Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mod Gone Wrong: My New Wave Roots

Okay, quiz time! 

Take a moment and try to guess what's wrong in the following photo:
Having a hard time? Seriously?? Okay then, let me give you a hint:

Yup, you guessed it! The Smiths poster in the background.* Not that there's anything wrong with liking The Smiths. In fact, I was a HUGE Smiths fan back in the day. They were the very first band that I felt understood my 13-year-old adolescent angst.

And yes, that's me  in the photo above, acne and all. When this photo was taken (about a month after I moved to the Bay Area to start school), I was proud to display my 'counter-cultural' roots (The Smiths) to all who walked past our dorm room. But see, little did I realize, I was probably contributing to one of my pet peeves and the reason for this post: people's confusion of 'Mod' with 'New Wave'. 

I'm guessing that this started in the '80s when people who were into punk, new wave, new romantic, post-punk, or (fill in the blank) started moving on to a Mod look or just started banding together with what few Mod types were around at school or in social circles. It's easy to see why people from differing subcultures, back then, would have come together in the face of overwhelming OP shirts and upturned polo collars. We experienced the same thing in my time, only we were trying to get away from all the spiked-hair mullets and NKOTB groupies.
Yeah, I can see why people would get confused. And yes, Blondie are lookin' pretty rockin' right here!
In the '90s, 'Mod' often got grouped together with 'New Wave' and 'Indie,' thanks to all those indie (and britty-pop) bands appropriating '60s touches. I'm sure shaggy hair, Fred Perrys, and name-dropping The Kinks helped blur any lines dividing these different styles.

Today, the general public is a bit more savvy, but I still get a sense that people think dressing like The Libertines or The Horrors somehow makes one Mod(!).
Wait, did Poison and Love & Rockets form a super group?
Now before I go on, let's get something straight: I think diggin' on New Wave, indie, alternative, or whatever you want to call it is really, really great. Seriously. We all have different tastes in music and I'm all down with celebrating diversity. (Heck, some of you would probably cringe at the fact that there's a Snoop Doggy Dogg record in the ol' Mod Male record vaults!) That said, New Wave/indie/alt-whatever does not equal Mod. I understand how it can be confusing, but they are totally different things.

Granted, if it wasn't for this confusion in the first place, I wouldn't be Mod-bloggin' today. Heck, I'd probably be writing about which Morrissey solo album is best (I wouldn't know since I stopped at the first one) or who would win in a lightsaber fight, Han Solo or Boba Fett.  Instead, it's the Mod thing that became the #1 target of my obsession, all thanks to my cousin calling me a 'Mod' because I liked The Smiths. So for that, let me stand up and thank New Wave music!

Of course, these days my Smiths records get played maybe about once every 3 years... if I'm feeling nostalgic and Morrissey bugs the living daylights out of me. But there was a time when they were on my turntable, on average, 4-5 hours a day. Whenever I felt the world was against me (which was daily for me as an average 13/14-year-old), I could get lost in pretty much any of their songs. If I didn't feel like eating my mom's corned beef, I could just say my political position that evening was "Meat is Murder." And if I couldn't find a date to the school dance, I could just say I was celibate like Morrissey. These reasons are why that band will always hold some significance for me.

And if I want to get defensive about my past tastes, I'll have you know that not only did The Smiths grace their record covers with awesome '60s imagery, they also covered a Twinkle song. Oh yeah, and did you know that Johnny Marr was a huge Small Faces, Who, and Motown fan (according to one of my Smiths quote books that, yes, I still have)? Plus, he rocked a huge back-comb at various points in his Smiths career.
Johnny Marr with back-comb and desert boots.
So there... take your Smiths-hatin' elsewhere! By the way, are The Smiths even considered New Wave?

*BONUS POINTS if you said 'Sunglasses being worn indoors' or 'Posing in a dirty dorm room.' 


  1. For my two and a half cents (sense?) I say "Ain't no shame cos it was all the same"!

    Despite calling myself a "mod" in 1980 I loved (and still do) XTC, the Vapors, 999, Ultravox, The Stranglers, The Clash etc.......because back then it was all "punk" or "new wave" to my detractors/tormentors.

  2. Thanks for including a photo of Blondie. I considered Clem Burke, the drummer, a Mod in 1979/1980 after seeing him on TV playing in a 3-button suits, sometimes with a target shirt (your favorite, ha!), & with arrows on his drums.

