Depeche Mode Gave Me Writer’s Block But Oh So Much More

DKEFFpGXkAAWL79.jpg-largeAfter seeing Depeche Mode in Nashville last September, I immediately started thinking about how I would write about the experience. The more I thought about it, the more I doubted I could even begin to do it justice. So I guess I’m going to try…

In previous posts, I’ve written about how much I’ve loved DM since I was a teenager in the 80s. I’ve only loved a few bands that long, but Depeche Mode is the one that I’ve always gone back to time and again for nearly 30 years. Yet until last year, I had never seen them live.

To many fans, this is crazy. There are “Devotees” who follow them around the world when they tour, have every album and single release, have met the band, pay who knows how much for VIP experiences, etc. I’ve been observing some of the fandom on social media, and that’s the general gist of what it means to be a fan, it seems. (And by the way, the DM fandom – jesus – that’s perhaps a blog post for another day. It’s – intense).

As much of a music fan that I am, I haven’t been to many concerts since college. DM generally visits cities that were a good drive away from wherever I lived, so besides ticket prices, the cost would include hotel, gas, food, etc. And let’s just say that because I spent several years in grad school and several years trying to make ends meet with teaching, funds have been limited most of the time. But besides that, when you’re concerned about swinging that car payment and figuring out how to afford to go to the doctor so you CAN go to that job every day, the thought of going to concerts and getting into that “biggest fan” loop doesn’t seem to be a priority.

For a long time, my CD copies of 101ViolatorMusic for the Masses, and Black Celebration were “all I ever wanted, all I ever needed.” I know those albums through and through. They’ve helped me though many a rough patch. For so long a “Black Celebration” was the only kind I seemed to be able to muster – taking things one day at a time and finding solace in the midst of the confusion and anguish of every day life. “Waiting for the Night to Come” was often my lullaby at the end of a day that seemed to stretch me beyond my emotional limits. The songs on those albums have linked my best friend Debi and I over the course of our friendship since the mid 80s. She was with me when I bought the 12″ single of “Personal Jesus,” which I am proud to say I still own, even though I didn’t have a turntable for about 20 years.

I’ve been filling in the blanks in my DM record collection, which has convinced me all the more that their music is the soundtrack to my life. Violator, though, is the special one, not only because it’s a solid collection of songs, but also because it came out before anything really bad happened to me. So tied up in that bone-deep love are the carefree experiences of my younger years and indelible scars that altered who I might have otherwise become. I’m sure people connect with many other musicians or bands for that reason, but DM songs have that mixture of deep pain and whimsy and optimism that seem to mirror my mind.

I’m now lucky enough to have a teaching job that gives me some room to breathe financially, so I was able to swing a ticket to see Depeche in Nashville on September 18, 2017. I met my best friend there (she said she was taking a ride, but not with her best friend, to go see them). We made a side trip to Third Man Records, another mecca for me.

Because it’s how I roll, I worried a bit about the evening. The show was at an amphitheater, so I obsessively checked the forecast for a week. The venue is on a river, so I worried that it would be unbearably humid, as it was already quite hot, and mosquitos love to feast on my blood. I worried about parking, and the lines to get in, and pretty much anything else I could think of.

I needn’t have worried.

I didn’t get one mosquito bite. The lights of the Nashville skyline to the left and the lighted bridge on the right framed the stage, a light breeze kept us cool, and no one crowded us. Debi brought some stadium seat things, but I stood and danced and sang the entire time. I was lost in the moment, from the time I spotted Martin stepping onto stage (at which time I lost feeling in my entire body and my head imploded temporarily and my knees shook), to the first sight of Dave slinking up between the screens to start singing “Going Backwards.” Every song they played shook my body and soul to the core as I experienced years of memories and emotions long forgotten. I teared up during Martin’s solos (“Somebody,” “A Question of Lust,” and “Home”). A surprise was that although I hadn’t much cared for “Wrong,” it sounded so good live that I changed my mind. I’d forgotten how much a visceral experience live music is – you feel it all the more, and the fact that the human beings making the music are just in front of you – there’s no feeling like it.

Two further highlights – as when I first saw them cover David Bowie’s “Heroes” during a show early in the tour, courtesy of YouTube, I cried a little. Debi said she could feel the emotions emanating from me. I sang my heart out and felt my soul soar beyond the confines of my self, my cares, my worries.

And of course, I was honored to become part of the 30-year tradition of millions upon millions of people waving their arms to “Never Let Me Down Again.” It’s one of the first times I can remember wanting to conform, wanting to be part of a crowd, because all of those arms that have waved belong to people who share a deep connection to the more than 200 songs that Martin has written and the several that Dave his penned as well.


