A&E

Legendary rock DJ Richard Blade talks New Wave ahead of Lost ’80s Live anniversary show

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Richard Blade will be onstage between acts at SATURDAY’s Lost ’80s Live concert.

What do A Flock of Seagulls, Missing Persons, Dramarama and the 15 other acts scheduled to play the Lost ’80s Live package concert have in common besides the decade when they thrived? All of them have a connection to DJ Richard Blade, who, as the former principal on-air talent at LA’s KROQ—arguably the most influential rock station of the last 40 years—broke countless New Wave, post-punk and synth-pop artists in America, from Depeche Mode and Morrissey to Pet Shop Boys and Spandau Ballet.

Blade—who can be heard daily on his Sirius XM show on classic alternative station First Wave and his revived Flashback Lunch show on Jack FM affiliates—recently released his memoir, World in My Eyes, an engrossing account of his rise to prominence as a music tastemaker. He’s in town this weekend for a book signing and to host Lost ’80s Live’s 15th anniversary blowout—where he’ll usher out acts he’s been introducing for four decades.

In this day and age of the Internet and satellite radio, and with two daily radio shows, you must have the largest listenership of your career. How does that compare with the highs you experienced at KROQ? It’s very different. The listenership is massive; I get gigs all over the country. Tomorrow I’m in San Diego; the next day I’m in Daytona Beach. I do gigs in Canada because of Sirius being heard there. It’s an incredible feeling.

The main difference is, with the early days of KROQ, we were the only game in town. It was a very intimate relationship with the listeners. When I’d tease something new from Missing Persons or Dramarama or Berlin, I’d make a conscious effort to pause for a second before the song [started] so people could record it onto the cassette. You felt there were 40,000 cassettes rolling at the same time to get those songs. If they missed my show, they was no way to pull up the song. [On Sirius], the listenership is in the millions.

Do both shows scratch a different itch? It would seem that Flashback Lunch holds so much nostalgia for people who grew up with you, but maybe you would enjoy more freedom picking songs on Sirius. Absolutely. With Flashback Lunch, it’s very much a 60-minute show with commercials, so you’re looking at 44 minutes of music and very hit-based. If you’re going to play a song by Depeche Mode, it’s “Just Can’t Enough” or “Enjoy the Silence.” With Sirius, because it’s a six-hour daily show, I can go deep and take Facebook requests and look at birthdays. Today is the birthday of XTC’s Colin Moulding, so I can play “Generals and Majors” by XTC, or “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead.” It’s also Belinda Carlisle’s birthday today, so I can work in The Go-Go’s or a solo cut, and it doesn’t have to be “We Got the Beat”—it can be “This Town.”

What is it about New Wave, post-punk and the other late 1970s and 1980s music that not only resonates deeply with you, but so many other people? The music itself, for so many people, recalls a really fun time, particularly in America. It came out of a very troubled England, because of unemployment and riots … Ronald Reagan conjured up an economic resurgence. Instead of a nuclear war … there was the fall of communism, so it was a decade for people to have fun and dance. … That’s why the music goes on. It resonates as such a good time.

I DJ for so many parents, but here, kids come up and make a request, and I think they’ll request DJ Snake or Drake, and instead they ask for A-Ha. They weren’t even negative-20 [years old] when [A-Ha] came out. But they hear the lyrics in their video games. They want A Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran, and they grew up with their parents Itunes playlists. To them, it’s fun music.

Judging by your Facebook page, your book has really resonated with music fans. I think that’s a testament of how large a role a DJ can play in our lives. Have you gotten a sense of that over the years? I have, because there have been many DJs in my life that played a huge part for me. Emperor Rosko, an American DJ in England, was massive. I’m so privileged—he actually found the old jingles he made saying he was coming to my hometown and that I was opening for him. To have my hero send me this is a thrill because I grew up listening to him. And I feel that responsibility. I know people listen to me because of the conveyor belt I used to get them that music. I’ve never talked down to the listener, because I’m one of them.

I want to talk about one of the throat-lumper moments in your book, the day you announced Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan’s suicide attempt. Could that moment happen on the radio today, or have publicists and lawyers and nervous corporate radio executives ruined the possibility of that? You know, I don’t think it could. I was listening to Howard Stern the other day—I’m a big fan—and he was playing a Don Imus clip [of] him quitting, and his quitting was faked, all rehearsed. And even when [Imus] threw his headphones down, [Howard Stern show engineer] Fred [Norris] found that same sound effect on YouTube. It just wasn’t real. That’s one of things about people these days—they aren’t real on the radio. They portray a character. That’s a terrible flaw. The audience will see through it. That’s why Howard is so popular—he’s real.

Back in the day, when Dave had that suicide attempt and the paramedic was on the phone with me … I felt something had to be done. He was a friend, but he was so important to music. KROQ had gone through such a change then [with] Nirvana … but if it wasn’t for Depeche Mode, I don’t know if I’d have still been at KROQ. I was so associated with them. I felt not only obligated to Dave as a friend, but to the band. I didn’t want anything to happen to them. They’re the most important electronic band ever. I had to step up, and if it meant getting fired, I was willing to put it on the line. I had to do it.

You also write about your former relationship with Terri Nunn of Berlin. How were you able to transition into a friendship after it ended so badly? With Terri, we didn’t speak for seven years. It was tragic; we loved each other so much. It took us both to separate hells.

