First off, I think Depeche Mode is hilarious. Someone once called them the shallowest of bands and I agree -- you can't go wrong when you make things easy to understand, so easy that anyone and everyone can identify with your symbolic needs. "Master and Servant" doesn't require anything resembling intelligence to figure out that it's comparing bedroom relationships to real-world political and identity struggles -- hell, they tell you in the first line: "It's a Lot/It's a Lot/It's a Lot/It's a Lot/It's a Lot/It's a Lot/(Pause)/Like Life." Cue Dave Gahan dancing like the guy he is, prancing in his half sandal, half loafer shoes with bleached ends on his hair, arms waving around like he has St. Vitus' disease he can't shake. And I mean, he can't shake. The man cannot dance at all, but the video for Master and Servant gives him a 30 second dance break during the keyboard-noise solo. Never ones for deep, intricate thoughts, Depeche Mode gives you everything up front. Hell, even Shake the Disease, which has one of the Mode's best melodies -- scratch that -- only melodies, must pause while Martin (I used a muffin pan to make my hairstyle) Gore pleads longingly at the camera for someone to "Understand Me/Understand Me".
I once had the opportunity to have dinner with two film critics: Michael Wilmington and Bruce Kawin, and while discussing Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, we (jokingly) came up with the concept of the "Literal Metaphor" -- a metaphor that's so obvious, it's a literal reading of the visual image. Citizen Kane is full of them: Kane looms large in the shot, he's powerful. Background: he's not. I used the term a lot after that , much to Vicki Sturtevant's hilarity, but I think, like my other literary term "Verisimili-'dude' ", that it will catch on and be on t-shirts everywhere.
I digress. No, really I do.
Anyway, here's some background on the Modes: Originally, the band was a nice, happy synth-pop band who had a bench-clearing hit with "Just Can't Get Enough", but that was back when the band had Vince Clarke in it -- he who invented the "bubbly" setting on the synthesizer. You will never hear happier synths than Vince's. He eventually moved onto Yaz and Erasure, where he helped create some of the peppier synth-pop songs of all time. You know them. You sing along to them in the car: "Situation", "Only You", "A Little Respect", "Chains Of Love" and "Always", an elegy to a lover lost from AIDS. Well, an elegy in its album form. The best version is the high-NRG version, where the tempo's twice as fast, so you can bop happily along to the death rattle. His best stuff might be with The Assembly, a band with former Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey you've never heard, but that's me smart-assing. Clarke left after the first album, leaving the Modesters to have to replace him. Eventually, they did, with Alan Wilder, otherwise known as "the cute one" in DMgirl parlance (which we'll eventually get to). His keyboard did not have a "bubbly" setting on it. It did have a "suicide tone" one, though.
The Modies at the time consisted of: Martin Gore, who picked up the lyric writing slack after Clarke left, which makes the first post-Clarke album bloody awful, and does not feature Wilder, who joined to play on a tour, but who did not get to play on the album because the remaining Modes wanted to show they could get along just fine without Clarke. That's like Van Halen saying, after David Lee Roth's absence, "Oh, don't worry, Sammy. We'll get to you, but first, we're going to make a Van Halen album without you to show we can do it all by ourselves, at first." Utter, utter failure.
Dave Gahan is the singer, who joined the band after Vince Clarke saw him singing "Heroes" somewhere and went, "Ah. There's the operatic, non-tuned, ultra-low voiced singer I need to compensate for my effeminate, bubbly sounds. Fantastic." So Gahan is the voice for Martin Gore. Alan Wilder makes the music, programs the keyboards, samples the factories, and uses too much mousse -- really, the guy's later hairdos look like a pompadour crossed with that guy from Kajagoogoo's fuzzy hair. Slicked back on the sides, of course. But he is "the cute one."