A moment during “Heroes,” framed by the Nashville skyline

My pictures are above. I wish I could have been closer. I’m sure it would have been a better experience, but I reminded myself that I was damn lucky to be able to go in the first place. And I was there. With them. Writing this now, I’m verklempt all over again.

I’ve made a promise to myself to see more live music. I saw the Killers in January, and I expect to see some shows this summer when I’ll be in England for six weeks. I think I have Depeche Mode for reminding me to live again.


On Not Playing It Cool

The big event of my Spring Break was a trip to Atlanta, Georgia, which is a quick trip up the interstate for me. My friends James and Taylor and I sang along to Madonna’s Immaculate Collection most of the way, complete with sick car dance moves. I showed off my cabbage patch, and we told Papa not to preach because we are keeping our food babies.
Our first stop was lunch at The Vortex, my favorite bar and grill that’s shaped like a skull.


The camera didn’t pick up the body glitter I was wearing. 

It’s in the Little Five Points area, my favorite neighborhood in Atlanta. They have fantastic burgers, including one called the Quadruple Coronary Bypass at a price of $79.95 and possibly more, depending on your ER co-pay. I had the regular old $9 burger and a couple of generous pints.

We visited Junkman’s Daughter, a vintage clothing and tchotchke shop where you can pick up a bottle of bacon soda, a pink wig, local art, a variety of band and other t-shirts, saint candles with Morrissey or Amy Winehouse, etc. Up the staircase shaped like a stiletto are some pretty funktabulous shoes.

Of course me being me, and knowing that my buddies are also quite into music, I had plans to visit Criminal Records and another record store I couldn’t remember the name of until we were there, Wax n Facts. I was disappointed that I didn’t find any used Depeche Mode or Martin Gore on vinyl. I did pick up a copy of DM’s Exciter on vinyl, a new 180g remaster version, because why not? I found a Son Volt LP and a Bill Frisell CD for a colleague. (We hunt for each other when we’re digging – he found an original US copy of DM’s Black Celebration during his Spring Break travels this week. *This means that I will have four different versions/formats of that album!)

But this is the real highlight, besides going to IKEA and finally getting the shelves that are the right size for LPs. Criminal Records has a good collection of signed albums and even a gold album or two. But this is what I spotted after having been in the shop for a while.


It’s Depeche Mode’s Violator signed by all four members. I gasped so loud and when I turned around to get my friends’ attention, the other people in the store were staring at me. James and Taylor came over and about all I could say was “Look! Oh my god. It’s signed. By all of them. Look!” I assume someone got those signatures on the World Violation Tour because they played Atlanta on that tour. (One of my friends who’s from Georgia went to it and she even had the nerve to show me her tour t-shirt).

I tried to reach up just to touch it/faith, but of course they have the memorabilia up high enough that customers can’t get to them. I just stood there for a while. I even teared up. My heart fluttered. James wondered if they were for sale. I said I didn’t think so. Or maybe I just shook my head, I dunno.

Eventually I tore myself away from it and when I paid for my purchases, James whispered, “Do you want me to ask if it’s for sale?” He could tell I was dying but too shy to ask. I said no because I doubted it was, and doubted I could pay what they wanted if it were. But then I mustered up the courage to ask the very cool dude ringing us up, and he said no with a half grin. Or smirk.

But I was about three feet away from an item that Depeche Mode had touched. I’m still emotional.

There are moments in life when it’s absolutely pointless to play it cool. Yesterday at about 4:01:21 p.m. Eastern time, I was completely uncool and it felt fantastic.

Music and Emotion: A Research Project


In the composition courses I teach, I choose a very broad theme for the semester, and students develop a research project related to that theme. I’ve done popular culture once and happiness twice. In all three of those semesters, a handful of students have researched and written about music, and much of their research is fascinating. I love learning from my students. A few weeks ago, when discussing an article about music, I was inspired to track down some good reading about music and how it affects us psychologically. I ran across Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain on Music, originally published in 2006. What caught my eye was that he addresses why the music we listen to in our adolescence is so influential on us for the rest of our lives. I’m also very interested in how music affects us psychologically – how it can be therapeutic in a clinical sense, but also what happens to our minds and bodies when we listen to tunes we love.

