8bitrocket Goes Backstage
I usually don't talk about this, but besides working on Flash web sites and games at my day job and in my spare time, I also run the official web site for the 80's new wave/rock band The Alarm. I struck-up a friendship with the lead singer of The Alarm, Mike Peters in 1995 when I wrote an article about The Alarm for Goldmine magazine (at the the time ,the leading magazine for record collectors). Soon after, Mike asked me to run his web site, and for the past 13 years I have done just that. In that time, I have become pretty good friends with Mr. Peters. Our children have played together, he has come over to my house, etc. As well, I have had the privilege (Jeff and my wife as well) to have the opportunity to go front and back-stage at nearly every small-to-medium sized concert venue in Southern California as Mike Peters has toured with various bands and solo and played live in the L. A. area. In that time, I've come to realize something that I try to tell people when they ask about going "back-stage". Going "back-stage" is really nothing special at all. In fact, especially if you like music, all the best stuff happens "on-stage". Back-stage is simply place where: the band gets dressed, the band drys the sweat from themselves after playing live, a drink or two get consumed, and various hangers-on (myself included) try to not look out-of-place while trying to figure out why they are there in the first place. That's pretty-much it. It's very hard to convince people of this fact if they have never experienced it for themselves, but in all honestly, back-stage is usually nothing special. In fact, sometimes back-stage in literally nothing at all. Take the back-stage at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. It's nothing more than an attic in which the most interesting thing you might "discover" is a head injury if you stand-up too quickly. Ditto for the House Of Blues in Anaheim where back stage is little more than staircase and small room. This is in sharp contrast to back-stage at the House Of Blues in Hollywood that actually contains among other things, a private club named "The Founder's Room". However, they are so up-tight about it that they have a dress-code!?!? How un "rock and roll" is that? Maybe it's "blusey" and I simply don't get it.
Anyway, last night was one of the few times time in the past 13 years when "back-stage" felt like what I had always imagined it would be when I was a wide-eyed kid. Actually that is not true. It felt like what "back-stage" would feel like if you had a dream about going back-stage. Not necessarily a "dream" like it was utterly amazing, but one of those random dreams where events unfold-on top of each other in such an inexplicable way that it only really makes sense while you are having the dream. On a summer tour with The Fixx and The English Beat, The Alarm had just ripped-apart a fantastic set (Three Sevens Clash, My Town, Fight back, 68 Guns, Situation Under Control, The Stand, The Alarm Calling, Rescue Me, Spirit Of '76/45 RPM) at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood. Mike Peters had asked me to come back-stage after the show, but, for the life of me, I could not find the entrance. After looking for about 15 minutes my wife suggested calling his cell phone. Now, if you have ever tried to talk on cell phone in a general admission concert venue while a band is playing, you will know just how difficult it is to get any kind of reception, much less hear anything on the phone. Still, I tried it, and low and behold Mike Peters answered. In fact, he was clear-as-day, and he instructed me to find the "Exit" doors to the right of the stage, and go through, because that was back-stage. Second to the cell phone reception, this was the next odd dream-like moment of the evening. I've never known a back-stage to be through "Exit" doors on the side of a venue. At least, I've never noticed it. Anyway, Mike told me he would find us after we went through the doors and into the back-stage. Since we had not done this "back-stage" thing in a bout a year, I had to collect the knowledge I had acquired over the years about how to act when attempting to go back-stage (most of which was culled John Hughes and Cameron Crowe movies). The most important thing to do, I recalled, was to "act like you are supposed to be there". I tried to look "in place" when I walked up to the guarded door in my best "I'm supposed to be here" swagger, but it was for nothing. The orange "All Access" wrist-band that had given us at the will-call window took care of the guard at the door, and soon enough we were through to an alley-way outside the venue that led to a gauntlet of people with a similar "why am I here again?" look that my wife and I were sporting. You see, this was the third bizarre, dream-like occurrence of the night, as "back-stage" turned out to be "out side". It was a bit baffling
Next, we made our way down through the crowd towards a door that led back into the building and to the stage. I looked into the door, and instantly the guard said "oh, you have an orange band, you can go through". 'going through" was not currently in the plan, but since I did not want to seem like I did not know what I was doing, I went. However, instead of leading back-stage to where Mike might be (a dressing room, a private bar, etc.), it led to the ACTUAL backstage, or in this case the side-stage, where The Fixx were playing through their set. In all the times I'd been back-stage, I'd never actually been ON THE STAGE, and especially while band was playing,which was quite cool. This was the fourth dream-like occurrence as I can recall many nightmares I've had about going on stage and playing in band and trying to please the crowd with my complete lack of talent or ability. However, this time we simply watched the band from the side for bit. I noted that the sound was much better back there, then in the venue proper. In a way, I was sort of shocked at how cool it was to be on the side-stage watching band play. The other people there looked predictably bored, but I was pretty jazzed about it. The thought crossed my mind that maybe there is something to this elusive back-stage after-all, I'd just never been at the right "back-stage" before. Anyway, my wife and I turned back and as we did we saw the guitarist from The Alarm, James Stevenson coming up a set of stairs that led down towards the actual dressing rooms. James is very "rock and roll" in that he keeps his stage persona "on" after the show to some extent. I never know what to say to him, so I just waved. He was cool though, and he told us that he had not seen Mike (it must have been obvious that was why we were there). "That's odd", I thought, since Mike had told us to come back, but now he had disappeared. Just my luck, I was now officially an aimless hanger-on (my wife is excused because she was simply there to support me) looking exactly like an aimless hanger-on back-stage. We went back outside again, and stopped by the fence at the head of the people gauntlet. I looked at my wife, and back towards a gate that led through to the alley-way behind the venue. I was just about to ask my wife if she wanted to leave, when I head a vaguely familiar voice say "'eh Mike!", I turned around to see Mike Peters walking through the alley gate, and greeted by Billy Duffy, and Ian Ashbury, the guitarist and lead vocalist from The Cult. I'd met Billy Duffy before (I stole the ball and scored a goal on his team during a 5-a-side soccer game in Wales 10 years ago, but that's a whole different story), but I'd never seen Ian Ashbury in person before. Again, it was like a weird dream where random people from the 80's start showing-up unannounced. I half expected to Adam Ant and Captain Sensible enjoying a cup of tea around the next corner. Anyway, Ashbury looks a lot like Steven Tyler these days, and in a massive cliche, he's much shorter in person than I imagined.
