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.


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