Category Archives: ’80s music
This week, in a beautiful generational symmetry, EO and I went to Madonna’s Rebel Heart concert here in Hong Kong. My one and only Madonna show prior to this was a floor seat at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center on the Like a Virgin tour, May 1985, a few weeks before I graduated from high school. This spring, EO will attend her first formal dance and ‘graduate’ Y11 before beginning her school’s two-year IB program. Over thirty years between our rites of passage and yet here was Madonna – in fearsome form and wicked wit, middle-aged, twice-divorced, sex-obsessed, foul-mouthed – here was fucking Madonna.
The fourth best-selling musical act of all time. Superseded only by The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.
The most successful solo artist in the history of the American singles charts. Let that sink right in while I say her name one more time.
Screw the haters. To hell with the ageist TMZ brigade. Go home if her show starts too late for you. I don’t care how old she is or who shares her bed or even what kind of person she is behind the scenes. All that matters is what she brings to the stage, and in that arena Madonna reigns. Unrivaled. Matchless. Supreme.
She transported her full show to Hong Kong – not always the case with touring artists in Asia – and played for over two hours, joined by her band, back-up singers and about 20 dancers. The concert was a button-pushing visual feast of multimedia images, lights, poles, ramps, stairs, hydraulics and dance. Lots of dance. Throughout the show, Madonna moved seamlessly from one cultural theme to another: Samurais to start; Catholicism (of course) to heat things up; Matadors, Greasers and Flappers to express love and more sex, sex, sex; and then “Holiday” fun to finish. I expected the button-pushing and restless cultural curiosity; Madonna has always championed the unusual and the underground, the more provocative the better. She’s a human synthesizer, and I say that as a compliment. What surprised me, however, was the lightness and vulnerability she showed. She chatted, joked, queried and proclaimed to the audience: don’t ask questions, there is no answer. She wore the mantle of Queen both proudly and irreverently.
But if I could distill her performance, nay her entire artistic existence, down to one point, I would say very simply that Madonna is about the body. All shaking ass, thrusting bosom, beating heart. Her hand on a thigh and a head in her crotch. As a dancer first and foremost, she understands the visual power of motion, of open legs and intertwined limbs. Or as her concert showcased, the stunning impact of one shirtless, muscular man moving on an empty stage with only a billowing scarf for company.
Her raison d’être, if I dare to speculate, has always been about celebrating the amazing, ecstatic things we can do with our bodies, alone and in company. She made that statement with her very first single, “Everybody”, which was released in 1982. Every / Body / Come on / Dance and Sing. And she continued that manifesto by shining a light on how others try to stop us from said ecstasy, whether it’s an overbearing patriarchy, Catholic constraints on sexuality or our very own hang-ups. Every / Body / Get Up And / Do Your Thing. Madonna’s body electric is both personal and political, and she makes her stand not only with music and lyrics but movement as well. As if Martha Graham were a pop star…
After the show, EO and I speculated as to what Madonna would do between her two shows in Hong Kong. (If you see her hiking The Peak, tell her I said Hi!) I figured after 2+ hours on stage, in heels, she probably needed some serious physio, or at least a massage. The thought made me a little sad. Madonna’s getting older, her knees must be killing her.
I know a lot of people reckon she’s well past her prime, that the best she can do these days is hitch her wagon to Nicki Minaj or Drake. But I disagree. Though I hadn’t seen her in concert for decades, her Rebel Heart show was indisputable proof that her creative vigor and taste for provocation is alive and well. She still owns the stage, whether she’s alone and singing “La Vie En Rose” or leading her dancers down the catwalk in a fantastic rendition of “Deeper and Deeper”, everyone strutting and vogueing. Even EO said she didn’t think Madonna was trying to be a teenager. The Queen was dancing, singing, doing her thing, and we were lucky to be a part of it.
How many musical icons not only survive but prosper as they head gently in to that good night? How many still have something to say? The list is short. Prince, Jagger, McCartney, Aretha, Bruce? Maybe. Bowie we just lost, Streisand barely sings anymore, Diana Ross has been MIA for years. Sinatra got it right, but then who else? Who changed pop music forever? Who’s left?
*All Hong Kong concert photos courtesy of a lovely and talented friend who had way better seats than I did! 😉
It’s been a few days but I’m still buzzed from my Clockenflap experience. Kil Sun Moon, Rachael Yamagata, The Skatalites, Clean Bandit, Earth, Wind & Fire Experience, Swervedriver, cold beer, good food, best friends, EO and YO having a blast. And I haven’t even mentioned Sunday night! Oh Lord.
