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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

The Index Masters

Wall of Voodoo

The Index Masters

I’m not typically one for nostalgia, and I’m particularly unsympathetic to 80s musical nostalgia.  Folks, the 80s were not a good time for music.  Vacuum tubes gave way to transistors and spawned a million horrible sounding guitars.  Cheap commodity synths made it possible for every kid who ever took a piano class to be a rock star.  (Keytar, anyone?)  The Michael Jacksons of the world turned the Motown sound into watered-down bubblegum pop.  Aside from east bay punk and harDCore, there’s not much music from the 1980s that interests me much.  I don’t want to relive the Debbie Gibson and Tiffany era, thank you.

But then, one night in the early 1990s, watching late night television, I received a broadcast from 1982:

Undeniably 1980s.  Crazy analog drum machines.  Guys in dark suits playing keyboards.  Crappy transistor-filtered guitar.  But somehow blended with spaghetti western themes and narratives and turned into something else altogether.  So I checked out The Index Masters, which included the original 1980 Wall of Voodoo EP and a bunch of previously unreleased live material.  A totally deadpanned version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”.  Covers of the theme songs from “Hang ‘Em High” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”.  The industry shrugged and called it New Wave, which was early 80s short-hand for “What the hell is this supposed to be?”

The Talking Heads they are not.  If Wikipedia can be believed, Wall of Voodoo was born from Acme Soundtracks, an attempt by Stan Ridgeway to make money writing film music.  A failed attempt at writing film music.  It’s hard to imagine what sort of films Wall of Voodoo would have fit into.  “Cowboys vs. Robots: The Musical” maybe?  There’s a genre there still waiting to be exploited.  (Or, crap, maybe Will Smith already did that.)  I don’t know why it works.  It’s like Wall of Voodoo tried to be kitsch, but they were just too weird to succeed at it, so they ended up something else.  Something spooky and good.

Now, by the force of circumstance
And by the belt that holds up my pants
I’m held responsible
For this idea that never had a chance