When you get a number one The only way is down And if you have a sticky patch They start looking, start looking around In the night when things go bump Think of me think Here comes the grump, here comes the grump Doctors said "Adam, sex kills" So come inside and die
Just found out that Bob Crafton, a.k.a. "Chilly B", died. He was one of the founders of Newcleus, known for their great songs "Jam On It" and "Space Is The Place".
I remember hearing "Jam On It" on DC radio when I was a kid. Blew my mind. So funky, so futuristic. I made my own DJ scratch dubs of the track. Wanted to get a synthesizer. Wanted to rap.
Check it out. Hear the icy cold synths and beats brush up against the warmth and joy of the vocals. Electro and rap. So far ahead of its time. Envisioning a future of hope, rather than glorifying hopelessness, guns, and drugs.
Look at that video - that's the joy of music, people. I've been looking for a band, a platform, and a vibe like that for most of my life.
Chilly B is featured at about 1:45. Dig that classic rap cadence and voice. Old school, obviously raised on Kurtis Blow. As Greg Kihn said, "they don't write 'em like that anymore". As Shakespeare said "he was a man, take him for all in all. We shall not look upon his like again."
I don't know what you think of when you think of Christmas, but here's what I think of: Disappointment. Tension. Yeah, I have a few memories of opening some toy I wanted, but those are fading just like the photographs of the days my parents probably can't find anymore.
I do remember my aunt and uncle gave me some of my first music - "Tattoo You" by the Rolling Stones. "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac.
Christmas, 1983. The band is still in the studio, working on "Life, Style..." On Christmas Day. Hoping to finish so we can go home for dinner. I'm in the vocal booth, having just finished the lyrics and vocals for "Last Song", which was also the last song we were working on.
The album was ready for mixing, and we already had a rough up. The phone rings. It's the label guy. We were being dropped. The album was never going to come out. He was claiming we cost too much money and weren't going to recoup. There were other reasons, too, but I'm not going into them here.
Over a year of hard work, and our whole teenage lives, gone. The band leaves the control room to go smoke or drink or cry or whatever. They don't notice me still in the vocal booth, in the dark. I slip out the back, my Schott leather jacket barely keeping the chill off. I walk nearly a mile before I can hail a cab and just tell him to drive...and I disappear for a long, long time.
There are other Christmases I could write about with similar stories, but instead, I'll focus on the positive.
In July of 1983 back when The Pants were still The Next Big Thing, we were asked to participate in some network Christmas special. I think Carl Sagan was hosting or involved or something. I remember Ewoks or Muppets or Gremlins or Goonies. It's all a little vague. The band couldn't make it, but the agent insisted that I did. So I turned up and did a nice little rendition of "Winter Wonderland".
Of course, after the band was dropped, they cut the segment from the special and it never aired (if anyone ever finds a YouTube video, please let me know!). But I managed to dig up a copy. We were going to put it on a flexi and send it out to the fan club.
The dissection and autopsy of Michael Jackson’s life and career will be duly carried out by sources more dispassionate and morbid than me, so I’ll try to be brief.
Dude was weird, no question. But nice, friendly, polite. At least to outsiders. That may seem like a funny thing to talk about, but you’d be surprised at how many famous people (especially the young ones) are complete jerks.
As for the weird, you’d be weird, too, if you had the upbringing he did. I experienced my own bit of precocious youth pressure back in the days of The Short Pants, trying to balance “academic excellence” with “making hit records” and chasing girls. But it was nothing compared to what he went through. The awful family situation. Worse was the early success and life in the spotlight.
I keep thinking about this Rolling Stone article I read back in the late 80s before “Bad” came out. The writer had followed Jackson around and had noticed a Post-It note in his bathroom that just had “100” written on it. (Jackson was way into the motivational Post-It notes).
He asked what that meant, and Jackson replied “I am going to sell 100 million copies of ‘Bad’ – that’s what it means.”
At that time, Thriller had sold about 40 million, making it (for a long time) by far the biggest-selling album ever. It had cameo appearances by Eddie Van Halen, Paul McCartney, and Vincent Price. It was promoted with a fantastic live performance broadcast on TV and backed up by a series of groundbreaking videos. And it hit at a time when the record industry badly needed a modern, catchy, optimistic record with broad appeal.
Thriller would go on to sell 100 million copies.
In short, it wasn’t just a once-in-a-lifetime event, it was a once-in-an-industry event. And Michael Jackson was convinced his next record (ominously named “Bad”) was going to do 2.5 times the business.
