Book of Love has been one of my favorite bands since the late ‘80s, when a rather witchy friend of mine turned me onto their music. Later, in college, it was always the more romantic (necromantic?) members of my circle who appreciated their music. More Gothic than goth, per se; there was an erudite, art-school vibe that read as much New England as East Village. “Boy” has been a beloved jam, for decades, now; while their eponymous debut is amongst my favorite albums. Whether revisiting a cinematic classic (such as Mike Oldfield’s 1973 “Tubular Bells (Theme to The Exorcist)”)* or being among the first bands to address the scourge of AIDS, in song (as in “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls”)**; Book of Love always seems to find the beauty in its subject-matter – regardless of how dark, frightening, or alienating the topic might be.
Now, following the January release of The Sire Years: 1985-1993 (the Rhino Record-produced anthology features remastered fan-favorites from each of Book of Love's studio four albums); and approaching the thirtieth anniversary of the release of their second album, 1988’s Lullaby (for which the entire band will perform a reunion concert, in New York) - founding members Susan Ottaviano and Ted Ottaviano (no relation) will appear as a duo, in support of The Human League; on Friday, May 11th, at House of Blues, inside Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
This allowed me the occasion to speak with Ted; wherein I was able to glean the answers to some questions upon which I’d been ruminating (for years!). Here’s our conversation – or, at least; what was fit to print…
What bands and music were you listening to, when you were writing the songs on your debut album, back in the early '80s?
It's funny that you ask this, because there's this Facebook thing that's going around, at the moment; where people are listing their top 10 favorite albums. And so, I got roped into doing mine (which is a lot of fun). And everyone expected my album choices to be acts that were in our genre (because it would make sense that that's what would have influenced us to make the music that we made).
But actually, we’ve always pulled from really a strange assortment of things. So, I think our main influences really come from a lot of '60s music – a lot of '60s pop music, Motown, just the real lean-and-mean song-form of those original Motown tracks. And then the early punk music, like The Ramones and things like that. I mean, they taught us how to write songs, with two to three chords (at the most). Make it punch, and make it work. So, weirdly enough, our influences came from places that sometimes people didn't really expect them to originate.
Huh... I would have guessed David Bowie, actually.
Oh, my God: I mean, all roads lead to David Bowie! It's like, I'm an absolute David Bowie mega-fan: So, yes !
I’ve noticed that this is pretty genre-specific, for a lot of synth New Wave artists... (Whether you’re talking to Midge Ure or Boy George) it all tends to lead back to Bowie.
Yeah. He's the teacher. He's the person that really kind of showed us how to add a version of theatrics to the music. I mean, he was theatrical on stage; but there was a theatrical nature even, to his music, and to his songs…
Oh, absolutely. That's why they work so well on-screen.
Exactly! And in a strange way, because of the fact that we're all synth- and electronic-based, that concept really yields itself to the types of sounds that we're working with as well.
I had heard for years that “Boy” was written about Matthew Kasten's legendary club, Boy Bar. Then, recently, I read a comment online, where somebody described it as “a fag hag's lament” (which I’ll admit, I thought was kind of brilliant). But it made me wonder - because it's sung by a woman; but it was written by a man - who is the speaker in the song; or, from whose point of view was the song written?
Well, there's a couple of different levels to it. I mean, obviously, there's the real literal level to it and it really was inspired by the Boy Bar; which at that time was kind of the hottest place in the East Village. And it was exclusive to men. And so, we went from just kind of club-going, with an amalgam of people that was never gender-specific; to all-of-a-sudden having to leave half of our friends out in the cold, to go into this place, and have a good time. So, there's that level to it.
But in a weird way (though, probably in a more important way), “Boy” is about anyone who's ever felt disenfranchised. It's really about wanting to belong and wanting to fit in. So, even though I wrote it; it's like, I understand that concept through and through, for a number of reasons.
I mean, gay people really understand that. But anyone who's felt a little bit different, or a little bit odd, understands that feeling. And in a weird way, even though it was kind of tongue-in-cheek, it was encoded with that message to people, I guess, because people who had an empathy for – had that understanding and that empathy built into them – just gravitated toward our first album. And we've been told how much it helped them through their journey, at that time in their life. And they've remained incredibly loyal to us as a band. It's really very moving.
Continued in Part 2…
The Human League with Book of Love
House of Blues | Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino
Friday, May 11th
Click HERE for info and tickets
Get into it!
[Editor’s Notes: * “Tubular Bells” and “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls” are two halves of a medley, on the band’s second studio album, Lullaby (1988) // ** With lyrics such as “Strangers in the night, exchanging glances; but sex is dangerous, I don’t take chances. Safe sex, safe sex…” Book of Love unflinchingly addressed looking for Mr. Right (or Mr. Right Now) during the AIDS epidemic.]