Monday, July 07, 2014

Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein (Abrams Books 2014)

Lori Majewski: Not sure if you realize it, JB [Jonathan Bernstein], but The Lexicon of Love is the reason we became friends. When you told me it was your favorite album of all time—back in the early nineties, when we were the only people who’d admit to liking new wave while working at a grunge-obsessed Spin magazine—I thought: Now, here’s a guy I can hang with. While I love Spandau and Culture Club, neither ever released a flawless long-player like Lexicon. The talky bits were my favorite parts, like in “The Look of Love,” when Fry says to himself, “Martin, maybe one day you’ll find true love.” He always came across as such a hopeless romantic—it was the beautifully tailored suits, the way he referenced Cupid and Smokey Robinson in his songs, how he pined for a more chivalrous era. For an eighties teenager experiencing the thrill (and then heartache) of her first crush, ABC offered a vision of love that I could only hope the real thing would live up to.

MARTIN FRY: Decades don’t always begin at zero. They begin a couple of years in, the mood and style. A couple of years into the eighties, when I was forming ABC, I realized no one could be more Sex Pistol–y than the Sex Pistols or more Clash than the Clash. I loved punk, but it never seemed to go as far as it could have. Maybe Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes or Tony Hadley and Gary Kemp might say something different, but for me and for a lot of my generation, it was really frustrating the Clash were never on Top of the Pops. I wasn’t going to try and be a proto-punk. I wanted to do the opposite.

That’s why I got so excited by disco, which was a really dirty word at the time. I wanted to make music that was funky and radical. The early ABC was the “Radical Dance Faction”—that’s what we called ourselves. I’d also grown up loving Motown, Stax, and Atlantic, along with Roxy Music—Roxy performing “Virginia Plain” on Top of the Pops in 1972 was my road to Damascus. So it made natural sense to try and fuse those worlds. When I think back, looking at stuff like the Pop Group, James Chance and the Contortions, Pigbag, and all the bands that came through just before and just after ABC—Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Depeche Mode—there was a whole generation itching to make dance music, populist music. I don’t think it was any accident that all those bands became internationally known.

I interviewed Vice Versa for my fanzine, Modern Drugs, in 1979. They were kind of a fledgling Human League, only younger and less revered. When I went to interview Steve Singleton and Mark White, they said, “We’re going on a train from Sheffield to Middlesbrough to open up for Cowboys International. We’ve not got a drummer, but we’ve got lots of synths in our holdalls. You can stand onstage with us.” We got bottled off by these skinheads who didn’t get us. We were mohair sweaters and post-punk and ironic, but I loved it. After that, they let me join the band.

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