Am I a hopeless romantic because I love new wave? Or do I love new wave because I’m a hopeless romantic?
I’d have to say the former. I was barely of menstruating age when I found myself being wooed by new wave’s poetic lyrics, melodramatic music, and beauteous boys in puffy shirts and eyeliner. After falling head over heels for the likes of Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, and Ultravox, how could the “regular” boys at school and their scruffy sneakers ever compete?
Midge Ure was a knight in new romantic armor. Cocking one eyebrow, sucking in his cheekbones, and sporting the most immaculate mustache, the swoonsome Scot owned me the second I heard him sing, “This means nothing to me — oh, Viennaaaaaaaaaaa!” It certainly didn’t hurt that the serenade took place in the fog of dry ice.
It would be many years before I realized those lyrics literally meant nothing to him. As he recounts in Mad World: The Book — and he did again on Sunday, for all of the good people gathered at Rough Trade in Brooklyn for my Mad World Conversation With Midge Ure — at the time of this classic song’s writing, Midge had never even been to Vienna.
“I was out to dinner with my old Rich Kids manager and his wife, who was a bit pissed [inebriated],” he recalled. “She said, ‘You need to write a song like that “Vienna”.’ And I was like like, ‘What song “Vienna”?’ She said, ‘You know that Fleetwood Mac song: Vieennnnnnnaaaaa: She was singing ‘Rhiannon.’”
That was just one of the tales spun by the Midgester at our Mad World tribute to the OBE (that’s right: he’s an officer of the Order of the British Empire, as proclaimed by Queen Elizabeth). During the 90-minute Q&A, he also reminisced about his new romantic anthem “Fade to Grey,” resurrecting Ultravox after John Foxx’s and Robin Simon’s sudden departures left it with barely a pulse, and co-organizing Band Aid and Live Aid, as well as his excellent new album, Fragile.
In this video clip, Midge talks about his participation in the recently wrapped Retro Futura Tour, which also included Thompson Twin Tom Bailey’s triumphant return to the stage following a 27-year absence, along with sets by Howard Jones, China Crisis, and Katrina and the Waves singer Katrina Leskenich:
Thanks to Midge for all the beautiful and hopeful music he’s contributed to the soundtrack of our lives — and for our favorite DJ, The Big PA, for spinning an excellent set of it (see below, or follow the Spotify playlist here). Thanks also to Rough Trade for their continued support of Mad World, and to everyone who came out!
Bieber! JB: Yeah, I know: old news. But it pertains to one of themes of our book, which is about blowing up the formula that made you famous, something the new wave artists of the eighties did consistently and with varying degrees of success — and something that today’s pop stars are way too terrified to attempt. The exception: Miley, who outgrew her audience, shrugged off her Disney skin and shut down detractors with a couple of hot records. Bieber’s in the position to do the same. He could have sauntered out of that bail hearing, gone straight into the studio and put out a kiss-my-ass-I’m-rich-as-shit song. He could have made an instant career-changer out of his current badass-you-love-to-hate status. Don’t think that’s in his DNA, though. I’m not in any way a fan. Couldn’t name one of his songs. But I get the space he’s in and it’s a tricky one. Imagine you’re a 19 year-old guy. What matters more to you: the undying love of the nation’s 12 year-olds or the approval of other 19 year-old guys? That’s why he acts like a dick. Because 19 year-old guys act like dicks. But, unlike Miley, there’s zero guarantee he’ll ever get his peers to think he’s cool. So he has to keep the tweens sweet because if he alienates them and their parents, there’s no audience waiting for his next move.
LM: Not all teenage guys act like dicks. If I learned anything as a teen-magazine editor (and there’s no guarantee!), it’s that the way an underage artist treats parentals can be predictive of their future. It was in 17-year-old Britney Spears’ trailer that I heard an 18-year-old Justin Timberlake respectfully refer to her mom and dad as “ma’am” and “sir.” And at the last VMAs, while collecting an award, Bieber wannabe (at least until last week) Austin Mahone gave a heartfelt shout-out to the most important woman in his life, his mother. Now, with Mahone running with the Cash Money crowd, there’s no guarantee that he’ll stay squeaky-clean forever, but I don’t recall Justin Bieber ever having any great respect for authority — and that’s a big part of his problem. Another part: The authority figures in his life refuse to act like them.
JB: Isn’t part of the reason you get into music so you don’t have to deal with authority figures?
Lorde on the Grammys LM: Watch and learn, Biebs. She’s several years younger, yet in her very first year on the scene, the Kiwi’s scored a smash that we’ll be singing for decades to come. And on Grammy night, her minimal performance of “Royals” was my undisputed favorite among the night’s female pop stars. For all the shock and awe of Beyoncé’s surprise-album drop, Mrs. Carter’s opening number, with all its bleeped-out profanity and upper-thigh stroking, felt a bit been-there, done-that. And all the staging and dry ice in the world couldn’t distract from the fact that Katy Perry is no great live singer. Honorable pop-diva mentions go to Pink — whose singing while spinning in mid-air bests most’s standing still — and TSwift, whose moving, no-frills performance at the piano almost made me forget that time she duetted with Stevie Nicks at the Grammys and sounded worse than Linda McCartney backing up Wings.
Nile Rodgers’ Grammy winns alongside Pharrell and Daft Punk at the Grammys LM: New Wave might still exist if not for Nile Rodgers, but no way would it be as funky. INXS, Duran Duran, ABC, Thompson Twins, and Howard Jones — they all worshipped at his altar and, thankfully, their records reflected it. Three decades later, Nile’s having one hell of a year, one that should culminate in Chic’s induction into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame following numerous nominations. Watching Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Yoko Ono disco-dancing to the “Get Lucky”/“Freak Out” mash-up during the Grammys, I’m reminded of all the good times Nile has given us. Aside from the Chic smashes. there’s Diana Ross’s “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out,” David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” “China Girl” and “Modern Love,” Sister Sledge’s “He’s the Greatest Dancer” and “We Are Family,” Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” — I could go on and on and on. Hopefully Nile’s contributions to music will do just that.
Disclosure feat. Mary J. Blige, “F For You” JB: The worst interview I ever did was with Toni Basil for this book. I may run the whole thing in future posts, or I may simply chronicle the catastrophe. Let’s just say, I didn’t take it like a man. The second worst interview I ever did was with Mary J. Blige. I filled two bath towels with flop sweat under the disdainful glare of her side-eye. Still a fan, though. For a singer of her years, she’s barely scratched the surface of what she can do. I’ve seen her, mostly on award shows and other people’s TV specials, kill it singing rock, pop and standards. I’ve even heard her singing Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me.” But I never get excited at the prospect of a new record. For the last ten years, it’s like she’s been on pause. Nothing but mid-tempo motivational message r&b. Nothing remotely memorable. Which is why it’s such a bold and unexpected move for her to show up on this remix from 90s Brit house revivalists Disclosure’s debut. Should this collaboration continue I would happily buy a whole album. Buy might be stretching it, but I’d find a way to acquire it.
Noel Gallagher’s Video Commentary JB: The best thing Russell Brand ever did was his BBC radio show and the best part of that was his weekly face-off with Noel Gallagher, who turned out to be a great, wry, disgruntled, cynical counterpoint to Brand’s uncorked hysteria. This clip, which was posted everywhere last week, is filled with the same kind of weary, pained disbelief Gallagher used to fire at Brand. Only here, he’s watching all Oasis’s terrible videos and their mostly terrible post-Morning Glory output. It’s a long moan and it makes you want to hear him do this to all the videos everyone’s ever made.
