My story is a fairly typical one for someone my age who had open ears. I grew up in a musical household—there was usually music on somewhere, at least when the TV wasn’t. Much classical, opera, and rootsy American stuff—my father was into Western folk and labor/protest music. My parents also had many of the requisite 60s pop LPs—Peter Paul & Mary, Dylan, Beatles, 5th Dimension, Simon & Garfunkle—which I glommed onto as a kid and memorized. This was on Long Island, where I came of age in the 70s in what was a genuine cultural wasteland, as much as it’s become a cutesy cliché now [“OMG! I love the 70s!”]. As a tween/teen, when I started to identify personally with music, not a lot was available to me. Most kids in school listened to the absolute worst shit imaginable like CSN, Fleetwood Mac, Pure Prairie League, Loggins & Messina, Eagles, Jackson Browne, The Outlaws, etc. My friends and I—all out of our heads on drugs from age 13 on—gravitated backward to tougher music: classic rock like Stones, Who, Hendrix, but also stranger, druggier stuff where we could find it—Sabbath, King Crimson, Blue Cheer, Jefferson Airplane. What was still alive and vibrant for us was the Grateful Dead, and I’ll freely confess now that I was a teenage Deadhead. The Dead were not quite absolutely God-awful yet in the late 70s, and some of those Dead shows I went to back then were among the brightest and highest experiences of my life. I could [and have done] write about those days forever, but shan’t here.
So the 70s are winding up. Through the miasma of psychedelics and pharmaceuticals I was adrift in, new music started to penetrate once in a while. People on TV talked about the Sex Pistols, “punk rock.” The Cars, Blondie, Talking Heads, Elvis, and Police started to make inroads into radio, however feebly. A stoner girl lent me Lou Reed’s Transformer, which woke my ass up for a minute. The husband of one of my father’s colleagues taped me a couple of Eno albums, 801 Live... Then in 1979 a kid in my class took me with his older sister to see Talking Heads and B52s at Stony Brook University gymnasium. [My take on the Talking Heads then, between More Songs... and Fear of Music: minimal Grateful Dead meets James Brown. I’ve yet to hear a better nutshellism!] I woke up some more, and the next summer that same kid, and sister [with boyfriend now], and I traveled into NYC to see the Talking Heads play in Central Park, premiering their big band and the material from Remain In Light. Now, this fully woke me up. The park was crawling with every kind of weirdo imaginable, and everybody...was happy. I’d never been in a public space like that. People drinking and messed-up, but COMPLETELY tolerant of one another. I felt at home for the first time in a long time. More than the Talking Heads that day I remember the opening act, a Japanese band called Plastics. They were ridiculously fun and energetic and great—I never wanted to go home!
But go home I did, and somehow I managed to graduate and matriculate to SUNY Buffalo. Leaving home was wonderful; saved my life getting away from Long Island. And so it was in Buffalo, in 1980, that my world really opened up to music. Without parents around, all I had to do was drink a lot, take drugs, and listen to music [I excelled not in college]. I made friends, good real friends for the first time in my life or at least since childhood. And these friends loved this new music. They loved British punk but moreover “new wave” music. What’s now lumped under the ungainly moniker of “post-punk” was not so easy to pigeonhole back then. It was new psychedelic, new romantic, dance pop, new folk, synthwave, gothic, agitprop, minimal, electrofunk—whatever. What it all was, more than any other thing, was NEW.
But enough about me! All this back-story was meant to get me to this point: I made two great friends that year, Danny and Paul. Paul was from a very dink town in uppermost upstate New York and Danny was from New York City, but Paul was the new-wave cool cat and Danny the hapless goober [I was the weird Long Island stoner kid in between the two, you see]. Danny and Paul were both music nuts—they raced out to buy the British music papers the day they hit the record shops, and from them I learned to comb the NME, Melody Maker, and the Face. And together we spent the next few years accumulating piles of music and obsessing over all of it. I’ve kept on obsessing over music for the rest of my life, but for my purposes here I’m just going to cover those years, and I’ll likely reference Danny and Paul a good bit.
[Sorry for this huge post! I promise this is a one-time indulgence. I wanted to provide a bit of context. From now on I’ll keep it short and about the musik.]
I think this is a good song to begin with, as I’ll be posting music that was brand new to me at the time, new to popular culture like nothing before it, and will hopefully be new to you. Straight Lines was released in 1979, the first single from New Musik’s first LP, From A to B. New Musik sadly failed to hold an audience on either side of the Atlantic, and quickly disappeared from view. Very sadly, because they were a terrific band—new, shiny, smart, poppy, strange—and Straight Lines is a wonderful song. They made a couple of albums, both of which are very much worth obtaining if you happen upon ‘em [I think it’s all out of print]. Singer Tony Mansfield went on to produce lots of music in the 80s.
And a Plastics song, just because this got me thinking about them!