Related to this is my more specific research interest, gendered experiences and emotional expressions of our love for music. If you’ve read some of my prior blog posts, you know that this is something that has been on my mind for a while. It’s partly inspired by my observations of the interactions on a Facebook group wherein people post what music they’re listening to. For the most part I enjoy it, and I can say that if I see something I don’t like, I scroll past without commenting. The same can’t be said for many of those folks. But my main observation is that the group, or at least the ones who post, are, I would estimate, 95% male. My other observation is that the more obscure the record, the more interactions the post garners. That is, unless, it’s a classic such as The Clash’s London Calling. (Secondary to this observation is that guitar rock rules. Pop is ignored at best. Electronic is okay only if it’s Throbbing Gristle or Einstürzende Neubauten, etc.).

Mostly I think about how taste is subjective, and I don’t fret too much about what others enjoy. I can’t imagine developing a deep love for death metal, but to each his or her own. I also want to shout from a post “IT’S ALL A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT!”

But I think there’s something to the gender question. Obviously, music that young women love with every fibre of their being is always dismissed. Yet where would the Beatles have been without Beatlemania? But I’m interested in what are “acceptable” demonstrations of fandom or the love of music. I have a theory that needs to be informed by more reading and research, and I’m hoping to plug away at it in the next few months.


Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore of Depeche Mode 

I’ll likely suspend the project this summer because I’ll be teaching in London for six weeks this summer. I plan to make a trip to Manchester to see some Factory records, Smiths, Stone Roses, etc. sites. I’ll seek out old sites where punk meccas once stood. And you might not be surprised to know that I will take a trip to Basildon, where Martin Gore,   Andy Fletcher, and Dave Gahan are from.  I will be as delighted as a giggly teenage girl to visit that town. If you know of any locations I need to put on my list, please let me know!

Also, feel free to share your thoughts about the gender and music appreciation question. (Without mansplaining! LOLOLOLOL. Kidding not kidding).

Also, to be meta for a moment, it seems my interest in music history and the science behind it, and the fact that I’ve been reading about and enjoying a wide variety of music since I was a teenager supports the thesis that what girls like and how we express it is valid as hell.

Sound System Is a Go


I finally did it. I upgraded from my not-so-good record player (from mom and dad) and invested in this 1970s-era Kenwood turntable. A colleague has had it for a while, did some tinkering and put a new cartridge on it, and I brought it home a few weeks ago.

I also took in advice from a variety of sources about receivers and speakers and purchased fairly inexpensive equipment that had good reviews generally. Much to my surprise (and with a little frustration), I cut and ran speaker wire, hooked it all up with various cables, including to my television, and IT WORKED THE VERY FIRST TIME. No revisions. I actually did a double fist-pump in the air with a loud “YES!” I felt pretty macho.

The first play was as pictured above – I’m deeply in love with the “Behind the Wheel” Beatmasters mix and recently acquired this one. The system sounds great, and I can’t believe I waited so long and listened to music on equipment that just was not good quality. And realistically, I could have a waaaaaaayyyyy better system if my budget permitted. But I have hearing loss in one ear anyway, so it’s probably just as well. (I like to say it’s from being at the front/in the pit at concerts in college, but it’s probably old age or whatever).

tnjYtK0zRTOr3tA5Q3KFYQToday, I went to an antique store on a whim, and I got a 1989 JVC CD player for $35. Single drawer, but it works just great. I’d been wishing I had the funds to get a CD player, but I do try to be a responsible adult sometimes and decided to wait. Fortunately, I found a way around that, as I often do.

I’ve pretty much only been listening to music and watching concerts for about a year, no tv and rarely a movie. It makes sense that I put together a nice little system that makes me happy every single day. Besides, Depeche Mode* deserve a good sound.

*I promise I won’t only write about DM. It will be difficult, but I will do my best. On the other hand, if you want more posts on DM, I can make that happen.

Wake Up, Kids: It’s BDSM Time!

These days, nothing delights me more than going down a YouTube black hole and discovering oddball treasures that I’d never have guessed could possibly exist. Today, I took a break from my  Labor Day teaching prep, er, labor and dug around on YouTube for some Depeche Mode videos I haven’t seen yet (I’ve somehow managed to see loads of DM videos lately). I decided to explore the band’s activity in 1986 and found this (which actually happened in 1985). THIS!

The band is performing on the British television show Wide Awake Club, a kids’ show. Yes. A show for kids. Depeche performed “Master and Servant” and the less racy “Shake the Disease.” Young viewers learned that Saturday how S&M is a metaphor for life. DOMINATION’S THE NAME OF THE GAME, KIDS!

I’m pretty sure nothing this fantastically inappropriate happened on any kids’ shows I ever watched in the US. If only they’d appeared on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. . .

Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” – Favorite Songs of the 80s

The 80s truly began on January 5, 1981, when the Drum Break to End All Drum Breaks, in Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” hit the airwaves. Okay, that’s really not true, but the single, released ahead of his debut solo album, Face Value, saw a good run on the singles charts and set up Collins for a run of hits throughout the “Decade of Greed.” Of course, critics and the general population struck back, constructing Collins as the annoying pop Regular Joe ex-prog rocker whose braying ballads and insipid pop tunes represented the worst of the 80s charts.

I don’t remember being aware of the song until a couple of years later when, at age 12 or 13, I watched Risky Business when I stayed the night at a friend’s house. It wasn’t so much the song that caught my attention; instead, it was the train scene itself in which Tom Cruise and Rebecca DeMornay get up to some, er, risky sexy business on a train. I wasn’t supposed to be watching a rated-R movie, and that scene left a big impression, so much so that when I just rewatched it a few minutes ago, I was surprised by how tame it really is. (Yes, I actually watched  Tom Cruise for 4 minutes in order to write this blog – it’s a sacrifice, trust me).

“In the Air Tonight” is a nebulous kiss-off song that starts off quiet, brooding, with a feeling of anger just under the surface, until the second verse. It starts off with the other delightful moment in the song – “Well I re.mem.BAH” and then at the end, that drum break expresses and releases that anger. Although Phil never says what he’s so mad about, other than someone’s been lying, the vague lyrics allow the listener to imagine the song to fit her own scenario.

Those of us who grew up in the 80s are waxing nostalgic, and there’s been a reconsideration of Phil Collins’ work. I had absolutely no opinion about him – he was a small part of the music fabric for me, but none of it grabbed me by my oversized t-shirt back then. Now, yes – because he was part of the fabric of the 80s pop landscape, his music does elicit a smile from me, and hell – I’ve grown to really dig “A Groovy Kind of Love” despite myself.

Last year, Collins appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and when the performance hit social media the next day, I couldn’t hit that link fast enough to watch it. With his thick glasses and 80s-tastic popped collar, preppy grandpa Phil delivers an impressive performance. The tension in the song is heightened by watching most of the members of the Roots waiting to join in, standing still, letting the moment build. And of course, Ahmir “Questlove”/”?uestlove” Thompson also bides his time, adding only a bit of playing as he waits for the drum break, and you know he’s going to nail it – and then HELL YES – he nails it all the way through the floor. It’s one of the best musical payoffs I’ve seen in a long time. (Watch him smile just after it :-).

Signal Boost: Wilco, “All Lives, You Say?” Download to Benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center

Today, alt-country band Wilco released a great new track, “All Lives, You Say?” on their Bandcamp site. The song is available for download for $1 (or more), and Wilco will donate the proceeds to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that focuses on civil rights litigation and monitors hate groups in the United States. The SPLC is located in (nearby to me) Montgomery, Alabama, and I am familiar with the wonderful and unfortunately necessary work they do.

From Wilco’s Bandcamp site:

A new Wilco song called “All Lives, You Say?” is available for immediate download with a charitable contribution. Proceeds will go to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in the memory of Jeff Tweedy’s father, Robert L. Tweedy (1933-2017).

“My dad was named after a Civil War general, and he voted for Barack Obama twice. He used to say ‘If you know better, you can do better.’ America – we know better. We can do better.” – Jeff Tweedy

I agree with Robert L. Tweedy and Jeff Tweedy.
Here’s the link to the download: 

One Piece at a Time: My Stereo Acquisition Plan

I do not have a great record player. My parents were kind enough to give me theirs, but the sound isn’t the best, and I know I need to get a better system. Although I bristle when I see people slagging terrible low-end record players, such as in comments to an article about them. According to everyone who is a “real” aficionado, no one should ever play vinyl on a turntable that costs less than $300. According to a few comments I’ve seen, I might as well rip up all my vinyl and light it on fire if I’m going to play it on my shite player. Add “good enough” speakers and a “quality” receiver, and I’m looking at, well, more than is in my budget. I either need to stop buying vinyl for several months or keep on playing on my free player.

But I thought of a solution.

Remember that Johnny Cash song “One Piece at a Time”? It’s about a guy who works in an automobile factory, and he smuggles out parts, one at a time, to build himself a car. When I opened my mind enough to listen to Johnny Cash, I stumbled upon this song, and I found it to be glorious. He ends up with a “59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66” automobile.

