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February 08, 1985 - Image 13

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1985-02-08
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b ands
Tom Verlaine
Warner Bros.
Julian Cope
Mercury/ Polygram, import
September Song/
Cockles and Mussles
Ian McCulloch
Korova/Warner Bros., import single
By Dennis Harvey
THERE WAS a few years ago (and
may well still be, for all I know) a
moderately popular club-circuit
Canadian band called Personality
Crisis. There was nothing particularly
interesting about the same-as-usual,
screamy/sloppy '77-British-punk music
the band played, but their name stuck
with me. It seemed oddly touching,
given that so many bands can't quite
figure out what they want to sound like
(and because so many people seem to
be in bands because they hope it will
define their personalities). Personality
crises often ensue when a band that has
established a solid identity breaks up,
leaving its members to integrate them-
selves intosa different ensemble or try
to brave it solo.
Debut solo albums, as a result, have a
tendency to either a.) sound "just like"
the band just left behind, only paler, or
b.) flail out in too many different direc-
tions, hoping to stumble upon a per-
sonal style by pinching a little of
everybody else's.
The former (and in one case, con-
tinuing) lead singers of Television, The
Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the
Bunnymen grapple with their variable
personality crises in solo efforts
discussed below...
TELEVISION WAS a seminal mid-
'70's NYC wave band, the sort whose

mention is now inevitably preceded by
"underground legend" and the
possession of whose albums is in-
disputably Cool-it means that you
were into the Right Music before
anyone knew what it was. Like a lot of
those early bands, the Television
produced clean, sharp, back-to-basics
pop/rock music that now seems a hell
of a lot less wierd than it did at the time.
Now it's a bit hard to remember just
why it would have sounded wierd at all.
Television members went their
separate and mostly profitable way
The most visible of them, Tom
Verlaine, has carved himself a fair-to-
middling solo career, the kind that
maintains critical cult status but not
much else. (Probably not your own ap-
artment, even, unless you give guitar
lessons on the side.) Albums like the 1982
Words from the Front are interesting
for Verlaine's eccentricity and his
always impressive guitarwork, but
they've never quite cohered into the
great record that people have always
thought Verlaine capable of.
The new Cover is pretty overall swell,
though. This time Verlaine arrives at a
consistently loopy, off-center, not-quite-
pinnable mood that makes this album
of relatively simple but eclectically
produced popsongs sound evasively
satiric. You keep listening to it to figure
out the punchline behind the bright
musical surfaces. Much of the record
sounds like early-to-mid-period, pre-
Remain in Light Talking Heads; it has
the same jangly, nervous, rather spare
feeling of experimentalism within
wilfully tight pop confines. And like
David Byrne before he gained some of
his latterday vocal confidence,
Verlaine gets past having a pretty
terrible voice by emphasizing the odd
phrase, creating intriguing quirks out
of awkwardness.
Cover also has more than a little of
the calculated oddity in lyrics and in-
strumental frills that made the term
'art school band' a pseudonym for self-
consciousness a few years ago (and
made a fair number of critics resist the
Heads until there were no excuses left
anymore). There's that peculiar NYC
performance-art jokiness going on, and
what's surprising-nostalgic,
almost-is how completely Verlaine
gets away with it. Songs like
"Travelling" and the closing "Swim"
have a spaced, bobbing-along poetic
appeal that Richard Brautigans' novels
had-a daffy simplicity that makes you
grin precisely because they may mean


nothing. Laurie Anderson can have the
same quality, but she goofs a lot by too
visibly trying for it; this type of smart-
dumb impressionism has to seem un-
calculated or else there's a potentially
fatal attack of the cutes. (Anderson also
has severely limited composing
abilities working against her.)
When Laurie Anderson sings about
Love, you know she's smirking at the
cliches, inviting those cool enough to
"get it" to share in the joke. When
Verlaine intones the fairly banal on
various songs (such as the bluntly titled
"0 Foolish Heart") on Cover, you
can't be at all sure whether you're sup-
posed to laugh or not. Infinitely
preferable. One of the generally ex-
cellent songs is called
"Dissolve/Reveal," and Verlaine stays
just on the line between those two ac-
tions. Cover has the deliciously
sustained anticipation of the moment
before someone does a magic trick,
when the wonderful thing is precisely
that you're not quite sure what's going
to happen. It may sound like a fairly
simple idea, but it's not so easy to
create such a successful personality