So, the next cool, dream-like part came next. Mike had seen my wife and I waiting, and just after he greeted Ian and Billy, he kind of moved them aside, greeted my wife and I, told us to follow him back through the gate to the tour bus. I may not be describing this in the most effective way, but essence, Mike blew-off the better half of The Cult so he could chat with my wife and I in private. See what I mean about this seeming like a dream? And again, not necessarily "good dream", but weird one in which the cool guys get blown-off and the dorks get first-class treatment. (Ok, maybe that is a *good* dream!) Anyway, Mike really wanted to show us their tour bus, because: 1.), It was rock and roll to have a tour bus, and 2., he was really happy about it. However, the back-stage experience took an even more surreal turn as we entered the bus. Sitting behind a computer mixing songs for the next Alarm album was ex-Guns And Roses and Supernova guitarist and Gilby Clarke. What struck me about Mr. Clarke, was that, other than the Mac-Book in front of him, he was he overwhelmingly dripped of Hollywood rock and roll star. He just did not let-up. The clothes, the hair, the tattoos, and everything else ...except for the fact that he was exceedingly polite. As well, so was the gentleman sitting across the aisle from him, Slim Jim Phantom the drummer for the Stray Cats. However, he did looked bored an a bit annoyed. Didn't anyone tell him that back-stage is usually that way? Of course he already knew that. Anyhow, Mike led my wife and I to the back of the bus, and we sat down for a chat about the show, the new album, etc. The bus itself had a wood-lined interior with gold-inlay. It looked just like you would imagine a band's tour bus might looked like. Anyway, we sat to chat for a about 15 minutes about music and kids and stuff, and then "the Alarm" literally went off. Well, it was Slim Jim and Gilby Clarke actually. They were obviously waiting for Mike, and while they were polite, the were obviously not too happy that the "geek squad" was invading the rock and roll shrine (the tour bus). The funny part, and the final surreal, dream-like moment, was that Mike sort of blew-them-off himself in a way (but not really). Since Mike is such good guy, he tried to be polite, wanting to continue our visit, but instead my wife and I excused ourselves, said goodbye, and left the bus. I've always felt that in these types of situations it is never good to over-stay your welcome. As we left the bus I stopped just for a second to tell Gilby Clarke that I thought his mixes for the current Alarm album "Guerrilla Tactics" were great, and he replied with a warm "well thanks man." And all was cool. We left the bus, went through the gate, up the side of building past the people trying to look like they had a reason to be there, and for split second I thought to myself, "wait, I *did* have a reason to be here" However, that pompously ridiculous thought fleeted away as we left the theater, got back in the Honda CRV, and headed out of the rock and roll "dream sequence" and back to the baby sitter, the kids, and real, honest life.
Forgotten Heroes From The Teflon Decade: 80's Metal / Rock / Alt / Country : The Punk – Grudge bridge
I am just now finishing my fourth Chuck Klosterman book. On the subject of music, he is an absolute genius. While his influences in the 80's were mostly Heavy metal and hard rock, Steve and mine tended a little more toward punk/power pop/The Who influenced rock and an early form of alt-country that even fewer people know existed. The thing was that I just really liked rock songs that made me want to bounce my head up and down and put my fist in the air. We had some friends who were into the outer recesses of 80's punk (the Misfits, Sub Humans, etc), friends who were into early 80's Metal (Iron Maiden, early Motley Crue, Metallica), friends who were into British Punk (the Business, Stiff Little Fingers), friends that were into the KROQ alternative (the Smiths, the Cure, etc) and a select few friends who were into what was alternative ROCK of the time (The Cult, U2, Big Country, etc). We all seemed to hang out together on and off and Steve and I were able to digest some of what these these genres offered while finding an appreciation for our own niche of bands that none of them seemed to like or know about (the Nils, The Alarm, Hoodoo Gurus, Husker Du, Soul Asylum, All, the Gear Daddies and many more). I'm not saying that what any of us liked was BETTER than what anyone else liked or that being in one of these niches made us better than the people who listened to top 40 and loved it. Things are never that cut and dry, plus I know for a FACT that I was a complete idiot/nerd/geek/dork through most of the 80's. But, looking back on that time now, I felt that I could have some fun by introducing (or re-introducing) myself and some readers to the bands that I like to call the The Punk - Grudge bridge.
