Geek Rock of the 80s, Part 4

This week’s selection is a bit eclectic. The unifying theme is image, sort of. Well, for different definitions of the word ‘image’.

“Heart and Soul” by T’Pau

On the surface of things, this is a love song. Well, more like an “I still love you but you don’t love me back anymore” song. Love and loss. Actually, if you listen to the song closely, that’s not just on the surface. There’s a depth of feeling and emotion in this song that forces you feel a bit of the loss.

But so what, you say. What makes it Geek Rock? Why the band’s name, of course. T’Pau, played by Celia Lovsky, as the Vulcan Matriarch who officiated both Spock’s almost-wedding and his almost fight to the death with Kirk, is a pretty important character in the Star Trek pantheon. “Amok Time” is probably one of the best known episodes, partly for the fight music and funky weapons, partly for the big opportunity for Spock to show some serious emotions, but mainly for the glimpse into Vulcan culture. When the band decided on the name, they became geeks if they weren’t already and the rest of us had a reason to rejoice. And maybe smile quietly to ourselves when we caught normal people singing along.

“Whip It” by Devo

I almost picked “Jocko Homo” (“Are We Not Men?”) to represent Devo, but I feel like the song is almost too cold and mechanized (which is the intended aesthetic) and the video is over the top even for 80s New Wave. Fun, but doesn’t really capture things. “Whip It”, on the other hand, still gets a little play today, depending on what type of mix your station is into.

What makes it Geek Rock? It’s representative of Devo’s style and image. Funky helmets aside, their music typically evokes the image of a cold, impersonal future, something that’s still sometimes a fear for people today. In the 80s, we were on the cusp of that future if we let the machine and electronic culture rule us. Fortunately, we didn’t. We embraced technology while bending it to our will. Granted, we can thank advertising for some of that since it did, in some fashion, pay for all of the cool entertainment we loved, but we can also thank the will of the geek. Just because something was dehumanizing, didn’t mean we couldn’t twist reality to make it cool.

“Boom Tschak” by Kraftwerk

I discovered Kraftwerk somewhere in the middle of Grade 10. Actually, it’s more accurate to say a friend of mine introduced me to Kraftwerk after a friend of his introduced him, probably after… you get the idea. In the 80s, cruising the internet looking for new music was called word of mouth. Other than the radio, which was only going to play what music companies had decided were going to be the hits, you discovered new sounds either by talking to your friends or maybe fishing through the discount rack in the back of the record store (found a few great bands that way).

What makes it Geek Rock? To my mind, Kraftwerk comes under the heading of “Pioneers of Electronic Music”. Electronic instruments only, supplemented with computer generated sound, vocoders, and simple computer speech software. Music by geeks, for geeks. A lot of their work still speaks to me on a very basic level.

Next week only, I’m going to focus on a single band. Some of you might be surprised at who it is. Some of you, knowing my musical influences, have been wondering when I’d get to them.


Grade 8 Graduation

Grade 8 graduation is an odd time. We watch our 13 and 14 year-old kids dress up as formal adults. Yes, some more formal than others, but there are suits and dresses you might expect to wear to a high school graduation or wedding. Some of those kids try to be on their best behaviour, or what they think is best behaviour for adults (set a good example, folks). Some play to the crowd, or think they are, and some or so shy and nervous it’s almost painful to watch. Most are nervous but can’t admit it.

They walk into the gym to the music, have a seat, sit through various teacher and principle speeches, a dozen or so award presentations, and then accept their diplomas, all while a horde of parents and relatives look on and take more photos and videos than they have in the past six months.

Then it’s over and we shake hands and accept hugs, have a small glass of punch and maybe a slice of cake then watch as they all file into the gym/hall/get on the bus for the traditional graduation dance/party/gathering. We go home and come back at 11 or 12 or whenever it’s supposed to be over and in between try to keep our younger children in their normal routine and get things ready for work the next day, all the while with a wistful mood.

And why am I thinking about this on the 5th of September when the graduation ceremony I’m remembering was on the 25th of June? My desktop background is set on a slide show and it’s just shown me a picture of my son in his graduation suit, posing in front of the stage. For my son, my first born who graduated from Grade 8 on the 25th of June, today was the second day of high school and the first day he was expected to do any real work.

