Authored by Dale Nickey:
LENE LOVICH – STATELESS (1978)
They were called “promotional films” back then. There was no television broadcast channel dedicated to music. MTV was a few years off. The Z Channel was the one cable channel on the block where you could watch movies intended for mature audiences. Now and then you would see a band you liked on The Midnight Special or In Concert. There were a few local music shows on TV too. But, not many.
Anyway, promotional films were becoming the main avenue for up and coming British artists to plant their flag on U.S. soil. That’s how I found Kate Bush. Then, one day Lene Lovich came.
Kate Bush was odd and ethereal. Lene Lovich was just plain weird…and wonderful. She just materialized on my television one night. Exotic, pretty and tough as nails. Never saw that combination of attributes in a woman before. She was Punk, but not really. It was a whole different ball game. In her music I heard Classical, Motown, and Rockabilly…the works. Her first song that made it over to the states was “Lucky Number”. The film for that song was from a hipper world than the one I lived in. Lene’s boyfriend (Les Chappel) was the guitar player and looked ominous with his shaved head. Not like today – when everyone from your cable guy to your coffee barista is a skinhead. Back then, in the era of Prog caped-crusaders with flowing locks, it was a real statement. A statement of what, I was wasn’t sure. I wasn’t jealous of Les because he didn’t seem like a typical yob boyfriend. He seemed more like Lene’s loyal subject and henchman. Indeed, the video showed the band standing well behind Lene bowing in submission while she declared:
“…everything I do I take complete control, that’s where I’m coming from. My Lucky Number is one”
The only question that remained was; where can I buy this goddamned record?
Stateless was her first album and everything about it was perfect. This was an album by a female artist, but the artwork was refreshingly absent pinks, pastels and squiggly graphics. The American version had Lene facing the camera, unsmiling, shot from the waist up. Giving nothing away. Wearing a black tunic like those favored by Communist politburo officials. She looked like Stalin or Mao Tse Tung reincarnated as a hot chick. Even had a dimple on her chin like Mao. Love at first sight.
The back cover was equally austere black and white. Nobody could guess what era this album came from if they didn’t know already. It was the perfect tonic for a lost, inquiring, non-conformist punk like me. There was a time when kids didn’t want to fit in, or wear the same poncy sneakers as everybody else. We didn’t want our heroes to look like us. We wanted something out of this world; or at the very least, not of our world. Lene was a British artist, born in Detroit with Yugoslavian ancestry. Maybe there was a god.
Lene would show up fairly regularly on TV. I can’t remember which shows. But, somehow she found me. Then came the film for “Say When”. It was a live band performance mimed to the record. Didn’t matter. The film showed a town hall full of kids, arms locked and smashed together like sardines going ape shit. There was Lene, braids down to her ass, blissfully ignorant of any fire code, gleefully detonating this explosion of teen hormones. Little did I know the woman was 30 years old.
Lene had a hot hand. Kate Bush couldn’t gain any traction with the American audience but Lene was making her mark. After Stateless, came the album Flex and a thunderbolt from the heavens, “Bird Song”. “Bird Song” (the film) got a lot of play in America. I was surprised it didn’t do better on Billboard, but I saw it on TV a lot. Lene in a wedding gown, in mourning dress, in graveyards, stalked by evil priests. Beautiful, dour, bold, and gothic. I fell hard under the spell of “Bird Song”, Her vocals were from another dimension. I then realized that at the core of all great art there was sadness. Happy songs were stupid.
Lene needed a hit, so she came up with “New Toy”. The perfect single. She swung the hammer that drove the final nail into the disco coffin by becoming the first musical artist to put on a concert at the disco mecca Studio 54. She was on her way. Incredible performer. Better than Jagger even. Nothing could stop her it seemed.
Then she was gone. She didn’t say goodbye. She just wasn’t there anymore. Me and my friends got older and started making our own music and hooking up with girls. The new wave of rock music (inspired by Punk) got co-opted by the dweebs in The Biz. They hogtied it, categorized it, and gave us Spandau Ballet and Haircut 100. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go down. Stiff records didn’t think Lene was commercial enough so they held up her next album for two years. Just long enough for Michael Jackson to happen. Just long enough for the Hip Hop hoards to arm themselves with their beatboxes and begin their long march, trampling over all that stood before. The music world slowly but surely began its fade to black.
Lene Lovich wasn’t made for this world, but she stopped by for a visit and left us some cool presents before she de-materialized. Stateless was one of those gifts. We never got to see the production of ‘Lene Lovich Superstar’. But we will always have the legend. Legends are better than stars. They endure.