This of course is by no means an exhaustive collection of every band and song that played a part in what I like to think of as the unappreciated bridge between the Punk Rock of the late 70's, early 80's and the grunge rock of the early 90's (as well as the punk-pop and nu-metal that continues until today). While Steve and I lived in a place (Los Angeles) that had a collection of genre specific rock stations - 80's Alternative, Rock, Metal, top 40 rock, etc, we were firmly mired in love of a collection of bands hardly any one has heard of (and were rarely played on any of the stations). My favorite bands of the time are a collection of pretty good rock bands that got little to no radio play, and while some got good reviews from rock journalists, some were absolutely slagged off for no good reason. To me, if a band ROCKED (either in a hard rock or even a medium rock sense) then the music should stand on its own. Too many of the music journalists of the 80's (and even now) had no appreciation for actual music. The worse a band rocked, the better the review. If a band like The Alarm, the Cult, or even Guns and Roses put out a pretty rocking album, the reviews would be awful to middling at best (if the big magazines even bothered to review them). There were a handful of not so good 80's alternative acts that always seem to get good reviews no matter how lame their albums were. The Teflon Decade was built purely on hype and fashion. It seemed if I liked a band or a record, than I was sure to open Spin or Rolling Stone (if they even bothered to cover it) and find a review centered more on the author's hate of the genre, a discussion how unintelligent the bands fans must be, or how unfashionable the band's clothes and hair were. Very little time was spent actually talking about how rocking the actual music was because I swear (from what I read) rock journalists (especially in the 80's) actually HATED music (I might be exaggerating a little, but not much).
I consider there to be three main genres that existed in the 80's that absolutely no one in the music industry or press) wanted to admit were alive and well - Hard Rock, Punk rock / Alternative rock (with guitars not synths) and Alternative Country. The only genre that was allowed to exist combined all three to various degrees of music success (and made shit loads of money) - late 80s' Hair Metal. Like the wonderful Chuck Klosterman (buy and read all of his books NOW), I think think that the Metal / Hard rock of the 80's was culturally significant if only that its excess allowed for the 90's complete non-excess revolt of the Seattle scene to sprout up and take off as anti-Reagan/Bush era cultural landslide. What was absolutely looked upon as freakish when I was a senior in high school (music with guitars that wasn't Def Leopard) became the norm in the 90's - Guitar use was seen as trite and blaise in the 80's, but some how was suddenly life altering in the 90's? What the fuck? 80's Metal / Hard rock also offered us some pretty rocking tunes. On the fringes of the Punk Rock scene were a collection of bands inspired by roots rock (the Long Ryders, Uncle Tupelo) that might have won a few music critics hearts, but were ignored by the vast quantity of major publications. Some of their songs would be absolute hits on CMT today, but were ignored in the 80s'. The same goes for the 100's of local American Bands that were completely IGNORED by alternative radio/ magazines / MTV in the 80's in favor of drugged up Manchester Boys (who made some good tunes, but got much more press than they deserved). There are 100's of examples of bands that SPIN completely ignored. Some they go back and lament now, but most they still continue to pretend never existed.
The reason I want to point this out it because most 80's rock music shows and compilations focus on two distinct genres - Early 80's new Wave and late 80's hair metal. They leave out all of the good stuff in between. I've never seen any one of these shows talk about how close some of the tunes on early 80's Metal (Motley Crue), middle 80's protest rock (The Alarm) or late 80's kick ass rock (Guns and Roses) were very close to what became the Grunge/Pock Rock movements of he 90's These are some of the bands that were flying the torch for rock/punk/etc in the 80's. It's a shame that most went un-noticed because many of the songs are just as good or better than rock hits of today.
Some Metal / Hard Rock tunes
Hollywood - By Junk Yard
My Michelle - By Guns and Roses (the album track played behind a static picture of the Album)
Live Wire - By Motley Crue
Bad Craziness -By D.A.D.
Some Alt Country Tunes
Looking for Lewis and Clark - By The long Ryders
Chickamauga - By Uncle Tupelo
Cut me off - The Gear Daddies (These are hard to find, but believe me on record, this song rocks in a cool country way)
Some Alt-Rock/Power Pop Punk like stuff
Tojo - By The Hoodoo Gurus (power pop)
Open Your Eyes - By Lords of the New Church (shlock rock)
Don't want to know if your are lonely (speedy punky pop) - By Husker Du
Nice Guys Don't get Paid - By Soul Asylum (glistening pre-grunge)
Third Light / Across The Border (live) - By The Alarm - very lo-fi but a great clip.(alt country / power pop combo)
With record companies falling apart at the seams, and CD sales in the toilet you would think that 80's Guitar artists who are still trying to make music would have it worse than anyone else. They were overlooked at the time, history has not been kind to them, and these days they never get coverage in national publications or large web sites. If it is hard for the big record labels to stay in business right now, then it must be nearly impossible for these (now) little guys to gain enough of a return to continue to create new music...right?
