Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The tortured genius of Adam Ant

My friend and bandmate Rich "Foxx" Trott says he enjoys when I write about my musical influences, so here's some more in that vein...

The only thing worse than "not making it" as a star is "making it for a little while".

I've never met Adam Ant (a.k.a. Stuart Goddard) but I feel like I know him well. Yeah, he ripped us off a bit (hint: the song was originally called "Pantmusic"), but then again, who didn't rip us off?

To be fair, I stole from him, too - in obvious ways (What's my band called?) and less obvious ways.

Adam Ant not only worked with Malcom McLaren (better known for a less-talented, less-successful one-off band called The Sex Pistols), Adam got screwed over by him in truly spectacular fashion! McLaren helped shape Adam's pop star vision...and then more or less stole The Ants from Adam and refashioned them into Bow Wow Wow, replacing Adam with teenager Annabella Lwin (there are stories to be told here soon, too). Like the Pants, Adam was forced to rush to get an album out with "his sound" before Bow Wow Wow released theirs. Bow Wow Wow is primarily known today for covers - both their retread of "I Want Candy" and the (at the time) under age Lwin posing nude on the sleeve. (This is not to knock Bow Wow Wow - they are awesome, too)
The Devil take your stereo and your record collection


Ant was so punk he decided he wanted to make both pop music and money, not just smash everything - at the time, that was seriously radical. He wrote clever, hooky songs, teamed up with a fantastic guitar player (the underrated Marco Pirroni), and developed one of the most distinctive visual styles of the 80s (or any decade), right down to typography. Like Billy Idol, he often played (uncredited) bass guitar on his albums, and is much smarter musically and in other ways than his cartoonish image would have one believe. (However, unlike Billy Idol, one of my ex-girlfriends did not date Adam Ant.)

Trent Reznor says the backwards "N" in the Nine Inch Nails logo was inspired by Adam Ant's backwards "D" and NIN covered "You're So Physical" on their breakthrough "Broken" album.

Close personal friend Roxy Epoxy covered "Beat My Guest", and her vocal stylings and the music of her band, The Epoxies, owes a clear debt to Adam Ant as well.

As a kid in the 80s, Adam Ant was unlike any other singer, celebrity, or person I knew. He wasn't as polished, smooth, or awesome as Duran Duran...but he was oddly scary/threatening, raw, sensual, and human, receding hairline and all.

My first real girlfriend was head-over-heels for him, and thought he was sexy as hell (she also broke my heart, so her judgment is somewhat questionable). I saw his videos and wondered what he was thinking. Was he serious? How could he be in that get-up? But he couldn't possibly be joking because he seemed like he meant it...His songs were funny, sexy, and sometimes creepy.

Eventually I realized that part of what made Adam Ant's whole thing work was what actors strive for - that sense of "commitment" to the role, to the part, to the song, to the look. Adam Ant is fearless when he sings. He throws himself into his music completely, and that abandon is what makes it and him powerful.
We went on "Top of the Pops" for 3 minutes - "Dog Eat Dog", that was it - and the next day 200,000 people went out and bought the record. That 3.5 minutes took 3.5 years to prepare for...
He sent copies of his records to a teacher who had been supportive of his artistic tendencies. And he was "the most written-about celebrity [in the UK] in 1981 except for Princess Diana". He had a slew of hit singles before flaming out in 1989 with an album produced by one of Prince's understudies. Took up acting, got some b-movie and TV roles. Did commercials for Honda scooters with Grace Jones. Carefully, obsessively managing and plotting his career.

The whole time he was grappling with serious mental illness: depression.
Did I tell you I didn't cry?
Well I lied
The music lifestyle is demanding and fatiguing in every way. You work so hard to "live up to your potential" and to "make it". And then what? Even if (to quote Mr. Ant and others) there's always room at the top, you're always just renting that room. You will be evicted.

Once that happens...well, there's nothing worse than watching something you've worked so hard for - your fame, fortune, fans - slip away from you. To go from playing rooms packed with screaming girls to being harassed and called a "has-been" everywhere you go...it's tough to take.

Adam Ant went through all that and more. Dated Heather Graham! Yet he still came back and put out "Wonderful" in 1995. It's not a crazy, wild record - it's a grown-up album about dealing with all this stuff. I was skeptical then and am still not crazy about it, but the stellar "Won't Take That Talk" opens the album, and I still get a thrill and a smile on my face when Marco busts out that Jazz Chorus-fueled guitar part on "Wonderful".

At some point Stuart/Adam wrote an autobiography - why am I only finding out about it now?

Here's the first part of a great, long-overdue documentary "The Madness of Prince Charming" on YouTube. The whole thing has some surprising moments, both funny and extremely dark:


Mr. Goddard, I raise my hotel bourbon to you. You helped make me who I am today. You can steal from me any time, and I hope to someday shake your hand and thank you for your words of wisdom, and your music.
Ridicule is nothing to be scared of
Don't you ever
Don't you ever stop being dandy
Showing us you're handsome
Don't you ever
Don't you ever lower yourself
Forgetting all your standards
Adam Ant Sampler:
Car Trouble
Beat My Guest
You're So Physical
Stand and Deliver
Prince Charming
Desperate But Not Serious
Wonderful

1 comment:

Gian Raoúl de la Sierra Rodríguez said...

I must say.. It's a magnificent feeling to find out someone miles away found identity on the journey of this creative man: Adam Ant. I raise my glass. Cheers