Kid stars have it the worst – they grow up knowing nothing but the spotlight. They’re forced to grow up in front of everyone, fumbling for new identities as teens, young adults, and finally, mature adults. I don’t know that Michael ever acknowledged he was getting older. The pressure he placed on himself was enormous.
He didn’t just want to be the best singer and dancer, or write big hits (and unlike many pop stars who take publishing/writing credit in exchange for recording, Michael did write many of his hits - he wrote the main riff for “Beat It”, among other things). He wanted to transform himself and went far to do it. I’m sure the physical, mental and emotional pain he kept himself in was not pleasant.
The kids. Nobody but Michael knows for sure what went on. But when you get to be that rich and that famous, and you’ve been that way your whole life, you can’t trust anyone over 13. Every time you allow yourself to meet someone new, you’re asking “Are they interested in me, the person, or my fame? Or my money? Or something else? Is this a trap?” Hanging out with kids too young to understand his life was the closest he could get to real human interaction. I’m sure he knew it was sort of messed up, too. Think about what that knowledge must have done to him as well.
I hope he is finally free of his demons and those goddamn Post-It notes. If nothing else, he’s at least free of the spotlight.
When I think of Michael Jackson, I think of a summer dance in 1982. His voice echoing off the walls of a Duke University gymnasium, as I danced into the night. I've never been sweatier, funkier, or more lost in the music.
My friend and bandmate Rich "Foxx" Trott says he enjoys when I write about my musical influences, so here's some more in that vein...
The only thing worse than "not making it" as a star is "making it for a little while".
I've never met Adam Ant (a.k.a. Stuart Goddard) but I feel like I know him well. Yeah, he ripped us off a bit (hint: the song was originally called "Pantmusic"), but then again, who didn't rip us off?
To be fair, I stole from him, too - in obvious ways (What's my band called?) and less obvious ways.
Adam Ant not only worked with Malcom McLaren (better known for a less-talented, less-successful one-off band called The Sex Pistols), Adam got screwed over by him in truly spectacular fashion! McLaren helped shape Adam's pop star vision...and then more or less stole The Ants from Adam and refashioned them into Bow Wow Wow, replacing Adam with teenager Annabella Lwin (there are stories to be told here soon, too). Like the Pants, Adam was forced to rush to get an album out with "his sound" before Bow Wow Wow released theirs. Bow Wow Wow is primarily known today for covers - both their retread of "I Want Candy" and the (at the time) under age Lwin posing nude on the sleeve. (This is not to knock Bow Wow Wow - they are awesome, too)
The Devil take your stereo and your record collection
Ant was so punk he decided he wanted to make both pop music and money, not just smash everything - at the time, that was seriously radical. He wrote clever, hooky songs, teamed up with a fantastic guitar player (the underrated Marco Pirroni), and developed one of the most distinctive visual styles of the 80s (or any decade), right down to typography. Like Billy Idol, he often played (uncredited) bass guitar on his albums, and is much smarter musically and in other ways than his cartoonish image would have one believe. (However, unlike Billy Idol, one of my ex-girlfriends did not date Adam Ant.)
Trent Reznor says the backwards "N" in the Nine Inch Nails logo was inspired by Adam Ant's backwards "D" and NIN covered "You're So Physical" on their breakthrough "Broken" album.
Close personal friend Roxy Epoxy covered "Beat My Guest", and her vocal stylings and the music of her band, The Epoxies, owes a clear debt to Adam Ant as well.
As a kid in the 80s, Adam Ant was unlike any other singer, celebrity, or person I knew. He wasn't as polished, smooth, or awesome as Duran Duran...but he was oddly scary/threatening, raw, sensual, and human, receding hairline and all.
My first real girlfriend was head-over-heels for him, and thought he was sexy as hell (she also broke my heart, so her judgment is somewhat questionable). I saw his videos and wondered what he was thinking. Was he serious? How could he be in that get-up? But he couldn't possibly be joking because he seemed like he meant it...His songs were funny, sexy, and sometimes creepy.
Eventually I realized that part of what made Adam Ant's whole thing work was what actors strive for - that sense of "commitment" to the role, to the part, to the song, to the look. Adam Ant is fearless when he sings. He throws himself into his music completely, and that abandon is what makes it and him powerful.
We went on "Top of the Pops" for 3 minutes - "Dog Eat Dog", that was it - and the next day 200,000 people went out and bought the record. That 3.5 minutes took 3.5 years to prepare for...
He sent copies of his records to a teacher who had been supportive of his artistic tendencies. And he was "the most written-about celebrity [in the UK] in 1981 except for Princess Diana". He had a slew of hit singles before flaming out in 1989 with an album produced by one of Prince's understudies. Took up acting, got some b-movie and TV roles. Did commercials for Honda scooters with Grace Jones. Carefully, obsessively managing and plotting his career.
