Category Archives: Music

Awkward moments with Nick Rhodes

In 1997, I created a fanzine about Nick Rhodes called “Saint Nick”. Because I was a total creeper, I actually mailed it to his home address, and enclosed a postcard for him to send us a review. (He actually did this, which will always amaze me.) Duran Duran were touring to support their “Medazzaland” album, and my friend Marcia was able to get me on the backstage list because of her connection to Wes Wehmiller (may he rest in peace), who was the touring bassist in the band once JT quit.

Wes, holding Saint Nick fanzine

Wes, holding Saint Nick fanzine

Nick postcard

All this being said, I finally had a chance to meet Nick in 1999. I had actually met him once before, but I was just a face in a crowd and he quickly scribbled his name on my CD. (I still cried for almost an hour afterwards…what a loon…)

The band were playing for three nights in a row at the Chicago House of Blues, so a bunch of my friends and I got a room at the hotel to go to all the shows and hang backstage.

I was extremely nervous, especially that first night. During the show, I could hardly contain myself. I thought I might throw up. I imagined all the conversations that Nick and I would have, once I told him I was the fanzine girl.

After the show, we took the elevator to the backstage area. I was with a huge group of people – some of them I knew, and some I had just met. One girl that I didn’t know well had been to a Duranie bachelorette party before the show, and was wearing a shirt with Roger Taylor’s face on it. I think it said “I (heart) Roger Taylor”. Now, remember, at this point, Roger had been out of the band for over ten years and we had heard nary a peep from him. This girl’s favorite in the band was Roger, and I guess each girl at the party received this shirt with her favorite on it.

I was truly mortified to be seen with this girl, because I subscribe to the philosophy that you do not wear the band’s tee shirt to a show. And you certainly do not wear a band’s tee shirt, featuring a guy no longer in the band, to the backstage area. I kept my distance from her as much as I could, and stood in the corner awkwardly.

I was frozen with terror and nerves. Luckily, Marcia and Wes found me, and Wes very kindly took me over to meet Nick, and get my tour book signed. I remember Wes said to Nick, “I’d like you to meet my friend, Michele.” It was the nicest thing he could have said, because it gave me credibility around Nick.

menicksmiley

I decided this was not the time to confess that I was the girl behind his silly fanzine. I wanted Nick to think I was a super cool friend of Wes’s, and not some dumb fangirl like all the other people trying to get his attention.

Once the meeting with Nick was over, I did some people watching. At one point, Simon was walking around barefoot. That man has the most gnarled up and gross feet I have ever seen. Yuck! Then, Warren stripped down to his underwear and started showing off his muscles.

This was my cue to leave, so I headed to the elevator. Who should I see there, but the girl with the Roger Taylor shirt? We engaged in small talk and got into the elevator.

Just as the door was about to close, I saw Nick approaching. I held the door open for him – wouldn’t you?

Nick saw me and smiled, then spied the girl next to me wearing the Roger shirt, and his face fell. He turned around and walked away as the elevator door slammed shut in my face.

backstage passes

Star Hits staffers Q&A – Part 2!

Welcome to part two of our series of Q&A’s with Star Hits staffers! If you missed part one, featuring editors David Keeps and Suzan Colón, then you’d better click here!

Now that you’re caught up, it’s time to see what these lovely folks had to say: I’d like to thank everyone for taking the time to share their memories, and their personal photos!

Crystal Bowers (née Brown), Mark Coleman, Steve Korté, Alicia D. Keshashian, and Sam Moon Rafferty (née Pietropinto) are our victims this time around!

Alicia didn’t fill out the questionnaire, but she shared a few thoughts (and photos) that I’d like to pass along:

ALICIA: I was the art director at Star Hits – as well as many of the other magazines-a-minute published by Felix Dennis. WOW!, Attitude, and many of the special publications. I rose to art director following Phoebe – who I think had to go back to England because of some visa issues?

It was like the perfect storm – a group of young wacked out music enthusiasts all crammed into a little New York City office which almost burst with energy and, of course, attitude. Though music wasn’t really my strength, color and pattern were my language. I couldn’t ask for a job so suited to my liberal love of color, pattern and photography with a dash of fashion and superstars thrown in. The test was to see how busy we could make the page and still read it! We had a few misses but what the f? It usually looked good.

Photo shoots with the musicians were the best – with any luck we got to see past the image and could catch a glimpse of the “true artist” – David and Suzan certainly had front row seats to most of the action.

I’m sending you some of the pics I have…while, for example, I have a shot of me being sandwiched by Crowded House  I can’t share them out of respect for the photographers. But I’ll send you some…and maybe you’ll get a laff…

I was crazy mad stupid for INXS. Those boys were nothing but delightful. At one point they were HUGE and we couldn’t get time with the band, however, they said Suzan and I could come to their gig in Philly (?) – just hang out. So I took my Polaroid and shot images in the tour bus.  Then we had to fabricate some lame story from the pics (Mr Yellow-Tinted Glasses [Publisher Felix Dennis – Who dat? Ed.] was not so happy with it).  AND on top of that we missed the last train back to NYC,. but Tim Ferris was such a doll and we just hung with them til morning (I think). Also loved visiting with Depeche Mode. Martin? Quiet, shy, brilliant, adorable and totally inaccessible. Oh well. the list goes on.

I have all my issues stashed – good for a laff.

And now, read on for the rest of the answers and photos from our friends at Star Hits….

Editors Mark Coleman and Steve Korte join a crowd of ecstatic fans outside Radio City Music Hall after an a-ha concert. That’s Mark in the middle and Steve at upper right.  - Steve

Editors Mark Coleman and Steve Korté join a crowd of ecstatic fans outside Radio City Music Hall after an a-ha concert. That’s Mark in the middle and Steve at upper right.

BIG BUNNY asks: “Could you start by telling us how it all began with STAR HITS? When did YOU start and/or depart?”

STEVE: Our very wealthy, very eccentric publisher, Felix Dennis, came from England and made a ton of money in the United States with his poster magazines featuring kung-fu star Bruce Lee. Felix then licensed the rights to publish an American version of the very popular British magazine SMASH HITS. That name was already taken in the U.S., so he had to call it STAR HITS, which I don’t think anyone liked very much. I joined the company as the advertising director in 1984, just as Neil Tennant was leaving the magazine and moving back to England. Ad sales for STAR HITS had a few ups and many more downs, and I was lucky enough to switch to the editorial side of the magazine after about six months. That was the smartest move I ever made! STAR HITS lasted until 1989, but as it faded away Felix had us all working on three teen magazines WOW, HOT, and WOW WHOPPER (yes, that was really its name), a fashion magazine ATTITUDE, a metal magazine METALLIX, and a hip-hop magazine FULL EFFECT. Working on those six magazines was quite schizophrenic. On one day I could be interviewing Judas Priest and Alyssa Milano (not together, though). I was at the company until the very end in 1992, and in fact one of my final duties was clearing out all the pictures and returning them to the photographers and photo agencies. I remember we had tons of pictures of an aspiring teen actor who was shirtless and sported a really ugly mullet haircut. His name was Brad Pitt. Whatever happened to him?

MARK: In October 1983, David Fricke contacted me about applying for a job at a music magazine start-up he was involved with. I knew his byline from Rolling Stone and elsewhere but we hadn’t met. Later it came out that he recruited David Keeps and me because we’d written for New York Rocker, which covered punk & new wave in the early 80s – rather than going for more “mainstream” writers. In those days I read New Musical Express to keep up with the UK scene, but I wasn’t familiar with Smash Hits. There was a resistance, even hostility, among American journalists toward English groups at that point. I wrote about New Order/Joy Division in The Village Voice earlier that year and other writers were like “how can you stand that shit?” David Keeps was probably the only journalist in NYC who read Smash Hits and he not only read it, he totally “got it.” Somehow I fronted my way through a job interview with David Fricke and Neil Tennant. They gave me a test assignment and a few copies of Smash Hits to take home. Reading the magazine for the first time I freaked out: this really was a teen mag, with screaming girls and everything. However, studying Neil’s cover story on Kajagoogoo was a revelation. The story was brilliant: witty, sharp and observant. Instead of gushing or condescending Smash Hits (and I hope Star Hits) gave readers a sense of what the pop-star subjects were like as people – as well as a peek behind the Wizard of Oz music-biz curtain.

At first I was hired as a freelance writer/editor but Fricke or Neil would call me almost daily. “Are you busy?” “Uh, NO.” I was unemployed and scraping by on assignments. “Why don’t you come up and give us a hand.” The whole situation was a godsend. Neil Tennant and art director Kimberley Leston (who tragically died in the 90s) were super-smart, devastatingly funny, and to me, inspiring. Their excitement about being in NYC was contagious, we’d go out after work and have a blast. It was a magical time, and working on a bold new magazine just added to the buzz.

I came on full-time in January 1984, and got bumped up to the deputy dog position when David Fricke left that summer. Departing happened in early 1986, though I kept writing for a few months after that. By late 1985 the pop landscape was changing; Duran went on hiatus, Boy George flaked out and groups like Tears For Fears, though popular, weren’t charismatic enough to sell magazines. The next wave was Depeche Mode and The Cure, both of whom we loved in the office but seemed a bit edgy to our publishers. This was when Felix Dennis pushed the magazine toward covering pretty-boy TV stars named Corey who I regarded with contempt. Whether I got shoved or jumped hardly matters now; it was a great ride!

CRYSTAL: I had transferred to a college in Manhattan to finish my undergrad degree, and in my senior year I needed to do an internship. The school had a big book of internships for communications majors like myself, and in the very back—literally the last page—was Star Hits magazine. I’ve always been a huge music fan (still am) and when I saw it I knew that’s where I wanted to be. I called and asked for an interview and showed up at their offices on 39th street. I was so nervous! David, Suzan and Steve Korté were there, and they quizzed me about what I listened to, asked me if I could name all of the members of Duran Duran and what I hoped to get out of the internship. By the end we were laughing and I had the job. Little did I know I was headed for photo purgatory! I actually enjoyed that job because I got to see all of the gorgeous photo shoots of my favorite bands. I didn’t start out writing, but there was enough other stuff to do to keep busy. Their photo filing system was a mess!

SAM: I started working there when I was 17 in 1987, and stayed until I was almost 19.  I was brought on by Suzan Colón, who I met while modeling for a sister magazine.  I was no model, it was my first time doing anything like that (a friend of a friend type thing got me there).  We bonded over hating the other professional model in the shoot.  LOL.

MICHELE asks: “What was a typical day in the Star Hits office like?”

MARK: David Keeps lived around the corner, so we’d take the subway uptown together and start talking shop right away. One of my primary duties was transcribing the song lyrics that ran in each issue. Publishers provided “official” lyrics that invariably were wrong, often comically. So I’d check the printed lyrics against the record, with headphones because we played music all day on the office stereo. Depending on what point in the deadline cycle we were at, there would be assigning, interviewing, reviewing and proofreading to do as well as the endless negotiations with publicists.

