Thursday, April 30, 2015

My Night with Spandau Ballet

Spandau Ballet at IFC Center
It’s hard to imagine now how revolutionary Spandau Ballet were when they burst onto the music scene in 1981. Their new documentary, Soul Boys of the Western World, makes a case not just for Spandau Ballet but for the entire “New Romantic" scene from which they came.
Set against the backdrop of Margaret Thatcher, the miners’ strike and the economic turmoil that surrounded England in the early ’80s, the film shows how Spandau and other “hair bands” revolutionized not just music but also fashion, at a time when magazines like The Face dictated what people wore.
Can you imagine a band in 2015 wearing what Spandau’s Martin Kemp himself described as a “Bedouin” outfit? Neither can I. (One of the interesting things about the movie is to see the way not only Spandau Ballet’s music but style evolved as they became more mainstream: from jodhpurs to suits by the time of their megahit “True.”) There were several times when I was watching this movie (and also when I watched the excellent documentary David Bowie: Five Years), when I said to myself, “This could never happen today!”
As Spandau songwriter Gary Kemp put it in a Q&A after the movie, things were more “mysterious” then (i.e., before the Internet) and the band was often accused of being elitist because people couldn’t get into their shows. (“They were full,” he explained.)
Listening to the music with fresh ears on the theater’s great sound system, I was reminded of what an integral part of Spandau’s sound the drums and bass were (as well as the synthesizer). There was something erotic about their music and something homoerotic about the band itself, and not just because they were all so good-looking.
I still can’t wrap my mind around supposedly heterosexual male singers not only dressing in outrageous clothes and hairstyles but also wearing makeup, yet many did (in Duran Duran and Human League, to name just two examples). Sure, there was a gay element to the club and music scene back then (Boy George, Marc Almond from Soft Cell), but there were also straight guys like Human League’s Phil Oakey wearing eyeliner and lipstick. I can’t think of any straight male singers who would do that now.
The movie follows the usual rise and fall of music biz bios: overwhelming success at a young age, followed by diverging career paths (the Kemps acting in The Krays) and family life interfering with touring, as well as battles over royalties.
But I’m happy to report that by the end of the movie the band has reconciled and no one has died of a drug overdose.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Watching comedies these days can be stressful.
Whether it’s Louie or HAPPYish or the new movie While We’re Young (which I haven’t seen yet, nor know if I want to), there seems to be a recurring theme of generational warfare.
In last week’s episode of Louie, Louie encounters a young Asian female store owner at a Broadway Panhandler-type home goods store. When she refuses help him buy some copper pots because it’s near closing time, they get into an argument during which she accuses him of being angry at her because he’s middle-aged and, therefore, not her target customer, while she’s only 24 and already owns her own business. Louie eventually admits that she’s right and she sends him on his way, not caring about the lost sale.
On HAPPYish, a middle-aged ad exec played by Steve Coogan goes into a rage because his new, young Swedish overlords insist he revamp one of his campaigns using social media. As Coogan points out (rightly, to my middle-aged mind), “Why would I want to follow Pepto-Bismol on Twitter?” (Pepto-Bismol apparently thought this was amusing rather than offensive, because they did indeed sponsor a post on Twitter following this episode.)
These comedies tap into a pervasive fear in our society, where corporations have essentially “won” the war with unions, jobs are nonexistent, and baby boomers and millennials are fighting over the few that are left.
Meanwhile, over on Mad Men (granted, not a comedy), SCDP has just been acquired by McCann Erickson and on Nurse Jackie (not really a comedy, either), the fictional All Saints Hospital has just been sold to developers so it can be turned into luxury condos. (Sound familiar, St. Vincent’s?)
No wonder nobody’s laughing!
It seems that if you want to actually laugh at a comedy, you either have to watch a traditional, three-camera, live studio audience sitcom like Hot in Cleveland or Seinfeld. Not coincidentally, both Cleveland (which harks back to the ’90s in terms of style) and Seinfeld (which was actually filmed in the ’90s) carry an air of nostalgia for the relatively carefree Clinton years.
I think the one exception to this rule and, in terms of actual laughs, the funniest comedy on TV today is Silicon Valley. Granted, some credit has to go to the show’s writers and actors, but I think there’s also an underlying comfort factor involved because we know that, no matter how bad things may get for these characters (who work in the highly paid world of high tech), they will eventually land on their feet.
After all, it’s Silicon Valley’s world. We just live in it.