But before I get to that thrilling climax, let me tell you about a group of très intéressant folks I met at the festival. I spotted them as soon as I arrived on Saturday. Dressed all in black, they stood looking out at the harbor away from the crowds before wandering over to the Yamagata show. There they sat on the ground, passing around bottles of Smirnoff and playfully photo-bombing the family snap occurring in front of them. They seemed to inhabit their own little galaxy of urban style, as if they had landed in Hong Kong from another, cooler (and colder) clime: the West Village, Rue Bichat, Shoreditch, a Fellini sound stage?
Maybe I don’t get out much (truth: I don’t), but this foursome exuded a confidence and panache I don’t see very often in HK. Yet they didn’t strike me as posers. Who were they?
So I asked.
Ashley, Anthony, Carmen and their shy friend all grew up in Hong Kong and range in age from mid-20s to early 30s. The chatty ones were best friends Anthony and Ashley who met at Clockenflap two years. Anthony runs his own clothing store specializing in Korean and European fashion while Ashley is a graphic designer interested in branding and typography. The duo said their coordinated look was not actually inspired by Paris but it was designed for impact. As Anthony explained, “Maybe it’s too hot and no one will wear a long coat today so you think we will look more outstanding.”
When I asked what’s been the reaction so far to their collective chic, Anthony laughed and said people wonder, “Do you feel hot today?”
Style knows no pain (or heatstroke).
In a town where business dress rules, you’ve got to admire the modish quartet – celebrating, enjoying and perpetuating the long relationship between music and fashion. And by the way, Yamagata was also dressed in all black so they were in good company.
I saw a lot of great bands over the weekend, and judging by their comments, they had a fun time here too. Many acts were Hong Kong newbies, and they seemed a bit surprised and overwhelmed by the dramatic setting as well as the enthusiastic crowds. The festival was incredibly well-organized, and the staff super friendly. I mean, if the beer sellers are still smiling at 9pm on Sunday night then you know some positive vibes are permeating the Clockenflap grounds. My only complaint was that I couldn’t be in two places at once!
But as the sun set on Sunday evening, there was only one place I wanted to be: as close to the front as possible at the Harbourflap stage. That’s where Nile Rodgers and his talented, airtight band were tearing through dozens (and I do mean dozens) of songs that he wrote, co-wrote, produced, played on and/or infused with his magic disco touch. A collection of hits and acts that span four decades: CHIC, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Daft Punk. Rodgers spoke of surviving cancer and realizing every day is a gift, and he was generous in praising his bandmates. When he introduced the last song, ‘Good Times’, he said the tune always inspired a disco party on stage. And then he brought out Unsung Heroes, a Hong Kong domestic worker choir, to dance, sing and take selfies with him and his band. It was a party, absolutely.
I had a half hour to grab a beer and a box of Vietnamese noodles before the last act of the weekend, New Order, took the stage. My day had started at 5:30 in the morning, and my knees were aching from a.m. hiking on DB and p.m. dancing to CHIC. But I didn’t want to go home early because hey! how many times will I get to see New Order? My hardcore-fan friends made their way to the front, but I moved over to the left with another friend, strategically close to the exit, and on a set of stairs where I could rest my weary legs. The location afforded us a view of the stage, the crowd and the entire HK Island skyline across the harbor. The pano function on my phone camera just couldn’t do justice to the surreal and wondrous night.
When New Order gifted us with an encore of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Blue Monday’, we ascended to another plane of existence – somewhere between the suburban innocence of the ‘80s and the vibrant metropolis that is Hong Kong, 2015.
I haven’t witnessed this much ecstatic mopey-head dancing since prom night.
Thanks Clockenflap and see you again next year!
Randy from Baton Rouge
Randy from Baton Rouge who was a great dancer not so great kisser took me to the Propaganda concert Fall semester which I thought was a date but asked me after to reimburse him for the ticket not that I would have minded if the evening had been prefaced by this request and if the band had blown my mind instead I resisted paying for weeks and was relieved we weren’t running in to each other on campus until I heard he’d taken medical leave before finals due to emotional issues which my roommate said was despair at being outed by a Classics major who’d broken his heart and he ended up transferring anyway so that I never did pay him back and we truly stopped running in to each other, Randy from Baton Rouge I’m sorry.
Consider seriously if I really wanted to get back together or did I say yes because he had sixth-row seats to David Lee Roth’s first solo tour and I was curious to see if Diamond Dave was going to be better or worse than the Sammy Hagar-led Van Halen which I’d seen less than two weeks prior with my best friends not that either of those bands were my absolute favorites not even top ten but it was almost summer and I missed having a boyfriend and I thought maybe just maybe those old feelings would return but in the end what I realized was obvious, nothing could ever be as good as Van Halen circa 1984.
