualified for its title.

Kate York’s “Comes a Time” and Louise Post’s “Sugar Mountain” stand out. (Post co-founded female alt-pioneers Veruca Salt.) The rest of these interpretations sound alike or are way too country for me, everyone strumming away and treating Mr. Young with reverence. As if he’d encourage that – this is the guy who was delighted when Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote “Sweet Home Alabama” in response to “Southern Man.” For collectors only.

I finished ’70s Week with a list of my favorite songs of the decade. I gave up on concluding ’80s Week the same way when my list of favorite songs surpassed 200. I’m going to choose one at random and call that my favorite song of the 1980s. OK, reaching into the hat now…The winner: Paul Simon’s “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War.” Done!

With that out of the way we can move on to a more important subject, and that subject is women. My list of favorites from ’70s Week mistakenly gave the impression that I don’t like music made by women. This is not true. I like music made by women and I like women who enjoy music made by women. I can prove these assertions with the ticket stubs to three concerts I took Special D to: Lady Gaga, The Roches, and Cher. Cher’s opening act was Cyndi Lauper so that makes six total women I went out of my way to experience in a concert setting. You’re probably thinking that I acted like a martyr each time, but I did no such thing. I survived Mudhoney. These gals were a snap.

Here’s my attempt at classifying women in music in the 1980s. By including them all here rather than spreading them through ’80s Week I am inadvertently creating a ghetto, but it took me days to write this post so you’ll just have to deal.

1)  Madonna and some lesser satellites
Of course the woman who strides across the 1980s like a colossus is Madonna. However, the only song I like by Madonna, “Vogue,” didn’t happen until the ’90s, which means we are now done with Madonna.

It’s fashionable to laugh at Pat Benatar, probably because she’s laughable. I wish she had fronted for a band rather than zig-zagged around on her own. Van Halen went through a parade of heavy metal idiots after David Lee Roth walked out. They should’ve hired Benatar. She would’ve been fantastic.

I have nothing to say about Bette Midler or Cher except that they don’t make your brain bleed like Mudhoney. Cyndi Lauper angered conservative groups with “She Bop,” which may or may not be about masturbation. Whether it is or not, tally-ho Cyndi Lauper.

2)  Singer/songwriters with folk origins or dangerous country tendencies
The 1980s saw a mob of confessional women following the lead of Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Judy Collins, Janis Ian, and Melanie. I mostly ignore them. I’m too busy with Pink Floyd. Examples of this phenomenon are Shawn Colvin (“Shotgun Down the Avalanche”), Sarah McLachlan (“Vox”), Edie Brickell (“What I Am”), and Melissa Etheridge (“Bring Me Some Water,” which rocks like a literate ZZ Top). I’ll talk about Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” when we get to’90s Week.

The Indigo Girls appeared in the crossword movie Wordplay. They get my respect for that, and for “Closer to Fine.”

Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” is one of the decade’s milestones, while Michelle Shocked’s “If Love Was a Train” is one of the sexier moments (and a lot smarter than Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator”).

kd lang’s swinging “Walkin’ in and Out of Your Arms” is a crowd-pleaser, but that’s as country as I get, and I had to work at it. This is why Emmylou Harris is beyond me.

You’ll find Tracy Chapman in category 6 below.

3)  Party out of bounds
Could we live without “Venus,” “I Can’t Help It,” “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “Hero Takes a Fall,” “How Much More,” and “Vacation”? Absolutely not. The world will always need Bananarama, The Bangles, and The Go-Go’s. These bands are better than the critics think. But not a lot better.

4)  Quota system
Women rocked in the ’80s, but they were often limited to one rocking woman per band. (Heart and The B-52s had two women each, but they were from the ’70s so they don’t count.) Here’s how I rate these artists:

Unfortunately for Dale Bozzio, her voice is similar to Cyndi Lauper’s, who came along at the same time and blew past Bozzio’s band, Missing Persons. Their hits “Destination Unknown” and “Windows” were familiar to viewers of early MTV. The music hasn’t aged well plus they sound like somebody imitating Cyndi Lauper.