One of the earliest users of the internet to market music, Mike Peters from The Alarm, have been consistently creating new music for the past 17 years, and for the past 12 years he has been marketing it, almost exclusively online. In 2000, Mike Peters released a boxed-set of re-released Alarm albums named The Alarm 2000 Collection with a custom dedication CD for $150, and sold scores of them online. In 2002 Peters reformed The Alarm, and sold an on-line subscription of 5 cds and 50+ songs named the In The Poppyfields Bond released over the course of 6 months, and then let fans vote for the song-list that would finally appear on the the 2004 album "In The Poppy Fields". Just last year Peters did the same thing with an 8 CD collection of EPs that will ultimately form the basis of two (possibly) albums to be released later this year. In between Mike Peters has sold scores of other CDs, t-shirts, tickets etc online and his web site at http://www.thealarm.com it has become a huge part of the way he promotes, markets and sells his music. He has done all of this with almost zero major label support. However, even if you have not heard of Mike Peters or The Alarm in the past decade, they are doing well enough to continue making new music, tour, etc. In that time, Mike Peters even beat cancer into remission TWICE and still kept going. Now that is dedication!
Mike Peters is not alone. Guitar hero Mitch Easter started developing the "power-pop" sound in the early 70's in the band The Sneakers (with Chris Stamey of the dBs) before gaining notoriety as a producer in his garage studio ("Drive-In") for early REM records. Easter and his band Let's Active came from the same era as Mike Peters and The Alarm. Even though they sounded completely different (The Alarm = punk influenced guitar rock, Let's Active = glistening guitar power-pop), they shared the same record label (I.R.S.) and found themselves in a similar situation at the end of the 80's: major record labels were not interested in their music. However, just last year Mitch Easter joined the internet revolution and released a new album (Dynamico), his first in 21 years. When I was reading an interview with Easter, I noticed this quote:
"I always thought I would have to get a record deal to put out new music, and because there aren't a lot of people out there who want to hear me right now, I supposed I wouldn't be allowed to do it Now, it's such a do-it-yourself world that everything's changed. Doing it yourself is becoming the only way records are coming out, because the world itself is hip to acquiring music in different ways now." (Steve Wildsmith Nov. 16, 2006 The Daily Times (Knoxville, TN) )
What Easter is saying is that, basically, it is now commercially viable for him to make music again. This hit me like a ton of bricks. The music industry is supposedly dying, yet Mitch Easter and Mike Peters have found a way to make their own music and make it commercially viable at the same time? The situation confirms something that I have felt for a long time: the record industry is not only broken, but may simple be unnecessary (almost) in the 21st century. I recently caught-up with Mitch Easter and talked to him about this exact situation. His answers were very enlightening.
Awkward 80's Rock Blog Guy Surprised to Get Interview With Mitch Easter (Me): Was Drive-In your studio or just where you produced all those great albums? Do you enjoy running your own studio now? What types of artists do you record?
Mitch Easter: It was my place. When I was in college I had the idea to start a studio so I wouldn't have to get a real job. This has panned out OK, more or less. I'm still at it, and it still has its moments. It's still mostly "indie rock", whatever that means. In 1999 we opened a "proper" studio, so nowadays we are the posh, expensive place as opposed to the humble garage place.
A8RBGSTGIWME(Me): Who were your influences when creating your Let's Active sound? Nuggets/60's Garage, The Shoes/Cheap Trick, or something else entirely?
Uh, I don't remember, exactly. In high school I was a huge Move fan, but you know, really liking something and being able to copy it are altogether different things! All those people you mentioned are great, and in the early 80s I was listening to early 80s music, including now-forgotten acts like Altered Images and The Associates...
A8RBGSTGIWME(Me): As a producer (some might say one of the BEST ever), sound quality and nuance must be very important. Do the limitations of MP3 hurt what you can produce in the studio? What would be your ideal distribution method?
Mitch Easter: You are too kind, re: my producer abilities. Good sound is always a plus, even if "good" has wildly different interpretations. But I maintain that even the gnarliest sounds deserve a high quality capture and transmission system! In all but the most compromised of settings, you can detect a well-recorded track. The trouble with MP3 is that its flaws are less obvious, and some sound OK. A few years ago people started bringing MP3 players into the studio and connecting them to the little stereo system in the front room. One time somebody was playing the first Led Zeppelin LP from an MP3 and I didn't realize that was the source, and while I was getting something out of the refrigerator or whatever I remember thinking "I thought that record sounded better than that!" Which it does, actually. The actual recording, as heard on LP or even the initial CD run (which wasn't stellar, but still...) is not the sort of softened, hazy and fizzy thing I heard that day! The MP3 sound reminds me of a shot-up battle flag- you can interpolate what it is supposed to be, but it's full of holes. In the studio I just don't think about it; I'm just trying to mix the song. But now we are faced with people approving mixes via emailed MP3s, which seems really convenient but is maybe no better than when this was done with cassettes, and the unexciting knowledge that many people will only ever what you're doing as an MP3. At least nobody ever considered cassettes the ultimate format or anything! Everybody accepted the idea that the LP would sound better, but the cassette was good for the car, etc. Now with today's ultra slick marketing, you've got most of the world's population being told that this sleek internet delivery/iPod world is The Greatest Thing Ever and Totally Modern!!! (and throw that old junk out immediately) and since many people listen with their notions and not their ears, I think we're stuck with a highly compromised arrangement. I would be pretty happy if we had the MP3 world for "the kids" and for convenience, and something like SACD for high quality. The shadowy business people who decide everything are doubtless thrilled at the potential profits in the non-tangible distribution future, and are happy to hasten the demise of the physical formats. But I'm 53 and I like to hold that thing I bought in my hands, look at the cover art, etc. and being on the computer all the time sounds like a nightmare to me, even though it is completely OK with young people, I guess.
A8RBGSTGIWME(Me): I think you are in a similar position to Mike Peters in that he was around U2 when they began and was influential in some ways to their sound an image, but will probably never get credit for it. At the same time, the connection to U2 kind of hurt the band. The same could said for you and REM. You helped them define their sound, but your connection to them overwhelmed your own work (to a certain extent). Do you struggle to at once, recognize the past, and at the same time try to unshackle from it?
Mitch Easter: Ah well, I was well aware of R.E.M.'s vast appeal- they were really energetic and great on stage when they started, they had a real star guy front person (who was also a good singer!), easy-to-grasp songs, etc. etc. and I never felt remotely in competition with them. I realized that my charms, such as they were, were a lot more modest and a lot less mainstream than theirs. So I really enjoyed getting to work on those records and we did a few tours with them in the 80s which were totally good tours. So I've got no complaints! As for me, it's true that my official reputation is that I'm some kind of flag-waver for a very narrow lightweight pop, which is pretty annoying! What I like to listen to for fun is way more likely to be Soft Machine Vol. 2 than the sort of thing I'm generally associated with. But, c'est la vie. People will think what they will! I also think I could put out a thrash metal record and it would be called "jangly". So much for "rock criticism"! On the other hand, without these associations from the past, I'd totally be a nobody. So if the jangly squad comes to see me play now, well, thank you very much for attending! I just think that being too nostalgic is basically a drag; I like a balance- the past was great, and, I hope, so is now! It is really hard to get people to pay attention to your new stuff sometimes but you have to try anyway. As for me, I intend to avoid the trap of making boring middle-aged records with too many acoustic guitars and slow tempos! (Editors note: Check out Mitch's new song : Time Warping to see what he means. the thing blows the speakers off!)
A8RBGSTGIWME(Me): . While the record industry is crumbling, artists like you have found a way to make their work financially rewarding because of the internet. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Mitch Easter: No doubt about it, internet communications are surely helpful to somebody like me who isn't going to be part of the latest young person social movement. But I'm not a million percent enthusiastic about the brave new world of music distribution and creation, either! It's always a mixed bag. The old record industry was, of course, corrupt and creepy but it was a useful filter and you could sort of wade through the current offerings without that feeling of "way-too-much-stuff/no quality control" that sort of stops me in my tracks these days! I think it's high time the old system fell apart, though. I guess the next challenge will be how to avoid "meet the new boss- same as the old boss"! I'm also appalled that MP3 has become the primary consumer audio standard. The CD format is pretty much a 1970s system, and now we have something that sounds a lot worse. CD is slowly on the way out, and SACD, the only improved digital distribution format to be offered, is dead. This is progress??
A8RBGSTGIWME(Me):The filter. Yes, the one main issue with the new "distribution" is that getting seen is nearly impossible. A lot changed with MTV because music became fashion, but is the internet once step beyond that? Do you think it is is it critical mass, or lowest common denominator?
Mitch Easter: Who knows! Both?? I think it's mostly a hopeless sea of what is supposed to be a democratic utopia is mostly a mob. But what are you going to do? I suppose there must be some sort of mass consciousness at work that makes some things rise above the fray, and it's never been "fair", anyway. But none of this exactly feels right. It's a transition, is about all I can conclude as of right now.
A8RBGSTGIWME(Me):I saw that people can purchase your record from a small company for $14.99 or at Amazon.com for $16.99. Even though Amazon has a higher price-point, which one benefits you, the artist more?
Mitch Easter: The cheap price is from 125 Records, who are friends, and doubtless I get more of that money than I do from Amazon! Being at a high-profile place like Amazon is, I suppose, a trace of the old record biz, where in a larger sense it's useful to be in a place like that even if the margins are lower. The problem is always- who will find 125 Records, vs. the omnipresent monolith?
A8RBGSTGIWME(Me):Do you have any future plans for touring and recording?
Mitch Easter: I look forward to recording another disk, which I will do the minute I get some time to do it. (Being in the studio business is the absolute worst job ever if you want to find time to make records!) As for tours, we played a fair bit across the US last year, and man oh man, what a money-loser! Between the weak live music scene and the cost of hotels and fuel, it's certainly a labor of love. I really love playing in front of an audience, but for us small-potatoes types the economics couldn't be worse. We'll do it again of course. The Dynamico record was mainly an ice-breaker for me, just to get something finished and out the door. I think it has moments of charm, but it is by no means slick! Not that I care too much. Other people can make those perfect records, I'm not really interested in that nearly as much as whatever the inner content is. But since I am known as a recording guy I suppose it is expected that I'd be ultra careful with my own stuff but it is exactly the opposite! I appreciate your interest and hope you like it.
