Depeche Mode: Some Great Reward

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9780312112622: Depeche Mode: Some Great Reward

Throughout their history, Depeche Mode has combined success with innovation, producing records that have mixed moving melodic lines and pop-star preening with completely synthesizer-driven noises, forever altering the sound of New Wave/modern music. From "Just Can't Get Enough" to "I Feel You" and beyond, Dave Thompson breaks through the enigma to reveal the group that can fully claim to be the most popular electronic act in the world.

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Depeche Mode
Chapter 1Which One of Those Drugs Do You Want?SEATTLE, NOVEMBER 1993: Six months of near-solid touring affects different people in different ways. Some--most--simply look burned out, their skin a sallow cloud which needs that little bit more makeup every time they step out in front of another television camera, their eyes darting in search of shades when the public gets too close.For Dave Gahan, the opposite appears true. Three years of living left him looking like death. Six months of the road's living death, however, have rejuvenated him beyond recognition.Eighteen months ago, a friend spotted him in Madrid. He looked "scary, painfully thin ... almost blue."Now even the scratches and bruises on the insides of the singer's skinny arms, innocently acquired, have faded. His skin glowswith ruddy vigor; his voice is stronger, even when he comes offstage, and it no longer threatens to croak into mid-set silence.At the beginning of Depeche Mode's European tour, in early summer in Budapest, Dave admitted in print that he had suffered certain "problems"; that he meant to "sort them out." "[But] everyone knows a rock 'n' roll tour isn't really the place to start sorting things out," NME journalist Gavin Martin shot back.As Depeche Mode busy themselves around the massive Seattle Arena, however, killing time while their road crew kills gremlins in their gear, Dave Gahan not only appears to have "sorted them out"--he might have exorcised them completely.He didn't achieve the transformation alone, of course. "When you've been in a band for thirteen years," he imparts, four "weird energies" work together. So far as he's concerned, Depeche Mode's latest album, Songs of Faith and Devotion, was the focus of those energies. "Every single song on the album were the best things Martin could have done for me. As a friend to a friend, he helped me heal a lot of my personal problems, and he wasn't even trying."Beside him, Martin Gore smiles behind his latest made-up mask. Maybe he wasn't trying, the smile agrees. Or maybe he was. He has never been one for discussing his songs too deeply. But Dave is a friend, and if there's one thing that has kept Depeche Mode together all these years, it is friendship--recognizing it, and working for it.People had been saying things about Dave for a couple of years now, ever since he ran out on his wife and five-year-old son and moved to L.A., had a daughter by Depeche Mode's former PR officer, and spent his time living out of a suitcase, living out the Rock God dream.The vast computer network through which Depeche Mode's fan base keeps in touch with one another hummed with the latest street rumors. These rumors were powerful, andwhen Depeche Mode did return to action, in 1993, the journalists who caught up with the band in Hungary only added to the confusion.THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF DAVE GAHAN, screamed British rock weekly Melody Maker. PENANCE EXTRA, countered archrival New Musical Express. Even when the fuss died down, and Dave had survived unscathed through two-thirds of the band's latest American tour, Rolling Stone could not resist hauling him over the coals of retribution once more. Dave, however, was not playing ball."Religion, drugs--which one of those fucking drugs do you want to talk about?" he queried innocently. "They're all so closely knit: good, evil, drugs, alcohol, honesty, guilt ..." Only when his eyes flickered away did it even seem possible that he knew, after all, what his interrogator really meant.To a pop psychologist, Dave's was a textbook case. Sadly, pop psychologists only turn up after the event, waiting till things are either too weird ... or too late. "No one can understand what it's like to be a young man and you get all that money, all that fame," a "camp insider" mourned to NME. No one, that is, except those to whom it's already happened.Depeche Mode were never party animals in the accepted sense of the phrase--have never numbered amongst that elite coterie of musicians who spend their careers living out one long lost weekend.Even today, people turn a blind eye to their indiscretions. When the band members confessed their own proclivities, when Dave spoke openly of an alcohol problem that had scarcely even been hinted at in the past, but which came close to destroying him anyway, outsiders simply shrugged, and Depeche Mode didn't push the point."Going out is enjoyable," Martin once laughed. "Drinking is enjoyable, and collapsing is enjoyable." Still, in 1985 the band vigorously denied the report in Germany's Bravo magazine that after every performance Dave was carried to his dressing room and kept supplied with constant fluids.In Quebec in September 1993, Dave and his longtime friend and road manager, Daryl Levy, were arrested for scuffling with a hotel employee. They were released without being charged because the witnesses could not agree on what they saw. And that's always been Depeche Mode's story--people cannot agree on what they see or hear.Depeche Mode has long remained reluctant to join the superstar circuit. It was never Depeche Mode who were caught on candid