Margo Timmins is a haunting vocalist, but her brother Michael is the force that makes The Cowboy Junkies go. (Cowboy Junkies are so soft-spoken, I can’t always tell if they’re playing or if they’re resting following a prolonged squawk.)

Talking Heads may have started as equals, but they eventually became David Byrne and his backing musicians. I give Tina Weymouth (and her husband, Chris Frantz) credit for starting their own side project. But the side project they started was The Tom Tom Club, which makes me wish they had started a nice Italian restaurant instead.

Kim Deal didn’t do much with The Pixies (a band I don’t like), so she formed The Breeders (a band I do like) with Tanya Donnelly of Throwing Muses. The Breeders just missed the ’80s. Not many rock stars have had a song written specifically about them by other rock stars (The Dandy Warhols’ “Cool As Kim Deal”).

I always think I should like Donnelly’s Throwing Muses, but I don’t. I start each album with enthusiasm and never make it to the end.

I don’t like Sonic Youth and they don’t like me, so I can’t say anything about Kim Gordon except that she would wake things up, if not send people home, if she opened for Cher.

5)  All in the family
The Runaways were intended to be a tough female version of The Monkees. By “tough,” the record company meant “they might have sex with you.” This probably didn’t work out all that well in reality, but reality has little connection with marketing. Three women from The Runaways forged notable careers in music after that band dissolved: Michael Steele joined The Bangles, while Lita Ford and Joan Jett went off on their own.

Lita Ford was tough enough to play guitar in the male world of metal. Point! But the world of metal isn’t evil and extreme, it’s ridiculous and inane. Counterpoint! Ford worked hard for 10 years before finally scoring a hit, “Kiss Me Deadly.” Point! “Kiss Me Deadly” is deadly forgettable. Counterpoint! Her next hit, “Close My Eyes Forever,” was a duet with…Ozzy Osbourne. Counterpoint! Uh-oh, I don’t want her to lose. Fortunately, Ford spent the ’80s outfitted in rock-star lingerie. I’ll put her back in the plus column for having one of the best derrières in the business. And after a long hiatus and the birth of her children, she is rocking again at 53. Point! Whew. W00t!

In 1981, Joan Jet and her new band, The Blackhearts, took their version of “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” to #1 in the U.S., Canada, and The Netherlands (a new band would kill to be #1 in The Netherlands). Jett is the hardest-working woman in music and an expert interpreter of rock standards. She salvaged “Crimson & Clover” and “Time Has Come Today” from the scrapheap of ’60s psychedelia and took “I Wanna Be Your Dog” away from Iggy Pop. As with Weird Al, her originals are not well-regarded, but she accomplished a lot with “I Hate Myself for Loving You.”

6)  The Four Horsewomen of the ’80s Apocalypse
My choices for the best female artists of the decade:

Tracy Chapman (“Fast Cars”) brings more emotion to a song than any contemporary artist I know, female or male. The only part of her career that takes place in the 1980s was her debut, Tracy Chapman. The stories on that album can go head-to-head with those on Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.

Siouxsie Sioux (a name that’s impossible to type correctly on the first go) and her band, Siouxsie & The Banshees, put eight songs on or close to my list of ’80s favorites: Their covers of “Dear Prudence” and “Helter Skelter,” as well as “Christine,” “Happy House,” “Trophy,” “Clockface,” “Shadow Time,” and the one I like best, “Silly Thing.” And they still have “Kiss Them for Me” waiting in the ’90s.

Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Cure are the only goth outfits I can listen to. Robert Smith of The Cure moonlighted as a Banshee for a couple of years. I’d love to put that on my resume. “Banshee: Served as omen of death across all distribution channels. Initiated howling programs that decreased productivity by 400%.”

Deborah Iyall was the co-founder, singer, and songwriter of Romeo Void. She is one the best writers of the ’80s, able to cut you like a knife with one line (“Nothing makes me lonelier than a phone call from you”). Romeo Void had minor hits with “I Might Like You Better If We Slept Together” and “A Girl in Trouble Is a Temporary Thing.” I prefer “Just Too Easy” and “Myself to Myself.” They don’t have many good songs, but the good ones are very good.