That Velvet Jacket
You try going to a Bryan Ferry concert where the theater is Art Deco and the cocktails are strong and Bryan’s singing in a maroon velvet jacket and not feel something for your date who happens to be the consensus best-looking guy in the graduate film program what with his dark ponytail and the way he wears a tool belt and gloves when he’s gaffing though you know you shouldn’t even call him your date because he has a girlfriend and you’re practically engaged and you’re just going together because you both love Roxy Music and no one else can afford tickets or wants to skip that night’s seminar on Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, did I mention how strong the drinks were?
A little flash (absolutely) fiction on a Friday night.
© Jennifer S. Deayton
Morning all – guess what? Therockmom turns five years old today. Hard to believe but it was exactly five years ago today that I posted my first inarticulate but heartfelt ramblings about music and motherhood. On that day, I wrote about the K-POP band, Super Junior. As you know, I’m slightly obsessed with their dance moves and particular brand of androgyny. I also lamented the fact that the current Hong Kong concert offerings included Dionne Warwick and El Divo. Well, five years later, Super Junior have just released their seventh album. They’re still hugely popular and strangely compelling. The HK concert scene hasn’t changed much either. Nostalgia acts such as the Pet Shop Boys, Tony Hadley and that guy from Westlife are still safe bets, but we have witnessed the rise of Clockenflap and promoters willing to take a gamble on smaller alternative and punk bands (Das Fluff, Japandroids, etc).
To honor therockmom’s birthday, I thought I’d spend the rest of the week looking back at some of my most popular and controversial posts – starting with a band that was one of the inspirations for this blog way back when.
Elbow were already well established in the UK when I discovered their fourth album, The Seldom Seen Kid. I literally knew nothing about them, but when the second track, “The Bones of You”, came on, I was dumbstruck. Who are you? Why have I not loved you forever? The shimmering guitars, the vivid lyrics, the chorus of harmonies, all crystallized in to a perfect pop love song.
But it wasn’t just the song, it was the realization that there is so much wonderful music out there, waiting to be discovered and coveted. If I’m hearing this fantastic song now, I said to myself, imagine what else I’m missing! So in a way, starting therockmom was like going on a treasure hunt. The blog has given me a reason to devote a portion of my week to listening to new music, reading about new bands and old favorites and, when the HK concert gods bless me, going out to see a live show. There’s room for nostalgia (yeah the ’80s!) on therockmom, but there’s also the hope that you might like to hear some new tunes too.
I hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of this journey and I thank you for your support.
Have a good week!
So I set two small goals for myself this summer: to read Middlemarch and to watch the FOUR-hour, Peter Bogdanovich-directed Tom Petty documentary: Running Down A Dream. It’s slow going on both fronts, but I am loving each one. Friends had warned me that George Eliot’s writing wasn’t quite as ‘readable’ as say Jane Austen, but the novel doesn’t feel like a chore by any means. It’s got all the hallmarks of a classic English novel: a will is read, feelings are restrained, money’s a problem, love is unrequited and a young man finds out there is a fortune waiting for him. Great stuff.
I’ve just gotten past the mid ’80s and have reached the Dylan years with the TP and the HBs doc. Fantastic archival footage, performances and loads of interviews, as you would imagine in such an exhaustive documentary. I really enjoyed hearing about their work with Stevie Nicks and how influential their music videos were in the early years of MTV. I mean, seriously, when you look at Tom Petty’s body of work, the sheer number of incredible songs he’s written, he is right up there with the greats.
The doc inspired me to check out his latest release, Hypnotic Eye, as well as all that great early stuff. Just stop to consider his output in the 1980s: Hard Promises (’81), Long After Dark (’82), Southern Accents (’85), Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough (’87), closing out the decade with Full Moon Fever (’89). Come on! The man is a huge talent.
Funny how when we think of ’80s music, we tend to think of every genre – New Wave, Heavy (Hair) Metal, Rap, Punk and Pop – except Rock. (Not including Bruce Springsteen of course, who was kind of a genre unto himself in the ’80s.) But plenty of rock musicians who’d gotten started in the ’70s were still releasing albums, touring and making interesting music videos that sustained rock radio through the decade. You could call this music kind of boring, MOR stuff but a lot of it is pretty darn good – a blend of blues, rock, jazz, New Wave. And I think these ‘oldies’ acts mix in well with college-radio rock bands such as REM and The Pretenders that went on to huge careers themselves.
So here’s a playlist of ’80s rock to start your weekend. Let me know what you think!