vehicle out of such a willfully evasive
one of the best bands to do a fast
two-step in and out of the marketplace
during the settling-into-Business period
of new wave, when U.S. companies
groped around eagerly for the latest
Big Things (especially if they happened
to be from the U.K.) and then un-
ceremoniously dumped each Thing
when they failed to sell big enough. The
Teardrop's first album Kilimanjaro
had its brief media moment, but no one
seemed to care Stateside when the
more eclectic Wilder came out in 1981.
And by then, of course, they were
having their bones gleefully picked at
by the ever-fickle British press.
The band was typed initially as part
of a "new Liverpool sound," the sort of
generalization bound to emerge when
somebody suddenly notices several
bands from the same place at the same
time. The "sound" was pretty much
imaginary-Teardrop and the other
leading newcomers, Echo and the Bun-

student body.
The regents picked a president who
they thought could lead the University
through its financial troubles and into
the 21st century. And Shapiro seems
determined to do just that.
"If you stop to think about it for a
minute, there's very little one can do as
a president that's going to have a
dramatic impact on what goes on this
afternoon at the University. Or to take a
more ridiculous example, what can I do
now to change the next hour? Well, I
can do nothing. I can run out there and
bother a few people, but I can't do
anything to really impact the Univer-
"That's a silly example to take the
next hour, but just allow your mind to
think about what I could do in the next
day or month or year, and really the
impact gets higher the farther you go
out, within some limits."
Unlike his predecessor, Robben
Fleming, Shapiro doesn't have to deal
so much with immediate problems like
the student unrest of the 1960's. The
conflict over the student code of non-
academic conduct, for example, hardly
compares with the Black Action
Movement strike of 1970.
Shapiro acknowledges that his main
concern is not with the day-to-day
machinations of the University; it is
with its long-range goals and plans. He
also points out that the turbulent '60s
were a relatively short period, so
Fleming's preoccupations were
probably very similar to Shapiro's con-
"The preoccupation is not with
today," he says. "You have to deal with
today's problems and do the best you
can with what you have today, but
you're always trying to think about
what decisions you can make that are
going to serve the University best when
you get past the short-term crisis."
"There's always a short-term crisis
of some kind. Whether it's an executive
order or a student code or a represen-
tative of the student publications board,
there's always something that's going

around that's getting people's atten-
It's this preoccupation with the future
that makes Shapiro seem inaccessible.
If he has meetings with legislators all
day to try to secure funding for a new
chemistry building, he doesn't have a
chance to just walk through the Diag
and find out what students are thinking.
He does make contact with students in
more formal meetings and at an annual
reception at his home on South Univer-
sity, but the more spontaneous meetings
just don't seem to happen.
According to Michigan Student
Assembly President Scott Page,
Shapiro occasionally has lunch with
students in his private dining room on
the first floor of the Michigan Union.
Shapiro does meet students fairly of-
ten, Page says, but he rarely gets to
know them very well. The meetings he
does have seem somewhat contrived.
Page says Shapiro's "secret room" in
the Union exemplifies his hesitancy to
meet informally with students.
"Most students rarely get a chance to
see him," he says. "I don't think he's a
student's president in the sense that
although he never turns down an in-
vitation to go eat in the dormitories, he
doesn't make it a point, either."
Shapiro has gotten awfully good at
"meeting" students - the old "good-to-
see-you-what's-your-major" line - but
he doesn't quite know how to "interact"
with them, Page says.
"I don't think he's someone you
would call a 'great guy' - someone you
would go to a ball game with."
Nancy Aronoff, a student activist who
last year participated in a surprise visit
to Shapiro's office to protest military
research, said he didn't really know
how to react to the group. "He was
scared shitless when we walked into his

office to ask him to be at a military
research forum last year," she says.
"He was so nervous."
Other administrators don't view
Shapiro in quite the same way Aronoff
does, but they do agree he doesn't like
to resolve conflict with direct confron-
Billy Frye, the University's vice
president for academic affairs and
provost, says that Shapiro has defused
a number of potentially explosive
situations. "Speaking for myself at
least, there are many times when I let
my own passion dictate, and I find when
I talk to (Shapiro) cooly, there's a dif-
ferent way of looking at the problem.
What may be in my approach just a
very damaging standoff turns out to be
a solvable problem."
When students protesting military
research held a sit-in at a laboratory
last year, Frye said, Shapiro handled
the situation in his usual manner - by
keeping tempers under control. "It was
all very dispassionate," he says.
"There was no 'This violates University
principles, so we'll throw them out.' "
But Aronoff says Shapiro's style
doesn't really help the situation. "He
talks reasonably. He's a good bureaucrat
- very polite," she says.
The biggest problem, Aronoff says, is
that Shapiro is "not willing to see the
research that's going on here as part of
a larger picture."
"He says he cares, but at the same
time he doesn't know what's going on at
the University," she says. "The fact
that he said he cares and what his ac-
tions have shown make me really won-
der if he really does care. .. He is sit-
ting by and doing nothing."
Aronoff complained that Shapiro was
oblivious to the exact nature of military
research at the University, and Shapiro

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14 Weekend/Friday, February 8, 1985


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