Chrissie Hynde had it all. She could write the music and the words and deliver the whole package in the hurricane that was The Pretenders. They only had three worthwhile albums (Pretenders, Pretenders II, and Learning to Crawl), but those are three of the best albums of the decade. It was Hynde who made me realize that I had to abandon my attempt to list my favorite songs of the 1980s, as I picked most of the songs on these discs (I’m especially taken by “Private Life,” “The Adulteress,” and “Two Birds of Paradise”).

This has been my longest post. Women are exhausting. I’m going to go listen to some uncomplicated male music…maybe David Bowie.

Run-DMSteve alert: This weekend I will celebrate my anniversary by posting an index to this blog’s first year. See you then!

In 2010, Special D and I went to the ’80s Video Dance Attack at Lola’s Room here in Portland. ’80s videos played until closing. At 9pm the average age in the crowd was probably in the high 40s, but by midnight that had dropped at least 20 years. The ’80s rule! Here are just a few of the lessons I learned at Lola’s:

1) David Bowie made better music than almost everyone else on MTV, but he couldn’t make a video to save his life. “Blue Jean” feels like Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” minus the motorcycle that crashes through the stained-glass window.

2) I’m certain that in 1984 I thought the video for A-ha’s “Take on Me,” in which a woman falls in love with a comic-book hero and then joins him in the book’s pages, was oh so futuristic. Now I see that it was surely inspired by Tron and that its only use for us today is documenting the haircuts.

3) Videos for A Flock of Seagulls document their haircuts and their appalling music.

4) MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” hasn’t budged an inch out of the stupid zone. I want to hurt him.

5) You can’t beat Bananarama in an ’80s video fight.

Somebody has to say this and it might as well be me: It’s far past time for a critical reappraisal of the Bananarama oeuvre. Granted, this reappraisal will be a challenge. The majority of their songs suck. But the few non-suck songs are little pop jewels, such as “Robert De Niro’s Waiting,” “Shy Boy,” and “Cruel Summer.”

The real knockouts on a Saturday night, though, are “Venus” and “I Can’t Help It.” Not only did “Venus” go to #1 on every chart between Earth and Pluto, it completely replaced Shocking Blue’s original. This is the same trick The Clash pulled with “I Fought the Law.”

The video is a gas, complete with devils, vampires, boy toys, and goddesses. When they fired up this video at Lola’s we immediately experienced the “Dancing Queen” phenomenon, as every female present beamed straight onto the dance floor. The Go-Go’s, Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, and New Order couldn’t match it. Bananarama said  “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” to Duran Duran, The Bangles, and Madonna.

Speaking of Madonna, while Bananarama’s “I Can’t Help It” didn’t turn in the same kind of chart performance as “Venus,” it’s plenty good enough to have made it onto one of Madonna’s records. The video isn’t much (not counting the 20 seconds in which the girls indulge themselves in a group milk bath), but the song is sufficiently infectious to carry you through.

We had a great time that night, and I totally enjoyed Bananarama. That’s really sayin’ something. Bop bop shoo-be-do-wa.

When I was 15 and maybe even 20 I knew what was happening. Not every note, but I knew a lot. OK, I missed something big once. Epic, really: punk. In 1977 I was offered a free ticket to see The Clash on their first U.S. tour and I turned it down because I thought punk was a joke. This is particularly ironic given that in 1977 I was a disco activist.

My sense of what was happening musically was resurrected in my 30s when I worked for an alternative newspaper. Our reviewers were plugged in. We were all it and a bag of chips. And yet we missed something big once. Epic, really: grunge. Time and Newsweek  broke that story in 1991. Irony overload – Sub Pop was located right in our building and I often shared an elevator with some shambling, hairy hulk from Mudhoney.

My knowledge of popular music has deepened and broadened but I rarely know what’s new. Last week I wrote about a local band, Red Fang. It took me two years to catch up with them, and I caught them only because they were featured in The Oregonian. And if they’ve been featured in our daily paper’s lifestyle section they are probably way past their expiration date.

Fortunately, in my 40s I realized that I could still learn what was happening in music by befriending people younger than me and asking. That’s how I discovered Internet radio in 1999. (Spinner: Free music and a cool boombox on your desktop!) Youthful friends of mine in Boise made major contributions to my musical knowledge, not counting the guy who’s still fixated on Night Ranger.

