Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I’ve been writing a novella loosely based on the life of Daniel Johnston, relocated from Texas to Montana and renamed Sam Barry (like Robert Johnson, if Daniel Johnston didn't exist, someone would have had to invent him). A lot of the main action takes place in 1983, so I’ve been fairly immersed in the music of that year recently. This includes, of course, two of Johnston’s 1983 masterworks, Yip/Jump Music and Hi, How Are You, but also a good amount of synth-pop. Johnston had nothing to do with synth-pop, as far as I know, but his fictional alter ego likes it a great deal. Sam Barry plays a Casio, not a chord organ, so this particular area of his musical taste doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.

...is one of the big names in 80s pop music, at least in my narrow world of listening. He was a founding member of Depeche Mode and one-half of the duo called Yazoo, renamed Yaz for American audiences. Clarke could not have had a better chanteuse for his songs than Alison Moyet; I'd like to think of her as the guiding spirit of my writing, both because she wrote the duo’s most affecting track, 1983’s “Nobody’s Diary” (a particular favorite of Mr. Barry), and because of the pervasive influence on my emotions of her lovely cover of Jules Shear’s “Whispering Your Name” (also 1983) on her 1994 album Essex.

When Yazoo broke up, Clarke placed an ad in British music magazines looking for a new singer, and found Andy Bell, who sounds a great deal like Alison Moyet and is also a man. Clarke and Bell then started recording together as Erasure, just about the greatest thing that ever happened in pop music.

I’ve also just started listening to The Three O’Clock’s Sixteen Tambourines and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Dazzle Ships (both, by sheer coincidence, from 1983). The former is a fine artifact of the Paisley Underground scene; its standout track, “Tomorrow,” makes fine use of processed vocals.

[mp3] The Three O'Clock - "Tomorrow"

The Three O’Clock were once photographed eating pizza by the sister of a member of another early 80s pop band called The Pandoras. Kim Shattuck of The Muffs was also once a member of that band, and she was recently a guest on Big Take Over editor Jack Rabid’s online radio show!

Dazzle Ships was the follow-up to OMD’s ultra-classic Architecture and Morality, and the band used a lot of experimental techniques—synchronized speaking clocks, stitched together samples, including a child’s electronic spelling toy—to create the album and avoid writer’s block, in light of the overwhelming expectations of another masterpiece. But aside from the numerous, and successful, sound collages that punctuate the album, there are a number of more conventional standout tracks: “International” features one of the best pop vocals I have ever heard, while “Genetic Engineering” is Eno-esque to great effect.

[mp3] Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - "Genetic Engineering"

But despite all these more expensively produced sounds crowding the ether, Mr. Barry does the Daniel Johnston thing for the most part, direct and sad.


Blogger aaron said...

i haven't even read this yet and i'm already blown away

1:35 AM  
Blogger aaron said...

truly, you have elevated the scarp of paper college radio blog post to the realm of art. i hope you'll let me read your story someday.

2:01 AM  
Blogger Geoff said...

Shirley you can't be serious

4:20 PM  

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