Yesterday I was in the middle of writing my post when my friend chasinvictoria sent me a message that Pete Burns had suddenly died. With the definitive Dead Or Alive BSOG due in just four more days, the chameleonic Burns died suddenly of a cardiac arrest. He was known much more for his notoriety in the last 25 years than for his music. I pay no attention to celebrity culture or television [it’s an oxymoron with me] so it goes without saying that I’ve had no exposure to the many “reality-based” programs that Burns had been a part of. While I was aware of Dead Or Alive from their first album, I’ve yet to hear his early goth band Nightmares In Wax from the early 80s.
For me, I first heard DOA when MTV played the video for “I Would Do Anything” and it was okay, but didn’t provoke purchase. Burns liked to have catfights with the likes of Boy George in the UK music press, but again, I passed this phenomenon by. When I next heard DOA, it was their campy beyond measure cover of K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s “That’s The Way I Like It.” Next, their world-conquering hit single “You Spin Me ‘Round [Like A Record]” took up residence int he world’s charts and then everybody knew about Pete Burns. While I liked early hi-NRG gay disco back in the day, this track never worked too much for me.
What made me actually drop coin for Pete’s music was hearing the glorious “Brand New Lover” on MTV the next year. I rushed right out and bought “Mad, Bad & Dangerous To Know.” I found it to be a sturdy dance pop album with the only tough stretch being the overlong “Something In My House.” I bought the 12″ single of “Brand New Lover” and found it to be beyond superb. Just recently, when researching the post on “Sophisticated Boom Box,” I came across a great quote from Burns regarding a remix of that song that the fervid Japanese market tried to squeeze out of him.
Japanese labels were Burns’ lifeline for the last 25 years with much adulation and exclusive Japanese releases along the way. One of these labels wanted new versions of old DOA material to pad out a new release; specifically “Brand New Lover.” Burns told his DOA partner/manager Steve Coy that it simply wasn’t possible to improve in any way on that song from 1986! So the label didn’t get its wish. Say what you will for Pete’s perspective on his image, but he was spot on the money when it came to the music. While I kept up with his music up to the point where he began to morph into Cher [nothing but a queasy prospect for this person] around 1990 or so, following the superb Japan-only album “Fan The Flame [part 1],” it went silent for several years afterward for Burns. I heard the great illegal cover↓ of “Rebel Rebel” that he released under the name International Chrysis, but I could never find a copy of this release to buy.
↓ Bowie refused to grant DOA the right to cover the song, so wily Pete asked for permission under an assumed name.
I next ran into Burns when in 1993 he was playing a show in Atlanta at the club Masquerade. Chasinvictoria and I drove up there from Central Florida with our friend Liz in tow for some amazement. We got all of that in more as Pete was in rare form while he held court in the strange, track date the event turned out to be. I have to admit that it was far more entertaining than any straightforward concert would have been. I bought a cassette they were selling there. A dozen years later, when raising money for a MacPro, I sold that tape for a little over $300, so I have been indebted to Pete since that day. Apart from buying all of the DOA CDs I didn’t have at the time to hear on the trip up, I’ve not heard anything that Burns managed to release in the last 20 years of his life.
From that point onward, his penchant for sharp tongued commentary coupled with unceasing bouts under the surgeon’s knife meant that his notoriety overshadowed his musical output, which was a shame. Never the smoothest of crooners, his “hello sailor” take on gay disco nevertheless found room for subtlety and pop craftsmanship to manifest every now and then. I have maintained for years that it was a shame that emotional songs such as “Fan The Flame [part 1]” featured, deserved a larger audience than a Japan-only album provided. It was his 1992 cassette “Love Pete,” featured the singer at his most vulnerable, in a voice and piano setting that was intriguing to hear after all of that SAW dance pop [as great as some of it was]. His liner notes from that release would be a good way to remember Pete, so here they are.
“This was recorded with no rehearsal, no money, no overdubs, and no sleep. I stand for freedom of existance, speech, sexuality, colour, and choice. Choice to love who and what you want, nothing is wrong to do or say as an individual, and it’s double fun with a consenting partner. I care about the present, not the past or the future; the past is spilt milk, the future is uncertain, the present is to be enjoyed. For the moment we have the power, so freeze it in our hearts, minds, and souls. Photos fade, tapes get wiped, videos can be tape dover, but our energy, creativity and compassion are invincible. This is a truly nude recording, no overdubs, no special effects, no true logic, just emotion and ad libs. I thank everyone who sat with me and wished me luck with their hearts, they believed in my motivation. AIDS is no longer a threat, and education is scaring people, fear is the root of all evil. I have none. I am humbled by your strength. I wish all sufferers love. I wish all non-sufferers a guardian angel. I am optimistic. We all, kings, queens, Ivana Trump, even Madonna bleed blood. We all die. So to all who are at the front queue to a place called heaven, we’ll all be there eventually – so see you soon. (I don’t think time, years, or clocks exist up there) I believe in you. Love, Pete. Zeb, Sam, Gina, Andrea, Greg, Charles, and most of all Marcel, you are already an angel. Anyone I forgot … get over it dickhead!” – Pete Burns
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