"I Ran" is the name of a song by a British pop music group called A Flock of Seagulls
, I have written about them already; they were from Liverpool
, but had their greatest success in America
, which is understandable because Liverpool is a port, albeit that it is more common for things to enter Britain via Liverpool than for things to leave Liverpool for other parts of the world, because Britain has very few natural resources and the rest of the world does not need much of what Britain has to offer. In 1982, however, Britain's pop music was a popular export, and America in particular needed our pop music, America craved our pop music, the Americans loved our pop music. They loved A Flock of Seagulls more than we loved A Flock of Seagulls, and "I Ran" was popular in America in 1982
. Eight is a yellow number. Two is red.
Except that it wasn't really called "I Ran", it was actually called "I Ran (So Far Away)". Following this trend, the group's other hit was called "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)", so clearly A Flock of Seagulls enjoyed enclosing part of their titles in parentheses, whether in an attempt to create an air of poetic aloofness, or because the bandmembers - all men - saw parentheses as I see them, as female objects. The cover of the group's debut EP featured a blow-up woman, and indeed "I Ran" itself drips with a twisted fear of female-kind. The lyrics and the video are explicitly about fear of the female, the single's cover is a day-glo photograph of an alien woman's face, the Other. Curiously, the cover of Boston's debut album is reflected in her eyeglasses.
"I Ran" was the group's second single release, in fact it was technically the group's first pop single, because their first release had been an EP. The young people of today are blissfully unaware of the concept of the EP; I am unaware of the concept of the EP, and I was until recently a young person of today as well. According to the internet an EP is a pop music single that is like a normal pop music single but it has four tracks instead of two, and most importantly each of the tracks is given equal "weight", i.e. an EP is not a single with three b-sides, it is four equal songs which are supposed to be listened to and contemplated equally, as equals. Length is not important, and there have been EPs which consist of four very short songs, particularly in the genres of grindcore and helium jazz; and conversely a very, very long single does not become an EP if it only has two very long tracks (as in the case of the Beatles' "Hey Jude" or Richard Harris' "MacArthur Park") and also a single does not become an EP if it has a large number of b-sides, as in the case of certain dance music records, such as The Future Sound of London's "Papua New Guinea", which rumbles on, track after track, remix after remix, like a tedium train into a tunnel of dub.
"I Ran" was therefore A Flock of Seagulls' first single. It was popular in America. Nowadays it is rare for a British group to break America; Coldplay seem to have achieved this feat, and moving back into history we can find The Spice Girls, The Prodigy, Bush, Jimi Hendrix, Terence Trent D'Arby and of course Alanis Morissette. Morissette was actually born in Canada, but Canada has the Queen of England on its paper currency and thus CANADA EQUALS BRITAIN, so before you write in and complain, think again. A Flock of Seagulls' popularity is often attributed to the promotional film which was released to accompany "I Ran", a "pop music video" which I shall now analyse, much as an alien doctor might analyse a human being by putting him or her into a blender and then leaving the resulting liquid to settle into layers.
It is just under four minutes long, and begins with a shot of the band's balding drummer, a man called Ali Score, a man who was also a hairdresser. He strikes a cymbal, tentatively. We then cut to his brother, a man called Mike Score, who was the group's lead singer. In fact, he is still the group's lead singer in 2005; A Flock of Seagulls still exists, although Mike is the only remaining original member. In the video for "I Ran" he is dressed in a pair of dark grey-green Dockers-style trousers with large back pockets, and he is wearing a red shirt which is reminiscent of the colour scheme and general sartorial style of Gary Numan, a few years previously. Mike Score has early-period Numan-style bleached-blonde hair, but unlikey Numan he has no shortage of hair, indeed he has a surplus of hair. His hairstyle is a sort of monster blonde perm. In the video for "I Ran", Mike Score does not sport the hairstyle for which he remains famous today, his unique inverted Mohican, flattened forwards in the middle - thus forming a flat cap-style peak - and teased up at the sides. The style was reminiscent of a brief experiment conducted by Peter Gabriel in the 1970s, during a period in which he had shaved his head bald in a strip down the middle, from back to front. It was not until the reinvention of Keith Flint of The Prodigy, in 1996, that anything approaching Mike Post's hairstyle would appear again in the world of pop music. As of 2005 the style has not caught on with the general public, but there is still time. Men will always have hair, and fashions always change. It is my contention that the codpiece is ripe for a revival; the codpiece, and flares. Worn together. I am ahead of the curve, I have always been ahead of the curve. She was nice to mice.