There was no typical day but most were filled with laughs, we had so many in-jokes, running gags and comic routines. David Fricke has a sardonic dry wit while David Keeps is exuberant and insane in a good way. I’ll never forget the snowy winter day when we got soaked on the way in. Apparently Keeps took off his trousers, setting them on the radiator to dry while slipping his bare legs undetected under the desk. The phone started ringing and hours passed until he leapt up to make a copy or something, waltzing across the tiny shared space in a loudly colorful pair of boxers. Fricke looked up from his desk, cracked a faint smile and then shouted: “YOU’RE IN YOUR UNDERWEAR! PUT YOUR PANTS ON DAVID!” Maybe you had to be there…

The remarkable thing to me now is how small the staff was, maybe a total of ten people doing art, editorial and business, plus a handful of freelance writers. Even with the leased Smash Hits content, it was a lot of work! But we were young, so it never seemed like anything less than a golden opportunity. One night I stayed late to interview somebody by phone on the west coast and everybody else was gone except Felix Dennis. As I got ready to leave Felix asked me to take out the garbage. He actually apologized, “I know it’s not in your job description” and I was like “what are you kidding?” I felt so lucky to be there, I would’ve watered the plants too.

In retrospect the important, innovative and influential aspect of Star Hits was the look of the magazine. Not just the photographs but the graphic design too, laboriously done by hand in those pre-digital days. Beginning with Kimberley Leston and continuing with Ronnie “Wippo” Meckler’s brief but crucial tenure and peaking with Alicia Keshishian: the art directors gave the magazine a look that matched the music. Of course David Keeps contributed to this by corralling ambitious photo sessions and conceiving articles not only in terms of words but images too. Learning to visualize stories was the best thing I learned at Star Hits, something I took with me to future editor jobs.

SAM: SO much fun!  I worked with the most awesome people you can imagine. Music played all the time.  There was dancing.  And water guns.  And toys. Creativity and individuality was encouraged.

STEVE: I remember that eating breakfast from the nearby deli and deciding where we were going to have lunch were major components of a typical day.

CRYSTAL: Suzan summed that up pretty well. Come in, call Continental coffee shop and put in the breakfast order, and play whatever music we were grooving on at the time. I remember when the Beastie Boys “Licensed to Ill” came out. We played that record to death! There we were, dancing and singing in the bull pen, reciting every lyric and giggling like crazy people. Pretty soon everyone who had an office would retreat to start work, and we’d settle in. Of course there were lots of breaks for silliness; I remember a “gunfight” with bananas (imagine grown people peeking out of hallways and doorways aiming bananas at each other, making gun noises and dying dramatically), or running from me because I’m holding up a box of something called “Instant Ocean” and a glass of water yelling “stay back or I’ll drown us all!” I still giggle when I see a box of that stuff. Or poor Steve getting calls repeatedly from an angry Mr. Buzzby, a very large bumble bee that he pissed off when he chased it out of the office window. And of course David and his “kitten on the keys” when he would wait until you were typing something and come up behind you and start pounding on the keyboard. We laughed a lot!

Weird Al reviewsIt was fun when musicians would come by the office. Debbie Gibson was a hyper little thing bouncing around and talking a mile a minute. Weird Al Yankovic was quiet and reserved, but funny as hell on paper. He was our guest record reviewer for an issue and his reviews were hysterical. And when Suzan and I turned 26 (our birthdays are just a few weeks apart), I believe Bronski Beat showed up at our birthday party. I think they ended up raiding her closet for stuff to wear out to a club later than night.

 

 

MICHELE asks: “What are your proudest moments when you think back on Star Hits — and what makes you cringe?”

RSVP Dressed to Kill

STEVE: Proudest? I think it just might be Quackra, the 60-foot mutant duck from Japan that Suzan and I fostered. It started when I found a photo of a cute baby duck, and somehow that photo found its way onto a RSVP page in STAR HITS where he mutated into Quackra. After that, he managed to insert himself into photos all over the office, often hob-nobbing with celebrities. And although he had a tendency to trample the panic-stricken masses of Tokyo, you had to cut him some slack because he was just a baby! Most cringe-worthy? I’m going to go with Suzan that it was my own appearance in a “Dressed to Kill” costume contest ad. I didn’t even much like Sigue Sigue Sputnik, but somehow I got talked into transforming from Hansel the nerd into a Sputniker. Our lovely art director Ariane Root was luckier; she got to transform into Siouxsie.

25 - Janet Jackson p2

CRYSTAL: My proudest moment was when I actually saw my name and writing actually in print. I think I started off doing record reviews, and eventually David started trusting with writing more. Some of my favorite memories were the late nights he and I spent at the office while I was learning the style of the magazine and getting invaluable advice on how to do an interview. He was always patient and encouraging. Eventually, I started writing so much that they offered to pay me. I wasn’t supposed to get paid (internship rules of my school), but I was thrilled. Eventually David took me along on an actual interview—none other than Ms. Janet Jackson! I was so excited and she was lovely. I eventually got up the nerve to ask her a question and we ended up talking about what a pain brothers could be. I can’t think of anything really cringe-worthy—some of my fashion choices perhaps—but I was having the time of my life.

SAM: I was an assistant in the art department, mostly working the stat camera.  But Richard and Paulette taught me to do layouts and mechanicals (today this is done on a computer) and I remember seeing my work published for the first time.  It was thrilling.

Cringe-moments?  I was an punk rock street rat with a bit of teenage obnoxiousness thrown in to the mix. There are MANY cringe worthy moments, but I guess being told I can’t make out with my boyfriend on my desk is one that sticks with me. lol.

NRartattack3

MARK: Proudest moment is the Nick Rhodes art gallery cover story. We were starved for a fresh Duran angle and I knew Nick was a budding art collector and Andy Warhol devotee. In 1985, there was an art gallery scene booming in the East Village/Lower East Side when it was still quite a sketchy neighborhood. So my bright idea – probably the only one I had – was taking Nick to one of these storefront galleries, posing him in front of these cartoon-y neo-expressionist paintings and letting him wax pretentious on tape. He seemed to enjoy himself and it looked GREAT in the magazine.

Cringing moments are too many to mention. Emulating Don “Loretta” Johnson in my linen jacket/t-shirt/Tenax phase was surely misguided.

BIG BUNNY asks: “What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make as an editor?”

MARK: Not a decision, but the most difficult thing about editing Star Hits was explaining the writing style to freelancers. It was intuitive, a gut-level thing.

BIG BUNNY asks: “Was there ever any US hard rock or other content you were ‘encouraged’ to wedge into the mag, despite reservations?”

Wham Cover

Publisher Felix Dennis insisted on these cover lines. I’m not even sure he was referring to their sexual orientation. He just thought these lines were funny. – Steve

STEVE: My memory is that Felix pretty much let us decide what would be inside the magazine, but he had VERY strong feelings about the covers, especially since the cover subject had a huge impact on the number of copies sold. That’s probably how we ended up with that unusual David Lee Roth cover. As Suzan mentioned, Billy Idol was a “banker” in Felix’s eyes since Billy cover issues always sold well. I guess that’s because Billy was (a) so photogenic; (b) so popular (for a while, anyway); and (c) willing to pose shirtless (or wearing even less). Even Felix had to admit that there were only so many times we could put Billy or Duran Duran on the cover. However, when we screwed up by putting someone not very charismatic on the cover (Howard Jones, I’m looking at you), sales plummeted.

MARK: Not that I remember. We covered Van Halen and Quiet Riot because they crossed over into MTV/pop territory during the banner year of 1984.

MICHELE asks: “David Fricke vs David Keeps — what were the stylistic differences as editor? (It seemed to me Fricke was auditioning for RS now that I look back)”

MARK: David Keeps explained this well in his interview. Fricke wasn’t “auditioning”, he already wrote for Rolling Stone. We all freelanced on the side; Keeps wrote for Creem and Esquire while I reviewed music for The Village Voice.

BIG BUNNY asks: “Tell me about managing & editing shared [Smash Hits] UK content and preparing it for your US readership.”

MARK: For the first year or so we “translated” the more esoteric British slang though a lot was left in. At least once we ran a glossary for terms like “wanker” etc. Sometime in 1985 we began stripping in the UK pages unedited because it was cheaper in those days of printing presses.

2 - British slang glossary

MICHELE asks: “Did you all play pranks on each other in the office, and if so, what were they?”

Suzan’s sock monkey was known to journey throughout the office, sometimes at high velocity. - Steve

Suzan’s sock monkey was known to journey throughout the office, sometimes at high velocity. – Steve

STEVE: It was the rare phone interview that wasn’t subject to some sort of distracting interference from one of us, even if the interviewer sequestered himself or herself in an empty office and closed the door. Suzan’s sock monkeys were known to travel about the office—sometimes flying through the air—and turn up in the most unexpected locations.

SAM: In my department we constantly took co-workers heads and painstakingly copied them onto celebrity bodies ( today this would be three seconds of Photoshop).  Because I am from Brooklyn, they liked to tease me that I sounded like Alyssa Milano, so of course my head was put on her body multiple times and put on my desk for me to find.  I still have that picture somewhere.

LAURA asks: “How much “artistic license” did you take when answering reader questions?”

9 - Get Smart

MARK: Now It Can Be Told: I was Jackie of Ask Jackie fame. (Kimberley Leston’s picture ran at the top of the column.) I tried to be accurate as possible. We may have made up some of the questions, though.

MICHELE asks: “Was there one person writing as the BOLD TYPE or did you all take turns?”

CRYSTAL: Sorry, I’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement for all eternity.

MARK: You should be able to guess by now! It wasn’t me 😉

MICHELE asks: “Who were the most annoying fans? (My money is on the Duranies.)”

MARK: Hey, the Duranies paid my rent for two years, I’ll hear no ill spoken of them. Certainly individual fans could be annoying, or creepy. And I never understood the kids who wrote us on Garfield stationary and then put “punk” slogans like “Sid (Vicious) Lives” on the pretty pink envelope.

BIG BUNNY asks: “Were there ever any bands featured by another writer whose music you STILL haven’t ever heard to this day?” 🙂

6 - Bros

 

SAM: There was this English band called Bros (Rhymes with “sauce” – Elocution Ed.) that we did a photoshoot with.  They were HUGE in the UK, apparently, but..no one knew who they were here.  They wore sunglasses and disguised themselves, expecting screaming fans at any corner.  It was like watching a scared kitten.  But nobody here knew who they were and they were able to relax. They were super nice guys (One even asked me for my number. lol) and it was a fun day.  Still never heard their music, but I do have a Polaroid of us hanging out behind the scenes somewhere 🙂

MARK: No, but there are some I wish I never heard. J/K

MICHELE asks: “Who was the most difficult interview, and/or rudest pop star?

STEVE: I can’t remember if I interviewed k.d. lang for STAR HITS or one of the teen magazines, but I do remember it was a very awkward phone interview. She was just starting out, and I think she was probably just shy. All her answers were “yes,” “no” or “I don’t know.” No one was ever rude during an interview, I’m happy to report.

CRYSTAL: I remember going to Denver to take a Duran Duran contest winner to meet them when they were on Bowie’s Glass Spider tour. They were kind of on the way down then, but this poor girl was still so excited to meet them. They were pretty dismissive of the whole affair. Luckily she had enough enthusiasm for all of them and didn’t seem to mind their attitude. I remember feeling disappointed though; I had been a HUGE fan myself and I thought they could have been a bit more gracious.

BIG BUNNY asks: “In terms of being a gracious & enjoyable normal person, who was the greatest surprise?”

CRYSTAL: Danny Elfman was very charming and funny. MC Hammer was very cool. We were all sitting around a big conference table at the record company and I thought “I’ll never get a question in, look at all these people!” When Hammer came in he said hello, smiled at everyone and sat down, and to my surprise he kept looking at me for questions! Turns out I was the only other black person in the room. He was trying to help a sista’ out! I also enjoyed having tea while overlooking Central Park with Ian Astbury of the Cult. He was sort of wistful, quiet and very thoughtful—not what I was expecting at all. I also loved going on photo shoots. There was something so cool about getting to see these folks do their thing for the camera. My favorite was probably the Beastie Boy cover shoot. You can’t see me, but it’s my hand pulling down MCA’s pants! It was the photographer’s idea, I swear! They were a riot.