Hi all, how’s your summer going? It’s EIGHTIES WEEK at therockmom as I revisit and revise one of my most popular posts: Can It Really Be Summer Without ’80s Music? New! Improved! Now with Spotify playlists!
It’s a funny thing, nostalgia. Recently, I found myself sitting in the way back of my stepmom’s minivan listening to her Best of Hall & Oates CD as we drove to dinner. Now if that’s not a recipe for summertime teen regression I don’t know what is. But there I was, YO sitting next to me, both of us enjoying ‘Maneater’. See a cover version of that track (by Grace Mitchell) was used in the recent Ben Stiller movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. YO’s good pal likes the new, cover song while YO is partial to the original. Me too. That groovy rhythm section to begin, then the sneaky guitar line, a hint of sax and… oh oh here she comes. We sang the chorus together – a small but sweet mother-daughter bonding moment – and I wondered: is it weird to be proud of my child’s taste in music?
On a slightly more musi-cophical note, I don’t know why bands/singers/artists insist on covering ’80s songs because it’s extremely difficult to improve on the original. I’m talking specifically about Moby’s recent ‘Rio’ cover as well as London Grammar’s take on the INXS tune, ‘Devil Inside’ – used for a Game of Thrones trailer. While I’m a big fan of both acts, I have to say these cover tunes were overly serious, dreary and well, just plain boring.
Eighties music is supposed to be fun!* So don’t forget the lightness, the slinky-ness, the insouciance. Guys in deconstructed linen blazers on the bow of a sailboat in the tropics!
I’ll leave you with that image as well as the first of FIVE ’80s playlists – all killer, no filler – to get you through the week. Enjoy!
*Unless of course you’re Morrissey.
There was a time when I thought ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ was an H&O original.
We grow, we learn…
So one of the best things about being part of the ‘Dragonfruit’ anthology is getting to know the work of other expatriate women writers. Women such as award-winning author, Suzanne Kamata, who lives in Japan. Her anthology essay, ‘Love and Polka Dots’, tells of a museum trip with her daughter, who is a budding artist herself but disabled, much like the artist they’ve come to see – Yayoi Kusama.
Suzanne’s interested in strength through self-expression and how creativity can be an empowering force, especially for young people. Two of her YA novels – Screaming Divas and Gadget Girl: the art of being invisible – deal directly with this idea. And since the protagonists of Screaming Divas start an all-girl rock band (heck yeah!), I thought it’d be fun to query Suzanne about her musical tastes and influences, and whether or not they intersect with what her kids – two teenagers – are listening to.
Q: Let’s start with your personal experiences with music. As a writer of a rock-oriented book, you must have some seminal music moments in your life. Bands that changed your life and such. Can you share a couple?
A: I remember the first time I heard The Psychedelic Furs. I was in high school, living in Michigan – typical, bored suburban youth. And then I heard this great new band that wasn’t the usual Top 40 or heavy metal, or whatever else we could listen to in that bland town. After that I really got into what we now call “alternative” music. So that was pretty significant.
And I did love The Go-Go’s, and all those girl groups that followed.
I was too shy to get up on stage, so I mostly fantasized about being a rock star. A lot of my male friends were in bands, though. I wasn’t a groupie, but I was a female friend of band members. The band Hootie and the Blowfish used to practice in the house next door to mine, when we were in college. They had keg parties every weekend on the lawn, and they’d invite me over, and we’d drink beer and they’d play until the cops came. When they became famous, I was living in Japan. I took the ferry to Osaka to see them perform live again. Music, in general, has always been very important to me.
Q: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for rock-n-roll?
A: Hmm. I was never too crazy, but as a straight arrow high school student, I managed to get permission to skip a day of school to be d.j. for a day at an alternative rock radio station in Grand Rapids. I wrote a story about it for the school newspaper – my one moment of rock and roll glory. A slightly crazier moment was when I was on foreign study in Avignon. A friend and I hitchhiked a ride with these two hashish-smoking French guys in a Deux-Chevaux to a Simple Minds concert. (Shhh. Don’t tell my mom.) I remember the car broke down on the way home, but it was a great concert.
Q: As I get older, I’ve found new technology has actually restored my faith in music as it’s so easy to discover fantastic music, both old and new. And now that my kids are older I have a lot more time to listen and explore. How about you? How do you consume music these days? And has living in Japan influenced what you listen to?