Mike is standing at an electronic synthesiser keyboard, a Roland SH-09. Later in the video it becomes apparent that he is playing the simple synthesised bass drone which runs throughout the song; during the verses he alternates between playing an A ("I walked along the avenue"), followed by a G ("meet a girl like you"). The chorus then goes down to an F ("ra-a-aan"), and then back to G. In the video, Mike Score is actually playing the right notes throughout the verses, but goes wrong during the choruses. Perhaps because the Roland SH-09's keyboard only extends down to a low F, he instead moves up to a B and a C, thus playing the right interval but on the wrong notes. He also plays chords with his right hand at certain times, although this must be a purely reflex action because the SH-09 was only capable of playing one note at a time, and the keyboard was also presumably incapable of detecting more than one keypress, so he cannot be using it as a remote master keyboard (I say 'presumably', because the SH-09's similar sequel, the Roland SH-101, had an circuit which produced arpeggios when several keys were held down at once, and was therefore capable of scanning the keyboard for chords, albeit that it could still only play one note at a time).
Throughout the song Mike Seagull glances at the keyboard, nervously, and his fingers often seem to slip from the keys, as if he was unable to sing, look at the camera, and play the keyboard at the same time. Mike's brother Ali, who plays the drums, also seems nervous and unsure of himself. It is almost as if they had not rehearsed at all before being filmed in the studio. The other two bandmembers seem far more at ease, indeed the guitarist appears to be enjoying himself. Perhaps they were trying to evoke an air of fear, paranoia and confusion, in which case they were trying much too hard.
This leads me to the thing for which the video is mostly remembered today. "I Ran" is not a shining example of multimedia art. It was not in 1982 and it is not in 2005. The video's main visual hook is that both the band and the camera are mounted on a revolving platform. As the platform revolves, the bandmembers remain fixed in position relative to the camera, whilst the background appears to revolve behind them. It is an interesting idea, especially for 1982, but is undercut by the video's other visual hook, which is that it takes place in a mirrored room. Mirrors and reflective surfaces are one of the banes of cinematographers, because they can unexpectedly reflect camera equipment and crew; polished car bodies, shop windows, water and so forth are all capable of shattering the audience's seamless impression of being the observers of a self-contained world. Whoever came up with the concept of "I Ran" was asking for trouble.
Although the camera mount is obscured in silver foil, the camera itself is not, and neither is the platform, and nor are the lights, and although these things are not as distracting as legend has it, they nonetheless spoil the magical illusion of cinema, because they are reflected in the background. For a while, I actually believed that I was in a room with A Flock of Seagulls, watching them perform their greatest song; but the illusion is now broken, and I now see that the Wizard of Oz is just an old man with a megaphone. It is impossible to list all the New Romantic and New Romantic-esque songs which used mirrors or glass as a metaphor, there are just too many. The mirrored panels in the background of the video often wobble, whether deliberately or not, I cannot tell. I am too distressed to continue, I must pause.
The central problem is that the video's director tried to obscure the camera, the lights, the girders and the camera platform, and he failed. He tried - oh, he tried. But he failed. If he had not tried at all, and instead highlighted the presence of the camera and the lights and the other paraphernalia, this would have given the impression of deliberate intent - just as a man with thinning hair might choose to have a close-cropped haircut so as to give the impression that his thinning hair is a deliberate choice. The explicit inclusion of the means of video production would have also further illustrated the core New Romantic theme, that of the artifice and illusion of showbusiness. We would be looking directly into the soul of pop music video, just as those who gaze upon the close-cropped hair of a self-aware balding man are gazing into his own soul.
The video cuts back to Ali Score on the drums, and then cuts to a shot of Frank Maudsley and Paul Reynolds on the bass and lead electric guitars respectively. Their instruments seem anachronistic in the presence of the electronic synthesiser keyboard and the futuristic hair and clothes of Mike Score; guitars always seemed too rock'n'roll, too dirty for New Romantic. Reynolds was the group's other visual icon, his combination of short stature and overlarge eyeglasses projecting the image of a classic 'computer nerd', albeit that he played the electric guitar rather than the synthesiser. He resembled a cross between Canadian EQUALS BRITISH actor Rick Moranis and Irish EQUALS BRITISH snooker great Dennis Taylor, although at the time of A Flock of Seagulls' success Taylor had not yet adopted the large, upside-down glasses which were to become his trademark (his own apex would not be until 1985, when he defeated Steve Davis on a black ball). Peter Davison is my Doctor Who.
