Five-minute memoir: Benjamin Anastas recalls his deeply unpopular obsession with Ultravox
'I started wearing gel in my hair so I could look more like Midge Ure'
Saturday 26 October 2013
Trust me when I say that no one else at school liked Ultravox. I might have been the only 12 year old in the state of Massachusetts who filled the dead time in his geometry class by drawing the band's logo on the cover of his notebook over and over again – this was the squared, futuristic lettering from the album Vienna, not easy to reproduce in number-two pencil – or who couldn't wait to get home after school, flip on the stereo, and drop the turntable needle on the album's first track, "Sleepwalk".
No matter how many times I listened to the song, with its swooshing intro that sounded like a backwards cymbal crash, I felt a surge of excitement that I couldn't explain. It wasn't anything like the music that I'd grown up with; it wasn't the hard rock and heavy metal that all the other boys in my school liked, scrawling 'Twisted Sister' and 'AC/DC' on their own notebooks; it was new wave, emphasis on the 'new', and everyone else in the eighth grade was stuck in the past.
When I brought friends home and played my Ultravox album, hoping for the same effect, a conversion experience like the one I'd had listening to Vienna for the first time, on a boombox in the woods, my friend Geoff – he was older, at least 14 – looking at me with expectancy in his eyes and going, "See? See? I told you…", I only found disappointment.
"Yeah, I guess they're all right."
"You really like 'em, huh?"
"What else you got to listen to?"
I didn't mind the fact that no one else liked Ultravox. If anything, the fact that most of my friends hadn't even heard of Ultravox only increased the band's allure in my eyes. I was an evangelist for a great and noble cause. When I bought Rage in Eden, the band's second album with Midge Ure at the helm – and its best, by any honest measure – my immersion in the church of Ultravox became complete. The band's logo was harder to reproduce on my school notebooks now (the album cover for Rage in Eden featured a strange-looking Cubist head with one rectangle eye, far beyond my skills as an artist), but the songs were better than ever.
Once again, the genius of Ultravox was lost on the friends I brought home to hear Rage in Eden:
"You're still into Ultravox?"
"That's it, I'm getting bored."
"Is that a piano?"
"I hate piano."
I was undaunted, though. Ultravox was still my favourite band. They were my secret, my discovery. I sent away to England for a skinny Ultravox tie and a Rage in Eden pin. I started wearing gel in my hair so I could look more like Midge Ure. The pointed sideburns I couldn't duplicate yet, but I bought a pair of wool herringbone trousers and a Scottish driving cap like the one I'd seen him wear in pictures.
I went to Newbury Comics, an import record store, and scoured the London fan magazines for any news about the band. I sent away for a poster, and when it came eight weeks later, damaged from the trip, I hung it up on my bedroom wall and gazed at it whenever I didn't want to do my homework. I didn't care what the world thought. As Midge sang in "The Thin Wall", my favourite song from Rage in Eden:
And those who sneer will fade and die
And those who laugh will surely fall
And those who know will always feel
Their backs against the thin wall
Breaking up with a favourite band doesn't happen overnight. You grow older and your taste in music changes. Bands get worse and you feel personally betrayed. Other bands arrive on the scene and you start straying in the record store, with a feeling of guilt and excitement. My love for Ultravox died hard, but it did die, for all of the reasons I've listed above; the band betrayed me first (remember "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes"? Or the Raiders of the Lost Ark-themed video for "Love's Great Adventure" from 1984?) and I never quite forgave them.
I kept my Ultravox poster on my wall through most of high school, but they were replaced in quick succession by Simple Minds, The Cure, The Smiths, Billy Bragg. I did see them live once, at the Orpheum in Boston, and it was our last hurrah. The lights went down. The intro music started playing, and we rose to our feet. The curtains flew open with a burst of blinding light and the pulsing bassline from "The Thin Wall". The crowd roared. I roared too. Ultravox!
Benjamin Anastas is the author of 'Too Good to be True', published in eBook by Blackfriars, £3.99
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