Beastie Boys Studio Portrait

ROBERT asks: “Who was the most difficult artist to get an interview with?”

Charlie Sexton

STEVE: As Suzan mentioned, stalking Charlie Sexton–he of the high cheekbones and 15 minutes of fame–was one of our more memorable failures. At least Suzan and I got a fun trip to Atlantic City out of it.

HILARY asks: “Who was the most boring person you ever interviewed?”

CRYSTAL: T’Pau (snore).

LESLIE asks: “What’s your worst foot-in-mouth slip during an interview?”

STEVE: I don’t remember who I was interviewing, but at the end of the interview I looked down and noticed that the tape recorder was not running. I had forgotten to turn it on! At the end of the interview, I smiled, said thank you, and rushed back to the office to try to remember the whole interview.

LESLIE asks: “What was the most extreme/exotic/strange place you interviewed a celeb?”

MARK: Robert Smith of The Cure in a laundromat. Inspiring a lead sentence along the lines of “while the clothes dryers spin the wheels turn in Robert Smith’s mind.” Uh well…

Steve’s favorite STAR HITS interview: duking it out with former boxer and dreamy musician Chris Isaak and hanging out together in Chris’s kitchen. - Steve

Steve’s favorite STAR HITS interview: duking it out with former boxer and dreamy musician Chris Isaak and hanging out together in Chris’s kitchen. – Steve

Chris and Steve2

STEVE: Ooooh! I have an answer for this one! All of us (well, maybe not Mark) had a huge crush on Chris Isaak, who we labeled the handsomest man in rock, and when his debut album came out we played it over and over on our office record player. I got the assignment to fly out to San Francisco and interview Chris Isaak in his home! Chris was just as funny as he was handsome, and I was in seventh heaven following him around the house with my tape recorder. We were also doing several different photo shoots, so every now and then he would have to go back into his bedroom to change outfits, and because he kept talking I just naturally followed him to continue our interview. In his room, we both sat down on his bed and kept talking while he stripped down to his underwear. (I know this sounds like it’s about to turn into an erotic story, but please bear with me.) At one point I looked down and noticed that the cassette on my recorder was almost at the end, so I excused myself to go grab another tape. When I came back in the bedroom, I saw Chris quickly put the microphone from my recorder back on the bed. It was clear that he had just said something into the recorder, but when I asked Chris about it, he denied it. I didn’t think anything more of it, and we finished the interview and photo sessions. It wasn’t until I got back to New York and transcribed my tape that I heard what Chris had said into my recorder: “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a man as much as I want Steve. And he doesn’t care. He doesn’t even act like I’m alive!”

Quackra the Mutant Duck kept very good company! - Steve

Quackra the Mutant Duck kept very good company! – Steve

LESLIE asks: Everyone has to have one thing that really sticks with you from your life. What is your story? (coked out celeb, crazy events getting to an interview, or maybe it’s something random and personal)”

CRYSTAL: I was a huge Dan Reed Network fan (still am). I really enjoyed interviewing him (twice!) and that evening when Suzan and I went to their concert at a local club, Dan spotted me in the audience and came down off the stage, mic in hand and sang to me. I thought my heart was going to explode. It was a really great moment.

LESLIE asks: “Who did you NOT get to interview and wish you could?”

CRYSTAL: Crowded House. I love love love Crowded House! Why didn’t I get to interview Crowded House?

BIG BUNNY asks: “What’s your favourite piece of STAR HITS memorabilia?”

CRYSTAL: I’m going to go with Barky the autograph dog. He was awesome. I hope whoever has him is showing him some love. I have some fun stuff from the record companies that were promotional items. I have my Billy Idol charm bracelet, a Zodiac Mindwarp cross pin, some Duran Duran pins, an Escape Club Wild Wild West sheriff’s badge and a few other things. I know, I should learn to throw stuff away

LESLIE asks: “What item(s) have you saved from your Star Hits days?”

CRYSTAL: I have a few issues of all the magazines we put together. I think I still have a few interviews on cassette, but no way to play them! My biggest take away from that time will always be the music. I still listen to music every day, and it’s a mix of music from the 80’s and whatever catches my ear from new artists. And I have David, Suzan, Steve, Richard, Connie (our lovely receptionist), Sam Moon Rafferty and a whole host of lovely people still in my life. Honestly, they were all the best part of the adventure.

SAM: I have some magazines saved, and some promo LP’s.  My favorite thing, though, is the Xray Spex press kit in the florescent green folder that David Keeps gave me.  At that time in my life, I wanted to BE Poly Styrene, so it was special to me then, and a great piece of nostalgia now.

STEVE: Inspired by this project, I dug through my files at home and found dozens of photos and ephemera from those days. My favorite memento is the original photo of Quackra!

BIG BUNNY asks: “How & when did STAR HITS finally fold/end/go under? I seem to remember a bizarre series of fold-out poster editions and [by late ’89?] some issues that didn’t remotely resemble anything from any of the years before. There was a name change to SMASH HITS and then WOW, I think…but it’s all very murky in my mind!

We just couldn’t get enough of New Kids on the Block in our magazines. Amazingly, we even interviewed them on a few occasions. Here’s pictorial proof of Mark Wahlberg and editor Steve. - Steve

We just couldn’t get enough of New Kids on the Block in our magazines. Amazingly, we even interviewed them on a few occasions. Here’s pictorial proof of Mark Wahlberg and editor Steve. – Steve

STEVE: It was a murky experience to live through, believe me. Duran and Billy and the gang were fading a bit in the music charts, and New Kids on the Block were gathering steam. We were under pressure to increase the circulation of STAR HITS, but the quirky pop bands from England that we specialized in weren’t generating magazine sales. So we started covering more and more teen bands. From there it was a short step to our first teen magazine WOW, which then spawned its lower-rent sibling HOT and the oversized WOW WHOPPER. It was all New Kids, all the time! Plus a kazillion TV and movie child actors that have mercifully faded from my memory.

STAR HITS was waning, but there was an army of movie and TV teen stars waiting to be interviewed for WOW. Here is editor Steve Korte enacting a strange pantomime phone call with soap opera actor Brian Bloom. Brian’s later claim to fame was showering naked on the HBO prison show OZ. - Steve

STAR HITS was waning, but there was an army of movie and TV teen stars waiting to be interviewed for WOW. Here is editor Steve Korte enacting a strange pantomime phone call with soap opera actor Brian Bloom. Brian’s later claim to fame was showering naked on the HBO prison show OZ. – Steve

BIG BUNNY asks: “What is your greatest & most enduring STAR HITS era personal mistake? Does anyone have a SCARLETT & BLACK tattoo or the like?”

17 - Talking Heads lyrics

 

STEVE: You would think that the record companies would have been thrilled to have us include their songs lyrics in the magazine, wouldn’t you? And that they would do everything possible to make it easy for us to include those lyrics? Well, that was definitely not the case. Our poor office manager had to make dozens of calls every month to get permission to print song lyrics, and sometimes it was even harder to get the actual printed lyrics. Many times, Suzan or Mark or I would have our ears glued to the speaker of our very low-fi stereo (combination turntable, radio and cassette player) trying to decipher what the singer was growling or yapping or mumbling. My own worst mistake was when I was trying to figure out the lyrics to the Talking Heads song “Wild, Wild Life,” because, of course, the record company had failed to provide us with the lyrics, and the issue had to go to the printer soon. In the song, David Byrne sings, “I’m wearing silk pajamas,” but I didn’t know that at the time. Instead, I listened to that part of the song DOZENS of times, and I finally decided that David Byrne was singing, “I’m wearing filthy ‘jamas.” So that’s what we printed in the magazine. You can probably imagine the howls of protest we got from the record company when that issue came out.

SAM: I was offered to be sent to school to learn how to do graphics on the computer.  I was like “Nah, I like doing it this way”.  Of course, computer graphics took over the industry and the old way went obsolete pretty quickly. By the time I realized that, I no longer worked at SH and would have had to pay thousands to go to school to learn it. Oops.

LESLIE asks: ”What fad/style from the 80s do you miss or regret? ( I miss “big hair” and I regret never owning Capezio Jazz Shoes or a pair of parachute pants)”

CRYSTAL: Well since most of them are back in fashion again, I’m free to make the same mistakes! I got away with a lot back then because youth was on my side. Now I would look at some of the buckle bountiful shoes I used to wear and think “who has that kinda time?” I still like a big shirt that falls off one shoulder—I have a lot of those. And I still have my motorcycle jacket, but that actually came after SH during the Metallix years.

SAM: When having colored hair or clothes that were different from the norm actually said something about who you were.  When you can buy your rebellion in a mall, and “normal” people get their hair dyed pink in a fancy salon, it’s sad and lacks any originality.  I miss a world before the internet and Hot Topic. Glad I lived my teenage years in the 80’s!

LESLIE asks: “Do you still listen to 80s music, or are you just totally over the decade? What bands/music are you listening to now?”

CRYSTAL: Artists like Dan Reed, The Blow Monkeys, Eurythmics and Crowded House still play regularly in my car. I tend to play an 80’s themed station on Rhapsody or Pandora when I cook. I’m a monster at 80’s music trivia contests. I listen to everything now. I’ve developed a real love for the blues (old school and great new artists like Jamie N. Commons), and really like classic rock and anyone out there trying to push the envelope and do something different. Pharrell is great (I must play “Happy” at least a few times a week). I also listen to a lot of jazz and world beat music. I’m a ceramic sculptural artist so there is always something playing in my studio. I’m always stopping my wheel to check my Kindle when something cool comes on and I have to know who it is.

STEVE: Oh, of course. As Suzan mentioned, some albums seemed to be on permanent repeat in the STAR HITS office, and I still love some of those. The debut albums of the Blow Monkeys, Propaganda, Erasure, and Chris Isaak, to name four.

SAM: I mostly listen to whatever my kids like at the moment.  I do enjoy an 80’s pop music flashback now & then, especially the Cure or the Smiths

BIG BUNNY asks: “Did any of you become & remain friends with your pop star interviewees?”

CRYSTAL: I wouldn’t say we’re buds, but I’ve been in contact with Dan Reed a few times over the years. He’s still a lovely person. We actually kinda look alike now.

MARK: Two for one answer: maybe the first interview I did for Star Hits was with Madness. I met with “Suggs” and another band member in a conference room at Sire Records on 54th Street. We chatted for an hour and I thought it went well. “Hey I’m really hitting it off with these guys.” (Up to this point I’d only interviewed local NYC groups like Bush Tetras and Sonic Youth in humble surroundings.) When I finished with Madness, their publicist came in and I turned off my tape recorder and got ready to go. They asked her where to find some authentic New York pizza and I piped up: “John’s on Bleecker St is fantastic!” My suggestion wasn’t acknowledged nor was my presence in the room. As though I no longer existed! I tiptoed out, humiliated. After that I had a tattoo on my brain – CELEBRITIES ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS.

HILARY asks: “Ask them what all the pop stars smelled like! I bet Neil Tennant smelled like some classy 80s shit like Drakkar Noir”

STEVE: Even back then, Neil smelled like a pop star!

 

Star Hits editors, David Keeps and Suzan Colón, answer your questions!

