Like talent, it can’t be taught. Like the wind, it can’t be caught. And like cool, it can’t be bought. Not at any price. It can’t be bottled, it can’t be boxed, and it won’t go in your pocket. It can’t be touched either, but it wants to be touching. It can’t be seen, because its need is to be heard. And, done right, it’s as likely to make you smile as it is to break your heart.
It is song, specifically songwriting. And despite the rather innocuous term, it has the capacity to be about as wondrous and as wowful as wonder and wow can get.
The Psychedelic Furs
Take The Psychedelic Furs. Formed amid the debris of punk and definitively launched among the onslaught dubbed post-punk, The Furs spent the whole of the ‘80s as one of the more consistent (and delightful) hit makers in pop-dom. As you might suspect, the band also spent that decade singing said songs to the world. And, but for a blip that was the ‘90s, The Furs are still out there, night after night, town after town, ensuring its songs remain consistently and delightfully ingrained in much of the world’s hearts and minds.
You know the tunes: “Love My Way,” “Heartbreak Beat,” “Heaven,” and, natch, “Pretty in Pink”. That last track, first released in 1981’s Talk Talk Talk, was used by the decade’s defining director John Hughes in the film Pretty in Pink. It also arguably put a splash of ubiquity into Molly Ringwald, a trespass that is as long ago forgiven as the Brat Packer is forgotten.
Sorry Miss Molly.
Phenomenons such as “Pretty in Pink” are the reason you’re reading this right now. Because when a band becomes incessant enough for large-scale sing-a-longs, people wanna know about the songs. Lots of people.
Just ask Tim Butler, core cofounder (with brother Richard) of the Psychedelic Furs. Butler wasn’t only present at the creation; he was pivotal in creating the sensation. And he remains right there to this day.
It must be hard to have been such an influence on so many fans over so many years, right?
"We don't really think about it," says Butler. "But when you see the newspapers and magazines and realize you've got a history, it's really cool.
"When you start out, you never think it's going to happen. You hope it will, but there are so many bands out there. It's a dream. To have it come true is great."
Never waking up from that dream must be even greater. After all, Butler and company are still out there on the road, hitting the pavement with all the enthusiasm and motivation of a first year band. Then again, can anyone ever get tired of bringing cheer into peoples’ lives?
"Never. How could I get tired? Night after night of large rooms of happy people singing along to your songs? It's a continuous lift," Butler says. "And a continuous gift."
You'd think, though, that of all the cities in all the world, by now there's gotta be one that has become a Furs favorite.
“Not really.” claims Butler. “We get consistent crowds all over, and everyone seems to be on the same page. Sometimes the crowds are even larger now than they were then, like in Texas. Back in the day as they say, we didn’t draw much outside of Austin, certainly not much compared with the rest of the country. Now, we’re selling out across the state.”
Maybe it’s a case of Texas finally catching up with the Furs?
“Maybe,” he says. Laughing.
But despite not having a favorite city, Butler does have a few shows coming up that he is looking forward to.
"Los Angeles. Members of the LA Symphony Orchestra will be joining us on all three nights at The Hollywood Bowl,” says Butler. “A lot of the songs, especially on Forever Now, have string parts and orchestration, so it’ll be great to give them the full treatment. With the B-52s on the bill, it’s going to really be something.”
The Furs have played the Hollywood Bowl many times before. Butler remembers a show they did with The Killers. "It was funny: Brandon Flowers came up to us during soundcheck and asked us not to play “Pretty in Pink." Later that night Jimmy Kimmel came out on stage and stopped the band in mid-song, then said there’s a band here who wrote one of the best songs of the ‘80s. So the whole band went out and joined The Killers on “Pretty in Pink.” It was terrific!”
It's songs like “Pretty in Pink” that are keeping The Furs on the road. There’s no new single; no new album; not even a greatest hits to shill. In fact, there hasn’t been any kind of a new release since the Butler brothers’ hiatus-spanning Love Spit Love racked the LP Trysome Eatone back in 1997. There's been nothing from the Furs themselves since 1991.
“We’re working on a new album at the moment,” says Butler. “Hopefully we’ll be recording by the end of next year.”
Not having new product hasn’t lessened the band’s draw any though, nor has it dampened their enthusiasm. The Furs are as fully booked as ever, and those songs have taken on a rawer, louder dimension, which has given the 21st century brand of the band a sorta beastliness they never had way back when.
“This is the best band that I’ve ever toured with,” says Butler. “And I’ve been there since the beginning. People say a lot about seeing the original line-up, but these guys have actually been with The Furs longer than the original band. A lot longer. And we’re a better band for it too.”
This new raw power must be somewhat addictive, because The Furs seem to have been on the road since the invention of asphalt. The lads have toured more in the last half-decade or so than they ever did in the ‘80s.
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“Oh yeah, we had to take a break in the ‘90s,” says Butler. “We were just burnt out. Now there are no egos. There’s no pressure. We’re like a whole new band.”
“Yeah, we’ll be doing dates through August and September with The Church supporting,” says Butler. “It’s actually something we originally tried to do back in the ‘80s, although then it was us supporting them, but it fell through at the last minute. Now we’ll finally have our chance to tour together. The Church are a perfect tour support.”
Whether The Church asks to sing any of The Furs’ songs at summer’s end is anybody’s guess. What’s certain though is that when those Furs songs do get sung, they’ll spark the kinda joy that can only come from a group of songsters who’ve lived the past fifteen years as if it were their heyday. And what could possibly be wrong with being at your best ever?
The Psychedelic Furs with Astari Nite. 8 p.m. Saturday, May 30, at Culture Room, 3045 North Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-564-1074 or visit cultureroom.net. Tickets cost $27.00 plus fees via ticketmaster.com.