In the fall of 1983 I started my first year attending art school in St. Paul, MN. I had graduated high school the previous spring and I still carried much of my high school baggage with me, including a more mainstream taste in music. By the end of that first year, I had almost completely cast off my liking of what I then considered the trivial, trite, treacle of Top 40 radio. I had embraced the music that would come to be known as alternative.
I had a friend from high school who joined me in the exploration of punk, post-punk, industrial, and goth. We were completely open to hearing this underground music.
Sometime in the summer of 1984, the two of us were at a record store rummaging through a bin of discount priced albums on cassette. My friend grabbed a copy of Gary Numan’s Pleasure Principle (1979) and I scarfed up the album A Different Kind Of Tension (1979) by a band called Buzzcocks. I liked the name of the band and thought the cover art was intriguing and it was cheap, so I bought it.
We put our new music into my friend’s car stereo and went for a cruise around town. There are few things more enjoyable than hitting the road, windows down, and the stereo cranking good tunes. And, on that day, we both agreed that my purchase was pretty kick ass.
The Buzzcocks were one of the first of the UK punk bands to form in the 1970s. They infused punk sensibilities into infectious, danceable, driving pop songs. Their influence was far-reaching. In fact, the BBC said that the Buzzcocks’ influence can be heard in the music of such bands as Husker Du and Nirvana. To that I would add Naked Raygun and Green Day.
I was so excited by this band. But, they had broken up in 1981. Darn it! My timing was off.
However, Pete Shelley, the principle songwriter and singer of the band, had embarked on a solo career, continuing to produce danceable pop with a punk attitude and synthesizers. In 1986, he came to Minneapolis to perform at the legendary nightclub First Avenue & 7th Street Entry. My friend and I jumped at the chance to see him.
As I recall, there wasn’t a large crowd, but those who were there got a damn good show. At the front of the stage was about a dozen or so guys, myself included, just completely going bonkers for the music. Slam dancing, pogoing, skanking, and sweating to the point of exhaustion. Shelley started the show with his solo track Telephone Operator and then played a set mixing in plenty of Buzzcocks tunes with his solo work. It was glorious!
He finished the set then he and his band came back on stage to give us an encore of two or three great songs. He left the stage again, but we wouldn’t have it. The crowd was so jacked up we demanded he return to give us more. He did.
He launched into a reprise of Telephone Operator and we loved it!
In 1989, the Buzzcocks reformed. They toured extensively and produced several new albums. They came through Minneapolis many times and you bet I was there. Slam dancing, pogoing, skanking, and sweating to the point of exhaustion.
Pete Shelley died last Thursday (12/6) of an apparent heart attack. He was 63. Too young.
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