A few weeks ago at the Star Hits Facebook page, we asked the fans to pose questions for Star Hits staffers to answer, along with asking our own burning questions. Questions from me are labeled Michele, and questions from my co-admin are labeled Big Bunny.

Some of the questions are irreverent, just like our beloved magazine was, and some were slightly more serious. Now it’s time to reveal what our unsuspecting victims had to say!

I’d like to thank David Keeps and Suzan Colón for taking the time to answer, and thank you to David “Keepsie” Keeps for providing the photos (and captions) from his personal collection. We will continue posting questionnaires from other staffers as they come to our mailbox!

DISCLAIMER (from David Keeps): Many grains of sands — entire beaches-full by now —have passed through the hourglass of time since I worked at Star Hits. My recollections may support or contradict other accounts and I may have forgotten some things entirely or embellished others. (For further elucidation, I refer you to the film Rashomon —Pretentious Film Ed

BIG BUNNY asks: “Could you start by telling us how it all began with STAR HITS? When did YOU start and/or depart?”

1983  - david "keepsie" keeps with imported smash hits designer kimberley leston and editor neil tennant

1983 – David “keepsie” Keeps with imported Smash Hits designer, Kimberley Leston, and Editor Neil Tennant

David Keeps: In 1983, I was working for a New York sportswear company called Street Life, airbrushing pink flamingos and New Wave sunglasses and other designs on clothing and freelancing as a writer for the Village Voice and the NME in London. One day, I got a call from David Fricke, whose name I knew from Rolling Stone. He told me about plans to create an American version of the British magazine Smash Hits, which of course, I loved. I came to the interview with two recent articles I had written, one about Clare Grogan of Altered Images and the other about socks and underwear for the Village Voice. “Oh I remember reading these on the plane over,” said an English gentleman with curly hair and eyeglasses. His name: Neil Tennant. The future Pet Shop Boy, who was then an editor at Smash Hits, had been sent to New York along with art director Kimberley Leston, to provide quality control for the U.S. edition. We were instantly on the same page and became fast friends.

Star Hits was launched by Felix Dennis—known to us as FelDen–a quite eccentric Brit who wore eyeglasses with yellow lenses, smoked incessantly, could be jolly or intimidating and had such a strong entrepreneurial sense that he would eventually create MacUser magazine, Maxim and The Week. He was in a business arrangement with two gents named Peter and Bob from Connecticut who distributed one of those men’s magazines that men didn’t buy for the articles.

Of course, I got the job, as deputy editor under David Fricke. “Frickers” as Neil called him, was a more traditional rock ‘n’ roll journalist with established contacts throughout the music industry. I was the devoted punk rock/New Romantic/New Wave indie music fan—tapping into teenage girl obsession with ease and abandon. I was part of that start-up team, along with Mark Coleman, and we had the luxury of being able to use images and text from Smash Hits as well as a reasonably lavish budget to produce our own photo shoots and stories.

Annoyingly, the name Smash Hits, which was way cooler, had been taken by another magazine years earlier. So we settled on Star Hits and a curious logo that looked like circus poster lettering. The first few months were exhilarating. Lots of phone calls to publicists trying to explain what we were doing—we were very serious about the mission of reinventing a pop magazine that was about the music that really mattered–sending telexes (Google THAT) to London, sorting through every single photo session Duran Duran and Culture Club did, taking trips to the import record stores of Manhattan, spending nights out at gigs and being sent out on the road to do tour stories with the unlikely likes of pop metal bands like Quiet Riot, who happened to be huge at the time but had no appeal to the likes of me. There was always an attempt to be inclusive of all pop music of the time, we covered very early hip hop and straight up pop but mostly made fun of the bands we didn’t like—it was all in the photos and captions, context setting quotes and italicized parenthetical asides.

The first issue, dated February 1984, had Duran Duran on the cover and it was clear after a very short time—because we had a very vocal, letter-writing audience—that the core of the magazine was going to be contemporary British pop. Boy George, Thompson Twins, Billy Idol, Wham, Depeche Mode, the Cure, Dead or Alive—if they talked or dressed funny, they were our heroes.

Within the first year, two crucial things happened. A girl claiming to be our biggest fan and the publisher of a magazine about David Sylvian and his band Japan called the office three times in one day and I finally gave in and told her to come up when she mentioned she could type 86 words a minute. (This was in the murky past where no one used computers) Her name was Suzan Colón. She became our intern. Then when David Fricke left the magazine, I became the editor and gave Suzan a full-time job. She was more than a co-worker. She was a cohort, a comrade, and between us we could make the ridiculous sublime. We’ve been friends ever since.

star hits1984ish -  top: Suzan Colon, Alicia Keshishian, deputy editor Mark Coleman, David Keeps, designer Michael Ottersen, Steve Korte, contributor Drew Wheeler in headlock with Susan Freeman, the office manager, and fotog Andy Freeberg

Star Hits 1984ish – top: Suzan Colon, Alicia Keshishian, deputy editor Mark Coleman, David Keeps, designer Michael Ottersen, Steve Korte, contributor Drew Wheeler in headlock with Susan Freeman, the office manager, and fotog Andy Freeberg

Suzan Colón: I was in college and found myself without a summer job. My mother, wise woman that she is, suggested I call my favorite magazine and ask if they needed an intern. June is kind of late in the game for this to happen, and of course when I called Star Hits the office manager, Susan Freeman, said “We already have our interns.”

For some reason I wouldn’t take no for an answer and called back an amount of times that today would earn me a restraining order. Susan got fed up and handed me over to then-Deputy Editor David Keeps. He said, “Look, Susan told you—seven times—we already have our summer interns. Stop calling us. I mean it.” I, a recent graduate of business school, said, “Do any of your interns type 90 words a minute?” Pause. David said, “Why don’t you come by this afternoon.” Summer at Star Hits. I was the envy of my Cure-style hair-teasing, Duran Duran slouchy boot-wearing set.

Two months later David became Editor in Chief, and he called me one night and said, “You can go back to college and waste your time in your stupid French classes, or you can come work with me and interview rock stars for a living.” My answer is clear from the fact that we’re doing this interview.

DAVID: In short order, I was running a mini magazine empire that would soon mushroom into spinoffs and one-offs. There was Star Hits Summer Issues, Star Hits Yearbooks, TV and film titles like Wow!–edited by the indomitable Steve Korté , who frequently interviewed the Coreys and assorted pre-teens about their pets—Metallix [edited by Suzan with her hair banging cohort Crystal Brown] and a one-issue fashion magazine Attitude. Even then, I was freelancing for other magazines and in 1987, eventually got offered a gig at In Fashion, a style magazine for both men and women during the era of shoulder pads and Capezios. And a lot of Star Hits veterans found their way into the pages of that magazine including Howard Jones, Pet Shop Boys and OMD (the latter of whom showed up for a photo shoot and revealed a penchant for going commando, but that is another story.)

MICHELE asks: “What was a typical day in the Star Hits office like?”

SUZAN: David and I were just reconstructing this last night: Come into the office hung over from some album release party with open bar the night before. First thing upon arrival at office was to get on the phone with the Continental Diner up the block and beg them to quickly bring us the Hangover Special—scrambled eggs with bacon and cheese on a roll, large coffee light with two sugars.

After reviving with that, fight over who was going to interview which band. Write some copy. Someone would go over to our scratchy, cheap record player—these were the days of vinyl, before CDs—and play the same song over and over and over until the others would scream threats.

Lunch, probably at the sushi bar down the block that had the first karaoke machine we’d ever encountered, with song lyrics playing over softcore porn movies.

Back to the office, write some copy, discuss what concert or album release party we were going to that night. Start all over again. Variation: Friday afternoon, we’re on deadline, and we send our intern Sam Moon Rafferty to buy us beer and Twinkies. Spend Friday evening writing, drinking, sugaring. I wrote a really good Siouxsie & the Banshees concert review that way.

DAVID: There were several eras of Star Hits. At first, it was more businesslike, a group of people who had never met, under constant scrutiny by the main investor and representatives from the Mothership (Neil and Kimberley) and we were ensconced in a swank modern office in midtown Manhattan. It was a bit more buttoned-up then but always fun.

Then, about a year in, we moved to a larger space in a crummier building near the fashion district and by then we were left pretty much unsupervised and the cast of characters had changed. David Fricke had left, Mark Coleman had one foot out the door, Suzan Colón was an editor, Crystal Brown had arrived and Steve Korté  had made the leap from the advertising side to the editorial team. Hell, had in fact, broken loose.

Imagine walking into a teenage girls’ party covered in posters of your dreamiest dreamboats after the homework is done and the records are all out on the floor and everyone is jacked up on Mountain Dew. Then times that by ten. Thousand. Then pay everyone to do it five days a week from whenever we could roll in clutching a coffee and an egg sammich to whenever it was time to leave to go see a band. It was pandemonium. Lots of music and magazine reading (remember there was no Internet). Lots of the same record over and over again on repeat and mixtape making. Lots of shouting over the music to make telephone calls. Lots of recitations of letters and press releases and desecration of photographs and posters. Tape-loops of ridiculous

David Keeps' test polaroid for Billy Idol's First Cover with Deborah Feingold, where he swung his jacket around and broke a light

David Keeps’ test polaroid for Billy Idol’s First Cover with Deborah Feingold, where he swung his jacket around and broke a light

interview answers from pop stars. Lots of inane arguments. Lots of nicknames, inside jokes, stupid jokes, and friendly one-upmanship. We usually lunched together and there was often a cocktail hour and a costume change before going out for the evening. Hilarity ensued at a very high volume. Until Felix Dennis or one of the more mature office-management or business types stuck their head in our door and told us to knock it off. Of course there was always some drama—a band (usually U2)—refusing to do an interview or Billy Idol knocking over lights at a photo session and us getting stuck with the bill, but it was almost always, like we so proudly advertised: “A party on every page.”

MICHELE asks: “What are your proudest moments when you think back on Star Hits — and what makes you cringe?”

Lookalike contestSUZAN: Proudest moment is some of the copy I wrote. I was new but kind of fearless when it came to writing, and I had such love for what I was doing that the writing came out pretty good. Cringe: The photo for the Star Hits Lookalike Contest where I posed as Madonna.

DAVID: There are so many proud moments. On a daily basis there little daily triumphs like writing the best caption ever. (That award goes to Suzan who captioned a photo of Madonna clutching her stomach with “Aaaargh, that third tuna Blimpie! Why did I do it?” which got us blackballed from Madonna for a while) Over the course of the magazine, the pride comes from creating our own universe and language, from immersing ourselves and our readers in a world of wit and imagination and possibilities and from exposing hormone-hopped-up kids to some really great music. In our own sly way, we were also social activists, treating things like gay pop stars, vegetarianism and alternative belief systems not only like they were no big deal, but that they were actually cool. And where would all the young Goths be without our coverage of Siouxsie and Bauhaus and Tones on Tail and Gene Loves Jezebel, I ask you? If you were “weird” or had “weird” taste in music and clothing, you were not only our target audience, but our friend.

Nick Rhodes on the floor of his suite in a West Hollywood Hotel judging the entries in the Nick Rhodes coloring contest in Star Hits. It took him HOURS to decide.

Nick Rhodes on the floor of his suite in a West Hollywood Hotel judging the entries in the Nick Rhodes coloring contest in Star Hits. It took him HOURS to decide.

