(Comment: Sure, I had a crush on Susannah Hoffs. I actually had a good friend named Stacey Ghindi, a Syrian Jewish girl, who looked very like her. And I got in trouble by Creem Editor Dave Dimartino because they wanted me to interview Vicki and I wanted Susannah, but I got both so I won. 1985 and the band had just hit big… IL)
AT THE CBS building in Manhattan guitarist Susanna Hoffs (all black tights and mini-skirt) explains the Bangles’ modus operandi:”It’s hard to work keeping your sense of humor. Like when you have to get up to do a TV show and you’ve driven for 12 hours with a cold and snot on your face and there’s no water so you can’t wash…”
“You order a Pepsi Lite for $2 and brush your teeth with that,” adds main songwriter Vicki Peterson.
“You have to laugh these things off, otherwise you’re in big trouble,” is Susanna’s conclusion. “You can’t take your problems too seriously.”
On the other hand, problems are relative and the Bangles have led relatively charmed lives. Susanna Hoffs’s parents met at Yale; her father in medical school, her mother (an artist, she directed a Bangles’ vid) in Junior Art School. “They went to Los Angeles to get away from their parents, the thing to do in 1959,” Susanna explains. “An uprooted liberal East Coast family — sorta beatnik, into Jackson Pollack and jazz.” Susanna went to public school, though her father — a psychoanalyst — could’ve afforded private. The atmosphere at home was friendly and supportive: “I wasn’t raised with a lot of dogma; Freud was our religion.
“You asked whether the Bangles are representative of their generation. We are — in the sense that there’s no mass transit in Los Angeles, so we became aware of music listening to AM radio in the back of the station wagon. We won’t have made it till we’re on AM radio.”
Vicki and her sister Debbi lived in the San Fernando Valley, “before anyone had access to it.” Their father, now retired, was in the aerospace business, and the sisters went to Catholic school. “But it was co-ed. I almost went to an all-girl school in the ninth year but an older man talked me out of it.”
Susanna studied at Berkeley, where she got a degree in art. “I was in my own little world; this little bohemian art scene with my friend David of the Rain Parade. We’d sit around playing guitar — copying Velvet Underground songs.” She returned to L.A. in late ’80.
An English major, Vicki dropped out of U.C.L.A. “because I was managing, writing for, booking and playing guitar with our band, the Fans.” Debbi was — as she is in the Bangles — the drummer. “I was going crazy in college,” Vicki continues. “I was divided in so many parts and doing well at none. I’d always been good at school, and there I was getting B’s when I should’ve been getting A’s. Music is something I have to do, and I knew if I’d waited another two years and then given my all to the band, it’d have just pushed it back that much further. I didn’t know if I could sustain it.”
In early ’81, Vicki placed an ad in an L.A. paper and Susanna replied. John Lennon had recently been murdered, and the women spent hours on the phone discussing him and — major influence — the Beatles. The Bangs were formed in time for L.A.’s Paisley Underground movement (rich kid rejects discover acid and ’60s psychedelic garage bands), a natural for the Bangs’ folk-rock-early-you-know-when pop synthesis, their relationship akin to X’s with hardcore. “It was great,” opines Susanna. “All these bands putting out their own songs on their own labels. A very modern and ’80s thing to do.
“Where do the ’80s enter our music? Today the sound is more rhythmically oriented than the ’60s; then, everything was melody with the drums mixed real low. We walk the line between the two, we’re rhythmically based with real melody. We did love bands like the Ramones and Blondie.”
The Bangs released ‘Getting Out Of Hand’ on their Downkiddie label, and performed in L.A. with other acid-tabbers in a “Hey! Let’s put on a show” atmosphere. In late ’81, Mike Gormley — an associate of the acquisitive Miles Copeland at L.A. Personal Direction — caught their act and liked what he saw. He now co-manages them with L.A.P.D. The new busy bodies forced the Bangs to change their name (from sex and strife to baubles and bell-bottoms with one “le”). Then they had the Bangles record an eponymous EP for indie Faulty Records.
Made in three days, the EP is knockout; ragged at the edges, sweet and strong at the core, and starring the Bangles’ gorgeous three part harmonies. With jangly tin guitar and ‘Taxman’ (“No! We got it from the Jam’s ‘Start’.”) riffs, it’s an exuberant free-for-all that’s fun for all. The Bangles call the EP a snap-shot, and talk disparagingly of the sound quality.
Their bass player, Annette Zilinskas, left to join Blood On The Saddle and was replaced by Runaways’ bassist/lead singer Michael Steele. Claims she: “Kim Fowley dumped me because of an unresolved sexual congress (with Kim) and some guy from a record company who said ‘I’ll sign the band if you get a blonde vocalist’.”
Next, an American tour. Next, with their choice of major labels, they choose Columbia (“I.R.S. was too close to the Go-Go’s”). Next, David Kahne twiddles the knobs for the Bangles’ LP All Over The Place — easy to underestimate and still disappointing. Kahne — Yank semi-underground’s answer to Trevor Horn — was an obvious but inappropriate idea. He’s not known for his hit making — and if commerciality didn’t matter, they should’ve gone whole-hog and gotten Robert Fripp to do his unique Roches approach. Still, both singles — ‘Hero Takes A Fall’ and their cover of Kimberly Rew’s ‘Going Down To Liverpool’ deserve to be hits.
In fact, the songs are uniformly excellent without the backbone of their live delivery. I took Vicki to task for writing puerile lyrics. I was wrong. These are mature, insightful observations on sexual relationships from a woman’s perspective. Let me draw your attention to the four song suite on side two detailing the dissolution of an affair. ‘Restless’ — if you wanna fuck around don’t blame me. ‘He’s Got A Secret’ — you’re fucking around. ‘Tell Me’ — so go to hell. ‘Silent Treatment’ — and don’t come back. Great stuff.
I’ve failed to capture the Bangles’ humor here; they’re very funny. I’ve not even tried to capture their live performance: sexy without being exploitative, tough and feminine. I haven’t told you Susanna’s a study in suppressed stardom: Prince thinks so as well, but the only slips she’ll be showing are Freudian (a couple in this conversation). Or that Vicki will become an important songwriter; her songs cohere into a singular vision of life — a smart, smart woman.
Perhaps it’s sufficient to note a Susanna quip: “We’re sooo charming. At least that’s what our mothers tell us.”
Mommy knows best.
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