The whole time he was grappling with serious mental illness: depression.
Did I tell you I didn't cry? Well I lied
The music lifestyle is demanding and fatiguing in every way. You work so hard to "live up to your potential" and to "make it". And then what? Even if (to quote Mr. Ant and others) there's always room at the top, you're always just renting that room. You will be evicted.
Once that happens...well, there's nothing worse than watching something you've worked so hard for - your fame, fortune, fans - slip away from you. To go from playing rooms packed with screaming girls to being harassed and called a "has-been" everywhere you go...it's tough to take.
Adam Ant went through all that and more. Dated Heather Graham! Yet he still came back and put out "Wonderful" in 1995. It's not a crazy, wild record - it's a grown-up album about dealing with all this stuff. I was skeptical then and am still not crazy about it, but the stellar "Won't Take That Talk" opens the album, and I still get a thrill and a smile on my face when Marco busts out that Jazz Chorus-fueled guitar part on "Wonderful".
At some point Stuart/Adam wrote an autobiography - why am I only finding out about it now?
Here's the first part of a great, long-overdue documentary "The Madness of Prince Charming" on YouTube. The whole thing has some surprising moments, both funny and extremely dark:
Mr. Goddard, I raise my hotel bourbon to you. You helped make me who I am today. You can steal from me any time, and I hope to someday shake your hand and thank you for your words of wisdom, and your music.
Ridicule is nothing to be scared of Don't you ever Don't you ever stop being dandy Showing us you're handsome Don't you ever Don't you ever lower yourself Forgetting all your standards
My take? "Pro" isn't what you use. It's how you use it.
The notion of "inspiration" is too subjective for me to consider, though. For me, it's easy to be briefly inspired on any new instrument, from the sheer novelty of the sound or interface. I've come up with many a part or song by noodling around on someone else's gear.
And what inspires you today may be what you're sick of tomorrow.
Good instruments make it easy to get at sufficient depth to encourage creativity without either losing you in details, menus, and parameters or restricting your choices.
Sadly, I no longer have any of the gear dating back to the Pants' early days in the suburban garages of our youth. However, I do have a few pieces of gear I've been using since the late 80s and many I've been using for nearly 10 years.
The good stuff is limited just enough, and frequently references old, tried, tested designs - the Nord Lead 2 we use live is basically a digital Prophet-5 with more voices (sadly, it doesn't do much better than the original for a display).
Back in ye olde dayes (a.k.a. the 80s) the Pants threw down big cash (at the time) for a Yamaha DX-7. It was considered one of the "Seven Deadly Synths" one had to have for a complete studio/record/band/whatever. It remains one of the best-selling synths of all time. New Order used it for their famous bass line on "Bizarre Love Triangle". I think Howard Jones used one for "What Is Love?" And its electric piano sounds were inescapable for the whole of the 80s. I hated it.
We only ended up using it on a few tracks on "Life, Style". It was hard to program, combining a brand-new synthesis methodology (frequency modulation, a.k.a. FM) with one of the worst user interfaces ever to grace a popular keyboard. At the time, we (like almost everyone else) were unable to move much beyond the presets.
Parenthetically, it also schooled me on the dangers of beverages in the studio - I spilled a bottle of diet Pepsi Free into the key portion a week before a major gig. Ended up costing several hundred dollars to fix and I had to borrow a Korg Poly-800 to cover for it. Ouch.
A few years ago I traded a hot pink Ibanez Steve Vai Jem 777 for a DX-7IIFD, largely because I was interested in exploring alternate tunings, which the IIFD did (and was one of the only keyboards to do so). By then, I had learned enough to understand FM - but the interface still got in the way.
And no matter what, the DX series always felt like work. I never once sat down and said "ooh, this makes me want to write a song!"
The first synth I ever had was a Casio CZ-101 which my parents bought me for Christmas. I loved that thing and could program it 9 ways to Sunday. My brother sold it a few years ago after I asked him to take care of it for me (I guess I should have been more specific about what I meant by "take care of it for me!"). I still have horrible ancient recordings of that thing - seems like I couldn't touch it without starting to write something. Ironically, it was only slightly easier to program than the DX, and far more limited. And definitely not considered "pro".
But given a choice between the two today, I'd grab that CZ-101.
Fans, I'm very excited to share this news...our hit single "Baby Space" is being used in a great new movie trailer!
The movie is called Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade. It's a sort of "where are they now?"-type documentary about the videogame champions of the 1980s. As kids who were huge stars in the 80s, we can certainly relate!