I am also very proud of how we were all very cunning in some ways, turning the most boring interview into something hilarious to read and shamelessly pandering to the interests of pop stars in order to get them in our pages—like taking Nick Rhodes to an art gallery so he could gas on about Andy Warhol—which actually turned out to be a great story. I also think we had the best contests EVER. I remember buying a stuffed dog at a flea market made of canvas with a little loop and a pen. It was from the 1960s or so, and was called an Autograph Hound (you get it?) We named him Barky and took him along to every single photo shoot we did with a Star Hits pop star and had them sign and pose with the dog. And then we gave it away to one lucky winner. I wonder who has it now? Do they know what they are sitting on?

Also, hugely proud of the feature story ideas we came up with and the crazy, beautiful New Wave-edy photo shoots we pulled off with some very talented photographers. Who can ever forget our series of a-ha with fluorescent tubes? So arty!

What made me cringe? Not a lot, actually. Okay, this does. In the first year for the first issue I had to go out on the road in a tour bus with Quiet Riot. They were harmless enough, but they kept saying, “Don’t go in the bathroom, Dave, unless you’re ready for it” I was thinking, “Oh God, is the toilet overflowed?” Eventually, after hours, I did have to use the gents. There, I discovered they’d taped up some soft core Polaroids of female fans faces near their unidentified weenuses. And all I thought was, “the only thing shocking about this is how little your dicks are.” That’s a cringe memory. I also remember coming back from another road trip that year with Motley Crue (hey, I paid my dues) and related that I sat down backstage in a circle with them and they made me chug from the communal bottle of Jack Daniels. And upon hearing that, Suzan (who had not yet entered into her brief fling with hair metal) cringed and shrieked: “OHMYGODDAVID you DRANK from the BOTTLE OF CRUE?”

BIG BUNNY asks: “What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make as an editor?”

April 1984 Billy Idol coverSUZAN: I didn’t make too many decisions—that was more David’s department. I just remember writing a lot. I remember us begging our publisher Felix Dennis not to put Billy Idol on the cover for the seventh time in one year, even though Billy sold more issues than any other cover subject, even Duran Duran. But it was getting old. We tried to demand, but Felix shook his head and said, in his British accent, “Billy is my banker.” That shows you the Star Hits editorial clout.

DAVID: I had to let people go now and again. That was never a good time. Usually I’d take them out to the Grand Central Oyster Bar and drop the bomb, so at least they got a nice lunch out of it. And they were usually expecting it. Back then I had a much more difficult time masking my disappointment. It was also hard leaving to go somewhere else. But I was a money grubbing whore back then and got a better offer at a magazine that seemed to have better prospects for mainstream success.

BIG BUNNY asks: “Was there ever any US hard rock or other content you were ‘encouraged’ to wedge into the mag, despite reservations?”

DAVID: Pretty much all of them…see above…and that would also include Van Halen, although David Lee Roth, bless him, gave a great interview then, now and forever. At the time, putting Van Halen on the cover of Star Hits (I believe it was in the first year) seemed like a complete sell-out and there was a lot of internal dissent over that entire issue which also had Lionel Ritchie and a Kevin Bacon Footloose centerfold, which was not cool and not what Smash Hits would have done AT ALL. I wasn’t that excited about doing naff Top 40 pop in general, but there were often gaps between Duran Duran and Billy Idol singles and there was always a way to make those other stories entertaining.

SUZAN: Not too often; more often publicists would use their bigger bands as leverage to get a smaller band some real estate in the magazine. When hard rock and hair bands got really big in the late 80s, our publisher Felix just started a whole new magazine—Metallix—of which I became editor. Not because I was all that, but because I was breathing and in the office. When teen bands like New Kids on the Block became huge, Steve Korté was made editor of our new magazines Wow! and Hot! When hip hop became popular, Crystal Brown suddenly became editor of… Oh my God, I can’t remember the name of it now, because basically our office motto was “A magazine a minute.” David was gone by this point, smart man that he was, and so the remaining editors were editors in chief, and we wrote for each other’s magazines. It was an 6yhecxrmqorfhycrinteresting business model, put it that way.

I do remember an experiment: Van Halen was huge, and they were on the cover (before my time). The readers revolted.

MICHELE asks: “David Fricke vs David Keeps — what were the stylistic differences as editor? (It seemed to me Fricke was auditioning for RS now that I look back)”

SUZAN: Two totally different gents. I didn’t have much exposure with Fricke because I was just coming in as an intern, and I dealt more with David. Two months after I arrived, Fricke left (no cause and effect that I know of). Fricke is the sort of highly educated music journalist who knows about the blues and Muddy Waters and the roots of all music and stuff like that. He’s like a music professor. Keeps knows these things but was more of a fan of the bands we profiled in SH. He was a punk rock pioneer and as much a fan as an authority on the music we were covering. Stylistically, Fricke was a quiet statesman in a leather jacket, and Keeps was, and still is, a brilliant enfant terrible, apt to run down the hall shouting, “Jon Moss of Culture Club just called me!!” For that reason and many others, Keeps is still one of my closest friends.

DAVID: Michele, I think you nailed it. David had a much more traditional approach steeped in serious rock journalism, but he did have a great sense of humor and seemed to enjoy some of the fun we brought to the table. When he left, we just let our freak flags fly.

BIG BUNNY asks: “Tell me about managing & editing shared [Smash Hits] UK content and preparing it for your US readership.”

DAVID: Publishing every two weeks, Smash Hits had much greater access to the most important people for Star Hits and we used a lot of their material. Their writers—Chris Heath, Neil Tennant, Tom Hibbert, Ian Birch, William Shaw, Peter Martin, the incomprehensible Scottish lass Sylvia Patterson and Miranda “Bunny” Sawyer—really helped us set the tone and voice for Star Hits. They were happy to work with us because we often paid them for their contributions and gave them additional assignments. And really all we had to do was take the images and text (with maybe a few minor adjustments, translations, and commentary) and slap it into a new layout. As they say in England: Easy peasy Lemon squeezy.

SUZAN: We’d see what Brit bands they covered were having success in the US. Then we’d take out the Britishisms in their article—“colour” to “color”—and run their articles. We ran a lot more of their stuff than they ran of ours, chiefly because Brit bands were bigger at that time than American bands. Once in a while a Brit band would be touring America and they’d ask us to do an interview, or they’d run one of our concert reviews. I did an interview with Jim Kerr of Simple Minds for Smash Hits, and I found out later one of the editors made fun of me for referring to the band in the article as “the Simple Minds” instead of just “Simple Minds” or “Minds.” What-the-hell-ever. [SC giving side eye]

LAURA asks: “How much “artistic license” did you take when answering reader questions?”

DAVID: Laura, I’m not sure I like the tone of that! We always answered questions to the best of our knowledge and to the height of our wit and creativity.

SUZAN: If it was for Ask Jackie we answered as accurately as we could. Anything else, we defined artistic license as we defiled it.

MICHELE asks: “Did you all play pranks on each other in the office, and if so, what were they?”

Star Hits 1986ish from left - Michael Ottersen, Steve Korte, Alicia Keshishian, Suzan Colon (Swing out Sister haircut), David Keeps, CrystalBrown. I don't know why we are all holding Image magazine. Not a clue.  This is the editorial bullpen.

Star Hits 1986ish from left – Michael Ottersen, Steve Korte, Alicia Keshishian, Suzan Colon (Swing out Sister haircut), David Keeps, Crystal Brown. I don’t know why we are all holding Image magazine. Not a clue.
This is the editorial bullpen.

SUZAN: Constantly, though they were less pranks and more blatant making fun of each other. David loved to mess with me while I did phone interviews. I had a mild nervous giggle, just a “tee hee” I discovered when listening back to some of my interviews. With trusting stupidity, I shared this with him. He made sure to emit several audible “tee hee”s while I was doing phone interviews with bands.

DAVID: What weren’t they? It was 24/7 Pranktown at Pilot Communications (our corporate name). And lots of messed up songs and nicknames. You’d never know what you might find in your desk drawer or on your chair. Ask Crystal Brown about her “son” “Bronxzilla” why don’t you?

BIG BUNNY asks: “Is it true that BOLD TYPE never quite recovered from Siobhan butting out for good from Bananarama and ‘retired’ to a “macadamia ranch” in Mahinahina?”

SUZAN: I’ll let Boldie answer that [she said cryptically, upholding the mystery of the BOLD TYPE’s true identity].

DAVID: The BOLD TYPE does not disclose personal details and never did. However, virtually everyone from Star Hits thought Siobhan had made a hideous mistake until two things happened:

  1. They heard Shakespeare’s Sister for the first time
  2. They met the rest of Bananarama, including that new chick whom everyone forgot, and realized they were the meanest bitches ever

MICHELE asks: “Was there one person writing as the BOLD TYPE or did you all take turns?”

DAVID: The BOLD TYPE does not disclose personal details and never did.

SUZAN: There was, and only ever will be, one BOLD TYPE.

MICHELE asks: “Who were the most annoying fans? (My money is on the Duranies.)”

DAVID: How could I say that about the Duranies, those lovely creatures who paid our bills? Never! Yes, of course, they could be very needy and very desperate—at least once a month we got a letter from some girl who was “dying” and needed John Taylor’s kiss to cure her. (If it were true, could’ve invented the Make-A-Wish foundation) But they were also the most loyal and quite often the most creative. There were also individual fans who made our lives less than happy, like the girl who tried to sue us after she won the Meet Duran Duran contest until our ace photographer Andy Freeberg (now a huge star in the art photo world) found a picture of the ungrateful one with Nick Rhodes (rushing past her to get onto the stage)

SUZAN: I wouldn’t say anyone who liked SH was annoying, and frankly we were grateful for anyone who read the magazine. We were, however, a bit disappointed by readers who didn’t get our sense of humor. I wrote a caption for a Wang Chung photo that read, “I say, Chung, I don’t believe we’re in this issue.” A few people sent mail: “Their names are not Wang and Chung. You guys are stupid.” Not much you can say at that point. You know, you shrug, you try to move on…

BIG BUNNY asks: “Were there ever any bands featured by another writer whose music you STILL haven’t ever heard to this day?” 🙂

DAVID: We all suffered together. We all sat together. I am sure headphones had been invented but we didn’t use them. I can’t think of a single 1980s British pop tune I DIDN’T hear. Sometimes more than I wanted to.

SUZAN: Listening to the music of any band we came into contact with was unavoidable for many reasons. At first, we all worked together in a communal office; we had one record and tape player, and we played music constantly. We also liked to share great music—“Listen to this song! Wow, listen to this whole album! Oh my God we love them!”—and we loved sharing bad music because that had as much of a chance of being on heavy rotation as good music. If someone had to interview a band whose music we didn’t like we wanted shared pain and played it for the whole office.

When we got individual offices and Walkmans with headphones, we were grateful—it felt like getting your own room as a kid—but something was lost.

MICHELE asks: “Who was the most difficult interview, and/or rudest pop star?

SUZAN: I lasted less than eight minutes in the ring with Bananarama, and there were only two of the three present, Sarah and Keren. I can’t imagine I’d be alive to write this today if Siobhan had been there too. They answered my questions with “Yes,” “No,” and/or an eye roll and a smirk. John Taylor yelled at me once for getting some production credits wrong on a Power Station story, but once I made proper apologies, i.e., swearing I’d correct it in print and begging forgiveness, he was great, as usual.

