Urgh! A Music Story

Once upon a time, my grandmother had a magnificent Curtis Mathis Entertainment Center, not too unlike this one.  Sometime around 1985, the television set inside gave up the ghost.  My mom took it to the Curtis Mathis shop in Garland, Texas where they replaced the tube inside with a free-standing television.  It looked like shit, but it worked.  But that’s not what’s important here.  What’s important is that, for some bizarre reason, this shop also rented VHS tapes.  They had a small selection compared to many of the other video rental stores (this was before Blockbuster made everything suck,) but whoever bought their selection had what was, for Garland, Texas, eccentric taste.

Some strange twist of fate had my family stopping in to pick up the refurbished television after spending a miserably hot and rainy day at the renaissance faire.  I shit you not.  So imagine my surprise when I find Urgh! A Music War and an entire Gary Numan concert and at least half a dozen other things I want to rent.  I nearly peed my new wave pants.

Now, Urgh! was far from perfect.  I picked it up because it had The Police, Gary Numan, the Dead Kennedys and Echo & the Bunnymen on it.  But there was a whole lot of crap to wade through to get to the good stuff.  Thankfully, with VHS technology, you could watch and fast-forward at the same time, allowing you to skip through the Toyah Wilcox, The Fleshtones, Joan Jett, and Skafish.  In addition to the great performances by the bands I already knew, Urgh! turned me on to several bands I’d never heard of.

I had no idea what “Enola Gay” was at the time (thank you, Texas public education) but I was completely enthralled with OMD’s synth pop.  Their first couple of records still sound ahead of their time.

The 40-year old me is still baffled by Klaus Nomi, so just imagine what the 15-year old me made of him.  I wasn’t at all into the music, but I found him to be a completely magnetic, compelling performer and must have watched this clip a dozen times.

Speaking of baffling, I didn’t know what to make of Pere Ubu the first time I watched Urgh!  But unlike Klaus Nomi, I liked the music and bought the excellent Dub Housing not long after.  True story: I met Dave Thomas at the first record store I ever worked at. He’s a big guy and it was summer in Texas.  He came in with the label lackey, dressed in a gargantuan trench coat and sweating more profusely than he is in the above clip.  It was weird and thrilling, not unlike the first two Pere Ubu records.

The Au Pairs never got the recognition they deserved.  They should be up there with Gang of Four and Television Personalities.

Speaking of Gang of Four, this was my first exposure to them.  Unfortunately, I wouldn’t discover their classic album, Entertainment!, for several more years.

I had, of course, heard of The Cramps before seeing this.  Every truly invested punk rock kid I knew had either a Bad Music For Bad People shirt or sticker on their notebook or skateboard.  But when I first saw this, my first thought was, “hey…this isn’t punk rock.”  I mean, not in the way Dead Kennedys or Black Flag or Suicidal Tendencies were punk rock.  I wasn’t sure what it was, but I liked it.  All these years later, two of the top five best live shows I’ve ever seen were Cramps shows and that clip doesn’t come close to doing the live experience justice.  The fact they aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a crime against unconventional wisdom.



Filed under Counterculture, Music, Sound + Vision

2 responses to “Urgh! A Music Story

  1. Gang of Four was one that I was also late to appreciate. I picked up an LP of Entertainment! in 1990 or so… Around that time I had read an interview with Steve Albini from the band, Big Black, and the interviewer asked him a particularly caustic question “So, who did you rip off?”… And I was surprised by how casually he took the question when he just said, Gang of Four and Suicide.

  2. It took multiple viewings for me to come around to Gang of Four and a few of the others here. I was a big Echo & the Bunnymen and Police fan and liked the DKs and a few of the others. Sometimes it takes a few passes for something to catch. I guess the point I keep grasping at here is simply– Where can I go these days to get turned on to new stuff? Is there anything close to 120 Minutes or Urgh! where I could watch or listen to a few hours of a program and maybe not dig all of, but at least it would be interesting? There are a few tastemaker/kingmaker DJs here in L.A. that I listen to every now and then, but nothing so compelling that I would actually set time aside to dig it.

    Steve Albini always gave great interviews. I need to look up the one Ande turned me on to four hundred years ago that never failed to make me laugh hysterically.

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