I Rock I Ran

Less awful than you remember, yet more awful than you could ever have truly known: that's how wisdom looks back at youth, but that's not how A Flock of Seagulls—reduced now to lone eagle Mike Score and a flock of stringers—look back on themselves. In fact, they reunited not once but twice on basic cable, so evidently there was something about the experience that they dearly missed, and of course basic cable smelled blood and shame so it was happy to offer them the venue, bringing back after 20 years a band that sold a million records—the first band from Liverpool to do that since the Beatles—but whose early records are less reliably in print than Rocket From the Tombs.

Whom you may have never heard of, but this is why: at birth, every band is assigned a finite capability (based on a calculation between talent and personality) to justify attention, and some use it fast and some milk it out. Guns N' Roses enjoy a rating close to infinity and can be assholes forever and still sell records; Proud Scum excited 112 people in 1979 on a wild Saturday night in Auckland and then wisely elected to ration out the rest of their reputation to about four or five new fans each year, which is why people still speak respectfully of them. And Flock of Seagulls, although not always awful, blew all their goodwill in three minutes and 56 seconds (the length of the 12" single version of their famous "I Ran," a song that endures like an oil slick endures on a pelican) and then ran ragged and dry until their guitar player almost died. Did they get into coke? They should have, just for the metaphor: a cheap high and desperate dry humping to follow. It's a shit life.

Wasn't always a shit band, though—all babies are cute as evolutionary protection from predators. A 1981 Peel Session—that Peel, yes, and "I Ran" was 1982, for some context—presents a fairly credible Flock of Seagulls, a group hanging off Paul Reynolds, the guitar player who made sure there was actually a band inside the band, like sandbags from a hot-air balloon. It sounds just a little poppier than British synth bands like Human League or Scars; you might not even guess there were two hairdressers at the core of this thing.

You could hide the early Seagulls between reissued loft disco white labels and never drop a beat; even through their first EP and their first LP—this is when the idiocy is just about to break; at the time, you could have held the LP floppy in your hand and felt your own hair start to tingle—there are signs of life and brain, like "Standing in the Doorway" (could have been on Fast or Rough Trade) or "Don't Ask Me" (starts off curling around the edge of Joy Division or New Order, an admitted top-five influence on Reynolds), hopeful post-Kraftwerk electro-goofy pop songs that might have been much more highly regarded if only they were too obscure for many people to have heard them; as collectible 45s, they would have done fine.

But Seagulls got famous from that other song—and that video with the tinfoil and dour British probably-girlfriends that seeded Score's public persona as the distraught astronaut, the sort of mopey dating-bar descendant of Ziggy Stardust—and that's what ruined them. At the time, terms were probably not so explicit: fame now or footnote forever, and you know, you probably would have let Mike Score get out the hair clippers too. If only they hadn't gotten famous, people would probably like them now. It's a shit life.

But I sincerely want to help you through it, so let's talk. Do you want to be famous too? Do you have any talent? Not that much? That's okay; the keyboard parts on "I Ran" were basically two notes and the Seagulls wrote all their songs from the title down (which is why they had such awful titles as "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)," which firmly locked in the distraught-astronaut thing but wasn't nearly as touching as "Pictures of Lily"), so as long as you've got two fingers and a lot of words we can make into song titles, we can fill out the rest of the record.

There is A Flock of Seagulls song called "Messages" that I saved for you all these years, and it's ripe enough to burst right now: disco backbeat, simple melody line that blinks in and out like a busted TV set, one-word chorus so you won't forget what to sing, ambiguously meaningful lyrics that too-young fans can quote to pieces, and a giant instrumental breakdown just built to background some tiptoe stage-strut. It's at least 24 years old—maybe older than you—and it sounds like it came out two weeks ago. You're gonna learn it, change a few words, get a couple of hairdressers together. Then get as much money as you can and e-mail me. I'll make you a bad joke by the time you're 50, promise—I know exactly how this kind of thing works.



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