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A Situationist History
Few of us know what to make of Yello, the Swiss-playboy duo who embody the phrase "out of left field." Too whimsical for techno purists, too straight for Pet Shop Boys acolytes, betraying insufficient craft for Cabaret Voltaire snobs, and simply not danceable enough, Yello are an acquired taste.
A taste I actually have.
I hosted my own program on CKDU, the Dalhousie University radio station. The program dealt exclusively with automotive safety – surely a first, and last, in the history of the world – and carried the title Crash-Off. Hanging around the station, which at the time could be heard in a few university buildings and nowhere else, the song "I Love You" was heard.
"I Love You": The first Yello single, from the album with the fun title You Gotta Say Yes to Another Excess. A collage of braps and gurgles with a sampled silky female voice unconvincingly telling us she loves us, "I Love You" was quite angular and avant-garde for an era epitomized by the Honeydrippers and Van Halen. (And Sting, Genesis, and Peter Gabriel.)
I'd heard the song before, and liked it. Seated at a desk, quite excluded from everything going on, a git from the station gushed how much he loved the song. A girl got all serious. She'd come all this way from Antigonish (or Sackville, or Come-by-Chance, or Summerside) to the big smoke so she wouldn't be the lonely smart girl in class anymore, and by gar she was gonna take this seriously.
"But why?" she whined, anticipating Melanie Griffith in Working Girl railing against injustice. She did a big sharp exhale and stamped her foot a little while saying it.
What was the answer? Lost to history. Yello, however, was not.
Working as a night typesetter, I hated my life. I frequented the homosexualist watering holes, chiefly Garage, the Überbar de l'époque. It was possible to show up on a weekday and have a good time.
Indeed, I was a full-on Garage habitué. I would flee from the dancefloor when a particular song played, one that opened with sound effects created by a human voice: ba-doom-be-dup-dup ba-doom-be-dup-dup ba-doom-be-dup-dup. I had never heard anything so nauseating. And it got worse: Half-whipered utterances, presaging the ubiquity of sampling though clearly delivered live, muttered "Clouds! Love! Stars! Colours!"
What the fuck?
A friend was in town visiting, but too blitzed to go out. Au Garage, near closing time, the DJ decided to live a little. The accursed sound-effect song came over the Lurch-height speakers. I was already on the dancefloor. I stayed and put up with it, along with a handful of other guys. I thought: I am going to dance to this if it kills me.
Shortly the last song of the night played. How daring: "O Superman" de Laurie Anderson. Played in the dancefloor of a Montreal fagbar. I danced alone. Another first and last.
Beats before the end of the song, I walked smartly out of the bar, having had a good run. A few blocks down the street, it became apparent I was not alone. A dumpy guy in his 30s, with receding curly black hair, followed my path.
Now, to say this creeped me out would be an understatement. Not knowing what to do for a few minutes, I eventually turned and hollered.
– Quit following me!
– But you're beautiful!
Another first and last, to be adjudged beautiful.
I got back to my hovel and talked to my houseguest.
– Somebody followed me home.
– Am I cramping your style?
But my friend Costa and I used to haunt Montreal record stores. Ever the graphic-design queen, I noticed the mottled-emerald-green cover of a single by Yello, "Goldrush." Type and accents on the cover appeared glossy and superimposed, with the sheen a crayon gives when you rub gold over green.
There was a certain impulse at work tugging me through my denial. Loose ends were tied up forever when my pal Joe Rose (RIP – he was murdered in 1989), a DJ wannabe, IDed the irksome song at Garage one night. "Oh, 'Goldrush,'" he said simply, as though everyone knew what it was.
I still remember the extreme clarity of the half-whispered utterances. They were piped through competition-quality speakers, after all, and at high volume, undercut to a noticeable extent by the quietness of the speech. I remember noting the extreme clarity of "Clouds! Love! Stars! Colours!" over and over again from the sidelines of the piste de danse.
The pieces were coming together.
I worked as an OL in a government office and shared a house with a charismatic drunken madman. New Year's Eve came upon us. A grrrl DJ, whom I visualized as having full hair, glasses, and a vaguely lesbiana air to her, was on duty, because that was her show's regular night.
So I rang her up. "This goes out to Joe. It's 'Goldrush' by Yello, and Joe says he's never heard it on the radio. Well, here it is." And there it was. "Clouds! Love! Stars! Colours!"
I had given in and accepted the brilliance.
As pop-music columnist for Xtra, the local fagrag, I had carte blanche, in part because next to no one read the column and certainly no one heeded my suggestions.
And then the subconscious intervened. As I wrote:
Loath as I usually am to recommend best-ofs, the new compilation Essential Yello is actually worth buying. But first, a trip through dreamland.
About a year ago I dreamed that I was standing on a beach looking up at a hot-air balloon not far off the ground. In the gondola was Boris Blank, the clonish-looking guy with the short hair in Yello. (Dieter Meier is the other guy, the one with the slicked-back hair.) Though he seemed quite alive and was gazing into the distance, for some reason I was sure that Blank had just died in a balloon accident. I desperately needed to break the news to the world. Long moments passed as I stood there looking right at a dead-yet-undead Blank riding the balloon that I was sure had just killed him. Then I woke up.
This dream turned out to be a restatement of a Yello video, whose title eludes me and which I do not have on tape, in which Boris Blank does in fact float around in a balloon.
My Walkperson decided to degauss itself and play tapes again. I rediscovered Essential Yello and the most romantic synthesizer ballad since Walter became Wendy and McDowell put the boot in the groin, "Drive/Driven," which brought the hairs of the forearm to attention with its inexplicableness and otherworldliness. As the song plays, I envision a dance music video, not unlike Harrison Ford self-consciously dancing with Kelly McGillis in Witness, featuring two grown men, specifically Scott Bakula and Anthony Edwards.
I would be spilling too many beans to explain why. I don't put everything up on my Web sites.
Situationism, but not my own history
Dieter Meier is a clever man, and produces conceptual art that's actually delightful rather than heavy-handed. I profoundly regret that I was not in Europe in March 1994. (It's the only time I've regretted not being in Europe. Usually I count myself lucky.) As an article described:
One unfinished piece is a commemoration in advance: a metal plaque set in the pavement outside Kassel railway station inscribed 'On March 23, 1994 between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, Dieter Meier will be standing on this plaque.'
And he did it. One member of the Yello mailing list (specific posting not available online) actually drove from England to Switzerland to put Meier's intentions to the test. Apparently there was a small crowd, and Meier was in full blasé good form.
Now, there's a situation I'd have liked to be in. But that would run counter to the aim of these Situationist Histories: To explore how outside forces, in seemingly coincidental ways, shape one's life.
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