In addition to being America’s only rock ’n’ roll magazine, CREEM happens to be the world’s best rock ’n’ roll magazine—and, it could be argued, the world’s most masturbatory. Because we like ourselves a little too much, every now and again, we’re going to review past CREEM takes in a series called CREEMAINS. Expect the most deliciously spoiled CREEM, like in our take on Karen Schlosberg’s 1986 essay on the Hooters. A lot has changed in 36 years. Lap it up!
The Hottest In the Hooter Business is Karen Schlosberg’s 1986 CREEM essay documenting a day-in-the-life of the Hooters, the regular folks’ Philadelphia rock band. (You may know their ballad, “Where Do The Children Go,” as well as "And We Danced," from their platinum-selling second album, Nervous Night, the former of which was, at the time, the fourth single off an album released a full year prior and #51 on the Billboard Hot 100.) At a certain point in recounting the Hooters’ prosaic hassles, which the band handled with affable aplomb, Schlosberg writes, “It's not just a job, it's an adventure.” The implication of course being that: “also, it’s a job.”
Schlosberg may have been referring to the grind of promotional appearances that she accompanied the Hooters on: their ritual of visiting radio stations, and being asked about the Hooters’ name, and the band’s readiness to rock ‘n’ roll. Or she was referring to the band’s grueling touring schedule: eight months on the road with such emotional laborers as Don Henley, Squeeze, and Loverboy. Or maybe, with singer and multi-instrumentalist Eric Bazilian eventually telling her, “As far as I'm concerned I'm no different than a bricklayer or a surgeon or an airline pilot. I'm somebody that does a job. I'm just a little more visible than your average surgeon," the writer was foreshadowing the band’s own self-effacing view of their newfound fame. That is, being hounded by fans, playing LiveAid, having multiple singles in the Billboard charts—after years of paying dues as the biggest pop-rock-reggae band in southeast Pennsylvania.
Or maybe Schlosberg was dryly hinting at a deeper, value neutral but not exactly complementary, truth. Maybe the Hooters’ frontman got it exactly right, that there was indeed no difference between what his band did and laying bricks.
When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, opinions on craftsmanship vary. Put aside rockists at the bar debating punk vs. prog, how important it is to be able to play one’s instrument, how anyone who knows how to restring a bass is a cop, and all that jazz/anti-jazz; I’m talking about the question of whether art (of the music variety) is work (in the traditional sense) or not. And whether the two designations are mutually exclusive. It’s on these questions—whether laying down sick riffs is even remotely comparable, in any capacity, to laying down linoleum—where there are three major schools of thought.
3.) Yes (but not really)
No. 1: On the New Bomb Turks song, “Born Toulous-Lautrec,” singer Eric Davidson unequivocally states: “All work is honorable / Yet art is just a job,” The chorus coda of, “Let me spend my paycheck on a beer… I'm a worker, you're a worker / Wouldn't you like to be a worker too?” leaves no wiggle room for the aesthete to get one’s Oscar Wilde on.
Conversely, in support of No. 2, besides parents and partners begging artists to go back to school (and the two computerized homophobes from that Dire Straits video), we have… nothing. Because no musician south of Debussy or some ‘80s English fop is going to publicly admit that they think making music makes them any different than a ditch digger.
Which leaves No. 3, the popular favorite. Where artists, ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Gaslight Anthem, share common cause with the working man without offering to switch places with him. Because, yeah, art is totally just a job. It sure as shit beats working.
Because, yeah, art is totally just a job. It sure as shit beats working.
And then there is a band like the Hooters. A band who, through struggle, success, and a gift for the room temp island rhythms that made the Police sound like Burning Spear, possibly represents a fourth option. An option where art and commerce meet at the cafeteria to gnaw on the same hock of ham; an option that encompasses the journeymen, the hacks, the proficient lifers that Dire Straights did their damndest to affect but were too popular and too weird to pull off convincingly. A fourth option, where art is a job but less out of (real or fake) class solidarity/circumstance similarity and more out of the art itself being, for lack of a better word, workmanlike.
“Workmanlike” isn’t necessarily an insult. Not necessarily in theory (we supposedly value labor, right???), and not necessarily in practice (the fifth or sixth best Springsteen song is “On The Dark Side” by Eddie & The Cruisers/John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band.) But it’s not a real self-esteem booster either, so, with the Hooters’ feelings in mind, let’s discuss.
Consider the career and music of the Hooters. The band’s founders, Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman, met at the University of Pennsylvania in the early ‘70s in “a synthesizer class. They had an old Moog, about the size of a truck,” as Bazilian told a reporter from The Oklahoman in 1987. The pair started a couple bands that got signed but went nowhere, before forming the Hooters in 1980. Their first album, 1983’s Amore, was released locally on the indie label Antenna, and sold over 100,000 copies in the Philadelphia region alone. Considering I find it hard to believe that in 1983 there were 100,000 people in all of Pennsylvania—and even conceding that some sales were possibly those dead Dem voters you hear about on TV and/or Flag of Democracy’s Philly parents buying their punk kids some of that “new wave music I know you like”—those are impressive numbers.
