Spandau Ballet Return To US for SXSW Premier Of New Film

It was an odd decision for the uber-European Spandau Ballet to pick Austin, Texas, a town in which they had previously never even performed, to launch a bid for a stateside comeback. But at SXSW on Wednesday, the new career-spanning documentary, “Soul Boys of the Western World” premiered before an enthusiastic crowd at the downtown Paramount Theatre, the film features footage of all the major players on the British pop scene of the time, including the three acts that Spandau songwriter/guitarist Gary Kemp viewed as their top competitors: Culture Club, Wham! and Duran Duran.

“Soul Boys” follows the fledgling five piece from their humble punk-era origins in London through several name changes before finally settling on “Spandau Ballet,” two words of graffiti scrawled in a Berlin toilet which referred to the death throes of prisoners hung at the nearby Spandau Prison. Once the band had a record deal in place, a Top 5 UK hit came immediately with “To Cut a Long Story Short,” a short, punchy number which captured the flash of the then-burgeoning and actually quite avant-garde New Romantic movement (which had a significant influence on the fashion world, and still does to this day). Numerous singles followed, with varying degrees of chart success, until massive international stardom arrived, as we now know, in 1983 in the form of “True”.

Film director George Hencken does a deft job of bringing Spandau’s heyday to life, paring down over 250 hours of material to only the choicest concert footage, Top of the Pops and MTV appearances, and ’80s-specific newsreels of Margaret Thatcher’s time in Parliament for context. The band were too busy living the high life to be overly concerned with politics, at one point in the film even admitting their concern over how the Falklands War would impact a single’s chart position.

After “True” where could it go but down? The scenes of the early days of the “True” world tour is pure youthful frivolity, with the lads parading their tanned chests and blond highlights poolside. But the pop treadmill has a way of wearing a young dandy down and soon members are being a bit too candid in front of the camera and the inevitable grievances about band royalties begin to cut away at Spandau’s solid gold armor. By the close of the 1980s, the band had split, and in 1999 various factions of the group were appearing in court, battling over royalties.

Following the premiere, the reformed band played a SXSW showcase at Vulcan Gas Company, trotting out classics like “Chant No. 1”, “Lifeline” and “Gold.” A full Stateside assault is also in the works.

Fern Bar Fridays: Boy George, He Comes and He Goes

Welcome to Fern Bar Fridays, a lighthearted romp (is there any other kind?) through a decade of cool music and even cooler drinks. The fern bar era, which roughly spanned 1975-1985, was filled with giant lapels and ties (and then later teeny tiny lapels and ties), ridiculous drinks, and sweet sounds. Every Friday we’ll bring you a song and drink pairing emblematic of that delightful time to help you get the weekend started off on the right loafer-sans-sock-shod foot. This week, dress up your white dreads with Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon.”

This week, it’s time to fire up our Delorean time machine and leave the paleofern era behind as we cruise into the mesofern era, by way of 1870 Mississippi. I’m talking, of course, about "Karma Chameleon" by the Culture Club, which holds the distinction of being our first produced music video, rather than a live performance, featured in Fern Bar Fridays.

And oh what a video! A thieving pickpocket! (Who is utterly lacking in the subtlety for which that profession is generally known!) Can-can girls in desperate need of a more skilled choreographer! Riverboat gambling! The aforementioned thieving pickpocket forced to walk the plank at parasol-point! A terrifying glimpse into the mind of Boy George, isn’t it? (Actually a menagerie of parasols and pickpockets is pretty much exactly how I imagine the interior of Boy George’s brain looking.)

Funny, too, that they were familiar with the Courteney Cox dance in Reconstructionist Mississippi.

Now then, I do need to acknowledge that "Karma Chameleon" isn’t the ferniest song in the Culture Club catalogue—that honor goes to "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" but we’ve all seen The Wedding Singer and I’m sure I speak on behalf of all of humankind when I say that if I never hear that song again it won’t be a day too soon. HOWEVER. While we’re on the topic of "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" we should detour for a spell to talk about the inspiration for that song, as well as for some of the lyrics heard in "Karma Chameleon" because oooh la la did you know that Culture Club was basically the Fleetwood Mac of the ’80s in that there was some serious intra-band hanky-panky going on? I know, such fun! We’re big proponents of any and all forms of hanky-panky down at Rita’s, the imaginary fern bar that exists in my head.

The story goes like this: in the early ‘80s, during the height of the band’s popularity, Boy George and Jon Moss, the band’s drummer, were entangled in a complicated love affair that Boy George claims led to the band’s 1986 split. In retrospect, it seems much more likely that Boy’s heroin habit and raging narcissism played the leading role in the dissolution of the band, but let’s not quibble over minor details when we could be gasping and heaving from our shared admiration of the brass balls it took for a British man to frolic around the globe sporting a set of beribboned cornrows. (While I have you, a wee rant: there are a million sites out there offering hair and beauty advice, how can there be such a terrible lack of Boy George hair tutorials? I WANT AUTHENTIC ’80s-STYLE FANCIFUL BRAIDS.)

