Saturday, April 26, 2014

Beth’s Books: Mad World

Mad WorldMad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s, by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein

When I saw a description of this book in a Rolling Stone blog entry, I knew I had to get it. In fact, I went right over to Amazon and ordered it then and there.

This was my era of music. I’ve read that the music that resonates the most with you throughout your life is that which you listened to as a teen and young adult. New Wave was an outcropping of punk rock, essentially making it a little more friendly and palatable for American tastes. It eventually took on a life of its own and much of it was subversive in its own right. This was happening when I was in high school and college, and this music is a major part of my life’s soundtrack.

Although I wasn’t heavy into the more electronic stuff like Depeche Mode and Joy Division (I was into the stuff with a little harder edge), I still enjoyed reading about every band and artist in the book. We get details of the friendships, the tensions, the musical influences (Bowie was a huge influence with many of these was Roxy Music), the equipment, the breakups, the reunions. We get tasty little tidbits of trivia like the story behind Adam Ant’s Apache war stripe, the real meaning of the phrase Spandau Ballet (it’s pretty awful, although the band didn’t realize it when they chose it), and of course, we’ve all wondered what the deal was with the Flock of Seagulls guy’s (Mike Score is his name) bizarre hairdo! Now the truth can be known! Get the book and find out!

There are three bands in this book that I was very much into: Devo, Duran Duran, and INXS. The entire book is great, but the write-ups on these bands alone are worth the price. I was very touched by two of the Farriss brothers talking about how they all coped with the loss of Michael Hutchence. You could tell that there is still a hole in their hearts because of his absence. Mine too, guys. Mine too.

The book has plenty of lush, colorful photographs, but isn’t short on content. It is full of great interviews with usually at least one musician from each band, and a “That was then but this is now” (from an ABC song) feature gives us an idea of what they’ve been up to lately. (The most bizarre has to be Alannah Currie of the Thompson Twins, who these days “upholsters furniture using the carcasses of animals who died naturally or who were run over by unobservant drivers.” What?) It was also pleasant to find out that Howard Jones is a genuinely nice chap who strives to be the best human being he can be, and is all about encouraging others to do the same and to look at life in a positive way. What a nice guy!

There is an afterward by Moby, and part of his experience growing up with this music was similar to mine. He writes:
New wave was, for me, also about geographic escapism. I lived in the suburbs of Connecticut, and new wave represented Berlin and London and Manchester and Paris and parts of the world that seemed as glamorous and far away from Connecticut as one could possibly get while remaining on the planet.
This girl from a small town in Indiana knows exactly how you feel, Moby! Music was my exposure to a broader world, and I think it definitely shaped my worldview and made me eager to travel and see some of these places myself. It also made me know that there were teenagers all over the world who were experiencing similar things to me—other kids who didn’t quite fit in with the “in crowd,” other kids who were shy, other kids who felt that these musicians understood what they were going through, because maybe they had gone through it, too.

What really spoke to me the most, though, was this from Midge Ure of Ultravox:
[The eighties] was a different planet. It was a planet where people cared about music. Music was a be-all and end-all to young people. It was our lifeblood. You waited for the next album you were into, you saved up your pennies, and you waved it around proudly when you bought it, and you played it to death. That world doesn’t exist anymore. There’s only a few old-timers and Luddites who do that these days. There are kids walking around with 20,000 songs on their phones, and they haven’t got a clue what any of them are called because they’ve been downloaded—they’ve just been passed from person to person.
If you felt this way about eighties music, BUY THIS BOOK. It will not disappoint. I enjoyed it so much that I used the twitter links provided at the end of the book for the book and the two authors, and told them how much I loved it. They responded immediately, and when I said that I’m really hoping for a Part Deux, one of them said “Us too!” So fingers crossed for a second volume. There are so many more artists to explore!

Cousin Shane and I spent many fun hours in his room listening to albums and poring over the liner notes. We read all the lyrics and sometimes memorized them. We may not have been musicians, but we know exactly where Midge is coming from with his sentiments above. For a few special years, we were totally consumed by the music...and what a lovely way to burn.