October 1984 is basically a blip on the radar of time, with only two notable events occurring in its 31 days: astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan became the first woman to walk in space on the 11th; and Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her bodyguards on its final day. In America, Reagan v. Mondale was in full swing but, really, everyone already knew the outcome.
On the personal front: This was a good month in my life. No, let me rephrase: This was a great month. On October 22nd, I attended a rally for Walter Mondale – no, that wasn’t the great part. This was: I met Stephen Stills, who was (and remains) one of my favorite musical artists, at the event. (You can read about that here.)
The month didn’t start off so well, however: On October 3rd, I received a speeding ticket and, that same day, locked my keys in my car. Doh! The ticket, thankfully, was rescinded; the officer, bless his heart, forgot to sign it.
I picked up some good LPs, including two masterpieces that are on my (nonexistent as of yet) Albums Everyone Should Own list: Crosby & Nash’s Wind on the Water and David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name.
Anyway, this issue of Record features a cover story on the Jacksons and their hot “Victory” tour that I’ve never read. For me, the issue is notable because of Bill Flanagan’s excellent interview of Lou Reed and an interesting essay by Peter Buck.
1) Lou Reed – “New Sensations.” In the interview, Lou talks about his current New Sensations album, which I picked up in June, and more. “I’m part of the baby boom generation. The first generation that grew up on rock. Right out of the ‘50s, that’s me. Along with that, for better or worse, comes a lot of ‘50s attitudes—which, to my mind, as I’ve gotten older, has not been a good thing. I mention in ‘New Sensations’ that it’s something I’m trying to work past. I want to get past that ‘50s view that I really have been in, either by manifesting it or going in the other direction and rebelling against it. What I want to do is go past it. I would hate to have to live with those tacky kind of attitudes. I want more out of life.”
In the next paragraph, he explains that “Faulkner wrote only about the swamp. James Jones wrote only about the war. But I didn’t want to write just about dope and New York…I did my drug songs. I don’t want to make that my war, my swamp, my city. That’s not what I’m primarily interested in. I’m interested in emotions, things that happen to people.”
The interview closes with: “I’ve said this before: what if Raymond Chandler approached rock ’n’ roll? Well, you might get Street Hassle. What if a real writer came in? Just like they brought real writers like Faulker out to Hollywood to write screenplays. That’s what I wanted to do in a rock ’n’ roll format. I’m still at it. It’s like sitting and listening to Brecht and Weill’s ‘Song for the Seven Deadly Sins’; there’s a song for every sin out there. There’s endless things to write about. You could do that with rock, too. That’s what I want to do.”
2) Sheila E. – “The Glamorous Life.” Craig Zeller reviews Sheila E.’s debut in conjunction with the Time’s Ice Cream Castle because of their shared Prince connection. Of The Glamorous Life, which I’d picked up over the summer, he writes: “Not surprisingly, the head-and-shoulders standout here is the title cut wherein Sheila E. goes after high living with an exuberant lunge that’ll have you racing your engines. It’s the kind of heel-clicking thrill seeker that makes you wanna take the curve on two wheels. And, brother, does she raise some thunder on those drums! Ever see the video where she’s whacking out the rhythm in a gleeful frenzy? I just did and it’s time for another cold shower. All in all, I’m not sure I’d give you the Time of Day, because it’s the glamorous life for me.”
3) R.E.M. – “Can’t Get There From Here.” R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck pens an essay titled “The True Spirit of American Rock” in which he asserts that “even though British bands are selling millions of records, that doesn’t tell the whole story about what’s happening musically in the States. There’s deeply-heartfelt music being made by American bands that most people in this country are ignoring and that the British don’t even get to hear.” He offers Husker Du, Mission of Burma and the Replacements as three examples.
He also explains that “[a] lot of British records that are big in this country take the passion and spirit of American soul music and turn it into supper-club, MOR slush that’s the rock ’n’ roll equivalent of Las Vegas. Words like ‘passion’ and ‘spirit’ are the flavor of the month these days; they get tossed around so often that they’ve lost much of their meaning. Still, the music I like most is done by people who convey a sense of self, a feeling that they’d continue making music even if they weren’t making records. Music is a part of their lives, not just a vehicle to stardom. I can’t define it exactly—good music can run the gamut from Hank Williams to Black Flag—other than to say I’m moved by music made by real people for real reasons.”
“Except for the Brit-punk detonation, the ‘70s and early ‘80s offered little to listeners who like social significance to spike their sounds. The surreal remoteness of huge stadium and arena shows by demigod pop stars publicly dramatized the chasm of alienation those years cracked between bands and their audience, between the world of millionaire entertainers and the everyday concerns of working people.
“While that chasm has in no way been fully bridged, politically conscious music has resurged in the last few years from many (sometimes surprising) sources and for many reasons.”
Paul Weller’s Style Council gets a nod for its 1984 release, My Ever Changing Moods (known in Weller’s home country as Cafe Bleu; it was renamed in the States to match the single, which hit No. 29 on the Billboard charts). “The Style Council’s Brechtian disc is extremely subversive,” says De Curtis.
5) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “Born in the U.S.A.” De Curtis also singles out Springsteen’s 1984 release in his essay: “Springsteen chronicles American working-class like in the wake of Vietnam, an economic ‘recovery’ that benefits the managerial class almost exclusively, and external conditions that turn the patriotic fervor working people have always felt into a humiliating ironic joke. The triumph of Born on the U.S.A. is Springsteen’s ability to depict the human cost of oppression without condescending to, sentimentalizing, or caricaturing the people whose lives form his subject.”