Adam Ant proves I was born without the "fan gene"
Artwork by Chris Strouth
Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.
I have waited for a very long time for an Adam Ant show that I can actually go to, and Sunday represents just that. I have written in these pixels before of my love of Adam Ant, and his strangely profound impact on my life. My inner 14-year-old is flipping out; however my current self is looking at more of the mixed cocktail of excitement and reticence normally reserved for school reunions or long family holidays.
There must be a gene sequence deep somewhere in the human DNA code that has to do with unquestioning love. It's a gene sequence that people who are obsessive music fans have. It's owned by the people who refer to David Bowie as a god and think of all of his records as amazing -- including Hours. Or those who dedicate a good deal of their life to the Vikings -- as if they can somehow love the team enough they won't choke like a cartoon fat man eating a pork chop.
There is the old joke about "When sex is good, it's really good. When it's bad, it's still pretty good." I don't find it to be true. I have had some pretty bad pizza, and, on the rare occasion, bad sex. (Of course, that was always the other person's fault, but still it's out there.) The point is that my genetic code is missing the essential ingredient of what it takes to be a "fan."
Don't get me wrong, I love things. But there is no artist that makes me unquestionably support their every artistic decision. In fact, if I truly like an artist I think I am harder on them. They have to work all the harder to keep the status. For a long time, my "holy trinity" of rock iconography was Lou Reed, James Brown, and George Clinton
A thing I have learned through the years is that if you put something up on a pedestal, it is likely to come crashing down on you. It's a reason why it's best not to meet some of your artistic heroes. Case in point, I was 18 years old and I got to meet Lou Reed backstage at a concert. If I had a religion at the time it was worship of the Velvet Underground, and in my senior year of high school part of my daily ritual consisted of listening to Transformer every day for a year.
In true '80s fashion, I went with an 8-inch high, razor-straight flat top like a gothy Kid from Kid 'n Play, black bondage pants, and a black satin shirt that would have made the Thompson Twins jealous. Ushered into the back of a limousine to spend my two minutes with the Godfather, and he was... such an unbelievable dick. He went out of his way to make me feel uncomfortable. It took me almost a year to want to listen to the VU again. To this day, I live in mortal fear of having to meet George Clinton. I guess I just need the music to live separate from the man.
Then there is Adam Ant. I'm talking Adam "the King of the Wild Frontier" Ant, not Adam "mid-'90s, don't call it a comeback, 'Wonderful'" Ant. It's Burundi drumming and '60s Spaghetti Western guitar lines, it's sex and Steampunk, but before anyone coined Steampunk. The weird mix of sounds that should be awful, yet are so catchy and otherworldly. Ant is the embodiment of Pablo Picasso visiting Planet of the Apes.
Yet there is a certain dread in my heart, for the one band I have been waiting to see since 1982, and I blame it on Ricky Nelson. In 1972, Ricky Nelson penned his last hit song, "Garden Party," a song about him playing a '50s-era rock 'n' roll revival show the previous year at Madison Square Garden. The show had all the legends of the era getting up and doing their respective songs in the old styles with their old kit on. Nelson took the stage not in costume. He played two of his old songs followed by a Rolling Stones cover and was booed off of the stage.
"I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends
a chance to share old memories and play our songs again
when I got to the garden party, they all knew my name
No one recognized me, I didn't look the same."
It's the old style vs. substance argument -- only now from the other side. It becomes substance vs. nostalgia. As an audience we want both, but we just can't really admit it. At the original time it didn't feel like a costume, because it wasn't. But 30 years on, it's a costume. No one wants to see Elton John dressed like Captain Fantastic now, but you want to hear him play it. That's part of the fear of the Adam Ant show. I don't need to see him, now 58, dressed up like a pirate -- granted Johnny Depp is only eight years younger and still does.
In case you are wondering about the new record, Adam Ant Is the BlueBlack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter, I can tell you that on my first listen I hated it. Hate is a strong term, but I meant it. My reaction was visceral. I felt like the soundtrack of my youth had been Sha Na Na-ized, and even that was done poorly. I hated it so much that I had to listen to it again.
Artwork by Chris Strouth
That's when the surprising thing caught me: I didn't hate it. There are some lovely bits in it, and a strange bit of raw magic that's hard to find through some pretty awful engineering. It's one of those records that if someone really solid had produced it would be heralded as a sonic revelation. It hits its stride when it doesn't try and recapture the past, rather when it builds upon the legacy of it on songs like Punkyoungirl," "Vince Taylor," and even the almost Syd Barrett quality of "Viviane's Tears." It's not a great record, but it has an honesty to itself, that is sort of reminiscent of an strangely stylized Daniel Johnston and pre-liver-damage Guided by Voices.
I told you right from the get-go I don't have fan DNA. But I don't think this record is so much about the fans. It's more about an artist finding his way though the personas, and in this case the all-too-literal madness. Maybe it's about reclaiming a crown, or in this case, a three-cornered hat. Mr. Ant more so than any other pop artist outside of David Bowie has been a chameleon. He's been the hard-punk rebel, the dandy highwayman, the pop star, the movie star, the madman, and the chat show regular. Now maybe he's on the road to finding himself? To borrow from Ricky Nelson: "It's all right now, learned my lesson well. You see, ya can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself."
Adam Ant. 7 p.m., Sunday, September 1 at Mill City Nights. Info here.
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