Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fade to Grey

Steve Strange
You know how a song can instantly take you right back to a certain place and time?
Whenever I hear “Africa” by Toto, it takes me right back to being on the dance floor of the Anvil at 4am. (It was always dj Bill Bahlman’s last song.)
Whenever I hear anything from Duran Duran’s Rio album, it takes me right back to the Chelsea loft of the designer I met who played that entire album for me.
And whenever I hear the song “Fade to Grey” by Visage (, it takes me right back to my college friend Tom Farrell’s NYU dorm room, where he first played me that song, as well as the first few 12-inch singles by a new British band called Spandau Ballet. He also introduced me to such British music publications as The Face and the New Musical Express. Tom Farrell was my introduction to the British musical subculture known as the New Romantics (which also included Duran Duran, Adam and the Ants, and Bow Wow Wow) and my introduction to the New York club scene, which at that time included such places as the Mudd Club, Berlin, the Pyramid, AM/PM, Area, Danceteria, and—for a brief shining moment—the Underground. (I’m sure I’m leaving some out, but Nina Hagen’s song “New York, New York” is a good reference for remembering the clubs from this period.)
My college friend, Tom Farrell, in bow tie.

I still think about the time I went to see Spandau Ballet play at the Underground on its opening night. That concert was so exclusive, Tina Turner was in the audience. (This was before Private Dancer.) And, of course, Tom Farrell was there.
But all of that started with Visage and its stylish lead singer, Steve Strange.
Steve Strange died today at the age of 55.
I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. Maybe it’s because, coincidentally, there was another death in New York yesterday, of 60 Minutes reporter Bob Simon. His death could be called ironic if it wasn’t so tragic. Simon reported from some of the most dangerous places in the world and was even held prisoner in Iraq for 40 days. But he met his untimely demise because his livery cab driver sideswiped another car that was stopped at a red light in Manhattan.
Everywhere I look there seem to be people dying and I think that feeling has been exaggerated by social media. Why do people feel the urge to post someone’s death on Facebook (myself included)? To pay tribute, to share grief, or simply to appear great by association?
Another considerably less disturbing coincidence of events occurred yesterday when Jon Stewart announced that he was leaving The Daily Show and NBC announced that it was suspending Brian Williams for six months.
Of course, I took Jon Stewart’s announcement personally. I thought, “That does it! I’m officially too old to ever have that job!” I realize it’s the height of vanity to even suggest that I could take Jon Stewart’s place, but I’m talking more about demographics here. What I really mean is that I’m officially too old for Comedy Central.
I’m now at the age where I’ve seen the death of not just many of my musical heroes, but entire musical eras: the British Invasion of the ’60s (John Lennon and George Harrison from the Beatles, Robin and Maurice Gibb from the Bee Gees), disco (Donna Summer), punk (Joe Strummer from The Clash, all of The Ramones), ’80s pop (Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston) and, now, the first of the New Romantics.
I realize that Steve Strange probably wouldn’t even rate a mention in an American newspaper and that his greatest contribution may have been to style (or at least, music videos), not music.
But there’s something particularly jarring when a pop star dies, because pop stardom seems to epitomize youth.
Increasingly, I feel like each of us has a brief window of opportunity to make our mark on the world and if you miss that window, if you don’t get a lucky break early on, that’s it.
I was thinking these thoughts at my gym tonight when, as if I had telepathically summoned it, I heard the dj there play A Flock of Seagulls’ “Space Age Love Song,” with its soaring vocals and synthesizers, and suddenly I was back on the dance floor of the Anvil at 4am.
So maybe there’s hope for me yet.