Sunday, September 19, 2010


Earlier, I was talking about the Dream Syndicate, and how seminal they were for me. Of course, there were other bands that were seminal for me- bands like the Clash, Black Flag, Agent Orange, TSOL, MIA, 7 Seconds, The Dils, Los Plugz, Z'Ev, Christian Death, Joy Division, Wire, The Effigies, Big Black, Die Kreuzen and Killing Joke. Today, I'm writing about another band, The Chameleons, and the story is part of why I'm writing about them.
There is a lost path to people today. I think the new paths are better, but that still means this bears explaining. If you were a freak, as opposed to a hippie, punk, hesher, or anything remotely mainstream, like me you had to learn certain skills. The first was mastery of thrift stores, and bargain bins. You had to teach yourself how to find things that would hold your interest in the things that failed to hold the interest of your better adjusted peers. There could be no guidepost, because you already knew about yourself that you couldn't feign the interest others had at more readily available tastes. Maybe you were a freak because of bizarre habits, or maybe because you had a vision, there was no way to tell. For example, I had nothing against religion or government, per se- I wasn't trying to defy either. I simply could not adapt. I thought Ronald Reagan was a vile man, and I found the notion of a pope absurd. I simply was looking for something better. I got shunned and I got attacked for not seeing other people's views as better than my own, and so I learned to be defiant, but I'm not defiant by nature. (When I did rebel it was to be a socialist, not an Anarchist; the difference was that I believed then, as I do now, in the power of a society. I'm not enough of an individualist to believe in the necessity of Anarchy). So, I had the habit of combing through the discount bins. As in, I would be more likely to find something good not just at the regular thrift store- no, I'd head for the stuff that the thrift store couldn't sell, easily. That's where I found The Chameleons' Script of the Bridge- selling for 10 cents, in 1987, in a thrift store discard bin in Prescott, Arizona. So, I can safely say, I'm probably the only fan the band had in Northern Arizona. The copy I got was a promotional copy that was still sealed. No one, and I do mean no one was willing to take a chance on this thing. So, it was for me.
I brought it home, and the liner notes were the first thing to catch me. They were intimate, and familiar - like a letter from a friend. I was intrigued by this, and so I put the record on. There were many records that I wouldn't even play- I just got them because the cover was funny or cool, or strange. I was immediately hooked.The music had the martial regimentation that I liked in New Wave bands like Joy Division and Killing joke, but it was lush and layered in an almost pastoral way that was unfamiliar. It was like what would later get called "dream pop" or "shoegazer", but with a new wave 4/4 tom tom beat. It had elements of Ennio Morricone's soundtracks, but without sounding nostalgic. It had elements of Television's dual guitar interplay (as opposed to the more heavy metal concept of duelling guitars)but it clearly wasn't improvised. To cast a 21st century look back, imagine if Pelican were trying to play Psychedelic Furs songs, in collaboration with Interpol. That's why it was so seminal to me- in the late 1980's, all alone, and freakish, I had a note from the 21st century, and it was warm and inviting- friendly, even. It was like the heart warming letter you hope to find in your father's things, after he passes on, telling you that you'll be set up ok by the time you're his age- only finding that letter 25 years before he could have possibly written it.
Less poetically, The Chameleons use the same reverb-heavy production familiar to fans of 1980's post-punk (easily up there with Simple Minds, or Sisters of Mercy, if not up to U2 or Big Country's echo-abuse) combined with the icy cold synths of say Caberet Voltaire or Human League, and then add a very light folk touch, like The Waterboys or New Model Army- but then remove quite a bit of the gothic pretension- they're not trying to be dark like Sisters of Mercy or Bauhaus- and replacing it with a lyrical romantic woundedness. What I mean is that unlike, say, Christian Death, this isn't music about Scary Monsters and Super Creeps; it's more or less about teenage angst and alienation, pretty much directly. The melodies are simple and anthemic, and Mark Burgess' voice is husky, and pleading, if off key on the higher notes ( not entirely unlike Ian Curtis, but not as sonorous).

Finding that Chameleons record really was a seminal event for me- it validated my chosen path of finding things of value in the discarded that are greater than things which others covet. It introduced me to epic sweeping vistas of music I wouldn't otherwise have found. It gave me a secret key to music to come ( I listened to the Shoegazer, dream pop, post-rock, and Nugazer fads through the filter of the Chameleons- because all of those scenes share sonics with one or another Chameleons songs) and it literally spoke to my then-present as a really alienated young man. If you're lucky, your musical forefathers did the same for you.

Just tell them I was....

I've been doing the blog thing since 1997, you'd think I'd be better at it, by now. However, the first blog with this name was at Vox, which is now going under. I don't like retreading, so I'm not going to import all those posts, but if you liked something I wrote between 2007-2010, you might want to go over there and save it, or whatever. Here's the first post, cut and pasted, just to prove I was there:
I've got no idea
Mar 6, 2007 Post a comment
This might be a first post, a last post, an only post, an outpost, I don't know. I'm just seeing if I like Vox.