DAVID: Cyndi Lauper was never much fun, despite the fact that she claimed that’s all girls like her wanted to have. Billy Idol always acted surly but always gave great interviews. When I interviewed Madonna at the Hard Rock Café in New York and the waiter asked her what she wanted and she said nothing and he said you have to order something and she looked at him and said FUCK YOU in that lovely Detroit accent (that I share) I thought that was going to be serious trouble, but it was an amazing interview. The full-on rudest pop star was Mick Hucknall from Simply Red. He wasn’t into it and had his publicist sit through the whole thing and I had to accompany Suzan on the interview to make sure she didn’t offend him with “silly” questions and then she asked something fairly innocuous and the publicist said “That’s it, I said no silly questions.” And I rose to my tallest 5-foot-8 ¾ and pronounced. “No, that’s it! We’re leaving!” And Mick Hucknall said, “Hey, man, she’s just trying to do her job.” And I said “And we’re just doing ours. Goodbye” That felt sooo good. Because let’s face it, we were doing that guy a favor even thinking of putting him in Star Hits, which of course, we then did not do.

ROBERT asks: “Who was the most difficult artist to get an interview with?”

SUZAN: Anyone who had a Number One album was suddenly unavailable to us. We were considered great for breaking new bands that couldn’t get in the bigger magazines, but we were old, cold, small potatoes once bands became big. Steve Korté and I took a road trip to Philadelphia when Charlie Sexton’s publicist said he might have ten minutes to talk to us. We drove out, went to his hotel, waited for hours, and then watched his publicist literally usher Charlie by the elbow past us, saying, “He doesn’t have time.” We ate cheese steaks and went home.

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I think David Keeps had a similar situation with Cyndi Lauper. She became a huge star and we needed to do a story on her or look like supreme losers (and not sell magazines that month). He’d been turned down for a formal interview but by chance he found himself in an elevator with her. They had a brief exchange, meaning David defied death glares from Cyndi’s publicist and just started chatting with her. He turned two sentences, one of them a “Yeah” into a two page “exclusive” interview. I remember Mark Coleman saying, “David, you can’t do that!” Like we needed to protect SH’s venerable and respected journalistic integrity.

DAVID: U2. They were impossible. We could barely even run pinups or song words for them because their pictures were shot out in a desert or in front of a rock and so arty. There was always a challenge and a negotiation getting Duran as often as we wanted them (which was basically every issue) so when they became Power Station and Arcadia there were tears of joy in our office. A lot of times we’d get one shot at an artist and then they’d decide they didn’t want to be teen pop stars, so we took lots of photos and did really long interviews and parceled things out in case they decided not to play ball with us. It was rarely that way with the English bands, however. They really understood the value of Smash Hits and Star Hits. And there were a lot of bands—ABC, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Duran, Tears for Fears, Thompson Twins, Howard Jones, Blow Monkeys, Curiosity Killed the Cat (*swoooon) —that we did all the time

HILARY asks: “Who was the most boring person you ever interviewed?”

DAVID: We used to say, if they seem boring it’s because you’re not asking interesting questions. But there were a lot of blowhards. They’d get on some high horse or some riff and we’d call it “wheezing” a term we also used when publicists called us to talk about bands we were not interested in. Those publicists were also known around the office as “drills” Okay, now that I’ve hemmed and hawed, I’ll just go with Andy Taylor because I am sure I must’ve interviewed him and can’t remember one thing about it. There, are you happy now?

SUZAN: Either it was so boring I don’t remember, or I never thought of any of them as being boring. Remember, I was a fan turned music journalist. This was never going to be boring for me. That said, some musicians didn’t get our questions, which tended to be, ah, irreverent. That’s the word I’ll use, though some of them used the more descriptive word, “stupid.”

LESLIE asks: “What’s your worst foot-in-mouth slip during an interview?”

DAVID: The time I interviewed Neal Schon and Sammy Hagar about some supergroup record that they put out and they looked at me in my New Wave clothes and asked me how I liked it and I said, “Oh it’s um …um…erm, great” And they said, “You never even listened to it, did you? “ And I had to admit I did not. And they thought it was hilarious and said, “You’ll probably hate it if you ever do.” I had “mad” “respect” for them for that.

SUZAN: Thanks to years of therapy, nothing is coming to mind.

BIG BUNNY asks: “In terms of being a gracious & enjoyable normal person, who was the greatest surprise?”

SUZAN: I believe by the end of my interview with Andy Partridge from XTC I told him I loved him. Sweet, sweet, sweet, and funny, and clever, and appreciative of a good stupid—I mean, irreverent question. Jim Kerr was a total gentleman. Matt Johnson of The The (who was, of course, the The The) was charming as he sat in the conference room of his record company with a bottle of wine and a glass, then asked for another glass for me.

Belinda Carlisle test photo. She played Advice Columnist for one of our mags. I think the column was called Ask Belinda.

Belinda Carlisle test photo. She played Advice Columnist for one of our mags. I think the column was called Ask Belinda.

DAVID: We always expected our idols to be gracious and enjoyable and hoped they wouldn’t be too normal. Who needs normal? Most of them were very gracious. Boy George was quite outspoken and could be very tempestuous but I rode with him once to the airport and we had a really civilized and fun chat. Siouxsie looked fierce and was also very outspoken, but in person, she cracked me up with her stories. I really loved the Go-Gos because they had such a twisted sense of humor; they were every bit as bad as any boy band but that wasn’t really a surprise. In later years, after Star Hits, I often interviewed Billy Idol, who was always a lovely thoughtful and articulate English gentleman, who liked to talk about history and play chess. That would surprise some.

LESLIE asks: “What was the most extreme/exotic/strange place you interviewed a celeb?”

DAVID: I went to Indianapolis with Tears For Fears. Is that exotic? How about seeing ABC perform on American Bandstand? I went to England and Los Angeles a lot. We did a lot of interviews in record company offices, backstage, hotel rooms, tour busses and photo studios. Then there was the time that Suzan and I went to Live Aid in Philadelphia and thought we were going to get all kinds of backstage access and get great interviews. It was not to be. We were stuck in the bleachers miles from the stage, the sun was pouring down, she was wearing a flannel circle skirt and by noon all the toilets had flooded. We ditched the whole thing and went to our hotel and watched it on TV. (I’ll get back to you if I think of anything else)

SUZAN: Is this like that infamous Dating Game question?

LESLIE asks: Everyone has to have one thing that really sticks with you from your life. What is your story? (coked out celeb, crazy events getting to an interview, or maybe it’s something random and personal)”

A tanned-n-toned David Keeps in a test Polaroid wearing the very same "Dave, ya got body odor" shirt he made Huey Lewis wear ...

A tanned-n-toned David Keeps in a test Polaroid wearing the very same “Dave, ya got body odor” shirt he made Huey Lewis wear …

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DAVID: One story that is often retold is my visit to Santa Cruz watching Huey Lewis and the News do the video for “If This is It” We had a photographer on hand, and His Hughness (also known as Sir Hughford of Lewis) had only brought three identical black Calvin Klein T-shirts. (The man did not have a stylist) So I conned him into wearing some of my own clothing, including the shirt I had on my own back. He posed for the picture, returned the shirt and said to me, not exactly charitably but not untruthfully either: “Dave, you’ve got body odor.” (Later, he asked me if I had any weed.)

SUZAN: Perhaps a little too personal, she said cryptically. Tee hee nervous giggle

LESLIE asks: “What interview do you wish you could do over?”

SUZAN: Almost all of them, without the “tee hee” nervous giggle.

DAVID: None. I just wish there was still a Star Hits or a magazine like it so I could do people like Lady Gaga, Iggy Azalea, and maybe Neon Trees—that seems like a fun band. I try to bring as much of that sensibility as I can into my current work, but that very fun, personal style that Smash Hits and Star Hits kind of invented has been widely imitated. I believe they call it blogging now. There are certain people I would like to catch up with and interview again, because I have a soft spot or they continue to fascinate me: Pete Burns, anyone from Depeche Mode, Martin and Mark from ABC, Siouxsie. That list is kind of long, actually

LESLIE asks: “Who did you NOT get to interview and wish you could?”

SUZAN: I don’t think I ever got to talk to Miss Annie—that’s what we called Annie Lennox—and I would have loved that. She was always a favorite, an icon, really. We worshipped Eurythmics and solo Miss Annie.

DAVID: It’s possible that I never interviewed Roger Taylor. If that’s true, that would round things out nicely.

LESLIE asks: “What item(s) have you saved from your Star Hits days?”

DAVID: I have most of the issues, including some doubles. I will happily send you a list of those I don’t have if anyone feels like making my life complete—or trading. I probably have some test Polaroids from photo sessions and I may have some ancient cassette tapes with interviews. I definitely have a mix tape entitled “Eat Me” which has a bunch of music from the era and a tape loop of Chris Lowe admitting that when he was young he “set the field opposite our house alight and fire engines came” and Neil shrieking, “Nooo you had FIRE ENGINES?” over and over and over. I have fond memories, solid skills as a headline and caption writer and enduring friendships but those aren’t really items.

BIG BUNNYasks: “What’s your favourite piece of STAR HITS memorabilia?

The beloved Barkie!

The beloved Barkie!

SUZAN: Sadly, all my SH related stuff drowned in Superstorm Sandy. All the copies of the mag, a scrapbook, my interview tapes. Oh well. I do wish we still had Barkie, the Autograph Hound, which was a contest prize. For months we brought Barkie, a vintage plush toy meant to be written on, to interviews and got him autographed. We loved our widdle Barkie…

DAVID: Well, it WAS Barkie, the Star Hits Autograph Hound. I hope he has found a good home. I should never have given him up. Our T-shirts were pretty wonderful too. I believe the slogan: “At Last, A Reason to Learn to Read” for a magazine is about as good as it gets.

 

 

BIG BUNNY asks: “How & when did STAR HITS finally fold/end/go under? I seem to remember a bizarre series of fold-out poster editions and [by late ’89?] some issues that didn’t remotely resemble anything from any of the years before. There was a name change to SMASH HITS and then WOW, I think…but it’s all very murky in my mind!

DAVID: Ask Suzan. It was complicated and I was gone. Talk about Murky

SUZAN: We were in the “magazine a minute” stage for a while, with Felix jumping on any music trend by putting out a test magazine, and if it did halfway well, it went monthly, just like that. The reason was that by this point Star Hits was referred to in-house as “The world’s most expensive fanzine.” It was beloved by a small readership and cost more money than it made. Felix was hoping something would hit, either the teen mags, which did do well, or the metal mag, or Crystal’s hip hop magazine that I still can’t remember the name of, darn it.

Anyway, at a certain point most of us just got laid off—me, Crystal, Steve, the cleaning lady—and I think some of the mags were folded. Everything was left in the hands of Chris Nadler, who sadly passed away last year. That’s when Pilot, the parent company, started putting out the poster magazines with, like, Saddam Hussein and a bull’s eye over his image. The rest of us always used to say thank goodness we got out before the Saddam days.

BIG BUNNY asks: “What is your greatest & most enduring STAR HITS era personal mistake? Does anyone have a SCARLETT & BLACK tattoo or the like?”

SUZAN: HAAAHAAA! That’s fantastic 😉 If I did I’d make sure I showed it off every chance I got, and I don’t even remember them. No regrets, no mistakes that I know of. Don’t hold me to that if David names something.

DAVID: We never made mistakes. Only happy little accidents. I dyed my hair a bit too often and never got any closer to blond than carrot orange. Not a good look.

LESLIE asks: ”What fad/style from the 80s do you miss or regret? ( I miss “big hair” and I regret never owning Capezio Jazz Shoes or a pair of parachute pants.

