Sunday, July 10, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: Peter Gabriel 3 (1980)

The 1980 Peter Gabriel song "Family Snapshot" is often considered to recount a combination of Bremer's attempt on Wallace and the assassination of JFK. The song told from the point of view of a would-be assassin, suggests that the action he is taking as an adult is to make up for the attention he never received as a child.
Tim Huddleston, The Real Life Taxi Driver: A Biography of Arthur Bremer, The Real Inspiration of Travis Bickle, 2013.

Let's tarry a while longer in the early 1980s. First, a quick recap on why we are here. A couple weeks back, browsing in one of the city's few remaining large used record stores, I stumbled upon a scuff copy of Oh, No! It's Devo (1982), the last album the spud boys produced while still in the limelight. An unremembered gem from Oh, No! It's Devo is "I Desire," a song co-written with Reagan's attempted assassin John Hinckley Jr.

Hinkley tried to kill Reagan because he wanted to impress actress Jodie Foster. Hinckley was obsessed with Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), a Paul Schrader screen-play interpretation of the diary of Arthur Bremer, George Wallace's attempted assassin. (Gore Vidal argued in The New York Review of Books that Bremer's An Assassin's Diary (1973) was ghost written by White House Plumber E. Howard Hunt.)

Taxi Driver stars Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, a loner, ex-Marine who decides to kill a presidential contender to impress the beautiful campaign worker (played by Cybill Shepherd) after she dumps him for taking her to a Scandinavian pornographic film on their first date. Jodie Foster plays a young runaway, Iris, street hooking for a pimp played by Harvey Keitel. Travis, after botching an assassination attempt on the Kennedyesque presidential contender, shifts his focus to liberating Iris from white slavery.

As Tim Huddleston summarizes:
Probably the biggest impact Bremer had on the world was to provide Paul Schrader with the inspiration to create the character Travis Bickle, portrayed by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's brilliant 1976 film, Taxi Driver. Then, in a case of life imitating art imitating life [which, if Vidal is correct, was actually a Hunt contrivance], John Hinckley, Jr., who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan, claimed to be inspired by Travis Bickle, who had been inspired by Arthur Bremer. All three men, including the fictional one, failed in their efforts.
All this got me thinking about Jodie Foster's Army (JFA), a Phoenix Hardcore Skatepunk band formed in 1981 in the wake of Hinckley's real-life reenactment of Taxi Driver. JFA records were everywhere during my lower-division undergraduate years, 1982-1984. One takeaway from my JFA study last week was the realization of how dark things were that late fall of 1980 on into the spring of 1981.

I have this memory of my mother going off to vote for Jimmy Carter before the polls closed at the high school gymnasium. It was already apparent that Reagan would win in a landslide. But she, a good liberal Democrat (just think how rapaciously liberals have been fucked, mostly with their consent, the last forty years) went out and voted anyway. I remember that November evening being very cold and inky black. A month later we would watch the television news of the murder of John Lennon.

This past week I wanted to sample something that my friends and I were listening to during this time, and I made a decision with hardly any thought to sync my iPod with Peter Gabriel albums. Sunday, while reading, the iPod plugged into a docking station with decent speakers, Peter Gabriel 3 (1980), a.k.a. Melt, started playing. Forty-five minutes later I was stunned. What an incredible album! 

Listening to Melt again -- and I listened to Melt and its followup, Security, a lot back in the day -- it all immediately became clear, the 1980s that is. 

Peter Gabriel 3 is the key code for the decade to come. The signature "gated drum" sound of "Intruder," announced on the album's first track (see the YouTube three paragraphs above), played by Phil Collins but crafted in collaboration with producer Steve Lillywhite, Gabriel himself and engineer Hugh Padgham, runs throughout Melt, but particularly the first cuts: "Intruder," "No Self Control," and "I Don't Remember."

No Self Control

I Don't Remember

The gated drum sound is like a juiced-up, cyborg version of the Japanese taiko, bottom heavy and resonant of infinite black space. Phil Collins would cash in big half-a-year later with "In the Air Tonight," the huge hit single off his 1981 solo debut, Face Value.

At a time when neoliberalism is attaining escape velocity, the gated drum, accompanied by the Frippian guitar burst, basically recreates rock 'n' roll in the 1980s. Hippies vanish beneath a banker's suit and Punks go post- into New Wave House music. (John Lydon devotes an entire PiL album, 1981's The Flowers of Romance, to the drum sound of Melt.) Powerful stuff. Imagine Miami Vice or the puissant Michelob commercials of the 1980s, what I used to refer to as "television on TV," without the gated drum. You can't do it. It made us believe that what we were doing was somehow new. And so was capitalism.

Peter Gabriel 3 makes it all possible. Sure, the gated drum would have come along and become popular. But Melt provided a Garden of Eden, a place at the beginning of the world. It is a flawless record, a perfect melding, thanks to Steve Lillywhite, of prog-rock Hippies with Punk rockers, creating a monstrous third way. I think my favorite cut is the last track on side one, "And Through the Wire," with The Jam's Paul Weller on lead guitar:

Having recently finished reading Philip JenkinsDecade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America (2006), I was reminded how much the year 1980 scared the shit out of people. Iran and Afghanistan inaugurated a rightward shift in the country that has never been reversed. 


  1. It'll take some time to really process this piece, but, yes, you are on the money with this.

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  3. Have you ever read Mae Brussell? This forty-page essay will give you an entre into the world of Arthur Bremer et al:

  4. When I did one of the posts on Joy of Cooking I had just finished reading Paul Krassner's excellent PATTY HEARST & THE TWINKIE MURDERS: A TALE OF TWO TRIALS, and he referenced Mae Brussell's voluminous research. He was talking about Field Marshall Cinque, a.k.a., Donald DeFreeze and the SLA, but I have seen Dick Gregory mention that Bremer was a dirty tricks campaign. There is a collection of Mae Brussell's writing. I'll have to pick up a copy. Thanks for the link.