camera--drunk, disorderly, and drained outside London's liveliest nightclubs--not they whose evening escapades became their breakfast-time embarrassments. That, then, was when the first alarm bells began ringing among Depeche Mode's contemporaries--when Dave and his new girlfriend, Teresa, started showing up at their parties.Seven years previous, Dave jokingly described Martin Gore as "going through the same sort of things as I went through in my teens." Martin had just broken up with his childhood sweetheart and fled abroad with a new lady friend. Now he lived in Berlin and wore dresses in public, but the rest of the group simply laughed indulgently. "He's just trying to get attention."In 1992 it was Dave's turn to relive other people's youths, to try and get attention, to make one last, desperate grab for the wild life that his own early engagement and young marriage had deprived him of. Outsiders, willingly admitting that their imaginations played as great a part in the equation as the evidence of their own eyes, described the process."It was like watching someone build a Frankenstein pop star. He grew Al Jourgensen's old beard, got Anthony Kiedis's old tattoos ... and developed Kurt Cobain's old habit." Rock 'n' roll in the Nineties has yet to produce an unholier trinity!What these outsiders didn't know--the thing that nobody outside Depeche Mode's closest circles could have known--was that by the time the Frankenstein became public,and the writers lined up to quiz the creature, the worst was already over.The scratches and bruises on Dave's arms came from one night in Mannheim, poised on the edge of a seething German audience--tottering, falling, and being torn to shreds by his fans before he landed. The tattoos simply augmented a tapestry he had started half a lifetime before, and as for the goatee--once again, Depeche Mode has grown up.Not that that had ever really been in question, not over the last few years, anyway. Musically, Depeche Mode has set a pace that few other artists could ever match, pioneering technologies that rock 'n' roll is still struggling to fully assimilate.It was Depeche Mode who opened the doors through which an endless stream of modern industrial bands now revolve, taking the harsh extremes of a lunatic art-noise experiment and making palatable music for the masses. It was Depeche Mode, too, who demonstrated the potential and the possibilities of the technology now on display. Without them, the sampler might still be the preserve of academics and the lunatic fringe, as untapped by the powers of pop commerce as the synthesizer was in the years before Brian Eno dragged it bleeping and burping into the soul of Roxy Music.When Ministry's Al Jourgensen growled his apologies for his band's lightweight debut album, he accused his old record company of trying to turn him into the American Depeche Mode. But when he reinvented himself as the embryonic King of Aggro, he recruited two of the people who had sharpened Depeche Mode's own edges, producer Adrian Sherwood and engineer Gareth Jones.The acclaimed Razormaid and Disconet remix companies all but cut their commercial teeth producing a string of Depeche Mode club remixes. Derrick May, the mastermind behind the Detroit "house" scene's enormously influential RhythimIs Rhythim, admitted that he borrowed much from Depeche Mode's approach to sampling.And when Kraftwerk--the German electronics pioneers whose example inspired the nascent Depeche Mode--updated their own greatest hits for 1991's The Mix album, more than one reviewer reported that the masters had finally become the servants."Depeche Mode hang heavier over Kraftwerk than the Germans ever did over them," wrote one. "They even share a remix master in Francois Kervorkian, and it must please Depeche no end to know that They Did It First!"Depeche Mode has done a lot of things first, and a lot of things better than anyone else. But what is even more remarkable is that they have done it from within the glare of a limelight whose brilliance they could never have imagined.It is very popular for journalists to either open or close their studies of Depeche Mode with an attempt to analyze the band's extraordinary success, to ponder aloud the attraction of a group whose idea of a final encore is a song which announces for its very first line, "Death is all around." You can't really blame them, either. Lyrically, Depeche Mode owes little to anything that has passed as pop in the past.While Depeche Mode was fighting the likes of Blue Rondo à la Turk and Modern Romance for the crumbs of U.K. chart success, Martin Gore was listening to Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. While his rivals were writing "John Wayne Is Big Leggy" and "Karma Chameleon," Martin was penning "Everything Counts" and "The Landscape Is Changing." And while those others sang of love, Martin spoke about life--real life, ordinary life, the kind of life that ends with death. Under those kind of conditions, of course, it's "all around."Yet when Rolling Stone magazine titled its November 1993 story "Revenge of the Euroweenies," that, too, fit the group like a glove. In 1995 Depeche Mode will be fifteen years old, but they have retained their original all-synthesizer lineup for so long that the wheels of fashion have turned full circlearound them. In 1980, when the group started out, everybody was doing it, and the foursome was simply one more name in the electronic queue, lining up for another glossy photo shoot and filling out questionnaires whose most challenging question was "Favorite color?"However, whereas their contemporaries were eventually to founder, unable to adapt their own visions to the constantly shifting patterns of the 1980s, Depeche Mode held firm--a sore thumb throbbing within a mid-decade