From that point in the video onwards a pattern is set; we witness the people of A Flock of Seagulls playing their instruments more or less in time with the music, Mike and Ali individually, the guitarists always together. Like so many New Romantic-era songs, "I Ran" combines synthesisers and traditional electric rock instruments in equal amounts, each element complimenting the other; if one were to fiddle with the mixing desk and mute one or other component, the song would be unlistenably spartan. At the time, a few groups were militantly wedded to the synthesiser and the synthesiser alone, with perhaps an electric bass or violin part here or there. Depeche Mode, The Human League, Gary Numan and John Foxx were proud of their purist abandonment of traditional rock instruments, although the latter two would quickly re-adopt electric guitars, and by the end of the 1980s even Depeche Mode and the Human League had become indistinguishable from a widespread new wave of pop music groups - not the New Wave, but a new wave which did not have a name - a wave which used synthesisers merely because they were convenient and cheap, rather than for deeper philosophical or political motives. Nowadays synthesisers and samplers are not novel at all; even film score composers use them. The orchestral strings and booming orchestral percussion which accompany the modern blockbusting Hollywood film are more likely to emerge from a small rackmounted box, or a home computer, than from an actual orchestra. The drums and guitars which back traditional rock artists such as the British Meatloaf and the British Bryan Adams are just as likely to be sampled and sequenced as those which back the aforementioned Human League or Depeche Mode, who are British. Indeed, those groups which once put the synthesiser at the core of their sound have found the onrushing present a hostile place; Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk and so forth - all of whom are not British - they have found their most recognisable gimmick entirely normalised, and face a choice between existing purely on their own musical merits, or by exaggerating their electronic sound with deliberately, ostentatiously 'electronic', self-consciously old-fashioned beeps and thuds. Europe is sick and dying. For this reason I also believe that, just as the codpiece is ripe for a revival, so is the world of folk music.
The video features two other participants. Two women. In the rough plot of the video drama, our hero - played by Mike Score - is menaced by two New Romantic women who have stark facial Kabuki make-up and who are wearing what appear to be shapeless PVC bin bags over black catsuits, held loosely with orange belts. The presence of zips and distinct shoulderpads suggests that these PVC outfits were actual commercial items, rather than being custom-made from bin bags. The women have transparent plastic bracelets and, in a few shots, they wear bands around their elbows, one on the right and the other on the left, thus forming a sartorial mirror-image, although this consistency is not adhered to strictly within the video. One of the women is ugly, with a harsh, boy-like face and a sneering expression, whilst the other woman is attractive and wholesome, perhaps illustrating the narrator's dilemma, which is that he is simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by womankind. I have already explained at great length my position on the reality and illusion of womankind; suffice it to say that there is a gulf between external appearances and the evil which lurks within.
Still, the attractive woman is nonetheless very attractive. A world without women would be a bleak place. And in another room, the plants plot against humankind, men and women equally; who plots against the plants? All is plotting against all. By the time the worms have finished with us, the only difference between man and woman is the shape and size of the skeleton. The fleshy bits, the wobbly bits, the squeezy bits, the good bits, they rot away. Only bones and teeth remain.
I have listened to "I Ran" backwards, and the line "And I ran, I ran so far away" is most distinctly and definitely discernible when played backwards, and Mike Score is singing "Queer rock was maggot, Ariadne", a reference to the queen of the spiders. It is notable that the word 'aurora', when sang backwards, is still 'aurora'. Obviously, therefore, the group was aware that some people would try to listen to their song backwards, and were alive to this possibility and must therefore also have prepared for it. One does not venture into a recording studio without being prepared for all eventualities... turns out... thing.
In any case, the video's drama has no resolution. Our hero is menaced by the two women, although the studio is not really large enough for this to work effectively; he "cannot get away" because the studio is tiny, rather than because some intangible emotional or philosophical force presents him. Our hero repeatedly attempts to evade the women, and they walk off, and eventually the song ends with a second guitar solo, and actually ends rather than fading out, with one of the tremoloed guitar chords which ran through the song. A proper, dramatic end rather than
And of course Iran is a country in the Middle East. It used to be called Persia. In Britain, Iran is pronounced to rhyme with Eeeeee-ran rather than "I Ran". In America this rule does not apply; so many rules do not apply, in America. Americans are not compelled to drive on the left side of the road, as we are in Britain; unlike British people, Americans are not compelled to purchase a passport in order to visit America, indeed they can stay there for as long as they like. I would like to be an American. But America is so far away. Indeed, so is Iran. But Iran does not have Wal-Mart.
 Whilst researching this piece I stumbled across the following link, which made me jump; it's a sequence of photographs from an old Canadian children's television programme called "You Can't Do That on Television" featuring a very young Alanis Morrissette and a man dressed exactly like the guitarist from A Flock of Seagulls, with the glasses and hair, spook!: