I’ve written in the past about the curious phenomenon of False New Wave®, which got pretty rampant during the salad days of the trend. We were treated to the spectacle of rawk stars a generation older adopting the colorful plumage of the Now Set; often to their detriment! But let’s look at this from another, less celebrated, angle. Let’s suppose that you were a musician who was really into this new thing, maaaaaaan. And yet you were hooked up with en establishment rocker like [purely as an illustrative suggestion] Bob Seger. At what point would the cognitive dissonance cause your head to burst into flames? Similarly, how far could you venture into your comfort zone before you were the subject of a band intervention; confronted about how you just no longer seemed to fit into your fearless leader’s conception of The Silver Bullet Band? ‘Tis truly a vexing problem, but fortunately for musical misfits everywhere, there seemed to be some wiggle room for what I can only refer to as the Token New Waver® scenario.
This phenomenon was pretty widespread in the early eighties where a mainstream band often seemed to have that one member, who visually, was on another wavelength to the image being put across by the rest of the band. Often, it was the keyboard player. Given that New Wave had the aura of hipness by 1979, I’m sure that established bands with some sense of security were happy to have the Token New Waver® present in photo shoots, if anything, to add a slight aura of the au courant for bands that would otherwise be lacking in that department. For bands still clawing their way up the cliff face of Rock, I would imagine that any member who stepped out of line, visually, would find his pitons filed away to the breaking point.
I vividly remember when Yes made their first album without Jon Anderson as if it were yesterday. As a lapsed fan of Yes and a big fan of The Buggles, I found the notion of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes replacing Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson kind of thrilling, in a warped way! To this day, I still don’t know who came up with that cockamamie idea, but I thank them for it. The only Yes album in my Record Cell post 1979 has been the “Drama” album. I even bought it as soon as it came out on CD ca. 1987! Just six tracks – most of them long; about like any Yes album, really, but the lack of Jon Anderson means that the band can finally rock for once! “Machine Messiah” is the heaviest that Yes ever got as Chris Squire and Steve Howe got to investigate their y-chromosomes without Anderson casting reproachful looks. Still, publicity photos of the new Yes show Horn looking really uncomfortable, even though he had a similar vocal range to the erstwhile singer and the material here is among my favorite Yes music.
I also remember when I first heard Prince around the time of his Dirty Mind” album. His blend of funk and New Wave was of its time, as potent as the rock and soul that Sly Stone proffered in the late 60s. When “Controversy” was released, I became a firm believer, though it was around this time that I began to see the earliest Prince music videos on the pre-MTV airwaves. I could not help but notice that [as usual] keyboardist Matt Fink stuck out visually like a sore thumb from the dapper showbiz glam of the backing band. Dr. Fink, as he’s known, had a penchant for the brief New Wave vogue of scrub suits* paired with the shades; its always the shades, that usually mark the Token New Waver® within any rock group of the era. He rocked this look all the way to the end of the Prince train.
Stop the presses!! Some rock bands took the notion of the Token New Waver about as far as it could conceivably go! What about Rock Chick® Pat Benatar’s group photo on the back of her hardly New Wave sophomore album, “Crimes Of Passion?” Yow! One would be excused for thinking that this might be a New Wave album instead of Nerf Rock®. Bassist Roger Capps [top right] has the requisite short hair and The Shades. He could walk right into a video by The Epoxies and we would not bat an eyelash. It must have been the 1979 zeitgeist in action, since even Neil Giraldo [top left] was sporting a skinny tie. But the New Wave ball got hit out of the park with the sharp figure cut by drummer Myron Grumbacher who looks to have bested Joe Jackson at his own game! I don’t think I need to tell you where Grumbacher is sitting!
The Token New Waver® phenomenon was over and done with by 1983, about the same time as New Wave, as it turns out. The trope was past its sell-by date by that time, but for about five heady years, we could play “Spot The Token New Waver®” with some of the least likely bands imaginable. What other Token New Wavers can you add in the comments below?
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* Ace commenter and close, personal friend chasinvictoria was rocking this particular wardrobe action at the point when I met him in high school way back in 1979!