I'd like to thank Mitch Easter for his generous answers and gracious nature giving them.
Here are some videos for some great Let's Active songs from the 80's :
Let's Active: Every Dog Has His Day
Let's Active: Every Word Means No
Let's Active: Waters Part
Plus, here are couple videos from new Alarm Tracks by Mike Peters from the upcoming albums:
The Alarm: Three 7's Clash
The Alarm: Plastic Carrier Bags
Mike Peters of The Alarm returned to UCLA on April 12, 2008 after 22 years to celebrate The Alarm's historic show at UCLA on April 12 1986. This turned out to be a wonderful event for many reasons, not the least of which was the showing of the fully restored Sprit Of '86 concert on a giant screen.
The original concert, 22 years ago, was historic for The Alarm and their fans. It was one of the first ever live satellite broadcasts on TV, and thus it was one of the very early live concerts shown on MTV. As well, this show highlighted The Alarm at the top of their game. as the musicianship and showmanship of the band both reached their peak for this event. The free show had been advertised on the radio and in the papers the week prior, but no one was prepared for the turnout. The expected crowd of 3,000 turned into an expected crowd of 10,000, which ultimately turned into an estimated crowd of 25,000. The barricades at the front of the stage had to be reinforced to keep the masses of people back, and the show almost did not take place. I was there on that day in 1986, and for me it was a very personal, special moment. It was the one day I can recall that my own personal musical taste was shared with (what I perceived to be) the rest of the world. That would never happen again.
Here is a video from YouTube.com from that day's broadcast. This is pretty much the way it looked and sounded in 1986.
The visuals of the concert were always striking, but frankly, the audio was pretty poor. For more than 20 years Alarm fans have asked for a new version of this concert with restored sound. Mike Peters worked for over 5 years to acquire all the original footage, create special features, completely restore the audio, etc. His work was made available last year when the DVD for the Spirit Of '86 show was released on https://www269.safesecureweb.com/21stcentury/ec/store.asp?func=viewproduct&id=368. Here is the promo for that DVD:
To celebrate this DVD release, Mike Peters devised this special show that would allow people to experience the original concert in close proximity to where the actual event took place (the original location, Jann's Steps is now covered by a University Building). The day began about 1:00 when Alarm fabs were asked to jot-down questions for Mike Peters that would be asked during the question and answer period. At about 1:15 world famous D.J. Richard Blade announced the format for the day: the question and answer period/acoustic show followed by a showing of the newly restored Spirit Of '86 video at 3:00, just about the same time as the actual event.
(Richard Blade And Mike Peters)
Richard Blade started the Q&A in expert fashion by asking Mike about his experiences with U2. Mike told an amusing story about introducing Bono to both the harmonica and the acoustic guitar (which elicited a gasp from the audience). However, long-time Alarm, fans and readers of some of my older blogs on this subject should already be aware of just how much influence The Alarm had on formation of U2's persona for world domination...but that's a subject for a later date. After this, Mike played an acoustic version of Unsafe Building, then told a story about John Peel and how The Alarm got their name (basically John Peel sw they were named Alarm Alarm and remarked how so many bands like Duran Duran and Talk Talk has two names, so they shortened it to The Alarm), n Mike then played a short acoustic version of The Toilet's song Alarm Alarm.
(Mike Peters plays Alarm, Alarm. video by Rachel Fulton)
Mike continued by describing the type of set-list The Alarm would play when they opened for U2 in the late 80's, and then played an acoustic version of Shout To The Devil. Richard Blade then asked Mike to talk about Top Of The Pops. Mike relayed the story about The Alarm playing in the USA, and being called back to appear on Top Of The Pops in September 1983 because, even though "68 Guns" was only #54 , they were the only band with a song rising through the charts that was willing to play (Johnny Lydon and PIL told TOYP to" f*ck off"...which is curious because that is the same thing Johnny Lydon said to Mike Peters back in 1976 when Mike e saw the Sex Pistols for the first time and was inspired to create his own band. It seems that Johnny Lydon's propensity to utter the words "f*ck off" were instrumental for The Alarm's success!).
Mike continued by answering some tough questions about the original The Alarm reforming for VH1's "Bands Reunited" and just why they would probably never play as a unit again. He described the series of tragedies that befell the band in and around 1990, and how the original unit became so creatively and personally constrictive over its 15 year span (1976-1991...the Toilets through The Alarm) while they all grew-up and grew apart at the same time. Mike did relay one detail that I had not heard prior. He said that The Alarm had been invited to open for Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers in July/August of 1991, but the tour did not happen because Dave Sharp wanted to tour his own solo record. He also said that if the internet had existed in 1991, the band would have probably never broken-up at all, because they would have had an easy mechanism for communication that would have helped dispel rumors that affected both the fans and the band itself. As for an actual reunion, Mike did not rule-out anything, especially one-off events, but there was nothing planned into the foreseeable future. Mike then played an acoustic version of The Stand, answered a few more questions, played an acoustic version of Blaze Of Glory, and then finished up with a request from Richard Blade to play Rain In The Summertime.
