1981 was the year music came to the forefront for me and my friends. Specifically, the fall of 1981 when MTV launched. Prior to the launch of MTV my friends and I all loved the Beatles, the Stones and the Kinks. Pink Floyd, Super Tramp and The Cars were also on our radar, but for the most part it was popular music or music passed down from our parents or siblings. But in 1981 our horizons drastically broadened, along with those of the rest of the worlds. It was like going from black and white to color. Bands I’d only heard on the radio I could now see on my tv.
My friends and I would discuss new videos that had just aired as well as older videos we’d just seen for the first time. We were enamored with the fashion and the technology behind this new art form as much as the new acts from around the world.
One of the artists that spoke the most to me and my group of friends was Adam and The Ants. Adam Ant was made for MTV. He was young, good looking, and dressed as a swashbuckler. He wore leather pants, make-up and gyrated his hips like Elvis. His music style was part glam, part punk, and because he had two drummers there was an African tribal feel to it. It was unique and very visual. It’s no surprise so many of his videos were in heavy rotation back then.
I recall a sleepover at my friend Michael Clark’s house where he had a VHS tape dedicated to Adam and the Ants videos and concerts. There were probably 12 of us wrapped in sleeping bags around the television waiting for Mike to pop the tape into his top loader VCR. While it wasn’t the first time we’d seen these videos, it was the first time we’d seen them all at once. From “Ant Rap” to “Stand And Deliver”, from “Ant Music” to “Prince Charming”. As a bonus, he had also recently recorded the video for Adam’s first solo single “Goody Two Shoes” which many of us, myself included, had never seen before.
While the music was different without the twin drummers of The Ants, and Adam was eschewing his makeup, I was still hooked. Once the album was released I picked it up. In fact, despite a massive purge to my record collection I still somehow retained my original copy of “Friend or Foe”.
Fast forward not quite a year later and I was at a new school, trying to fit in and make new friends. While I was entrenched in New Wave acts like Adam Ant, Split Endz and U2, the rest of my class was into Van Halen, Def Leppard and Billy Squire. I was a fish out of water. I remember talking to Tom Maider in gym class about U2 in hushed tones, as if we were afraid of being overheard and ostracized. “Under A Blood Red Sky” would debut on MTV later in the year, but it would be another year before they would find mainstream success with “The Unforgettable Fire”.
Now when I went to friends houses it was to watch an Ozzy Osbourne concert. Slowly my New Wave leanings started to erode. Hard Rock was all around me and soon I was listening to the Scorpions, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest with my friends, while posters of U2 and Adam and the Ants remained on my bedroom wall.
By my senior year of high school U2 released “The Joshua Tree” and was everywhere. Although for the most part my friends and I listened to Led Zeppelin, the Cult, AC/DC and The Steve Miller Band. Although on occasion my friend Dan would make us listen to Asia. I was unconvinced about Dan’s music taste (I still am, truth be told). He seemed a little out of step with the rest of our group (he still does, for that matter). Until one night the two of us snuck away from our girlfriends at a birthday party so Dan could chew. As it was a cold night in Seattle we hopped into Dan’s car, and to my amazement Dan had been listening to Adam Ant. Turns out he did like some good music – “some” still being the operative word.
By college my musical tastes were all over the map. The Rolling Stones had re-entered my world with a vengeance, but Steely Dan was also in heavy rotation, as were the Stone Roses, Van Morrison and Badfinger. And occasionally, very late at night after too many beers, the Adam Ant came out.
By the time college was over the Seattle music scene had exploded and I’d begun playing guitar again. Occasionally I’d play with friends and try to convince them we needed to cover “Stand and Deliver”. And while the idea was always greeted with enthusiasm, it for some reason never came to fruition. It wouldn’t be until 2015 that I would sit down and cover the song on my own.
When I heard Adam Ant was coming to LA I decided I had to go see him, so I purchased a pair of tickets and waited patiently for the date to arrive. As it turned out this would be our busiest week of seeing music. On Monday we would see Tom Petty at the Hollywood Bowl. On Wednesday we’d see Alison Moyet at the Fonda Theater. And on Saturday we’d go to the Greek to see Adam, sans the Ants.
The set started off with “Beat My Guest” before Adam proceeded to play all of his hits. The only song that was absent was “Ant Rap”, which probably made sense as the Ants were no longer with him. Adam sounded great and ran and danced across the stage. He even got thunderous cheers and applause when he shed his jacket. Go see him if you ever get the chance.
As I danced and sang along to all the songs a thought occurred to me that perhaps a part of why his music still resounds with me to this day is because it was once a tether to my past life. I didn’t want to switch schools and leave the friends I had had since kindergarten. If I’m being completely honest, I really didn’t want to leave Lori Fitz-Gerald who I was crushing on at the time.
While I don’t doubt there’s some truth to all that, I think it’s really because I found his music when my friends and I first started to define who we were musically. When we were first given a variety of options and allowed to choose our own musical tastes and identity.
Adam Ant wasn’t a hand me down. He was a discovery.
And this makes sense, because I have a similar affinity for U2 to this day, even though they sound nothing like they did when I first discovered them. There are other bands I’ve connected with in this way over the years. Bands which I discovered early on, before they became household names, and bands which should be household names, but didn’t make it for some reason. Bands whom I will buy anything they release, or see whenever they’re in my vicinity. Bands I know will be with me for the rest of my life, and bands I hope are with me for the rest of my life.