SUZAN: Those are all good. The weird thing is that anything I miss makes a trendy comeback—I’ve seen slouchy boots, neon, big hair…It all comes back. I’m most partial to the sort of vintage-punk mixed worn by Exene Cervenka of X, though at my age it does look rather “Oh dear.”

DAVID: I don’t miss a lot. The clothes were baggy and boxy and made of hideous materials. I wore a lot of vintage and Zodiac high-tops and E.G. Smith socks that were gigantic and you sort of pushed them down and they looked like leg warmers. Actually those were highly regrettable.

LESLIE asks: “Do you still listen to 80s music, or are you just totally over the decade? What bands/music are you listening to now?”

SUZAN: I love when I hear 80s music on the radio until I realize it’s playing on the oldies station, which means I’m an oldie. I have some ABC, Adam & the Ants, Talk Talk, Annie Lennox/Eurythmics, Echo & the Bunnymen, B-52s, Siouxsie, Bryan Adams (“Cuts Like a Knife,” come on, it’s a great song), Yaz(oo), Erasure, lotsa Cocteau Twins, some Duran, the Cult—oh, did I heart me some Cult—a little Cure, Stray Cats, Police, Terence Trent D’Arby, U2…So, yes, I still listen to 80s music.

DAVID: How can you avoid 80s music? It’s everywhere. In movies, TV, commercials, etc. And I live in L.A. where they have whole radio stations dedicated to it. I don’t listen to a lot of new music these days, unless I have a long boring drive ahead of me and I can’t reach anyone on the phone. I like a lot of what I hear, but a lot of what I hear doesn’t sound all that different from 80s pop, really. And if I were editing Star Hits now, I wonder where I would draw the line? Would Coldplay and Imagine Dragons be totally uncool? Probably. Would I put Ariana Grande on the cover? Probably NOT.

BIG BUNNY asks: “Did any of you become & remain friends with your pop star interviewees?”

abclighting test 1986 ish

DAVID: Became friendly with many during those days: Go-Gos, Pet Shop Boys, ABC, Blow Monkeys, Bronski Beat, Communards, Holly Johnson. I still run into Curt Smith from Tears from Fears now and again in Los Angeles. I have always kept in touch with Neil and Chris and see them when they’re in town.

Jimmy Somerville (Bronksi Beat and Communards) and me (David Keeps), somewhere over the rainbow

Jimmy Somerville (Bronksi Beat and Communards) and me (David Keeps), somewhere over the rainbow

SUZAN: Yes to the first part, no to the second.

HILARY asks: “Did Martin Gore dress in his harnesses and shit on casual days?”

SUZAN: Wasn’t privy to any of his casual days, but when I interviewed him and Alan Wilder, Martin was wearing some gear.

DAVID: I don’t think Martin “Loretta” Gore had a casual day in his life.

JOSEPH asks: “I’ve often wondered at the mysteries surrounding Doctor and the Medics! Especially their eyebrows.”

DAVID: Joseph, I will leave you to that. When you solve that mystery feel free to get in touch. Or don’t.

SUZAN: You’re not the only one. Mystery as yet unsolved.

ROBERT asks: “Dr. Robert of the Blow Monkeys and Sigue Sigue Sputnik were often hailed as the “Darlings” of Star Hits. What were they like in person?”

Getting a little mancrushy-y with Tony Kiley, drummer of Blow Monkeys, and me (David Keeps) at a Star Hits shoot

Getting a little mancrushy-y with Tony Kiley, drummer of Blow Monkeys, and me (David Keeps) at a Star Hits shoot

DAVID: Suzan was the Sigue-xpert. I believe she went to L.A. with them. Ask her. I met Dr. Robert and he was very dapper and cool, but I had a little more of a Diggin’ Your Scene bromance with the Blow Monkeys’ drummer Tony Kiley. He was a great bloke.

SUZAN: Steve bogarted the Blow Monkeys so I only had contact with the Sputniks, and they were lovely! Tony was such a gent, wearing his pineapple hair with a business suit at the chic hotel bar where David and I interviewed him. The drummers, Ray Mayhew and Chris Kavanagh, were such sweet boys, hanging out with me and my friends in LA. We adored those guys.

HILARY asks: “Ask them what all the pop stars smelled like! I bet Neil Tennant smelled like some classy 80s shit like drakkar noir

SUZAN: David would know for sure, but probably true. Tennant was a gent through and through. And what a sharp wit! A walking paper cut inflictor, him.

DAVID: Good question! If only I could remember. I tend to remember the bad habits, not the good ones, like the nose pickers and bad breath dragons. Neil always smells delicious, of course, and I am sure he has a collection of the finest designer fragrances.

 

Why a Morrissey concert is like a timeshare vacation

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I had the honor of seeing Morrissey perform in Austin at the Austin Music Hall last Saturday night. It was kind of a miracle because he didn’t cancel, he didn’t flounce off the stage at some unknown insult, and he didn’t cut any songs short due to crowd misbehavior. Anyway, the show was a delight, and of course I was in awe of someone who is Godlike to me.

I’m pretty sure Morrissey (or at least his marketing team) is aware of his Godlike status, because I purchased this shirt at the merch stand:

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Morrissey’s merch stand is insane. If I had known how many amazing shirts would be for sale, I would have started saving six months ago. There were probably 20 different shirts. Tongue held firmly in cheek, there was a tee shirt with Oscar Wilde thinking “Who is Morrissey?”, a shirt with the legendary picture of Moz with a cat on his head, a poster of Moz in the England shirt, a mouse pad with the photo of Moz in the bath, etc. etc. etc. This serves as a warning to anyone seeing him on this tour – be prepared to make tough choices or else spend a lot of money.

Of course, before Moz hit the stage there was the opening act. The same opening act he’s had since 2007, which means I’ve seen her several times. The same opening act that most of the audience would walk out on if they weren’t held captive by the fact that the legendary Morrissey is playing next.

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Kristeen Young is like a talentless Yoko Ono. She tries too hard to be “weird”, cacophonous, discordant, strident and unlistenable. That’s what she WANTS to sound like, I assume. It’s like a circus calliope gone off the rails while a banshee cries in the night. It’s everything you hate, and more! My friends and I have been trying to figure out why she’s been his opening act for so many years. Maybe she’s one of the few people he trusts in the world…although there are some salacious rumors going around. After all, Morrissey did reveal in his book that he is bisexual. Well, there is a lid for every pot, I suppose…if the rumors are true…

Having survived Kristeen Young for the umpteenth time, I was ready to hear some actual music from Morrissey. He did not disappoint.

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Here is the set list:

  1. Encore:

The band were all wearing shirts that say FANCY MAN, which is funny if you’re familiar with British slang.

What I love about seeing a Morrissey show is the realization that he feels the music as much as you do. I always get angry when I sing along with Speedway, and I saw that rage reflected in his expression. Hand In Glove followed by I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris packed a surprising punch. I ended up crying, but that’s to be expected at this show. If you don’t at least tear up a little bit during a Morrissey concert, you might want to check the dose of your meds.

The highlight of the show was Everyday Is Like Sunday. The crowd was joyous, and sang along loudly. Everyone was smiling, cheering, raising their hands in the air, dancing and laughing.

The low point of the show came during Meat Is Murder. The film Meet Your Meat was shown on the backdrop, as it has been for years. I have learned it’s better for me if I just look down at the floor or watch the crowd rather than seeing that film. Yes, I do eat meat, but not as much as I used to. I don’t like being visually assaulted. This is why a Morrissey show is like a timeshare vacation. If you want to see the entire performance, you have to sit through this demonstration film for a few minutes. I watched the faces in the crowd and saw expressions of disbelief, horror, shock, and disgust. Some were like me and looked away.

The song finally stopped playing, and I looked up to see that Morrissey and the rest of the band had their backs to the audience and were watching the film as it silently flickered on the backdrop. I have to hand it to him, he had the strength to actually watch it and I did not. Things got incredibly awkward as the minutes ticked on and the film still played. The crowd was murmuring to one another, a swell of rumbling discomfort that rose in volume as time went on. I think some people walked out. Finally, the film stopped and the show went on, minus some of the goodwill that Morrissey had earned with the crowd.

The next song was National Front Disco, which seems rather upsetting considering the election results in Europe this weekend. I don’t think that the crowd really forgot about the horrors of Meat Is Murder, but finally the energy was back to the usual levels when Moz came back out for the encore, singing Asleep. I’ve never heard him sing that at a concert. It’s one of my favorite Smiths songs, and it means a lot to me. Hearing and watching him sing it really transported me back to some sad times in my life, and I wept openly. My heart broke open. What a wonderful moment…

During the final song, there were a few people who rushed the stage to tackle/hug our hero. He was encouraging them to come up, holding out his hand and waving them up. Sometimes security intervened and the moment was lost, but there were a few who achieved their goal. The one I remember the most was a gentle and sweet-looking ginger-haired boy, who clasped Moz by the waist and rested his ginger head on Moz’s chest. The look on Moz’s face was one of surprise, then acceptance, then reassurance as he patted the boy on the shoulder.

The whole evening seemed surreal. I had a good spot in the crowd and could see his expressive face as he sang. It’s been a long time since I was that close for a Morrissey performance. Considering the health scares he had last year, it was pretty amazing that I got to see him again. I hope he will come back around…but somewhere in the back of my mind I always worry that every time I see Morrissey, it will be the last time.

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What I did last summer (Martin Gore – twice! and Fat Bob)

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Last summer, everyone who was involved in writing this blog post met up in Chicago to see (worship at) a Depeche Mode show. The three of us (me, H and K) have all been internet pals for a long time but we’d never all been in the same city at the same time, and we are all huge Depeche fans. We had lots of adventures in Chicago, but the main event was seeing Depeche Mode, and Martin Gore, our favorite.

I’m an extremely anxious person and so I wanted to leave really early on the day of the show. The venue wasn’t that far away, but I get nervous. I was literally shitting bricks so finally H agreed to head towards the show. It turned out there was horrendous traffic getting into the venue, so we barely made it in time. All three of us had panic attacks in the car by that time.

I have to say that the venue we went to was one of the most poorly planned venues I have ever seen in my life. We ended up parking in VIP and not paying for it (shhhhh it’s our secret),and running to our seats just before Depeche Mode hit the stage.

Finally, we were in our seats and ready to go. All of us had our anxiety amped up to maximum levels and so it was inevitable that we all had emotional breakdowns during the concert. Martin Gore, sensitive and elfin as ever, stepped into the spotlight in his silver suit to croon Shake the Disease, and our collective knees buckled. We all held each other up while we sobbed our hearts out. I am not kidding. We were crying like babies. When people say, “I cried like a baby,” they may not mean it, but I totally mean it.

For the rest of the night, we each took turns bawling our eyes out over Depeche Mode, especially when Martin was singing. They had two set lists on that tour, and I was praying he’d sing But Not Tonight, but it wasn’t meant to be. Still, the show was incredible and we all agreed it was better than we had hoped for. There was a magic in the air that could never be recaptured. Thanks, anxiety!

Tickets for Austin City Limits (ACL) were going on sale a few weeks later. Depeche Mode and The Cure were both playing, so I knew I had to go, no matter what, and my friend H was coming with me. Martin Gore and Fat Bob (Robert Smith) are two icons from my holy trinity of goth (Morrissey is the third, if you were curious), so It was going to be insanely great.

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ACL had it set up so that Depeche Mode played on Friday night, and The Cure played on Saturday night. This was basically a dream come true for me. I could not believe I was going to see two of my favorite bands in one weekend, with one of my best friends!