    1. Actually in 1978 Blondie, as a whole group, went through a very mod period because Debbie Harry's designer Stephen Sprouse designed a very mod-inspired wardrobe for her with lots of minimal looking minidresses and thigh-high boots, lots of her dresses had stripes and of course Clem, the drummer, being the biggest Anglophile and the biggest mod of the group also influenced the band's overall mod style too.

  3. Dean, last night, we were trying to figure out what Clem's name was! We were too lazy to get on Google, but Irene was going on about how one of them was a Mod. I think you proved her right!

    Bill, those bands are what bridged me from the Smiths to the Jam. I still have a soft spot for them all!

  4. I was going to say that an "In the City" poster would be preferable to "Greatest Hits."


  5. Mod-revival, Brit-pop, 2-Tone, even Post-punk, Twee and Indie; They're all gateway scenes into Mod proper. Very few early teens are going to appreciate 60's Soul music, Marvin Gaye, fine knit polos and bespoke tailoring. However, once they accept wearing flowers in their back pocket is okay, it's a small step to having to stand while on the bus so they don't crease their slacks : )

  6. Nice to see a man who appreciates Mod!
    The rooftop garden of the SFMOMA has that Mondrian cake. Its really amazing! :)

  7. Wow! I definitely have an amazing son and so full of style!

  8. Haha, thanks Michelle! And now I know not to skip the garden on our next trip to the museum. That cake looked FANTASTIC!

  9. There is always a gateway.

    Honstly, at that time in my life I would (incorrectly) make the argument that anyone who dressed sharply was a part of the mod thing... members of Joe Jackson band, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, The Producers, Split Enz, Hoodoo Gurus, The Long Ryders, The Feelies and
    The Jesus and Mary Chain, all dressed in suits at one time or another which helped fuel my misguided argument.
    My older brother (and fan of Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, et al) set me straight when he told me I had "mod on the brain"!

    ...that said I have nearly the same photo! dressed sharp, wearing a suit, cropped hair, one Squire poster and one Psychadelic Furs poster

  10. John, I'm right there with you! In fact, early on, I was pretty confused about it all even after it was explained to me.

    I saw the looks of Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, and Blondie (all bands I still dig, BTW) and didn't quite understand how they were NOT mod based on the basic definition I had. Plus, at that time in my life, I still really associated 'Mod' music with New Wave and Punk (hence my Jam post).

    Heck, I was so confused back then that I still remember seeing an episode of GET SMART and thinking to myself, "Wait... Maxwell Smart has on a suit with thin lapels... but I thought only Mods dressed that way?"

    We all gotta start somewhere I guess!

  11. Just discovered the blog and am digging it. Also digging your open-mindedness on the whole music thing. When I first got into the mod scene in the early 80s is So Cal, I was uptight about being strictly mod that I missed out on a lot of great music and bands because they weren't mod enough. I've loosened up over the years to realize that mod is more than just music. That's why I think there's really no such thing as a "mod" band, but really just mod-friendly bands, some of those play soul, some beat, some jazz, some power-pop, some ska, etc.

    Anyhow looking forward to more cool posts.

    Mr. Suave

  12. Thanks Mr. Suave!

    Unfortunately, I am still a little uptight when it comes to music. However, with age also comes the understanding that not everyone shares my tastes and I've accepted that. When I was younger, I was heavy in the middle of arguments over brit-pop, etc. Now, I dig that people dig it. Not my thing, but hey.

    That said, I've always LOVED your blog! You cover some great stuff and I'm so glad you are giving exposure to current soul/jazz acts out there, like Smoove, Hi-Fly Orchestra, and Lack of Afro (still on the hunt for the vinyl Touch My Soul!). Plus, your collection is very eclectic... always a good thing!

  13. You've mentioned about The Libertines. Ex-leader Peter Doherty in noticeable way make a tribute to Mod heritage. He regularly wears classic Mod suits and hats, also BS and FP clothes. In "Delivery" he sings 'all you skins and mods you get together Make pretend it's 1969 forever'. But he never pretended to be Mod. It would be ridiculous.
    BTW, his late friend Amy Winehouse was collaborating with Fred Perry and she had planned to record ska album.