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'Alive' and Well: Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive
by Gregg Shapiro

This article shared 1544 times since Wed Jun 18, 2003
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Evolution, Dead Or Alive's new greatest hits compilation, is being released June 24.


New recordings of classic tunes such as 'You Spin Me Round' and 'Brand New Lover' are just a couple of reasons that the new Dead Or Alive hits compilation Evolution (Legacy) supplants the earlier Rip It Up as the definitive hits collection by the definitive '80s high-glam hi-NRG dance group. Highly visible and memorable front man Pete Burns, who told me that the most loyal support he has had continually, throughout his career 'has come out of America and Japan,' and who, as a U.K.-based artist is 'not really welcome on the radio' in his homeland, appreciates the way that Americans 'understand performers.' According to Burns, 'Americans pop out of the womb ready to do an interview. Showbiz is your royalty. We have the Royal Family.'

Here is what royally interesting performer Pete Burns had to say when I recently interviewed him.

Gregg Shapiro: Is it hard to believe that the first Dead Or Alive album was released almost 20 years ago?

Pete Burns: Not really. I don't really mark time in that way. It was just something that we did and we've organically progressed from there. It doesn't seem that long ago. I guess people wonder where we've been and what we've been doing, but I'm sure the hardcore fans are more than aware that I've consistently worked and that we've done our own albums without Stock Aitken Waterman and we've released them in various countries of the world and worked there. This greatest hits offer just arrived on our doorstep and we took that. Now we're the focus of international attention. It's really good. I've got to say I was probably out of practice for this amount of attention towards a product and the serious marketing that goes behind. It really does not seem that long ago at all. I looked back at the old material and I thought that a lot of it sounded rather dated, so we updated it as much as we could for the greatest-hits album.

GS: According to the liner notes, which you wrote for Evolution, two of your musical influences were Sylvester and Divine …

PB: Absolutely, definitely. There was a Divine record called Native Love (Step By Step), and to me it was the closest thing to punk. I didn't actually have much time for punk music. I thought it was the sound of misdirected anger. Youth has a natural thing to be angry, but they don't know what they're angry about, and it just seemed to me like a big old messy noise. Then several years later, I heard that Divine single and I thought that it was what punk should have been. Everybody wanted to dance and dancing makes people happy. It had a really raw punk edge to it. It was a magical record and it's actually the sound that I wanted. Before we worked with Stock Aitken Waterman, we were in negotiations to work with a guy called Bobby O, who did 'Native Love' with Divine.

GS: Right. Bobby Orlando.

PB: Yeah, but it never came off. He was up for it and we were up for it, but it somehow fell down in the middle. It was almost desperate measures to do a record and then Divine came to England to do a record with SAW, which I didn't think was as good as Bobby Orlando's, but it did make me aware that there were some producers out there working on projects like this. We approached them and the rest is history really.

GS: As a performer, you joined Sylvester and Divine in incorporating androgyny and an ambiguous gender image into your music.

PB: That was not their influence. That was me anyway. My actual inspiration for that being OK to do was David Bowie in the '70s. I know that David Bowie kind of took a back seat and all these slightly more edgy, more theatrical things popped up. I was actually friends with both Sylvester and Divine. We didn't call each other up all the time, but I had met them both quite a few times and got to hang out with them when they were in England. I found that behind the image they were very down to earth, ordinary people, and I think that I am, too. Much to people's disappointment.

GS: For a lot of gay men, who were going to clubs in the 1980s, you were something of an icon. How do you see your influence on and relationship to the gay community?

PB: I'm not really sure about the political connotations of words in the U.S., but I don't particularly sit comfortably with the word 'gay' because it sounds like a defensive term. There are just completely different individual people out there regardless of their sexuality. I seemed to have become an icon, not just to the men who sleep with men and the women sleeping with women, just people with a different sensibility. I seem to have hit some kind of nerve in them. I still have iconic status among that community and among other communities as well. By saying that you have a gay following, you are instantly marginalizing yourself, saying this is only for gay people. Music is a universal language that affects people very deeply. My main support and loyalty did come out of the gay community. They kept me going all this time. I'll never really understand why, but I do feel very lucky for it. I do think that everything that was good, ever, be it fashion, music or art, came out of gay people, mainly gay men, from my knowledge. There's not a beautiful woman in the fashion industry who has not been made that way by gay men. People are born to procreate, they want to have children. Maybe gay men can't have children, so they birth these very creative things.

GS: You mentioned Stock Aitken Waterman. The combination of the music of Dead Or Alive and the production team of SAW was creatively combustive. How do you feel about your one-time working relationship?

PB: I think it was a great relationship with them. Because we wrote our own material, you see, that was problematic for them. Once we had the No. 1 with '(You) Spin Me (Round),' which we wrote, it would technically be easier for them to write things themselves in that vein and bring people in to do a vocal and send them home. It was less stressful. In the case of Kylie's (Minogue) early days, and a lot of the other acts that they worked on, they only popped into the studio for 10 minutes and got the finished record delivered to them. Because we actually wrote (songs), they were only midwives to the birthing process. Being a midwife can be a very traumatic job. There were a lot of arguments, but certainly none were hostile. They were very intelligent people. There are cellos on 'Brand New Lover,' and they'd say, 'You can't have cellos on a dance record,' and then we'd have a heated debate ... and they would eventually knuckle under or I would have left. We used flamenco guitars on 'Something In My House,' and we had this debate. They weren't people going out to clubs, they were studio people, and they couldn't understand how you could put flamenco guitars on a disco record, and we said, 'Well, you can. You can make it work.' We forged our own identity. The relationship didn't come to an acrimonious end on any level. It's just that the pressure on them, once we had the No. 1 (single) and the follow-up album and the hit in America with 'Brand New Lover,' was to work with other people. You never know how long you are going to be around, so they had to accept all the work to build a financial structure around them. We had a similar pressure and we wanted to go off to produce our own records. There was no nasty split. I think we'd reached as far as we possibly could and they had no time to pay attention to what we were doing. I still hear from Pete Waterman. I'm often wheeled out on British TV to talk about him because he's a musical legend and he talks about me. He's fine, he's an old friend

GS: Shortly before I interviewed Marc Almond last year, he performed Soft Cell's signature 'Tainted Love' on the plaza at Rockefeller Center on the morning TV program The Today Show. If you were invited to perform Dead Or Alive's signature song, 'You Spin Me Round,' on that show, would you do it?

PB: I'd love to! I've done some American TV. I did the RuPaul show and various things for VH1 and MTV. You function better with TV, you're more professional. We're kind of sloppy. Americans think England is so glamorous, but I find England to be a pretty grey place, really. We're very cynical. When I spend a lot of time here, I catch that, like it's the flu and I become very cynical. It's not a good illness to catch. Americans are full of enthusiasm and I just love the place.

This article shared 1544 times since Wed Jun 18, 2003
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