23 February 2004

shuffle: dexys midnight runners, "plan b"

what i love about this format is that it allows me to write about things that i've always intended to write about, but, for whatever reason, i had neglected to. in a way, it functions like the radio: at this point, when i have so much music that i sometimes have difficulty navigating through it, skipping through radio stations reminds me about songs that i've loved, that i've wanted to sing along to, but due to sheer volume i've been unable to find.

hearing the opening of "plan b" -- "you've always been searching for something..." -- provides me with that moment of recognition: here is the last band to change my life, a band i've written far too little about. eternal thanks, for many things, really, goes to tom for introducing to this yank the idea that dexys were more, much more, than one song.

i can't say that i actually remember "come on eileen." i allowed myself to be tricked into thinking i did by the spate of totally 80s commercials that undoubtedly always featured a band of ruffians in overalls called dexys something something singing "come on eileen," before a jump cut into "der kommisar." and so following the syllogism that one-hit wonders = bad; dexys = one-hit wonder; dexys = bad, i bore a systematic grudge against them.

and then one day, tom talked about "the occasional flicker" and about dexys in general, and i gave them a chance. that song was quite unlike anything else i ever heard -- until i picked up don't stand me down. dexys was more than just the records they released; they were, like, a theory. i don't think america generally likes bands with ideas: put out records, play live, pose for photos, but no manifestos, please. let the press manufacture your legend; don't try to build one yourself.

someone correct me if i'm wrong here, but it seems to me that dexys may have been the first band of importance to emerge fully-formed, with ideas about everything from their message to their look to their 45 sleeves. true, punk definitely had a look, but i think that's more general (unless, of course, sex pistols fans looked markedly different than, say, damned fans). and glam artists, as individuals, cultivated their images -- but did they transcend their physical appearance and their press photos? maybe roxy music, but i don't know if ferry was as articulate about roxy as kevin rowland was -- and, thankfully, is -- about dexys. every aspect of the band was contrived for maximum effect, and i think one of the band's great triumphs was to give contrivance a very positive connotation. even more impressive: to turn affectation and mannerism (and, later, many other things), terms that would seem to be the antithesis of the genre, into soul music.

this weekend, i brought searching for the young soul rebels to work. i played it in our back room while i was opening stock. a younger co-worker asked who it was and was surprised by the answer. he's a big morrissey fan like many kids his age are and so, in trying to dispel his notions, i described dexys as "the smiths if they were a street gang": dexys kicked down doors, whereas the smiths and morrissey (who had to be influenced by kevin) were more about hiding behind them. listening to "plan b," i still hear a band who want to change the world; with someone as defiant and as unyielding, i can't believe he ever formulated a contingency plan.

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