climate that was gracefully rediscovering drums and guitars. At times Depeche Mode appeared so hopelessly anachronistic that it is a wonder they did not simply turn to dust; at other times, so far ahead of themselves that you could not even measure their progress in light-years.By the early 1990s, however, electronic music was once again bursting to the commercial fore, and Depeche Mode were elder statesmen, respected as much for their longevity as for their music--for the way they'd both retained their vision and grown with it, single-mindedly developing themes that were laid down as early as their second and third albums, but which have remained a vital part of their music all the same.Certainly the group has reacted to the demands of its audience. If, back in 1984, the thunderous "Master and Servant" and "Blasphemous Rumors" had been unanimously rejected, the Depeche Mode of today would be a very different group--might, in fact, no longer even exist, so central to the band's very being have those tracks become.In other hands, however, the impact of those songs would have been so intense that there might have been no thought of ever even attempting to emulate, let alone enlarge upon them. For Depeche Mode, however, neither song is even a regular fixture within their live show anymore, so far along has the band progressed. At times, even they don't seem to appreciate precisely how far they are pushing forward.But it is not only through their music and the popularity of that music that Depeche Mode is unlike any otherband. In other groups, different members adopt different duties, and so it is with Depeche Mode. But how many others could deliberately, and delightedly, carry a member who by his own admission has little interest in pop music anymore, who plays only the most minimal part in the creative process, and who is as much at home hunched over an accounts ledger as he is standing over a synthesizer onstage--more so, in fact?Elsewhere Andy would be excess baggage, an unnecessary fourth face on the record sleeves, a fourth bed on the hotel bill, a fourth wheel on a tricycle. And he is often a cause of strife--his own colleagues admit that. "Fletch has had a fight with everyone but me," Dave once admitted. "He's never actually tried to hit me. But just lately, I think he's potentially been thinking about it."But Fletch is also the anchor that has held Depeche Mode firm through almost a decade and a half of turbulence. When Vince Clarke quit in 1980, running out before his bandmates could even walk on their own, it was Fletch who marshaled the other members' strengths, and gave them the will to go on.When the band's critical stock began to dip to laughable, laughing, lows at home, it was Fletch who engineered their ascent to superstardom elsewhere. And when personal problems began straining the very fabric from which Depeche Mode was cut, it was Fletch around whom the band members gathered for support."He's part of what we started," insists Dave, "and he'll be part of what we'll finish." Nobody can accurately date the point where the heavyset, bespectacled Fletch ceased to involve himself in the band's music--Dave simply reckons, "Forever." But "he still has an opinion," Dave insists. "He has a function."Without Martin Gore--flamboyant, flighty, and fey--there would be no songs; without Alan Wilder, the first synthesized rocker in pop, there would be no music; without Dave, who jokes that if he wasn't in a band, he'd probably be injail--and has the juvenile record to prove it--there would be no voice.But without Fletch, there would be no money, and money is what Depeche Mode's 1993 World Tour is all about, greasing the wheels of the largest, most ambitious outing the group has ever undertaken. In that respect alone, Depeche Mode is just like every other band.And out on the road, they are just as insulated from the outside world in the cosseted, closeted heart of a machine whose every cog is so tightly choreographed that if a pin drops unexpectedly, there's somebody waiting to pick it back up.Depeche Mode long ago came to terms with the knowledge that three men standing around playing synthesizers while the fourth cavorts in front of them offers a far from riveting spectacle. In the past, however, their live show labored to divert its audience's attentions away from the band. This time around, the group is reclaiming the spotlight.The stage is draped with giant black curtains, and as the li...

From Publishers Weekly:

Thompson (Red Hot Chili Peppers) chronicles the band's evolution from its earliest days as an involuntary part of Britain's New Romantic movement to its superstar college-radio status, offering fans a rare glimpse at a group that is, as he puts it, more an enigma than a rock 'n'roll band. Just as their early peers, Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran, depended on MTV to make them superstars, Depeche Mode began their career playing Britain's teenybopper music showcases. That the band would survive to see success-including number one albums-seemed unlikely at several turns. Thompson begins his story with the evolution of electronic music from Kraftwerk and American disco queen Donna Summer's collaboration with German producer Giorgio Moroder to establish Mute, the independent record label that would later allow Depeche Mode to follow their all-keyboard course. Aware that without this evolution there would be no Depeche Mode as their fans know them, Thompson avoids rushing through the history, a simple decision that lifts Depeche Mode above the shortsighted band biographies typically written to capitalize on sudden popularity or support a new product. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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