Isabelle is in the house!
Today we’re going to learn about music from somebody who’s so young, she’s barely older than my dog, Storm Small. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm Run-DMSteve welcome to my 12-year-old niece, Isabelle!

Isabelle is an amazing young woman. I would’ve known this even if she hadn’t told me, which she did. In Isabelle’s world, when you want your music, you go first to YouTube. Her iPod is in second place. Third place is held by an ancient technological device called the radio. I visited her favorite station and checked the last 20 songs they’d played. I knew one, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” I had a lot of ground to cover.

Isabelle’s favorite artists right now are Ke$ha and Bruno Mars, so I listened to their debut albums, Ke$ha’s Animal and Mars’ Doo-Wops & Hooligans. I was prepared to floss my brain afterwards with Miles Davis, but I enjoyed myself. This is probably bad news for Ke$ha, whose audience is not middle-aged men, but good news for Bruno Mars, who is striving for a more universal appeal.

Trying to fill Lady Gaga’s skyscraper heels
If you take the nonstop pop appeal of The Go-Go’s, the sauciness of Bananarama, the oops-I-did-it-again dance grooves of Britney Spears, and then lower everyone’s IQ, you’ve about got Ke$ha. Her songs mostly focus on having a good time even if you have to drink until you can’t spell your own name. Which in her case wouldn’t take long. “TiK ToK” was a huge hit, and “Boots & Boys,” “Take It Off,” and “Hungover” neatly sum up the principles by which she lives her life.

I was surprised to see “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” on this album, but when I got there it turned out not to be a cover of Ultravox’s 1984 hit. Too bad, as Ke$ha would’ve kicked those syntho-pop pretty boys from here to eternity. Ke$ha’s song is about a love affair she torpedoed with her self-destructive behavior. This probably happens to her a lot.

“Party At a Rich Dude’s House” builds on a rich pop tradition. In Randy Newman’s  “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” the narrator is appalled by the shenanigans around him. The B-52s turned this idea inside-out with “Party Out of Bounds.”  They’re not appalled; in fact, they’re stealing everything out of your icebox! The Beastie Boys updated The B-52s when they told us “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party).” Ke$ha’s contribution is to throw up in a rich dude’s closet.

Animal has some spring-loaded dance tunes that will probably sound dated in 10 years but are hyperkinetic right now. Ke$ha spends a lot of time being kittenish, and I can’t tell how much of her voice is her and how much is her engineer, but overall she’s hard to resist. I probably won’t listen to Animal again, but I am sure that “Boots & Boys” will one day become a female anthem. When women hear it they’ll storm the dance floor, as they do today for “Dancing Queen,” “I Will Survive,” and “Venus.”

With a name like that he should be playing third base for the Cardinals
Bruno Mars is like David Bowie and Prince in his ability to change shape from track to track. He’s run every song recorded in the last 50 years through the blender that is his brain. “Runaway Baby” sounds like a 1960s rave-up between The Animals and The Dave Clark Five. Bono could’ve sung “Just the Way You Are” and it would’ve been the B-side of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” “Marry You” is an innocent gem that would’ve been right at home on MTV in 1985. “Liquor Store Blues” is reggae, “Count on Me” is Jack Johnson or Cat Stevens, and then there’s the weird “Grenade,” which sounds like Michael Jackson crossed with a European New Wave act I can’t put my finger on. (Not Ultravox.)

Mars has a supple tenor voice that seems to work in any genre and he not only loves Elvis, he impersonates Elvis. I can’t say that Doo-Wops & Hooligans is one of my favorite albums, but it does reward the time you invest in it.

Isabelle also informed me that the Worst. Song. Ever. was “Friday” by Rebecca Black. This song is such a stinker that Rhapsody not only refuses to carry it, they sent an electric shock through my keyboard when I requested it. Although Isabelle and I are of different generations, we can agree that “Friday” sucks. I haven’t heard anything this bad since the time Storm Small cornered a weasel in our drainpipe.

Thank you, Isabelle, for furthering my musical education. But before I get to Rihanna, Pit Bull, and P!nk I think I will give Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue a spin.