I was on the air when the phone rang at 11 in the morning; it was the request hotline, and it was Terri. She said she wanted to see me. I said, you do? She said, “I’m getting married this afternoon, and I want you there.” I said, what time? She said that afternoon, and to come straight from the station. I was sitting there in shorts, a tank top and sandals. I would have to drive home to Woodland Hills and change. She said, “Just come as you are, I want you at my wedding.” So I went in shorts, a tank top and a baseball hat, feeling like the trailer trash of the world. But I danced with her mother and sat with Terri and our friendship kicked back up. I would step in front of a bus for her without thinking.

It seems like you stuck around KROQ in the 1990s longer than you might have normally because you felt compelled to make sure ’80s music still had a place on the airwaves. One hundred percent. I felt a real responsibility because the ’80s resurgence hadn’t happened yet. This is ’94, ’95, ’96. I was ready to move on. I’d planned to leave for awhile. I was just worried if I left, KROQ would use it as an excuse to take ’80s music off the air. [KROQ has] always been so influential; there so few stations with that kind of influence. If we played a song from OMD and Tears for Fears, every other alternative station would add it. I knew Flashback Lunch was being copied at 400 stations, and that if it left KROQ, it would leave those other stations, too. I felt that responsibility to Duran Duran and Culture Club and all those bands to keep them on the air.

Let’s talk about this lineup for Lost 80s Live. It’s a major tour, but you’re only hosting the Vegas date. Yes. [Founder] Rob [Juarez] said this is the anniversary show, so I cleared the time and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

I feel like they should have just called it Richard Blade’s Summer Camp. You must regularly see and speak with so many of the performers, right? Absolutely. I will talk with [vocalist/keyboardist] Mike [Score] from A Flock of Seagulls on a regular basis, and [vocalist] Pete Byrne from Naked Eyes. My wife brought [vocalist] Annabella [Lwin] of Bow Wow Wow over to the States at the end of the ’90s; we got her some gigs at the Roxy and she loved it so much she got her paperwork and she stayed here. John Easdale from Dramarama is one of the nicest guys in music. … Martha Davis [of The Motels] is a wonderful woman.

[Animotion singer/guitarist] Bill [Wadhams] tells one of the best stories ever. He was a house painter when they released “Obsession” … and the woman whose house he was painting asked him to go into her house [where] she was watching [Blade’s former video show] Video One. She asked him, “Isn’t that you on the TV?” He said his life changed then. He’s so great. I sat in his car at Burbank Airport and he played me cuts from the newest Animotion album. It’s been wonderful getting to know him.

The former Oingo Boingo members … Johnny [Hernandez] and the guys are an incredible, incredible band. They honored me two years ago, on April 20, we had Oingo Boingo day. [Johnny] asked me to come down to the [LA] City Council and speak on behalf of the band, and I was almost in tears. To be friends with these people—even though I’m an old man, I’m still that 16-year-old boy who can believe.

And among the ones you might not see very often, who are you most excited to see perform?

I don’t get to see The Romantics much; they’re very much a midwestern and eastern band, And same with Nu Shooz. They put on a great show; it’ll be great to see them again. I haven’t seen Trans-X and [founder] Pascal [Languirand] in years. … And [former When in Rome vocalists] Farrington and Mann I’m looking forward to seeing, because I married Farrington to his wife Shelly. I was thrilled to do it.

Who among them do you think is still due more credit than they’ve received to date?

You look at A Flock of Seagulls. So many people call them a one-hit wonder. We should all be so lucky to be that good of a one-hit wonder. This is a band that won a Grammy and had a number of hits. Their popularity was so big in America, they left England and moved here. The same with Wang Chung. Not only did they have a number of hits, but they scored a movie, and [their “Fire in the Twilight” was] featured in The Breakfast Club. Terri with Berlin sang a song [“Take My Breath Away”] that won the Academy Award. How many people can say, “I won a Academy Award”?

Lastly, your book has a to-be-continued ending. What else would you like to do professionally? There’s things I want to do personally. I want to learn and be fluent in another language. I want to spend time in Mexico and learn Spanish and [how] to be good surfer—and not just a splasher. But musically, I don’t know, something will come to me. I loved the experience of writing the book, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

The audiobook [for World in My Eyes] will be everywhere. The cool thing is, I went to all of the artists to have them record their parts—everything you see in quotes, like when I speak with Teri or John Taylor from Duran Duran or Tony [Hadley] from Spandau Ballet, it’s them. Dave Gahan and Martin [L. Gore] and Andy [Fletcher, all of Depeche Mode] are in there, too. It’s not me reading them— it’s them. It took me awhile, which is why it’s a little late, but I wanted it to be as unique as possible.

Lost ’80s Live with A Flock of Seagulls, Animotion, Berlin, Book of Love, Bow Wow Wow, Boys Don’t Cry, Christopher Anton (formerly of Information Society), Dramarama, Farrington and Mann (formerly of When in Rome), Gene Loves Jezebel, Missing Persons, The Motels, Naked Eyes, former members of Oingo Boingo, The Romantics, Trans-X, Wang Chung, September 8, 5:30 p.m., $23-$33. Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, 702-388-2101.

Book signing: September 9, 2 p.m., Zia Record Exchange, 225 S. Eastern Ave., 702-735-4942.

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Mike Prevatt

Mike started his journalism career at UCLA reviewing CDs and interviewing bands, less because he needed even more homework and ...

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