Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mad World: An oral history of new wave artists and songs that defined the 1980s by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein

A delightful look at three dozen or so of the most prominent 80's new wave bands written in a format similar to Legs McNeil's classic punk rock paean, Please Kill Me. Each chapter begins with a band and a particular song the authors felt was definitive followed by each of the authors' recollections of the band and song. Bernstein is the curmudgeon; Majewski, the fan-girl. They are honest in their opinions, adulation, and disdain but explain why that song, of the many, many songs in a band's catalog, was chosen for inclusion. Like the New Wave itself, the bands are mostly British with a smattering of American acts. 

From there a member or members of each band recall how the song came to be, what it meant to them at the time, their thoughts on quick success and quicker failure, and a few cheap shots at other artists. Not surprisingly Ian McCullough gives Bono a drubbing, heavy on the vitriol, and Spandau Ballet's Gary Kemp remains convinced his was the greatest band ever. Silly person.

Finally there is a That Was Then, But This Is Now section (love the ABC nod) that catches us up with the musicians, most of whom seem to be still flogging it on the reunion circuit or who have made some peace with their musical pasts. It also gives them a chance to get in one more knock at former bandmates (Thompson Twin Tom Bailey says frankly "...when Alannah's out of money, she'll be on the phone wanting to do it [a reunion]".)

Oddly, the most insight is proffered in the foreword by Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes and the afterword by Moby, much to my chagrin. (I've always held that Moby is a bloviating pretender. Others disagree. I don't care.) I thought Rhodes was especially thoughtful and generous in his appraisal of the era and his place in it. Moby was perceptive in describing New Wave music as gentle but sexless. 

Mad World is a jaunty romp, heavy on eyeliner and the authors are still inspired by the music though informed by the distance thirty years provides. As we all know, some of this music holds up and much of it is like a fossil--once alive & kicking (sorry) but now preserved in whatever substance shoulder pads are made from. There is talk of a Mad World 2 and should it come to pass, I will gladly fork over my hard-earned simoleons for another helping of New Wave lore. 

Check out http://madworldbook.com/

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