And so there's Depeche Mode. Gahan sings the songs Gore writes and Wilder makes the music. But wait, you say. There are four members of Depeche Mode (three nowadays). The fourth member of the band is Andy Fletcher -- the spiky haired guy who lip-syncs with a great passion. And he should -- he's sort of the band's manager. Yes, Fletch -- as the DMgirls call him -- does the paperwork for the band. Yes, he was in the band before Gahan, and, yes, he can play some synths and some bass, but he's primarily there because four guys look better on stage than three, and to press the sequencer buttons when prompted. Gahan once noted that they should set a fax machine up for him on stage, much like the time Lester Bangs typed a review in front of a J.Geils Band audience. He's still in the band, BTW, but Wilder isn't. He got tired of inter-band problems.
So you have this strange mixture of men who make this music, and sell it really well. Fletch keeps pumping out the reissues (that's what she said) and collectibles, and the band rolls in money. But Depeche Mode always wanted to be a SERIOUS band, and that makes me laugh long and hard (see above).
Want to make me laugh? Put on a Modey video. There's something completely hilarious to me when Gahan dances, with his complete sincerity and complete inability. He's the guy people look at stunned at a disco when he prances, but he means it...his dancing. The other guys can't dance either. During the video for "Everything Counts" -- in large amounts, hey! -- the three other guys stand in a line, slightly to the side of one another and slightly move their shoulders and bodies as they all lip-sync Gore's vocals (Gore often sings the "important" lines of his lyrics, with a voice that is 27 octaves higher than Gahan's). They all resemble the kids who dance in the front row of the "Homerpalooza" episode of The Simpsons, but with less rhythm.
Even better is the video for "Master and Servant," where Gahan keeps his dancing from the other Modes, but the rest all swing on little chain swings, grab each other around the ankles to be dragged around, and have their hair fucked up in as many ways as they can: muffin, spiky, slicked-sides. They also make arm movements that either resemble bowling or reverse-cricket bowling. I'm sure one of those is correct, and mighty symbolic.
Eventually, photographer Anton Corbijn started doing their videos, and they went from ridiculous to pretentiously ridiculous. "Enjoy the Silence" is probably the typical one: the Mo-mo-modies stand intertwined in a group, their fantastic leather outfits glistening in the black and white light, and they stare into the camera as if to say: "Fuck us. Please." Then they disappear, one by one, into the nether regions (see above above). The video then consists of Gahan walking around despairing lands -- and there is some awesome cinematography in this, Corbijn is a hell of a photographer -- in his little king robe and cape in colorized color where he lip-syncs the greatest line in music history: "Words are very/Unnecessary/They can only do harm". Actually, it's "Un-nec-ce-ssary", so Gahan can get the balance right (ha,ha! D Mode joke!). It's the stupidest fucking lyric ever. And yet, the DMGirls love it. They sing along with heartfelt intensity every time. Gahan walks over tundra and blasted heath, crooning his little line all the way.
The entire verse/chorus is actually this: "All I ever wanted/All I ever needed/ Is here/In my arms/(pause)/Words are very/Un/Ne/Ce/Ssary/(short pause)/They can only do harm". Here we see a return to themes discussed in the song "Shake the Disease", only much funnier. Trudge on, Gahan.
Flashback! There used to be these things called chain record stores -- huge stores with racks of albums and cassettes, almost 1/4 of which would be filled with Depeche Mode singles, remixes, 12" singles, box sets, and the actual albums (Fletch makin' the money!) One of these chains was Sound Warehouse, which morphed into Warehouse Music, and then morphed into oblivion. I used to frequent the one on 39th and MacArthur in Warr Acres a lot, since it was on my way home from work, and because, over the course of a couple of years, three DMgirls worked there. I picked up all three.