My friend didn’t want to spend all day at ACL, and I agreed, because it was hot as balls and also because there are so many other fun things to do in Austin. We went to Book People, and gasped loudly when we spotted an entire magazine dedicated to Depeche Mode. Yes, I bought it and we squealed over it like teenagers. Whatever, don’t judge me!

We went to ACL that evening, and  I parked at my office, which was two miles away, and those two miles seem pretty far in the hot weather. We were already wilting.

We hardly got to see any bands besides the headliners, because we had to get a decent spot in the crowd. We went on the second weekend of the festival. The first weekend had temperatures in the 70’s, absolutely perfect weather. The second weekend predicted rainstorms, so we had rain ponchos.

Depeche Mode’s show is so fun when you’re in a big, excited, festival crowd. I love hearing everyone singing along to every song. I didn’t cry as much this time, probably because I wasn’t as anxious as I had been in Chicago, but when Martin sang But Not Tonight, I lost it. I think it was raining by then too, so when he sang, “Oh God, it’s raining, but I’m not complaining,” every cell in my body exploded with joy. I tried to sing along but I couldn’t, because I was crying too much. I wasn’t sobbing, just quietly letting tears run down my face while I mouthed the words. When the song ended, I was kind of embarrassed, until a man standing nearby gently patted me on the shoulder and told me that was a beautiful moment. I choked up just writing about that moment.

H and I had a great time laughing at Dave’s crazy dancing. He grabbed his dick a lot, as usual. I remember shouting, “Look at that chicken leg!” during one particularly lecherous grope. Dave, never change.

When the concert was over, we walked the two miles to the car in the rain. We had our ponchos on, but honestly, they don’t help much. You still get wet and then also feel clammy. By the time we got to the car, we were exhausted and hungry. We stopped at Kerbey Lane for some late night grub and I felt (and looked) like I had been run over by a truck. That was only day one!

The next day, we woke up and still felt terrible so we planned to go even later than we did the day before. We ended up seeing the Arctic Monkeys, but had to leave early to get a good place to see the Cure.

We were really excited to worship at the altar of Fat Bob (affectionately nicknamed by Siouxsie, so we aren’t body shaming, okay?). I’ve been listening to the Cure since Let’s Go to Bed. I remember scoffing at the people who discovered the band when The Head on the Door came out. I’m still a terrible music snob, sorry. (not sorry)

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I knew it was supposed to rain again that night, and as promised, the deluge began about halfway through the show. I didn’t have a rain poncho and I forgot my umbrella, so we huddled under H’s umbrella. Seeing The Cure play One Hundred Years in a heavy rainstorm through a sea of umbrellas was probably the ultimate experience I could have as a Cure fan. I will never ever forget that.

I’d seen The Cure play at Coachella in 2010, so I knew they were notorious for breaking curfews and playing for hours and hours. They played on, covering their equipment with tarps, makeup smearing in the rain. Sadly, due to the storm, they were cut off. You could tell that Robert did not want to leave the stage, as he reluctantly shrugged and waved goodbye.

We trudged out of Zilker Park, and got lost trying to get to the car. I think we walked an extra mile out of the way. I was soaked to the bone. When we got home, we bundled up and I had the chills. The next day, I was miserable, the park was flooded, and ACL was canceled due to the fact that we had over a foot of rain.

The only band we really wanted to see on Sunday was Franz Ferdinand. They were playing a secret show at a club downtown. I felt so awful that we didn’t get in line early enough. I knew we weren’t going to get in, but after three hours, we ended up sneaking in only to be escorted out seconds later. We saw the band walk into the club, and I touched Bob on the arm as he went by. Oh, the humanity!

To salve our disappointment, we went to dinner and got some Amy’s Ice Cream. I felt terrible because I’d been a whiny bitch all the time we were in line. I seriously felt so sick, though.

After I dropped H off at the airport the next day, I went home and passed out. I ended up calling in sick the whole week, because I had a bad upper respiratory infection. They thought maybe it was pneumonia or pertussis, but I dodged those bullets, thank goodness.

I’m not sure I will ever go to ACL again. I could just livestream it all on the web, and see more bands than we saw. If it wasn’t for Depeche Mode and The Cure, I would have never gone in the first place. I guess I’ll go back to ACL for a Smiths reunion…haha! As if…

The Day I Met the Pet Shop Boys

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 I have been a fan of the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant even before he was a Pet Shop Boy. He used to write for my teen Bible, Star Hits (Smash Hits) magazine. I remember when he left the magazine to become a famous pop star. I was sad, because I figured I’d never hear from him again. Oh, ye of little faith! Of course he and Chris Lowe became extremely famous and fabulous, and are one of the few 80’s bands that stood the test of time.

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Fast forward to 2014. Pet Shop Boys are touring America, and are selling VIP meet and greets. I hyperventilated at the thought of actually pressing the flesh with Mr. Tennant himself, who had been my hero since those halcyon Star Hits/Smash Hits days. I just had to snatch up a VIP ticket, even though it was a bit out of my budget. I later found out that photos were not permitted, which was a huge bummer for me. I’d rather have a photo than an autograph any day.

Finally, the day of the show arrived. After standing in line for almost two hours, and meeting some lovely people who were in line with me (Hello, Jessica!), it was finally time to meet Chris and Neil. I was so nervous. I actually felt like I might pass out. Some of my new friends went in with me to offer moral support, or maybe they were worried I’d actually faint. I’m not sure.

Anyway, I turned the corner into the meet and greet room, and saw Neil Tennant himself smiling at me as if he were happy to see me, and extending his hand out to me. (I’m sure he did this for everyone) He was wearing black pants and a black jacket, and he had on some sexy glasses that made him look like a college professor (the one everyone has a crush on).

Huge disclaimer here: yes, I know he is gay, but I had a huge crush on him before I realized the truth of the matter, and sometimes I still can’t forget how that felt. I joked that I was going to tell him, “You’ve been whispering in my ear for 27 years,” but I didn’t. So chalk up some points for me for self-restraint.

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I shook hands with Neil and Chris. Chris has never seemed like a real person to me. He seems like a robot – never speaking, never smiling, never showing his eyes. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him smiling, chatting, and wearing a grey hoodie and sweats. He was so laid back and casual! I said to Chris, “It’s nice to hear you speak,” and he replied cheekily, “I’m a real chatterbox!”

Neil was busy signing everything I brought, plus my laminate. I brought my copy of the Best of Smash Hits book for him to sign (he wrote the foreword), and he immediately exclaimed, “Ooooooh, Smash Hits!” upon seeing the book. It was delightful. They both graciously signed all the items I brought (I even had them sign something for a friend), and were lovely and sweet.

Even though I didn’t get a photo with them, it was a great experience, and definitely worth the money.

After that, it was time for the show! Those of us who had VIP got into the venue early, so I had a good spot in the front. If you haven’t seen the Pet Shop Boys live, you really missed out on a sensory overload. It’s a spectacle in every sense of the word. They change costumes, there are dancers who also change costumes, a light show that will dazzle your retinas, and of course, the wonderful songs.

Here’s a taste:

I had a fabulous time at the show, except for a few jerks in the audience. Every show in Austin has a problem with people who show up and then spend the entire time chatting with their friends. I don’t know why these people feel they must be right up front if they’re going to gossip for hours…I did finally turn around and “shush” them but it did no good. Then, a few minutes later, their friends pushed through the crowd to join them. These people had made their own “disco” hats, and were shining a light on them using the flashlight app on their phones. It was ruining the light show and blinding me. Next, they started taking selfies of each other with the hat on. They were moving around, pushing everyone, laughing, chatting and ruining the show. Finally, I’d had enough. I started elbowing them back when they pushed me. Then I grabbed the arm of the girl with the hat and said, “Why don’t you go to the back? You are extremely annoying.” The best part about all this, is that they actually did go away after a minute!

I’m totally going to get punched in the nose at a show someday, but I am glad I didn’t this time. It’s my bad karma from being super annoying at shows over the years. Maybe it will be erased soon…

Once those pests went away, I was back in blissful ecstasy. The show was amazing, and I will never forget that day. I still can’t believe that I actually met them and talked to them! They will always seem so much larger than life to me.

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The night Martin Gore proved that eye contact = sex

It should come as a surprise to no one that my obsession with Nick Rhodes led to an obsession with Martin Gore.  They are both blonde, elfin, girlish, and play keyboards.  There were a few differences, though.

Nick Rhodes wore makeup like a woman does – to make himself look “pretty”.  I would use photos of Nick to guide me on eyeliner application.  (Especially during his Cleopatra period during Arcadia.) Nick preferred pastel pink lips, and a smoky eye.

Martin Gore was a different story.  He wore ruby red lipstick, smeared eyeliner, and bondage gear.  I didn’t really understand what was going on at the time, but it’s obvious now.  He even had a shirt that said, “SUBMISSIVE” on it.  Martin Gore was kind of scary and dangerous to me back in the 80’s.  I knew he liked girls, because he would always talk about his German girlfriend Christina when he was interviewed in Star Hits.  The question was, what did he like to do WITH those girls?  Knowing his girlfriend was German, I am pretty sure golden showers were probably involved.  EEK!

My Depeche Mode fandom reached its peak during the Music for the Masses tour, aka the 101 tour.  DM came to Phoenix twice that year.  The first time I saw them, I didn’t have a very good seat.  I vowed to be right up front next time.  The band came back around in June of 1988.  I think we were the show they played right before the legendary Rose Bowl show.

My friend and I slept in the parking lot in front of the Diamond’s Box Office in a very bad neighborhood.  I’m surprised nothing happened to us.  We chose this box office  because we knew hardly anyone would buy a ticket there, so we’d be first in line.  No one else camped there, so we were the only people in line.  Luckily, our bet paid off and we had front row center tickets!  I remember that I cried after we paid for these tickets.

I started planning what to wear to the show.  I wanted to stand out and be noticed.  I knew that most DM fans wore black (and the boys wore skirts, which I loved).  I decided to do the opposite, and bought a skintight white mini-dress.  At the time, I was 5 ft 8 in and weighed 100 pounds, so I probably looked like a bag of bones, but I thought I looked super hot.

It has been many years since I was at that show, but there are so many defining moments that I will never forget.  I remember Martin and Alan bashing away at sheets of steel and lead pipes.  I remember Dave Gahan twirling around with the mike stand in his white outfit (Dave grabbed his crotch and shook his junk at my friend Leslie that night, scarring her for life) .  I remember Martin Gore playing A GUITAR during the encore (Pleasure, Little Treasure).  It blew everyone’s fucking MIND that he played a guitar.

But the moment that stands out the most for me is when Martin sang The Things You Said.  I remember he was shirtless, wandering the stage in his bondage gear and softly singing about how someone did him wrong.  I knew all the words, and sang along, my eyes following him wherever he went.  Towards the end of the song, he stood at the edge of the stage, right in front of me and my friends, and looked me right in the eye while he sang a few lines.

I grabbed my friend Sophia’s arm and held on tight so I wouldn’t fall over.  When he moved away, Sophia and I jumped up and down in excitement, and she was screaming “He sang to you!” over and over.  I could have died right there and been the happiest corpse in the morgue.

DM is releasing a new album and touring next year.  Hopefully, I’ll get a good seat.  Even after all this time, I love me some Martin Gore.  I loved his floofy hair, his rat tails, and his wonky teeth.  I wish he hadn’t gotten his teeth fixed.  Who am I kidding?  He’s perfect no matter what.

Oh, Martin….*happy sigh*