Friday, January 30, 2009

FRIDAY MORNING JUKEBOX: Oingo Boingo Overload!

One of the saddest rites of passage in our culture is the yearly half-assed resurrection of Oingo Boingo by various half-assed terrestrial radio stations every October. Admit it: by the time Halloween night rolls around, you're nearly sick of "Dead Man's Party" or "Weird Science" being trotted out by whatever jocks are stuck following the cookie-cutter format sheet. And for about a generation now, I imagine, that's all Top 40 fans would know of what, to me, is one of the quintessential California bands.

I first heard of Boingo around 1983. I wasn't any sort of music fan, as such, but I'd hear the name bandied about by my more musically-inclined friends. Boingo was just one of those things that was part of the San Diego/Tijuana scene. With the benefit of hindsight, their rise stands out even more: they were a post-punk band that wasn't punky at all, once their sound was fully formed. Yet they weren't synth-pop; they weren't ska; they were sort of unassuming in their look -- suits? nice shoes? horns? -- but D. Elfman's sci-fi sensibility kept them on their own edge, not "cool kid" rock by any means. This was geek rock, two decades before the term was co-opted and bastardized by East Coast hipsters.

Though I noted Elfman's graduation from rock cult-stardom into the realm of elite film composers -- how many of us became Batman fans thanks to that theme? -- I didn't begin to follow Boingo as a band until I received a copy of the Boingo Alive double-record. It wasn't until even later, after I'd gotten hooked on the band thanks to "We Close Our Eyes," that I realized the tracks within were themselves re-recordings of their earlier standout tracks. And the new versions were better. How many artists would go back and not only compile a greatest-hits collection, but improve upon the originals?

By the time "Insanity" was released, I'd become an honest fan of the band -- still sorta-secret, because nobody I knew in college really "got" them. So my sadness was private when I heard about their farewell show, in -- where else? -- Los Angeles and realized my broke ass couldn't go. But I've gotten to catch up, on CD and via video, and I can say I finally attended a show of theirs ... sorta. Two years ago or so, I got to see Dead Man's Party, the near-creepily similar Boingo tribute band. It wasn't the same, of course, but I still got to swing-dance to "Goodbye, Goodbye."

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