How? To answer that question, we must first define the DMgirl. First, they love Depeche Mode. Second, they all think Dave's the singer, Alan's the cute one, Fletch is the other guy, and Martin is the guy they all want to fuck. Yup. Little ol' muffin-headed Martin, in his mascara and hot pants, was the one they all wanted to bone. And they all thought he was gay. Most everyone did. He's not. None of them are, but that wasn't known to these girls, so they loved him from afar, wishing all the while they could find someone as effeminate to help through those dark times - someone very ne-ce-ssary. I can't imagine why they'd've been attracted to me, with the long hair, skinny (once it was) bod, and big, blue eyes. I also used to talk to them, which sometimes helps. Eventually, I picked up on what they were after (star thought: I will speak of these women as though they were all working at the same time. They weren't, but it's much easier this way). I realized I could shake the disease with them (see above above above) by doing three things. Follow the rules in this order:
1. Go over and look at the Depeche Mode CD section of the store. Sire Records released a lot of their stuff on CD simultaneously, so there was a rack with Depeche Mode, Erasure, AND Book of Love on it. Pick up a CD and nod approvingly. Once sighted by the DMgirl, prepare for the questions:
"Oh, you like Depeche Mode?"
"I dance to them at the Wreck Room, and at the U-Club down in Norman."
"Oh yeah? Most guys aren't into them."
"I like to dance."
Note that at no time did I say I liked the band, or that I actually listened to them.
Look into their astonished eyes and then say, "Hey, the next time you're at the Wreck, look for me."
"I'm going there Saturday! Cool."
Exchange your phone numbers and buy something black to wear that's comfy. The work is over.
2. Now, pick a time to meet said DMgirl at the club, dress in black, get some comfortable shoes, and mousse up the hair. DMgirls almost always dress in black, but buy their stuff at mall stores, which means they wear cutting-edge black clothing from a mall.
3. Live with the fact that you are going to try and pick up a girl who will sing along to Depeche Mode lyrics while dancing, and will possibly want to listen to them while having sex. Grit teeth and press on. At least it's not Front 242.
Oh, there's a "4".
4. Shop at another Sound Warehouse until you know the girl has moved on. Music stores have high turnover rates.
Yup. I was an evil son-of-a-bitch. I took someone's music -- which they needed for their own mental health -- and used it to get some sort of sexual favor. To quote a former President: "I deeply regret that."
I've been sitting her mocking Depeche Mode all this time, but there are people out there who need their music -- who need these deep, depressing thoughts espoused in a very matter-of-fact manner -- no symbolism to cut through, no interpretation needed. Depeche Mode is shallow -- you could not drown in a Depeche Mode song, no matter what -- but sometimes you need the blunt, "I-walked-to-the-chair-and-sat-in-it" lyrics (I'm quoting Eric Weisbard here talking about Lester Bangs talking about Lou Reed's lyrics (I think)) of a band like Depeche Mode to help. They need it to have someone they can instantly understand who is talking directly to them. They have pains, and Depeche Mode helps. And I used both that music and that pain to get laid. What an ass.
So I mock Depeche Mode, because it keeps me from remembering what an ass I used to be (still am, in many ways), and because it makes me happy. It's easy to laugh to; hard to embrace, but still meaningful to some people. When one of my ex-girlfriends -- not named here -- used to dance and sing along with "Words are very/Un/Ne/Ce/Ssary", she meant it. She had some dark stuff to deal with, and she did it with Depeche Mode (see above above above above). And, for my sins, liked to have sex to them. Punishment enough for me. I haven't seen her in almost 15 years.
As an elitist ass about stuff like movies, music, blah-blah-blah, I like to think my opinions are better than the so-called mainstream audience: "How dare they not like XTC! It's better than any of that crap out there!" And, to be sure, I do think that, and can prove it using flowcharts and hustle and flow, as well. But that doesn't mean that crap can't be important and personally relevant to someone. I knew a guy who really loved Meatloaf. He sang it at karaoke, he felt it in his heart, and was mocked by everyone, including me. Not for the music, but because he sucked as a singer -- AND sang Meatloaf. But it meant something to him, and that means my mockery was of his personal life and his preferences, and the way those things were put on display. Why should what he feels, or what those girls felt, be any less important than the things I hold dear? I have no answer except to quote Muffin Man:
"The grabbing Hands/Grab all they can/All for themselves/After all". It's a solipsistic world, and I rule it. Everyone should join, and we sometimes do.
So that's the DMgirl blog. I still mock Depeche Mode, but it's because I find them silly. Someone else finds them important, and those people are the ones Fletch caters to with the constant issuing of product.
I am haunted by dark clothing.