The style of music that the Hooters were developing on Amore, which they would fine tune for Nervous Night, was reggae inflected pop-rock with earnest and enormous choruses. There was an added novelty of the band’s use of the Hohner Melodica—and as neat-o as a mouth piano may be, that was no reason to mess with their conventional and universally likable songwriting, the kind that had been more than good enough for God, Carol King, and Jeff Lynne alike.
Lyrically, the Hooters had the same concerns as many of their guitar (non-punk or metal) rock contemporaries: nostalgia for an imagined pre-1965 rock ‘n’ roll innocence, automobiles as vehicles for either escape or coitus, and an angst-lite discontentment as disconnected from specificity as to be highly relatable to both apolitical teen virgins and (presumably) sex-having Reagan voters. Critics at the time called this genre “heartland rock” (confusingly setting New Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen as the aesthetic standard, as opposed to, say, Indiana’s Zero Boys) and our left-of-the-heartland heroes the Hooters, despite having a number of songs more Joe Jackson than Joe Ely, considered archetypal of the sound.
For CREEM’s part, coverage was mixed. Overall, the magazine’s writers were positive. CREEM’s readership voted the Hooters the “Best New Band” of 1985. On the other hand, in a 1987 review of a Patty Smyth album, there’s a sense that the aggressive professionalism of the Hooters’ members who contributed to the Smyth album didn’t do her any favors. And Robert Christgau gave Nervous Night , writing, “Just when you thought there was no more AOR, this overwrought Philadelphia-brand hookarama goes gold on MTV—Love cover, revolutionary propaganda, and all. And about that blond—he may be Finnish (-American), but I bet he dyes his hair.”
In response, reader Anne Wilczynsk, of Atlantic City, NJ, sent a letter to CREEM’s editors, suggesting that the critic should “go out and get a R-E-A-L job.” Christgau’s response to the suggestion went unreported.
Throughout The Hottest In the Hooter Business, Keren Schlosberg maintains a tone of kind—not condescension, exactly, but rather a subtle appreciation for the Hooters that rarely moves beyond “reasonable.” Among the words of medium praise offered the band, the Hooters are described as “justifiably proud of their innovative use of non-traditional rock instruments,” “delightfully and comfortably normal,” and, perhaps most sympathetically damning, “they're cute and they're color-coordinated.” If Schlosberg stops short of comparing the Hooters to her stock broker, it’s only because, even in 1986, it’s unlikely a music critic had enough personal investments to know how well an accountant’s sartorial curtains might match their drapes.
Even if Schlosberg does indulge in a moment of hyperbole (saying at one point that the Hooters have a “higher level of musical sophistication” than Duran Duran, which is, clearly with the benefit of hindsight and therefore with no disrespect intended towards Ms. Schlosberg, a totally batshit insane thing to say) the individual members of the Hooters do little to buck against any positioning of themselves as anything more than likable, lucky, competent, and supremely hard working. At one point, while discussing the band’s ambivalence about being objects of adulation, Bazilian says, “Of course the worst thing is the artist believing in their own hype. But we're old enough—and God knows, we've been around enough—to weather this storm."
Paying dues, being patient with fans, and making their families proud are all topics the band are unselfconsciously happy to discuss. Shying away from the Jesus Christ poses typically inherent to rock stardom, the Hooters prefer to keep the messianic impulse limited to being good carpenters.
Shying away from the Jesus Christ poses typically inherent to rock stardom, the Hooters prefer to keep the messianic impulse limited to being good carpenters.
Regardless of how one feels about someone being good enough at their art that the threat of mere competence looms, looking beyond the CREEM Hooters profile gives the band a flattering context that just selling millions of records does not. The fact that half the Hooters played and contributed to arrangements on Cyndi Lauper’s brilliant debut, She’s So Unusual, with Rob Hyman co-writing and singing on “Time After Time”—a song so sublime that it could easily balance out a thousand lifetimes of hackery—makes the Hooters’ rare similar moments shine even brighter.
At very least, through She’s So Unusual alone (and the band’s collaborations with Patty Smyth), the Hooters are placed within an intriguing “Six Degrees Of” territory. In that framework, the band can be newly understood, not as “workmanlike,” but as gifted (and, yes, hard-working) musicians who were valued by their community of fellow artists. The fact that the branches of this family tree lead to, with no more reaching than is acceptable in music writing, the Hooters being potential kissing cousins to Richard Hell (Patty Smyths ex-husband) or Type O Negative (the dude who played synth on She’s So Unusual went on to play with that problematic goth metal outfit) or Joan Osborne (Eric Bazilian co-wrote “One of Us”), is—if nothing else—more fun than most jobs.
Of course, all of these musings are ridiculous when one considers that part of the Hooters’ creation myth of hardscrabble striving has that the band, before they became “successful,” opened up for the Who at JFK Stadium (along with such struggling underdog acts as the Clash and Santana.) So exactly what constitutes a long way to the top (if you want to heartland rock 'n' roll) is, you know, pretty relative.