Recently I heard a song that was an obvious tribute to Romeo Void‘s “Never Say Never.” If that song title doesn’t ring a bell, surely you’d remember the catchy lyrical hook “I might like you better if we slept together.” I was reminded how much I liked Romeo Void in their heyday (yes, those glorious 1980s) and wondered what their story was, and what happened to them.
Romeo Void formed in San Francisco in 1979, on Valentines Day. Vocalist Deborah Iyall, a Cowlitz Native American, was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute, and while there, she met bassist Frank Zincavage. In a matter of weeks they had formed a band with guitarist Peter Woods and drummer Jay Derrah. Iyall and her bandmates were influenced by the punk and post-punk scene at the time, including bands such as Joy Division and those she had seen at the nightclub, Mabuhay Gardens, such as the Nuns, Crime, the Mutants, and the Avengers.
The story goes that after seeing a headline in a local S.F. magazine that declared “Why Single Women Can’t Get Laid in San Francisco,” the band was inspired to name themselves Romeo Void in reference to this lack of romance in the dating scene at the time. In a famous interview by Dick Clark on American Bandstand, Deborah Iyall remarks, “The ’80s single thing is romeo void.”
Iyall and her band became well-known in the new wave circuit even though they associated with the punk mentality. She stated that “Romeo Void was a reaction against the regimentation of everyone having to be bleach blond and everything being about despair and no future, when I thought the do-it-yourself thing should encompass all the different kinds of emotions and all the different colors…. I was proud of being American Indian,” she continued, “so I purposely never bleached my hair blond.”
Iyall was a role model for those who didn’t necessarily fit into the cultural norms at the time. She was a proud woman of color who was also at a more realistic and healthy weight and size than the current models gracing the entertainment magazine covers. Using her unusual, partially-spoken vocal style, she catered to subjects such as female sexuality and the reality of being a sort of cultural/social outcast.
In 1985 Romeo Void disbanded. Iyall’s first solo album, Strange Language was released the following year. In the next decade, she returned to her love of visual art and made a living teaching art at 29 Palms Cultural Center and for the Arts Council for San Bernadino. In 2010 she released her second solo album, Stay Strong followed by the EP Singing Until Sunrise which debuted in January of 2012. She currently resides in Sacramento with her husband, an audio engineer and instructor.
Romeo Void on American Bandstand, including an interview with Dick Clark:
by Mari Stauffer
While listening to a great cover of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” (performed by a new favorite band of mine, Wild Nothing), I was inspired to revisit some of her work, and while reading about her, I learned some interesting information.
From a young age, Kate Bush was active in the creative arts….dancing, singing, and songwriting. Her debut album was released in 1978, when she was only 19 years old. What’s impressive beyond her young age is that she wrote and composed all the songs herself, some when she was only 13. Her voice sounds young, yes, but there is a unique maturity and confidence with self expression through song that is rare at that age.
She was able to convince EMI records to use “Wuthering Heights” as the single, when they were pushing for another track, “James and the Cold Gun.” That was a good call on her part, because “Wuthering Heights” shot to the top of the UK Singles chart and stayed there for weeks. This resulted in Bush becoming the first woman to have a UK number one with a self-written song. She was inspired to write the song, not from Emily Bronte’s novel of the same name, but by the television adaptation. She did, however, read the novel later.
Among those involved in the album, lending their various musical and production talents, were Duncan Mackay, Ian Bairnson, David Paton, Andrew Powell, Stuart Elliott, and David Gilmour.
At the young age of 19, Kate Bush had made an unforgettable mark in the musical world, and that was only the beginning. She’s since released nine more studio albums, the latest one, 50 Words For Snow, released in 2011. Last year also saw the release of Director’s Cut, the second time (the first was in 1978) she released two albums in one year. Now that is one prolific artist!
Wuthering Heights video (US version)
by Cat Johnson
“You’d be surprised what the human mind and the human body can adjust to.” —Tito
In 2000, the film Dark Days introduced us to a group of people who were living beneath New York City in the Amtrak tunnels. It was eye-opening, engrossing, touching, at times funny, and very human. We met a dozen or so people who, due to a variety of reasons, found themselves homeless and living in utter darkness below the city. They cooked, gave haircuts, kept pets, had furniture and neighbors, had to contend with rats and high-speed trains, used buckets as toilets and showered in the water from leaky pipes.
Film-maker Marc Singer spent two years filming—and eventually living with—his subjects in their scavenged material city. Rather than painting a picture of sentimentality or shock however, he gave people a platform to speak openly and honestly about their own lives, and they did so strikingly well. Sharing stories of traumatic childhoods, incarceration, losing children, drug addiction and their experience of living in the tunnels, Singer’s subjects offer a personal glimpse into a reality that is often swept into the recesses of public consciousness.
Recently, the 10th Anniversary Edition of Dark Days was released on dvd. In addition to the film, which is now available with commentary by Singer, it is packed with special features including a 40 minute interview with Singer (in which he discloses that he had never made a film before Dark Days and didn’t even know how to load the film into his camera), a look at the tunnel today, life after the tunnel, the typography and design of Dark Days and more.
With its soundtrack by DJ Shadow, its stark black and white photography and its straightforward approach to documenting a community and culture, Dark Days immediately became an unforgettable, underground(!) hit; a film that illustrates the power of the documentary and the strength of a story honestly told.
by Mari Stauffer
Until fairly recently, when I would hear the name Brian May, I would think of his role in the legendary band Queen as guitarist and songwriter. Brian May is one of the great rock guitarists, responsible for skillfully weaving the audio threads that are some of rock and roll’s most unforgettable melodies (“Bohemian Rhapsody” anyone?).
Well, before Queen hit major success, Brian May had graduated from the Imperial College London, with a BSc (Hons) degree and Associate for the Royal College of Science in physics, with Upper Second-Class Honours. He was in the midst of studying for his PhD in physics (also from the Imperial College London) when he put his schoolwork on hold and went full time into the band.
After a hugely successful career with Queen, and life after Queen with The Brian May Band as well as solo work, he came full circle with science. In 2007, he finished his PhD thesis (“A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud”) and received his doctorate in astrophysics in 2008. There is even an asteroid named in his honor: 52665 Brianmay.
by Mari Stauffer
Justine Frischmann is probably best known for being the frontwoman of the British rock band Elastica (1992-2001). Famous for mugging for the camera with her playful lip snarl, she first entered the music scene when she co-founded the rock band Suede, along with Brett Anderson in 1989.
After splitting from Suede in 1991, she regrouped with original Suede drummer Justin Welch and, together with bassist Annie Holland and guitarist Donna Matthews, formed Elastica in 1992. Despite having only put out two albums, Elastica made music that helped shape the music of the 1990’s, and many still remember their catchy singles “Stutter” and “Connection.”
Since falling out of the music scene, Justine moved to the U.S., where she studied visual arts at Naropa University in Colorado. She is now an accomplished artist, living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She had her first solo art show in June 2010, and continues to show around the country. For more information on her art and exhibits, check out her profile on ArtSlant.
On an art-related side-note, the cover photo for Elastica’s album Meddle (2000) was taken by none other than Justine’s flat-mate at the time, Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam a.k.a. M.I.A., more famous now for her music. Justine also lent a musical hand in some of M.I.A.’s first album Arular.