Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Brian Eno

iPod Fully Loaded

Remember the days before digitalized music, MP3 players and iPods–when making a compilation tape, whether for a road trip or a friend was an art?

It’s like what Rob (John Cusack) says in High Fidelity (2000), “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”

Back in the day you only had 90-120 minutes (is it just me or an urban legend but somewhere along the line I remember someone telling me that 90-minute tapes were better than 120-minute tapes) for your compilation tapes so you had to choose your songs carefully and wisely.

Of course, these days with lots and lots of gigabytes at your disposal, you can make up all sorts of play lists for whatever mood or situation. And if you want a bit of old school you can still make some killer play lists.

That’s kind of what I’ve done for my upcoming trip to Laos–I’ve created some killer play lists, not only for the journey but for some background music when I am with Aon and the boys. It’s time for me to introduce Jeremy Aaron and Bia to some of the music I have grown up with.


I’ve got my iPod fully-loaded and ready to rock out on the long journey ahead and to introduce Jeremy Aaron and Bia to 50+ years of rock and roll.

New Wave Class of 1979: “Life During Wartime” – Talking Heads

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NedwmkhHpKI]

If you are one of those music aficionados who prefers their lyrics to be on the cerebral side of things without compromising too much foot-stomping danceability, you could also count on the Talking Heads to deliver both.

And you never had to worry about them not making sense.

Take their 1979 hit, “Life during Wartime” that might have seemed to tap into the punk rock/new wave Zeitgeist, but instead comes across as more of a “funky cautionary tale” about foreign terrorists living in American suburbs.

I still remember when I picked up a copy of Fear of Music and slapped it on my turntable. First of all the album itself was really hip—all black and embossed with a pattern that resembled the appearance and texture of diamond plate metal flooring. Then there were such tracks as “I Zimbra,” “Air,” “Electric Guitar,” “Cities” and Mind”– songs for a generation and all creatively produced by Brian Eno.

However it was “Life during Wartime’s” nightmare visions of civil insurrection (and perhaps terrorism) in the United States as well as allusions to an apparent guerilla movement (“Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons/packed up and ready to go/Heard of some gravesites, out by the highway/a place where nobody knows”) that really grabbed me the first time I heard the song. Without question, these were some powerful lyrics jolted listeners in the waning disco era. And when the singer laments that he can’t go to night clubs anymore because he has to live underground, he sings “this ain’t no party/this ain’t no disco/this ain’t no fooling around” which became a catchphrase for punk and new wave.

At the dawn of the Reagan era, “Life during Wartime” might have seemed like a post-punk apocalyptic paranoid nightmare; today, in a post 9-11 world though, it had tragically become a reality.

On a personal note, it was one of those albums that when I listen to now reminds me of a defining moment of my life, not to mention the direction that my musical tastes would be taking me. It was early 1980 and I was debating whether or not to get out of the Air Force. At the time I was stationed at George Air Force in the high desert of California (just outside of Victorville) and I was thinking about reenlisting for another four years or perhaps going to college.

One day, while I was in CBPO—an administrative building for the base—I happened to see an advertisement for Southern Illinois University (SIU). The Air Force and SIU had some program called Students in Uniform for military personnel who wanted to study aerodynamics and even had a recruiter/advisor on base. I was interested in film and having already done some checking on SIU’s cinema and photography department, I stopped in to see the SIU advisor who put me in touch with SIU and helped me with the admission process.

Two months later, I got my acceptance from SIU—one week before my orders were cut for helicopter mechanic school at Shepard Air Force Base—and decided it was time to get out. Had I received my orders first, who knows what would have happened—I might have ended up making a career out of the Air Force.

Instead it was off to SIU.

And the rest is history.

Vienna – Ultravox

Jeffrey at 50 – Fifty albums that changed my life and rocked my world

 

 

“We walked in the cold air

Freezing breath on a window pane

Lying and waiting

A man in the dark in a picture frame

So mystic and soulful

A voice reaching out in a piercing cry

It stays with you until”

 

 

Prior to Ultravox’s concert at SIU on Halloween night 1980, I had not listened to the band very much. In fact, I had just bought their album Vienna a few days before.

 

On a week that started with seeing Kansas in concert, changing my hairstyle, getting my ear pierced, buying some vintage clothing, and buying a ticket to the Ultravox concert, I also had time to give Vienna a few spins around my turntable so I would at least know some of the music they would play come Halloween night.

