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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

...and now Post Punk is 30
Psychedelic Furs

It has been 30 years since the release of this album, TALK TALK TALK. It was released in June, 1981 - the sophomore effort by England's Psychedelic Furs, whose eponymous debut was nothing short of breath-taking.

For those of us who were already won over by the Furs debut, TALK TALK TALK heralded the big time. With its "Sweet Jane" like opening riff filtered through a dirty amp, the runaway hit song (for which there was a nifty music video invoking an almost "Through the Looking Glass" vibe, postmodern though it may be) "Pretty in Pink" was a valentine to all the misunderstood (punk rock) girls of any era (it always made me think of Marie Antoinette, who was sold out by everyone who denied doing so. But history knows better). The song meant so much in terms of relevance and resonance that the late director John Hughes, whose trademark was movies that understood teenagers and their angst, immediately created a(nother) Molly Ringwald vehicle called.... "Pretty in Pink." The movie came out about 5 years after TALK TALK TALK. The Furs recorded another version of the song, with more POP, less Lou Reed-sounding guitars. Frontman Richard Butler appeared in a music video with highly stylized 80's hair and clothes, but lost none of his credibility or reptilian appeal.

With his lyrics' erudite poetic references, Butler became and remains a certain kind of rare darling, beloved and respected by fans and critics alike, for all the same, and right reasons.

For punk rockers of a certain age - which would be me, The Psychedelic Furs were exactly right for their moment; they were the right band with the right influences, the right interpretation, the right songs and the most perfect singer.

Their debut album started quiet, slow and dark... building up with atmosphere before the bass, drums, and eventually guitar kicked in - loudly - and Richard Butler's distinctive raspy voice called out, "India." It was so literate and literary and set upon musical tropes quite sophisticated in their primitive presentation. Butler seemed like a literature professor trying out the rock n roll. As a singer and performer, he was part Johnny Rotten mixed with equal parts of David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Charles Aznavour. Lyrically, he was part Jacques Brel and part Bob Dylan with a healthy dose of ts eliot.

Yes, the 80s were definitely off to a good start. In 1981, MTV was born and it permanently changed how we were exposed to music old and new. The Furs were one of the good things about visual music. In between concert tours, you could see them being precisely them in their clips.

Thirty years later... MTV doesn't play music any more! I get to say so moreso than others, as I worked for an MTV brand (VH1) during its heyday... I'm disappointed and I do in fact often long for the halcyon days when I would get excited about the latest 3-minute movie set to one of my favorite songs. (To see music on MTV, you have to tune in to their digital channels, or see it online)

Thirty years later, TALK TALK TALK is celebrated by the Psychedelic Furs in concert. They've been on and will continue touring this year, playing the album in its entirety. Opening for themselves, they come back after a short break and play their greatest hits.

Thirty years later, the way we do everything is different. Everything is different than it was or than we imagined it could possibly be.

When I started this blog (six and a half years ago), the phenomenon of social networking as we know it was nascent. Facebook was for college students only, and Myspace had pushed Friendster to the kerb. Prior to that, online communities were limited to bulletin and message boards, both independent or part of larger portals (such as AOL and Yahoo). I belonged to one back in the Nineties.

But if it weren't for the Facebook, its likely I wouldn't have learned about the Psychedelic Furs tour until it was too late to organize myself (ie: getting off work the day of and day after) to even see the show.

Also, when I started this blog six and a half years ago, it was partly to celebrate a significant "birthday" (if you will) of punk rock, and at the same time, share my memories by showcasing my photos... photos taken with my second SLR, a Nikon FM (1973 vintage - first year it was made).

Since I started taking pictures (in the 1960s - using parents' Leica, then a collection of Polaroids, some school-issued twin lens things until I got my very own SLR, a Pentax, then later, two Nikons), camera makers have been making it easier for anyone to take a picture. Forget smart phones for a second - there were smart cameras with autofocus before the full-on DSLRs that most of my photography colleagues now use (and that I will REFUSE to even consider; kill me if I get one). Now, go a step further. We do everything with our smart phones. And the camera phone has advanced enormously in ten years' time.

I'm more than a bit flabbergasted when I see the quality of cel phone cameras - especially the iPhone (but then again, Apple tech - how can you beat it? And Apple tech does actually have Zero degrees of separation from the Psychedelic Furs; more on that later).

It's already come to the Baroque point, though, with cel phone cameras. On the one hand, I feel that people have grown not only to accept, but to embrace low-tech/low-fi media - which started back in what seems like ancient times with America's Funniest Home Videos. That viewer-supplied content, with its varying quality lowered the bar on resolution and cranked the reaction factor up high. So a few steps later, small, low resolution cel phone camera pictures become perfectly acceptable souvenirs. It didn't take more than the blink of an eye for those cel phone camera pictures to then become perfectly acceptable photos online, in the likes of Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and blogs of all sorts. For me, the tipping point is that news outlets more than ever, rely on viewer/reader contributions, with cel phone pictures and video.

So - when I went to see the Furs play TALK TALK TALK in Nashville at the Cannery Ballroom, I didn't take my camera. I wanted to simply enjoy the concert and not experience it mediated by one eye squinting through my viewfinder. And of course, I do have my Blackberry... and it takes really mediocre pictures.

But I did not intend to take pictures. And enjoy the show, I did. It was nostalgic, of course, but the music holds up. The Butler brothers are in fine form, and their band, most of them, while not the original line-up, have been on tour as the Furs for years and years, so they are most definitely a well-oiled machine. It was just like 1981 all over again (except I'm 30 years older, so standing in one place all night long made my feet hurt whereas in 1981, I wouldn't have felt a thing). Everything that made the Psychedelic Furs stand out in 1980 was alive and 10-fold in 2011. TALK TALK TALK - a sentimental favorite of mine (and of many) sits in a place - to quote Butler, "In the side of our lives where nothing is ever put straight" - it was the record (and that song, "Pretty In Pink" that I'm quoting) that took the Furs out of the underground and into the pop stratosphere. It took them away from our intimate scene, but at the same time, allowed them to have a career that surpasses 30 years, chock full of hits and seemingly un-compromised throughout that career. One can't help but be overjoyed for them and about them.

So - now... my Blackberry. It takes crappy pictures. I have always relied on the cel phone camera to send images to someone for whom I'm shopping, or whatever - as a reference. It has never been intended to be THEE photo. Still, when my roommate (Joanna Spock Dean of glam punk band Backstage Pass) gets to catch up with her former roommate (Furs drummer, Paul Garisto), it doesn't matter how crappy one's camera, one must capture for posterity.

Also, the cel phone camera is handy for those with Twitter accounts (or for Facebook as well) to immediately share those in-concert moments.

Here are a couple of blurry Blackberry moments.

Since you've lasted this far (and I thank you), a final note on Apple tech:
There's a device for iPhones that will enable the user to attach it to their Nikon or Canon DSLRs and take real photos. Blows my mind. This Analog punk chick here would rather you save yourself some money and hie thee hence to a pawn shop and get yourself a mechanical camera in the 35mm mode. But that's just me. The zero degree of separation between Apple tech and the Psychedelic Furs is that the other Butler brother works at Apple, developing something hi tech and fabulous for the iPhone camera, reports Tim Butler.

So there you have it. Legends performing legendarily, not disappointing. Thank you Howard Thompson for finding this band for us more than 30 years ago. Long may you reign.

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