10-- The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. -- Thursday, December 1, 1994
Books in the '80s: broken dreams'n' lotsa drugs Order for theechoing Bunnymen9
By KIRK MILLER
The '80s were not exactly the period of literary
enlightenment. A recent informal poll of friends,
Daily staffers and classmates revealed one aston-
ishing common bond: no one actually read a book
in the 1980s. The question was simply asked,
"What was something you read or remember hear-
ing about in the world of books from the 1980s?"
I ots of blank stares.
But the '80s were more than John Hughes films,
New Wave compilations, trickle down economics
and yuppies. The literary world also had its share of
vapid, brainless, exploitive, and unintentionally
amusing encounters, most of them at the top of the
bestsellers list. It was the decade that saw the
continuation of literature as product, books as es-
sentially first drafts of potential screenplays, and
big name authors turning into the equivalent of Top
40 radio, their worth based on their sales.
One book everyone read in junior high was
"Flowers in the Attic." It was nothing more than a
gothic soap opera in print, but it was also extremely
entertaining. During the decade anything with the
name of V.C. Andrews sold millions of copies and
revived a dormant horror section. But I say "with
the name of' because Andrews actually died in
1986. Miraculously, she has continued to put out a
new bestseller every year, all surrounding rich
incestuous Aryan families living in Gothic man-
sions. It's a growing trend of the literary field;
copyright an author's name or put in large letters
"(Insert Famous Author's Name in Large Print
Here) Presents" the work of some unknown.
Although one famous woman writer died, we
were able to gleam wisdom from another '80s icon,
Vanna White. Before her marriage the subsequent
line of clothing on the Home Shopping Network,
and the Pat Sajak show fiasco, Vanna and "Wheel
of Fortune" were the stars of the decade. The hoopla
surrounding her first literary work, "Vanna Speaks,"
could be explained by its mystery. Who was the real
Vanna? What goes on in her mind when those
letters turn? How can I get a job like that?
As the world shuddered collectively in anticipa-
tory excitement, Vanna unleashed her wisdom to
the world. It was part autobiography, part how-to.
Do you know how Vanna squeezes her toothpaste?
Vanna spoke, and rest of the world ignored her;
"Vanna Speaks" became common at bargain bins.
Unfortunately, the real sales hero of the decade
happened at the very end for all the wrong reasons.
In February of 1989, as shopkeepers were still
trying to forget the Vanna fiasco, Salman Rushdie
released the most famous novel nobody ever read,
"The Satanic Verses." Somehow the Ayatollah
received an advance copy, declared it blasphemous
and in an act of good will to God put a bounty on
Rushdie's head. Millions of people proudly de-
fended Rushdie's right to free speech and put the
book on the bestsellers list, then left it unopened on
their coffee table; nobody realized they had bought
a rather deep, involving and narrowly focused piece
of literature. Rushdie was last seen on U2's "Zoo
TV" tour, probably hoping a stray bullet might take
Outside of controversy were the hip young
authors, straight out of college and ready to be the
next beat generation. Bret Easton Ellis wrote "Less
Than Zero" while attending school and became an
overnight sensation. Millions of people apparently
identified with excessive drug use among the Cali-
fornia elite. Jay McInnery covered the other coast
(New York) with the similar drug-themed "Bright
Lights, Big City," now more remembered as
Michael J. Fox's first attempt at a serious movie
and the only major novel to be written in the second
person, as in "You bought the book by the truck-
load." Along with Tama Janowitz's "Slaves of
New York" the three authors went on to write
better, more mature, very literate and serious works
that sold nothing, save for Ellis's "American
Psycho," an excellent slam on the greed of the '80s
that irked everyone and became a bestseller.
As Ellis proved, it wasn't really the content but
the controversy that made or broke a book. There
were others: the late Albert Goldman's fact-purged
bios of Elvis Presley and John Lennon brought a
new wave of trash biographies. Donald Trump had
a bestseller with "Trump: The Art of the Deal,"
which was not so much a piece of non-fiction as it
was another item he could put his name on, like
Trump Tower. There was enough good literature in
the '80s, plenty of exciting new voices and some
entertaining bestsellers, but the real storwas an
overall shift from the book as literature to the book
Continued from page 7
ers, and dance-oriented rhythms into
their newly developed sound, mostly
recognizable by Peter Hook's unmis-
takable high-end bass playing style
and Sumner's rugged guitar riffs.
In 1983, each band released yet
another masterpiece, The Bunnymen
with "Porcupine" and New Order with
"Power, Corruption and Lies." It was
here that the two directions began to
converge, as both albums seemed to
return to more conventional struc-
tures while shifting the experimental
edge towards the actual arrangements.
For "Porcupine," Echo & the
Bunnymen had chosen to dabble with
string arrangements on several of the
tracks, most notably on the album's
classic singles, "The Cutter" and "The
Back Of Love," and with exotic per-
cussion sounds on "My White Devil"
and "In Bluer Skies." But more im-
portantly, the songwriting skills of
the quartet had reached an exciting
peak. Along with the singles, songs
such as "Gods Will Be Gods," "Heads
Will Roll" and the mysterious title
track were a few of the most catchy
and energetic they would ever write.
At the same time, New Order were
developing a more cohesive, guitar
sound, while using electronic arrange-
ments more extensively than before.
For this album, New Order dropped
most of the improvisational elements
that had pervaded their earlier work.
Sumner's vocal and lyrical talents
began to bloom as well, injecting hu-
mor as well as emotion. "Power."
however, would be New Order's most
diverse album, with songs ranging
from the introspective "Leave Me
Alone," to the sugar-coated "The Vii-
lage" to the gloomy textures of
New Order had obviously been
enticed by the success of "Blue Mon-
day," which would become one of the
most imitated songs of the Euro-trash
pop scene. As a result, their next two
singles, "Thieves Like Us" and "Con-
fusion," meshed almost too well with
the mass-produced dance pop style of
the mid-'80s. They would return to
form once more with "The Perfect
Kiss" and the 1985 LP "Low Life,"
but by this point, it was clear that New
Order had lost much of the spark that
had once fueled their music.
TheBunnymen, on the other hand,
would create one more spectacular
album with "Ocean Rain." For this ,
the band chose to rely more heavily
on string arrangements, weaving them
into the melodies and harmonies of
songs rather than using them as a
strictly atmospheric tool. The band's
songwriting skills remained at their
peak, evolving beautifully with the
band's sound. As a result, every song
on "Ocean Rain" is a classic, with
each sounding as fresh today a, they
must have the day they were written.
But like New Order, Ecno & the
Bunnymen would lose their spark in
attempting to follow up their most
accomplished album. After "Ocean
Rain," Echo & The Bunnymen would
release a few more singles before
1987's back-to-basics self-titled LP,
which would be McColluch's and
Defrietas' last with the band. Ser--
geant and Pattinson attempted to con-
tinue the legacy, but after an unin-
spired rebound album entitled "Re-
verberation," no one much cared when
they briefly returned to their early
'80s form for a couple of singles and
a short tour in 1992.
Ironically, New Order's "Broth-
erhood" and Echo & the Bunnymen's
self-titled LP would end up as the
group's most influential work. Pei- 0
manly, their songwriting focus ap-
peared to shift from the idea of craft-
ing entire songs and allowing acces-
sible elements to develop naturally
out 3f those structures, to the easier,
quicker method of basing entire songs
around one or two catchy hooks.
Now, it seems that the skill that
these bands once employed in craft-
ing their songs has become some-
thing of a lost art. Fortunately, the
incredible staying power and time-
lessness of Echo & the Bunnymen
and New Order's music manages to
keep it fresh and interesting.
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