 

And what I heard and listened to, I liked a lot.

 

A few people in Freeman Hall—the off-campus dorm I was living in at the time—who were hip to New Wave music like my very good friend Paul Collin had raved about just how good a band Ultravox was, at least raved about their earlier stuff when John Foxx was the lead singer. Now Midge Ure fronted the band and some people didn’t think Ultravox was going to be as good as it had been with Foxx.

 

There’s no question that many fans of Ultravox wondered what would happen to the fate of the band after John Foxx left. Vienna laid to rest any doubts that the band was another casualty of the post-punk era. Indeed, Ultravox would carry the torch for many New Wave era bands.

 

In many ways, when I listen to Vienna these days, it feels like a snapshot of the new wave scene in 1980—an amalgam of styles and audio experiments filtered through a definite pop sensibility. The songs on the album resist any form of labeling. From the opening ethereal and hypnotic instrumental piece “Astradyne” to rocking tracks like “Sleepwalk,” “Passing Strangers,” “All Stood Still,” the songs are just as eclectic in style as they are in substance. And if there were a Top 10 or Top 25 list of classic new wave tracks, “Vienna” would be at the top of that list.

 

Musically, Ultravox would set a standard for the use of synthesizers and a unique style of music in this New Wave era. Although Eno and Kraftwerk had been doing it for years, Ultravox made it more accessible with their pop infusion and sensibility.

 

Before this style of music turned on itself in electro-pop overkill, Vienna reminds one of a time when bands were still experimenting and pushing the parameters—and perhaps that is why today it has become a classic. There’s no denying its place in rock and roll history, not to mention at the zenith of those songs from that early New Wave era. A lot of great stuff was coming out around this time. When musicologists and fans look back on the years 1979-1980, Ultravox will always be one of the more important and influential bands.

 

Of all their albums in the post-Foxx Ultravox, Vienna rates better than the others.

 

Twenty-nine years later, it’s just as hypnotic and powerful as it was back then. It is an alluring innovative album that holds up well. Just today I listened to “Vienna” on my iPod and I was transported back to the autumn of 1980, going to SIU, hanging out with friends like Paul Collin, and getting into all kinds of music. It was a very special time when music from that era was redefining my life.

 

 

Vienna

 

We walked in the cold air
Freezing breath on a window plane
Lying and waiting
A man in the dark in a picture frame
So mystic and soulful
A voice reaching out in a piercing cry
It stays with you until


The feeling has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna


The music is weaving
Haunting notes, pizzicato strings
The rhythm is calling
Alone in the night as the daylight brings
A cool empty silence
The warmth of your hand and a cold grey sky
It fades to the distance


The image has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna
This means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna

Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! – Devo

devo

 

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?
Dr. Moreau:  What is the law?
Sayer of the Law:  Not to go on all fours that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison):  Are we not men?
Dr. Moreau:  What is the law?
Sayer of the Law:  Not to spill blood that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison):  Are we not men?

 

Island of Lost Souls 1933 (Based on H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau)

 

 

It’s a Saturday night in October 1978 and I am in my barracks’ room on George Air Force Base just outside of Victorville, California.

On this particular Saturday night I am in for the evening watching Saturday Night Live and on this particular show, musical guests Devo. And when Devo came out later in the show—decked out in their yellow radioactive suits—and performed a spastic perky-jerky rendition of that Rolling Stones’ riff-driven classic hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” I was awestruck. These guys rocked in their own weird, mutated way.

The following Saturday I went to a Tower Records store in West Covina and I bought a copy of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

When I got back to my barracks’ room that night, slapped that album on my turntable and begin to listen to such tracks as “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Jocko Homo,” “Gut Feeling” and “Come Back Jonee” all I could think was that I had never heard anything like this before. To be sure, I didn’t know what to make of this “mutant new-wave quintet” from Akron, Ohio that had a fixation with “spuds.”

