I don’t want to make HIV my whole life.
story by Charley Rogulewski
photo by Dirk Lindner
Flashback. Later ’80s. Radio is playing heavy on Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet and the Pretty In Pink soundtrack. R.E.M. is being hailed as one of America’s best rock and roll bands. George Michael is using his frosted hair and sex-eyes face to sell Faith on cassette. Tucked sleeveless t-shirts next to boom boxes blasting L.L. Cool J’s Bigger and Deffer is what’s fly, yo. But what’s not flying amongst the big hair and jive speak is Erasure, a London synth-pop duo whose 1986 debut Wonderland has been overshadowed by the electro-tweaked piano of dance track predecessors New Order and Pet Shop Boys.
After the downfall of Wonderland, Erasure started playing gigs at universities to build its fan base. In those early days band members Vince Clarke (formerly of Depeche Mode) and Andy Bell (who joined after answering an ad from Clarke) had to face some intense public scrutiny. For one thing, Bell was openly gay way before it was one of those things you could get high ratings on a TV show for. People also weren’t accustomed to electronic staccatos and riffs.
“People had this idea that electronic bands didn’t write music, that computers did, which isn’t true,” Bell remembers. But Clarke and Bell continued and in 1988 the group had their first American hits with “Chains of Love” and “A Little Respect”. Their next two albums Wild! and Chorus became hits in Britain, but in the U.S. their electro-synth hipness soon faded thereafter to the laud of hip-hop and grunge.
But as they’ve proven in the past, Erasure can bounce back. With the resurgence of the electro-clash punk scene, Erasure has come back as a mighty influence to a new genre. “I saw the Scissor Sisters in London and they dedicated one song to me. It was really touching. They saw us for the first time when they were 12 years old. I kind of look at them like little puppies you have to look after.”
Bell has been looking after himself these days. Diagnosed with HIV in 1998, he just went public with the announcement last November. Whether it was for the sake of selling records or for peace of mind, I don’t know. You could ask Bell. He’d probably tell you. He is extroverted and open. But he definitely didn’t announce it to be some sort of model for the virus. “A lot of my friends are HIV as well. Usually once you announce something like that, you become a spokesperson. I don’t want to make HIV my whole life.”
Bell’s life today is mostly touring to promote Nightbird, Erasure’s latest release. In true Erasure fashion, the band entices live audiences with its usual theatrical spectacular. “Think Elvis lost in a fairytale singing Erasure songs,” Bell describes. As for groupies and late nights, Bell says it’s mellower this round. “I’ve had my fair share of boy groupies. It’s not really fair to get somebody that’s a big fan because you have an advantage over them.” This is the late ’80s we are talking about here – when people bought aerosol hairspray and didn’t know it was bad for the environment. No Internet. No cell phones. “It really doesn’t seem that long ago because we’ve been going on the whole time. I do feel quite boyish at heart still.”
Erasure :: Chicago Theatre :: April 29 and 30.