The question and answer portion ended at just about 3:00, the lights went down in the theater, and within a few moments the very memorable words from Martha Quinn blasted through the James Bridge Theater's THX sound system. "...UCLA and around world, IRS recording artists...The Alarm!" With that, the 22 year-old UCLA video was brought to life brilliantly on the James Bridge Theater screen. Since the theater is designed for optimal play of digital recordings, the concert was displayed in full wide-screen for the audience. While the visuals were definitely not HD, they were larger than life and absolutely fascinating to see after so many years. However, the real star of the day was the sound. I'm not sure I've ever experienced fuller, richer audio for a concert ...ever. Mike and his audio team performed a masterful job re-mixing the lost audio from the concert. The sound was exactly how I remembered it on that day in 1986. It was so stunning in fact, that I actually felt myself being lifted back to that time, standing under a tree on that field at UCLA, far back to the right of the stage. For a just a moment I was 16 again, pumping my fist in the air with songs that meant everything to me.
As the concert finished and the credits rolled, Mike Peters snuck down to the front of the stage with his acoustic guitar in one hand, and his son Dylan in the other. When the lights came-up, Mike played We Are The Light for the assembled crowd, just like The Alarm did after the broadcast ended on April 12, 1986. It was the perfect cap to a very special day. The ensuing standing ovation from the audience told the whole story. Mike had successfully brought The Alarm's biggest day to life again with both style and substance. Would you have expected any less?
-Steve Fulton, April 13th, 2008
P. S: After the show I was able to film this short interview with C.D. Taylor (credits here and here ) the director of the Spirit Of '86 concert for MTV. Please excuse my non-existent interviewing skills.
P.P.S :One more thing, when the internet was very new in 1996, I created a "salute" to the Sprit Of '86 for the 10 year anniversary. I still have that site archived in my portfolio. It is very "old school" internet. You can see it here: Spirit Of '86 : A look Back
I've had this conversation periodically with friends and other nerds of all types (rock, video game, etc) and it always ends inconclusively. The conversation starts this way: "When do decades start and end?" The question seems fairly simple at first. A decade lasts from the "01" to the "00" of any given set of of years (i.e. 1981-1990) (or "00" - "09" if you can't count). However, this answer always gives way to a further conversation that involves culture and events and to the actual perception of when the idea of a "decade" (i.e. "The 80's) actually started and ended. What is the difference between an "80's song" and a song "from the 80's"? Curiously, the answers are nearly always different and usually vary from person to person. "Calendar" decades are rarely the same as "cultural" decades, and their beginning, ending, and time-span usually depend on the cultural aspect you are currently discussing. This is further clouded by your location in the world, which could change everything again. However, for the sake of this discussion, we'll concentrate mostly on the United States..
Now, let's start by going back to the 1950's. If you are speaking about the "sociopolitical" 50's then you could argue that the idea of the "50's" started just after World War II in about 1946 when all the soldiers returned to the USA, finished their tours and were discharged from the army to go off and create suburbia as we know it. However, if you are talking about the 50's as the decade of "rock and roll", then it starts sometime around May 1955 with Chuck Berry (or maybe with Bo Diddly the same year), and lasts into the 60's. Curiously the sociopolitical and cultural beginning of the 60's is pretty easy to pin down to in November 1963 when JFK was killed. Curiously, that event coincided with a story on the CBS evening news about a new band named The Beatles that was bumped because of the national tragedy.
However, at this point things get murkier. Sociopolitically the 60's probably ended when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in 1973 or with Watergate and Nixon resigning in August of 1974. However, everything changes sociopolitically again in November of 1979 when the U.S. embassy was invaded in Iran, and the decade can't end until this is resolved (See 1980s below). If this is not confusing enough, musically the 70's are just as interesting. Some might say that the 60's ended musically at Altamont in December on 1969, or with the release of The Beatles Let It Be in May 1970 or maybe with the release of Led Zeppelin IV in November of 1971. Some might even cite the release of Ziggy Stardust by Bowie in '72, Ace Frehley joining Kiss in 1973, or The Who's Quadrophenia released later that year as the final nail in the coffin of the 60's, but then that might also be too late. However, this is where the 70's gets very difficult. The decade basically gets cut in-half at about 1976 when Boston released Boston (the height of corporate rock) and The Damned released the Neat Neat Neat single after seeing The Ramones in July 1976 in the UK touring their first album The Ramones. Some might even argue that the affect of these events were not hit home until after the subsequent releases of Star Wars in May 1977 (thrusting in movie blockbuster era), the Atari 2600 VCS in November 1977 (starting the first video game era), and/or the release of Saturday Night Fever in December 1977 (when Disco was mainstreamed).