With Brian Eno’s (I would find out soon enough who Brian Eno was) skillful production, the band—Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, Jerry and Bob Casale, and Alan Myers—caught a lot of people by surprise when they appeared on Saturday Night Live. The band would become famous for their outrageous incisive social commentary (not the least of which their satirical theories of devolution) as well as their media savvy in a pre-MTV world. Some of the melodies reminded me a little of Kraftwerk, but the lyrics were offbeat and weird—with a perky intensity that defied pigeonholing. Were they punk? New Wave? No one knew for sure. One thing is for certain, beyond their radioactive garb and pseudo-devolved demeanor people soon discovered that Devo also happened to be a rocking little band:

Although they would become famous for later hits like “Whip It” in 1980 that would make them MTV darlings, their debut album has held up for the past 30 years. Back in 1978-1979 when I was getting into all kinds of music, a lot of this music would define me and a lifestyle that I would have all through the 80s and beyond. Many of my close friends from that era like Tony Innis were also big fans of Devo and in 1982 Tony and I would have the chance to see Devo at the Holiday Star Ballroom in Merrillville, Indiana.

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t listen to some Devo. Thirty years after I bought their debut album they are still rocking my world.

Jocko Homo
They tell us that
We lost our tails
Evolving up
From little snails
I say its all
Just wind in sails
Are we not men?
We are Devo!
We’re pinheads now
We are not whole
We’re pinheads all
Jocko homo
Are we not men?
We are Devo
Are we not men?
D-e-v-o
Are we not pins?
We are Devo
Monkey men all
In business suit
Teachers and critics
All dance the poot
Are we not men?
We are Devo!
Are we not men?
D-e-v-o
Are we not pins?
We are Devo
Are we not men?
D-E-V-O
God made man
But he used the monkey to do it
Apes in the plan
Were all here to prove it
I can walk like an ape
Talk like an ape
I can do what a monkey can do
God made man
But a monkey supplied the glue
Are we not men?
We are Devo.
Are we not men?
We are Devo!
We must repeat
Okay, let’s go!

 

© Devo Music; EMI Virgin, Inc.

An evening with Devo — November 1982

It was a cold, wet November night fifteen years ago when I was sitting in the Holiday Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, Indiana waiting for Devo to take to the stage.

Leave it to Devo to have a concert in a theatre where you would expect someone like Tom Jones to headline.

Maybe it was intentional, a little “de-evolution” humor from the Spudboys. It seemed fitting for a band like Devo that had made a name for themselves by defying critics and rock and roll purists alike to play such a venue. While it might not have the same resonance as The Beatles at Shea Stadium or The Band at Fillmore East, Devo at the Holiday Star was an incredible concert.

Billed as an “Evening With Devo” it has remained one of the best concerts I have ever been to.

I first heard of Devo one night four years before in 1978 when I caught them performing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” on Saturday Night Live. Maybe it was the radioactive suits they were wearing or the frenetic guitar playing and vocal stylings of frontman Mark Mothersbaugh that got me hooked. All I know is the next weekend I was at my local Tower Records buying the spuds’ first album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo.

At a time when music was changing and something called “new wave” was re-packaging the early punk sound, Devo was one band that sort of defied any kind of label. With a bit of histrionics thrown in for good measure, the music that Devo played was a far cry from anything that was being played on the radio. A year later, a resurgence of rock would take place sounding the death knell for disco and the “mega-stadium bands” of the 70s. Without question, the band was one of the early pioneers of the new wave sound; but then again I think the spud boys would probably disagree.

I bought all their records, but their first one will always be my favorite. Maybe it was the Brian Eno touch that has made it a classic. Even now, almost 30 years after it first came out, it is still rocks. I have never grown tired of songs like “Come Back Jonee,” “Jocko Homo,” “Gut Feeling” (which was a pleasant addition to The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou soundtrack), and my all-time favorite spud classic “Uncontrollable Urge” (which was always a crowd stopper when performed live).

Before I saw Devo that night, I was lucky to have caught some great concerts in the early 80’s by some classic New Wave acts including The Pretenders, Ultravox, and The Stray Cats. While these bands and concerts will always be near and dear to me, especially for someone who was really getting into the new wave scene at the time, there was always something unique about Devo and their sound that made them stand out from other bands of the post-punk new wave era. One thing is for certain when it came to Devo and their music: either you were into them or you despised them.

When I heard that they were going to playing at the Holiday Star Plaza Theatre (the band was on tour to promote the recently released Oh No It’s Devo album) there was no way that I was going to miss this concert. Although the album is my least favorite of their first four albums, (a few songs/videos had already gotten some airplay on MTV—at a time when MTV was still pretty hip—before I saw them in concert) their video stylings were definitely classic Devo which they would incorporate into their live show.

There was no opening act either—just Devo. Actually, I think it would have been hard for any band to open for them.

Leave it to the Spuds to have it their way.   

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