Lifetime’s Lizzie Borden Took An Axe and Flowers in the Attic LM: I’ve spent many an unmemorable evening on my friend Patty “Punk Masters” Palazzo’s couch watching ;ow-budget Lifetime movies. My favorites: Sex, Lies & Obsession, starring Harry Hamlin and his ample-lipped wife, Lisa Rinna, and Secrets in the Walls with Jeri Ryan. Pass the vegan, gluten-free popcorn! But times, they are a-changing. With so many movie stars migrating to the small screen, it’s getting pretty crowded. It’s not just HBO, Showtime and AMC that are luring the A-listers; these days you’ve got Kerry Washington starring on an ABC nighttime soap and Academy Award-winner Robin Williams anchoring an NBC sitcom. Of course, Scandal turned Washington into a household name, and Robin Williams is at least using The Crazy Ones as an excuse to reunite with Mork & Mindy throwback Pam Dawber. But what does Ellen Burstyn — an Oscar winner in her own right, a revelation in Requiem for a Dream — stand to gain from lowering herself to the Lifetime ghetto for a turn in a melodramatic made-for-TV take on V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic? For starters, everything! If Flowers was 1979’s 50 Shades of Grey (to us then-fourth-graders, anyway), then Burstyn’s belt-whipping performance as Andrews’ evil grandmother is 2014’s version of Faye Dunaway’s wire-hanger-wielding Mommie Dearest — which is to say, an instant camp classic! And don’t forget Heather Graham as Burstyn’s daughter, who locks away her four kids and feeds them arsenic-laced doughnuts. Not sure if the bad, over-the-top acting was on purpose — after all, Graham plays a gold-digging mother who pretends to miss her banished babes even while she runs off to Italy with her unsuspecting, rich new husband. However, it was the perfect partner to her half-wrinkly, half-Botox-smooth forehead and overly-wide, perpetually-surprised eyes. (JB, you once remarked that Andrew McCarthy had eyes “likes a cat’s asshole” in Pretty in Pink — I’d say the same for Graham’s here.) She must’ve figured that that every housewife and gay man would be tuning in. And they sure did: Flowers in the Attic was a ratings smash for Lifetime.
Also making its Lifetime debut this week (and as part of a Saturday-night double feature when I tuned in): Lizzie Borden Took An Axe with another film actress, Christina Ricci, as the accused murderess. From Ricci’s puritanical yet Prada-inspired wardrobe — her waist was so tightly cinched, it made her eyes bug out of her head — to a soundtrack laden with licensed tracks from modern-day hit-makers, like the Black Keys’ “Psychotic Girl,” Lizzie looks like she’s angling for some Golden Globe love from the Hollywood Foreign Press. Hey, don’t laugh — would Behind the Candelabra and Lifetime have made that strange of bedfellows? I think not.
Afternoon Delight JB: An unfulfilled early thirty-ish Silverlake housewife with a non-existent sex life opens her heart and her home to a young stripper and learns important life lessons. That’s right: It’s the lap dance version of the The Blind Side. No, wait, it’s NOTHING like that. Kathryn Hahn is so great, so flustered and so messy as the privileged basket case who sees Juno Temple’s chirpy hooker half as a project who needs rescuing and half as a weird itch she’s too scared to scratch. Director Jill Soloway piles on the awkwardness and discomfort almost reaching Abigail’s Party level when Hahn finally comes unglued at her aptly-named Woman and Wine soiree. Great, small film. Amazing lead performance that makes me want to start a mission to get Hahn’s campaign manger character on Parks & Rec bumped up to her own spin-off. (The mission pretty much began and ended with the preceding sentence.)
Donald Glover Leaves Community JB: Everything I love and cringe at about Community was in this episode. The pace, the detail and the commitment to the lava game was incredible. Gillian Jacobs was insane. Jonathan Banks’s desk vehicle. Chairwalkers. The revelation that Magnitude is English. Loved it all. But then, everything became about Abed’s feelings because everything’s always about Abed’s feelings. Which is the price we pay for Dan Harmon, who crazily over-identifies with the character being back at the helm. Weep-worthy final sequence which I choose to regard as Donald Glover pouring out his actual emotions to his fellow cast members. I also choose to believe the door’s open to his occasional return because the odds seem good that this strange, unkillable show — which is wildly out of place at 8 p.m. on network TV which is watched by no one but it’s devoted cult — is going to make it to a sixth season.
