Ignored Obscured Restored
In the late 1970s, there was a post-punk band out of San Francisco called Tuxedomoon. Their first album, Half-Mute (1980), was released on Ralph Records, home to another avant-garde Bay area band – The Residents.
Their fourth album, Holy Wars (1985), included today’s SotW – “In a Manner of Speaking.” It is their most well known song, though probably few of you have ever heard it.
The song has sparse instrumentation; a simple riff — first on keys, then guitar – with a whistled melody that transforms into a haunting electronic whirr that emphasizes the tortured vocal and lyrics.
In a manner of speaking I just want to say
That I could never forget the way
You told me everything by saying nothing
In a manner of speaking I don’t understand
How love in silence becomes reprimand
But the way I feel about you is beyond words
Oh, give me the words
Give me the words
That tell me nothing
Give me the words
That tell me everything
I find the line “You told me everything by saying nothing” to be beautifully evocative.
Tuxedomoon composed songs using unusual instrumentation and electronics, at least for “rock” music. In that regard, they remind me of yet another avant-garde band from the ‘80s, Pere Ubu.
Wikipedia gives a quote from original band member Steve Brown that describes their musical raison d’etre:
“The only rule was the tacit understanding that anything that sounded like anyone else was taboo.”
They most often succeeded at creating music that was fresh and unique. That probably accounts for their lack of widespread popularity and ultimate cult status. But you have to admit, “In a Manner of Speaking” is strangely catchy.
I can hear how Tuxedomoon would have been an influence on groups like Depeche Mode. In fact, that band’s Martin Gore covered “In a Manner of Speaking” on his 1989 EP, Counterfeit.
Enjoy… until next week.