He didn’t enjoy the last several years of public school for a variety of excellent reasons, but high school is fresh and new and more suited academically to the way his brain works. He’s in a good mood so far. Which helps me be in a good mood.

I look at him and throw my mind back to 1984, thinking about Grade 8 graduation and my own first few days of high school and just how damned long ago it was. Just at the moment, that’s making me understand very intensely my forty-one and two-thirds years of age. I feel old.

Yes, the pride is there too. I have three fantastic kids, all very different and who will all grow up to become fantastic adults. My son is just the first one to get to high school. With luck, I can gently steer them past some of the stupid things I did during my high school years. Not sure how well that worked for my parents, but I certainly have hope.

But I started high school twenty-eight years ago, so yes, today I feel old, but I also feel pretty good.


Geek Rock of the 80s, Part 3

A little later than I wanted to be on this post, but it’s Back To School season and that involves a lot of prep when you have three kids. The theme for this week is the Undead, so let’s dig in and fire up the DeLorean.

“Dancing With Myself” by Billy Idol

Rocking out in a post apocalyptic world. A lot of very fashionable 80s zombies are looking for a little flesh to munch in this video and seem happy for a chance at Billy Idol who, with the aid of some strange electrical device, knocks them off his rooftop patio. When they come back, it’s time for a zombie dance party. Does it make sense? Not even remotely, but it’s fun and more entertaining than most of the zombie movies produced in the thirty years since.

I’ve read that the ultimate root of the song came from Billy watching Japanese night club patrons dancing by themselves in front of mirrors, taking themselves out of the crowd in the same room, which he found dehumanizing. I’ve also read other things with a much higher level of innuendo. Read into it what you like, but it’s still a great song.

What makes it Geek Rock? Aside from the zombies, to me, at its heart, it’s a song about not being noticed by the opposite sex, and learning to deal with it, something definitely familiar to the geeks of the 80s.

“Everlasting Love” by Howard Jones

Mummies on the streets of London? Well sure, why not. The video is a little surreal as no one except Howard notices the mummies walking the dog, taking a taxi to work, or having lunch in the window seat of a restaurant. They’re not scary, there’s no curse, and nothing bad is going to happen; just a couple of ancient Egyptians raised from the dead and trying living a normal life in the late 20th century.

What makes it Geek Rock? Looking for an enduring love in a world of casual and disposable relationships. You often hear about the 80s being the ‘me’ decade. Everything was all about status and attention. I don’t buy it, not that you have to take my word for things, but I was a teenager in the 80s so maybe my view is a bit coloured by youth, or maybe coloured by my early middle age in the early 21st. When I look around, this is a lot more of a ‘me’ decade than the 80s ever were.

The Cold War (about to end) notwithstanding, we felt like there was a pretty bright outlook for the future. A lot of things were on the way and you could almost taste them on the wind. We knew it. We were young and felt everything very intensely and relationships were hard. Which made it more important that they were real. Everlasting love may have been written for everyone, but we took it to heart. I know a surprising number of geeks in long term relationships. Married for 17 years and with that same amazing person for more than 20, I’m one of them.

“Thriller” by Michael Jackson

That’s the link to the super-extended, miniature movie video. Thirteen and three-quarters minutes of classic MJ wrapped in a faux horror movie. The zombie shuffle from which all other zombie shuffles were spawned and a little bit of narration from the man himself, Vincent Price.

What makes it Geek Rock? What doesn’t? Subject matter and visuals. Sure, Horror has always had a rep for being cooler than Science Fiction or Fantasy, but it’s all cut from the same cloth of dreams. And for the time period, MJ’s production crew went all out. This video is all kinds of awesome and has stood as a pop culture reference point for more than a generation now. I remember several truncated forms from video shows and Much Music (Canada’s version of MTV), but the full video didn’t get played very often so it’s a beautiful thing that you can have it on demand in the Internet Age. Michael Jackson may have been a strange one—I think that level of fame can really mess with your mind—but somewhere, someone on his team recognized early the vast, almost untapped geek market. And so, Thriller.

I think we’ll leave monsters behind with this post. Next week, it’s all about image.