So here’s the plan: I find a stereo factory, get a part-time job there, and smuggle out some tubes, connectors, and switches and such until I have a complete system. Of course the problem is I doubt there’s such a factory in the US, but it’s a nice thought. It’s a shame, because that would exactly fit my budget.

Sick and Tired and Angry as Hell

Have a look at the music I’ve listened to in the past 24 hours, since I came home from running errands yesterday and saw that the WHITE SUPREMACIST NAZI SCUM DEMONSTRATION had ended in tragedy and the commentary out there revealed yet again the depths of stupidity and hatred among us.

Step 1: Yesterday afternoon. Trying not to descend into blind raging anger. Some peppy synth tunes to calm me down.


Step 2: First thing this morning after catching up on the news again. Anger continues to manifest, with sorrow at the hatred and bigotry embedded into US culture being emboldened and inflamed. Noted tracks: “Where’s the Revolution?”, “Scum,” “Going Backwards,” “The Worst Crime,” “Poison Heart.”  “So Much Love” is calming, though.


Step 3: Still pissed. Distracted from teaching prep. American version, 1979. I’m not “. . . Bored with the USA,” but the tone and punk thrashing suit my mood.


That’s it for now. This can go one of two ways from here: full on Joy Division, or Nine Inch Nails or something. Hell, it may get so bad I’ll need some ABBA to pull me out of this.

“Once in a Lifetime,” Talking Heads: Favorite 80s Songs


Talking Heads: David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison.

I’m not sure when it started happening, really, but I believe it was at some point in my 20s that I found myself thinking I was living a life I never would have recognized as my own had my earlier self had a bird’s eye view of me in the 90s. After journalism school, I considered law school and worked as a paralegal, but the profession never really suited me. I went to graduate school and now teach English at a university, and it’s a good fit. Still, I’m amused that I had an existential crisis as early as my 20s. On the other hand, when I learned about existentialism in high school, I recognized myself in the philosophy, so maybe it’s a personality thing; perhaps I ponder my existence, my purpose, and the absurdity of the world due to neuroticism. If I had a third hand, I’d say I’ve had a few existential/premature midlife crises already.

“Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads ruminates on this predicament: the realization or acknowledgment of having made a life for oneself that has no inherent meaning, that seems not quite right. The man is bewildered – which makes me wonder if lead singer David Byrne wrote it because he can pull off bewilderment in performance like none other. The single, released in February, 1981 from their fourth album, Remain in Light, combines off-kilter, shifting rhythms with sparkling chime effects and a deep, funky groove. Brian Eno, who co-produced the album with the band, helped them create a song in which the parts almost don’t go together, like the man and his life, and the song didn’t quite “belong” to one genre or radio format. Although it’s become one of my favorites, I don’t remember specifically being aware of this song in 1981, and today while reading Byrne’s How Music Works, I found out why:

“Despite the heavy play that the ‘Once in a Lifetime’ video got on MTV, regular rock radio wouldn’t play it, or much else from the album. They said it was too funky; not really rock. And the R&B stations wouldn’t play the song either. Needless to say, the song got heard; the racism of US radio didn’t hold it back all that much. Interesting how times have changed, and how they haven’t.”

The song struck a chord with listeners, however, in the man’s examination of his existence. He makes declarations that reveal his perplexed state, even if he has, on the surface, nothing to complain about. He protests, “This is not my beautiful house,” and “This is not my beautiful wife” and asks “Where does that highway go to?”, implying he’s itching to get out and leave it all behind, before saying “My god! What have I done?” His feeling of not belonging to the life he’s living is undercut by the chorus, which references water, the archetypal symbol for renewal, yet significantly, he’s “letting the days go by, [lets] the water hold [him] down.” He’s seemingly surrendering to the natural immersion, and therefore his life.

Byrne’s concept for the video captures the sad, absurd humor of the man’s situation. In How Music Works, Byrne also describes how the video for the song came about, as the chapter focuses on aspects of performance. Influenced by dance and theater performances in Bali and Japan, Byrne came up with choreography that Toni Basil shaped into a jerky, hypnotic routine that is vintage Byrne. He also explains that he had the clips of those global dance performances interspersed into the video because he “wanted to show my sources, not claim I invented everything, though my jerky improv versions weren’t much like the originals in any case.” One might say Dave can’t dance, but really, he’s dancing his personality in this video and in every performance. He’s wearing his staple suit with a bowtie, but I find that the glasses are the perfect touch, as they nod back to the 1950s to early 1960s, back to that notion of an idealized hegemonic culture of suburbia and propriety that the song’s narrator finds perplexing even as he lives it.