While the 70's are so very confusing, the 80's are pretty easy to figure out. Sociopolitically they ended in January 1981 when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated and the Iran hostages were freed. Musically the 80's began in August 1981 when MTV debuted. . Some might argue that the final gasps of the 70s were stamped out in September 1983 when Kiss officially took off their make-up and released Lick It Up. This is because it is not uncommon to visualize the decades overlapping, with, for example, the last vestiges of the 70's hanging-on years into the reign of the 80's. While the music of the 80s continued to change over many years, the focus on image over sound brought-on by MTV remained a constant. This all ended when Nirvana broke "alternative" into the mainstream late in 1991 , hair-metal was defeated, and videos became mostly irrelevant (unless you figure Hip-Hip into the picture). However, the 80's ended sociopolitically on schedule when the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunified in October of 1990. However some people might say that the 90's did not really start until The Internet broke sometime in 1995 (or is this when the 21st century started?), but ended just about on schedule when the bubble burst in 2001. Others might say that the 90's continued to play on the post-modern era that was signified by the events that ended the 80's, but all was stopped butt-cold with the end of 20th century on September 11th, 2001 when everything simply stopped and had to be restarted again. This is where the conversation usually sends because next decade has not been written yet...unless of course sometimes brings-up The White Stripes...
This is how I see it anyway. Now, you may agree with all of this, part of it, or none at all, and that is the beauty of this discussion. It is an interesting thing to ponder, and a good conversation starter. Does your perception of actual decades match hard dates, sociopolitical events, cultural landmarks, or something else entirely? What if you decided to based the "decades" on Video Games. Would the video game crash of 1982 be the end of the 70's? Did the 80's for video games start with the domination of home computers in 1982, or with the Famicom in 1983? Would the release of the Sega Genesis in 1989 signify the start of the 90's, or just the end of the 80's while the 90's did not start until the PSX in 1995? I suppose there is no real answer, and maybe there can't be one, because different events are significant to people for various reasons, and let's be honest, they are all pretty-much valid.
How does this affect the subject of this blog? Well, it means that, while some songs might have been recorded or released prior to or after the 80's, the spirit of the "forgotten 80's guitar band" runs through most of them. It also means that, while many of these bands reached a significant level of popularity in their time, they have, more-or-less, been paved-over in the 21st century. There is not much a simple blog can do you change any of this, and in reality, I'm not even going to try. However, if I can turn some people on to to some great songs from a forgotten era, it will all be worth it.
Now, here are few more video from 80's Guitar Bands hat you might have never heard (seen) before:
The Alarm: Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke?
Midnight Oil: Back On The Borderline
The Skids: The Saints Are Coming
D.A.D : Sleeping My Day Away
Soul Asylum : Sometime To Return
Welcome to our newest blog on our ever-expanding uber media-empire known as 8bitrocket.com. Since much of our "game" sensibility comes from the stuff we played in the 80's, Jeff and I have decided to start writing about some of the music that we listened to in our formative years. To be truthful, Jeff and I were not the most mainstream of music-fans in what I like to call "The Teflon Decade"( because, for the most part, nothing I really liked from the 80's had any kind of "sticking" power. It all kind of hit and slid-off into an oblivion). That doesn't mean it was not good, but it was mostly non-commercial (for the era) or "before it's time" (curiously, something a few of our ex-classmates described Jeff and I to us at our 10-year high school reunion). You see the music we liked is hard to describe. Most of it was post-punk, but not necessarily New Wave. Most of it was "rock", but but not hair-metal or classic rock. As well, most of it was not "adored" by critics or the the "cool" kids either. I hate the word "alternative", but in a sense, this music really was an "alternative" to everything else. Anyway, in no certain order here is a off-the-top of my head, in-exhaustive list of some of the bands we liked that will be covered in the blog:
The Alarm, Big Country, Midnight Oil, The Smithereens, Hoodoo Gurus, Drivin' And Cryin', Icicle Works,The Long Ryders, Wall Of Voodoo, Lords Of The New Church, The Plimsouls, The Call, Cactus World News, Dramarama, Guadalcanal Diary, Naked Raygun,, Soul Asylum, The Goo Goo Dolls ("Hold Me Up" and before), The Replacements ,Huxton Creepers, The Johnneys, Husker Du, The Nils, Let's Active, All, The Descendents, Big Drill Car, The Skids, The Shoes, Slade, Stiff Little Fingers, D.A.D, EIEIO, and many many more. Some of these bands got their start in the 70's, and some of them did not reach their heights until the 90's, but all of them touched the 80's in some way.
Almost all of this music was guitar-based, but devoid of noodling, and much of it involved "fighting back" or had the names of girls in the song titles. Some of it was the same type of power-pop "punk" (sic) that became hugely popular in the late 90's and into the 21st century. Some of it was the same type of alt-country that critics have whisperingly adored since the early 90s. Some of it was simply misunderstood. misplaced, or misfired rock n' roll that in another day and age would have ripped the charts apart. No matter what the music might have been though, all of it formed the ambient background for some of our most formative years. We will be exploring the bands, the music, and the era in future blogs. However, if you want some idea of what this music was like, here are some links to a few YouTube.com videos for some of my all-time favorite songs:
The Alarm: The Stand
The Long Ryders: I Had A Dream
Big Country: Fields Of Fire
Midnight Oil: Hercules
Icicle Works: Whisper To A Scream
The Smithereens: Only A Memory
Let's Active: Waters Part
The Lords Of The New Church: Open Your Eyes
Drivin' n' Cryin' : Whiper Tames The Lion/ Powerhouse
Hoodoo Gurus: I Want You Back
OK, that's enough rockin' for today. Please re-attire your knocked-off socks and re-attach your blown-off roof and we'll see you real soon.
-Steve Fulton : firstname.lastname@example.org