Let's have a second helping of eighties music, shall we?
There were various things going on. Rock music went down the rabbit hole of self absorbtion, was lured into a swamp by Sargeant Pepper, and eventually drowned in a puddle of overseriousness and studio filigree. The Ramones swept the board clean by saying: three chords two minutes ten words four guys. Period. Sorry, ELO.
The glams and blues rockers and the operatic types stuck to the arenas, a sort of Broadway for fist pumpers.
Punks were like a dose of castor oil. They were supposed to be fast acting purgatives to the system. They decided they liked the trappings of the elite freaks they had sought to topple, and became a kind of Cromwell to the rock edifice's King Jameses. They said they wanted to destroy it, but they liked replacing it just fine, thank you.
A lot of people snuck in there with the punks. If you could use your plumage or plinking to attract attention to yourself, you could always do what you wanted later. The Police were the paradigm here. We're punks today, and playing jazz tomorrow. I'm making the comparison right now, you heard it hear first: Eighties music was the equivalent to the blogosphere of the last five years: Set your hair on fire, get noticed, attract an audience, and then run with it.
But there was another stripe of entertainment I loved that flew in under the radar too: The Buskers.
The Buskers are not a band, but it would be a great name for one. A Busker is a troubadour, the fellow standing in the subway with his guitar and maybe a friend strumming a guitar and cadging change. A Busker is the guy in the beachside bar on thursday night telling jokes and playing folkie guitar and singing along--with you. The hardest thing in the world is to stand alone, or perhaps with one friend, and entertain a crowd. The worst bands have the most people in them in the rock world, generally. Beware the spackle trying to hide the musical cracks.
There were a million of these guys (and dolls) spawned in the eighties. They'd tart themselves up every which way, get an audience, and then do whatever they wanted. And I always loved to hear the intrinsic entertainment in the offerings.
The kings of this are Squeeze. They made a maiden video of astonishing fun and spunk with Chris Difford croaking "Cool For Cats" genially, the double entendres spilling out like a drunken Chaucer. There were chicks dancing right on stage, and a kind of barroom band banging away behind, and their mod/cavern rocker/pre-draft Elvis/Louis Jordan jump/ stripped down rock ethic won everybody over. And then they let Glenn Tilbrook loose.
Glenn Tilbrook is still the best male singer outside of opera I have ever seen perform. He's a really inventive and talented guitar player too -- both electrified rock and folkie. And it's really rare to find someone that can write interesting things and has the necessary musical ability to perform them properly. Let's face it, we suffer through Dylan's and Van Morrison's voices to get at the lyrics and the vibe. I went to a what was supposed to be a Squeeze show, and ended up in a tent watching Difford and Tilbrook perform alone, strumming guitars and singing. They explained that they had lost all their money, and had to go out and sing for their supper, alone, again. No matter.
It was like listening to the Buskers on the platform at the subway to heaven. All of the aural wallpaper was stripped away, and just the voice, accompanying guitars, and good humor shone through, and you saw what entertainment was supposed to be no matter the form: a connection between the song, the singer, and the audience. There's no fist pumping like the arena. There's no fashion show contest between the audience and the performers like the glam rockers and divas. There's no posturing and nihilism like the metal bands. There's no distance like the arena or the festival.
Watch this, from 1989. It's just plain fun, and fun to watch them freak out the interviewer who forgets exactly who he's questioning. You asked, so he told you, dude. Quirky ain't a pose with them, just you.
It's like elemental entertainment; the difference between the television and the fireside. One's more sophisticated. The other, the older one, radiates real warmth, and though it's really just the same thing over and over, the flames dance, don't they?
[Editor's note: Blogosphere please take note --I have determined, right there at the end of this video, the exact place and time the idea of mass self-mutilation by tattooing occurred to the entertainment industry, and through them, the general public.]
[Author's note: There is no editor]