Random Roles: Sherilyn Fenn JB: Since The Onion’s AV Club changed its layout, finding this fun little recurring feature is something of a chore. It’s usually worth the effort. Even if — especially if — you’ve come to hate celebrity interviews, Random Roles is usually rewarding. The idea is simple: interviewers armed with actors’ IMDBs, throw roles at them and sit back as the memories flow. Teri Garr and Lily Tomlin were probably the most candid. Elliott Gould and Sam Elliott were the most verbose. Sherilyn Fenn, the most recent RR subject, is not one of the column’s classics. But her entry is a good example of why the feature is always worth reading, because once the discussion turns to Twin Peaks you get this: “…it was a silly thing that Audrey Horne and Agent Dale Cooper didn’t stay together, because that’s what should’ve happened. It happened organically, without anyone making a plan for it to happen. But they had to stop it because… [Takes a deep breath.] People got mad and jealous and… it was just stupid. Ugh. I’m not supposed to say it. But David [Lynch] knows I tell what happens, and what happened was that Lara [Flynn Boyle] was dating Kyle [MacLachlan], and she was mad that my character was getting more attention, so then Kyle started saying that his character shouldn’t be with my character because it doesn’t look good, ’cause I’m too young. Literally, because of that, they brought in Heather Graham — who’s younger than I am — for him and Billy Zane for me. I was not happy about it. It was stupid.”
Carrie Fisher confirms holy trinity reunion for Star Wars Episode VII LM: While I’m still scarred from the abominations that were Episodes II and III (yeah, I kinda liked Ep. I; RIP, Qui-Gonn Jinn), I’m happy to say that this time around, Obi-Wan Kenobi is not our only hope. For starters, George Lucas isn’t in charge of the CGI, writing the script or directing. And now we get further confirmation — from Princess Leia herself — that her HRH Organa will be back, along with Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker and Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. May the Force be with us . . . always.
The Vampire Diaries 100th Episode JB: I used to feel like it would be an affront to my Buffy fanhood were I even to acknowledge this show’s existence. But I’m not much of a fan. After I kept hearing it was good, I started watching towards the end of the first season and it’s been on the DVR ever since. Like Community, there’s no way to recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it. It IS just another vampire show. It DOES strain to maintain even a slightly coherent storyline. The writers ARE way too in love with their creations to the degree that they not only forgive but defend them being mass murderers. I’ll just say this: I like The Vampire Diaries the way I used to like Friends. It’s filled with pretty people with unexpectedly sharp comic timing. Ian Somherhalder, who plays the main sulky, boozy, bad-boy vamp, slouches through every scene like he’s Dean Martin. Paul Wesley, his straight-arrow brother, is almost Noel Gallagher-like in his awareness of how ridiculous his role is. And then there’s the actress who plays the nitwit at the center of the love triangle between the two brothers. There are approximately 458 awards shows. Most of them air this month. Each hands out ten to fifteen acting awards. That means if you’ve even seen a film or TV show in the past year you stand a chance at getting honored for your participation. Nina Dobrev. leading lady of TVD, will NEVER get an award. She’s on a vampire show on The CW. But let me just tell you, the non-viewer, what she does on this show. She plays Katrina, the 14th century Bulgarian vampire victim. She plays Katherine, the 17th century homicidal bloodsucker who turns the two brothers. She plays Elena, the sappy high-schooler, who falls for the bros and becomes a fully paid-up member of the undead. She plays Katherine pretending to be Elena. She plays Elana pretending to be Katherine and failing. She plays a third character who predates the other two and, earlier this season, played all three in one scene. She does a phenomenal job. In fact, she’s become so good at playing the smirkingly amoral Katherine,and the character’s become such a fan favorite, that the evil twin has actually moved to the center of the show. Listen, I watch Orphan Black. I know how good Tatiana Maslany is. But Nina Dobrev is also Canadian and also working miracles. Okay, I’ll clamber down from the soapbox. TVD 100 had everything long-time audiences would have wanted: someone got stabbed and recovered, someone got their neck broken and recovered, everyone was drinking the entire episode and there was an amazing procession of cameos from dead characters.(I swore I wouldn’t waste my time on the spin-off, though. Guess what…it’s great!)