In honor of George and his multi-colored hairdo, this week we’re getting fancy with our drink selection, opting for what’s known as a "layered drink" or "pousse-café" and good Frond in heaven I’m about to pass out from loving the term "pousse-café" so much. The particular pousse-café I selected to go along with "Karma Chameleon" is called the Mexican Flag, which doesn’t much parse until you consider that its layers are…wait for it…RED, GOLD, AND GREEN!!!!!

I know, I’m completely ridiculous, but are you having fun? Yes, you are! And you’ll be having even more fun when you’ve sucked back one of these babies.

Mexican Flag

1 oz grenadine
1 oz green creme de menthe
1 oz tequila

First, fill the bottom of a highball glass with grenadine to form the first layer. Next, pour the creme de menthe in over the back of a spoon so as to prevent it from mixing with the grenadine. Finally, pour in the tequila.

Wait no, those instructions aren’t right! It should read, "Pour in the tequila. Finally, DRINK. Then order another! And maybe another! And then vomit red, gold and green all over the bar, turn to the bartender and say, dryly, ‘My colors are like your dreams.’"

Culture Clubbed, Communities Bored

As I look at things from across the river, it becomes more and more obvious that downtown culture will merely be a warm, nostalgic conversation piece in just a few years. As rumored and reported everywhere, the closing of such places as Max Fish, Pink Pony, and the threat to Mars Bar are just a few more nails in our cultural coffin. At this point, downtown nightlife doesn’t seem to be doing much more than going through predictable motions. Even though it fell way short of it’s dreams, life as we (creatures of black leather and forced sunrises) know it probably had its last fling when Collective Hardware roared. At least they tried. News comes of a return of Culture Club, that Jersey-Shore-in-Manhattan, theme-scene nightspot. This joint, famous for the hair do’s and don’t of its patrons and it’s classless kitschy décor, will occupy the former 39th Street home of Speed, a club that couldn’t close fast enough. Over the years I’ve looked at the space with operators who saw it as a gay club, a dance club, and a hybrid model/bottle house space. One gentleman caller saw it as a sort of midtown Soho House. In the end, a combination of high rent and community board frowning tempered interest.

Robert Watman is the main man here. He was reported to describe the Culture Club experience as follows: “Good, clean fun” and “It’s a safe, easy place, non-threatening.” Having opened 30 joints in 30 years, Mr Watman says, “It’s not my first rodeo.” His liquor license was approved unanimously by the Public Safety Committee of Midtown’s Community Board 5. It’s ironic that the loudest objections come from the neighboring Elite Day Spa. A day spa complaining about a nightlife spot seems to be a reach, as the two should be operating at very different hours. Maybe it’s the “elite” thing, as Culture Club promises to be anything but.

I have no objections to Culture Club. It’s a sort of “is what it is” place. The problem is that the Disneyfication of Times Square, hotly debated years ago, has become a city-wide cancer. Good clean fun in safe, easy, non threatening places is getting fast-tracked, while anything edgy is struggling to survive, or get a license to operate. The same goes for the new Bowlmor in Times Square. It’s absolutely wonderful, and is to be celebrated, but it must be understood that they are paying a rent equal to my neighborhood. They are, to their credit, providing much needed jobs, and are excellent at providing good “clean fun.” With 50 lanes and a better location, Bowlmor seems to be in a position to take out Lucky Strike Lanes on 42nd street and 12th (or is it 16th?) Avenue. It’s so far west you feel like you’re in Colorado. Bowling at the new Times Square Bowlmor will cost me and mine about 70 bucks an hour on the weekend, and 60 during the week. A cheeseburger will run me 13 bucks. You do the math. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Vegas everywhere I go. Except in Times Square, where the hookers have been banished. New York seems destined to become a Disneyfied Vegas.

Both the Culture Club and Bowlmor are banking on the bankers and other normal, routine types that live in the hampster habitats built for them over the last decade. The crossing of our great river divides all the peeps who used to be called “Bridge and Tunnel” into the high-rent high rises in our beloved hoods. Over time, franchise stores that catered to these non-trendy types displaced low-rent boutiques and mom-and-pop places that made our streets quaint and hip and unique. The chain stores followed the Starbucks, and soon Brooklyn was our only hope. The tantrum thrown by locals over the new Duane Reade, which opened on Bedford Avenue, seems silly until you realize what it will eventually bring.

The opening of Culture Club shows New York culture in its worse possible light. Tourists, a revenue stream that will keep this joint, Bowlmor, and the entire city afloat, will get their “New York experience” without ever meeting a New Yorker (who isn’t serving them). From their hotels, to Broadway shows, to the landmarks, they will be hanging out with people from all over the world, but none from here. We are designing our “New York” to cater to their needs, and losing our edge in the process. Just as buildings have a Landmark committee, culture certainly needs one. Maybe developers must preserve the Mars Bar just as it is, with its wonderful warts and all, if they are going to be allowed to build up 12 stories. Maybe the community boards must realize that if they don’t allow the edge to survive, they’ll just be left with communities bored.