Friday, February 20, 2009

Isn't That Specials? A Two-Tone Reunion

Last music post for a while I swear (unless they catch Ratko Mladić hiding behind a tuba in a Serbian brass band of the sort that plays at the annual Guča festival):

Terrific article in Friday's Guardian
about the upcoming reunion of one of the greatest British bands of all time: The Specials.

I am not a fan of rock band reunions -- especially 30 plus years after the heyday. (One exception, oddly enough, was The Fixx -- who were really awesome when I saw them in the late 1990s. Go figure.) And I can't quite say that I fully approve of a non-Jerry Dammers lineup.

But I'm crossing my fingers that The Specials will play a few shows over here. Because for me, they were the band that crystallized all the crazy cultural mashups I was going through in early-mid high school into something coherent.

I'd been exposed to a lot of classic rock and soul growing up in Philadelphia and its suburbs. Even older stuff via a neighbor's Jerry Blavat records. So I got the whole Quadrophenia thing in a big way. Michael Tearson's late night program on WMMR -- "Import/Export" -- (which later became "Gorilla Theater" after he pulled off a classic "fake takeover of the radio station" staright out of the movie FM) -- was pumping in some of the best stuff coming out of Britain at the time. (The big blind spot in Philly was the early New York scene. Only Talking Heads made the cut. No Television. No Voidoids. Definitely no Ramones. Too New Yawk. Blondie only later. I did get a lot of No Wave stuff like James Chance from Creem.)

All my Impulse stuff was coming from Temple University's radio station, which was playing "African American Classical Music." And Princeton's college station came through to Bucks County at night.

So you have a 15 year-old who's wandering around South Street when he can get the train into town from the suburbs -- and at the mall the rest of the time when he's not delivering newspapers -- wanting to be a mod so he can push the boundaries of his Catholic school dress code without breaking them. Not into the Jam yet. (They really had no real US presence before "Town Called Malice" and The Gift.)

Then I saw the Specials doing "Gangsters" and -- embedded at the bottom of this post -- "Too Much Too Young." It was the moment that it all fell together for me. The Specials were the coolest thing I'd ever seen on Saturday Night Live. (Yes, cooler even than Elvis Costello.) They were kids 5 years older than me who were making music with all the frenzy and cool and panache that was buzzing around inchoate in my head. It literally turned my head around. And the clothes and the antic boyish frenzy of the performance sealed the deal. So yeah, I hope they cash in over here in the sweltering summer after their British tour in spring....


Michael Tearson said...

Glad I left such a strong impression. My personal agenda doing FM radio then was to through the way I did the shows suggest if subliminally that a healthy dose of skepticism is a good, strong survival instinct. Not to simply swallow what you get spoonfed. Richard, I am delighted to see how well you got it. Harmony--michael tearson

Lives in Washington DC said...
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