A: I totally agree. I love having access to music from all over the world. Sometimes I stream French radio stations, or more often, I download “All Songs Considered” from NPR onto my MP3 player and listen while I’m exercising. I like to check out YouTube videos. I teach college students, and they sometimes cue me in on popular Japanese musicians, such as Bump of Chicken and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
Q: Do you often share your music with your kids? How does that go over? They’re teens so are they very receptive to your tastes? Also, and I’m not sure what the music experience is like for your daughter re beats, melody, lyrics etc., but do you play tunes for her?
A: When my son was younger, I drove him to school every day while playing CDs. He developed a taste for Elvis Presley, Darius Rucker, and Bruno Mars. He really likes Lady Gaga, and some other Japanese groups, like one called Exile. I don’t know exactly what he listens to, because he mostly consumes music on his iPod, but I know that he downloaded some of my music, including Diana Ross and the Supremes‘ Greatest Hits. The first time I heard “Baby Love” leaking out his earphones I was secretly delighted. (The band in Screaming Divas does punk versions of Supremes songs.)
My daughter, who is deaf, has an interest in music, but her experience of it is different, of course. It’s still a little mysterious to me. I think she likes to see outrageously dressed singers. They do a lot of drumming at her school in music class. I think she enjoys the rhythm section. She’s been bugging us (her parents) to take her to karaoke, so maybe we’ll try that sometime soon.
Q: Can you name three artists you’d really like your kids to know (and hopefully appreciate)?
A: Just to have a solid base in Western music, I think they need to be familiar with David Bowie, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. And maybe Nirvana.
Q: I haven’t read Screaming Divas but I get the impression from the synopsis that rock music is both refuge and springboard for the four band members. What inspired that?
A: That’s pretty much how it turned out, but mainly I wanted to write a novel about an all-girl group. I was inspired by the Riot Grrl movement, which involved many different forms of expression, including ‘zines and art. I think any kind of creative activity can be incredibly empowering. (My previous book was about a girl with a disability who finds strength through drawing manga.) You can create a world for yourself through music or writing or art.
And as a refuge – yeah, music is something that you can just kind of get lost in. I used to spend hours in my room listening to music.
Q: Looking at YA literature as a whole, this seems to be a golden time for gutsy, independent female protagonists. How do you see it? Is the YA heroine the real deal? And what’s so big about dystopian literature – why is it so popular? (this last question is just my personal query 🙂
A: There are certainly a lot of strong heroines, which is a very good thing. Some that come to mind are the main character Jet Black in Jet Black and the Ninja Wind, and Katniss in The Hunger Games. Maybe its popularity has something to do with hard times in real life such as the ongoing wars, bad economy, concerns about global warming. I think that dystopian literature may have reached its saturation point, however. More realistic books are moving into the limelight. My fingers are crossed.
Thanks Suzanne! And thanks everyone for reading!
If you’d like to know more about the work of Suzanne Kamata, find her at:
You do realize that the ’80s are to our children what the ’60s were to us? A fascinating period of ancient history that produced a lot of good music, and fashion that was both embarrassing and strangely inspiring. I don’t know how many Hong Kong boys I see around town these days dressed in their porkpie hats, capri jeans and plimsouls+no socks and I think: you probably don’t even know Dexy’s Midnight Runners!
I hear overalls are making a comeback btw.
My sister and I leaned more to the cocktail era of the late ’50s, early ’60s, not so much the hippie/Hendrix upheaval later in the decade. We wanted to look like Audrey Hepburn and sip drinks with a Cary Grant type to the music of Henry Mancini. Swap Audrey for Ann Margaret and you basically have ’80s era Belinda Carlisle. Of course there were tons of ’60s influences on ’80s music, from the beatnik pop of The (English) Beat to the typefaces on many a Go Go’s album cover to the entire oeuvre of The Style Council.
Now that EO is discovering ’80s music, I’ve enjoyed introducing her and YO to some key dance tracks, most notably “Situation” by Yaz. Or Yazoo if you like. I don’t know why this song hasn’t been covered, redone, remixed – celebrated!!! – by one of these dance-pop princesses. It’d be perfect for a young girl with a big voice. Over the years it’s shown up on a couple of midrange movie soundtracks, along with Yaz’s other big hit, “Don’t Go” (in which Teri Hatcher strips/dances to said song for a mullet-wearing Kurt Russell in the movie Tango & Cash. Cringe-worthy on so many levels.) However it doesn’t have the pop culture pervasiveness of a Simple Minds or Tears for Fears tune. It’s a shame really, since it has such a great groove and still sounds so fresh. Not bad for a song that came out in 1982.
The only ‘music’ video I could find is this bit of DIY moviemaking. Must be the YouTube equivalent of fan fiction. But enjoy the tune and tell your kids: “Situation” is an underrated gem.
Have a good week!