Title: A frank exchange
Author: John Wilde
Paul Rutherford, understandably, smiles an ardent, yearning smile. The final obstinate flutters of affront and indignation ó provoked by íRelaxí ó have long since died their reluctant deaths. Paul sits back with a satisfied sigh and we laugh over all the fuss and fury brought on by the brazen, blatant discosex of their debut ZTT single. Whatever its intentions, its implications, íRelaxí made the kind of indelicate impression that was beyond even Paul Morleyís starry-eyed schemes. íRelaxí, for all its porn-decor and its crass, rugged desire for outrage, probably shook up the inanimate, unresisting chart wilderness more effectively than any pop record will do this year. Ultimately, one had to marvel at the volume of outrage and indignation that was squeezed out of it all. The blush on the face of Radio One sanctimoniousness was still lingering as íRelaxí clocked up its millionth sale. Paul Rutherford can afford to smile his ardent, yearning smile.
He sits here telling me how much the glamour means to Frankie. He admits, with that smile, that the stage has been reached (already) where the novelty assumes familiarity and the glamour doesnít glow so bright as all the dreams. But all the free drinks and aeroplane ridesÖ well, maybe itís not so far from all those childhood fantasies. The way that íRelaxí slowly flirted its way into the chartís lower reaches didnít surprise him. Its sudden thrust upwards did though.
"Of course we wanted it to be a massive hit", he tells me. "But I had this feeling that it was going to be too strong for the charts, not lyrically, but musically. Holly wrote the lyrics and, of course, he went on to deny that the song was just about sex. Suddenly, we became scared when we realised that we were in the running. I donít know that everyone in the band believed themselves when they tried to deny what the song was all about ó we did become very-defensive about it all. Honestly, it was never that well planned. Morley had his strategy all worked out, he wanted it to be like the Sex Pistols ó all the outrage, controversy ó but this time with all the sex. We definitely wanted the record to open a few doors, create a bit of a stir. It all goes back to the very beginning. Originally, they played a couple of gigs without me ó they used to have a girl in it then with a different guitarist. When I saw them for the first time, I didnít know what was going on at all. It was just incredibly wild. So I just jumped up on stage and joined in. Thatís when it started for me. At that time, I thought it was like the Sex Pistols all over again. But in a different way. It was different from everyone else, stranger from everybody else. It was like my dream really to be in a band like that ó everyone wants to change the world in their own little way. Iíd like to think that íRelaxí was subversive in its own way ó but not in a blatant way. I wouldnít like to think that we shoved it down anybodyís throats. It was pushed down our throats. Thatís why we became defensive about the whole thing. It seemed more blatant than it really was, because of the way it was marketed."
The strength of it all probably had less to do with twelve inches of throbbing, writhing sexbeat and more to do with its manipulative finesse at stirring up all the self-righteous indignation and snowball controversy. Paul had his tongue in his cheek all along. While thirsting for all the glamour and notoriety, he didnít necessarily want it all to transform him.
"I felt, all along, that it wasnít my problem. If anyone wanted to make their own problems out of it, they were welcome. It wasnít going to change me. I was determined. Suddenly, there was all this attention on our sex habits. Well, Iíve always been against keeping sex a great mystery ó trying to be secret about it. Being private about it isnít going to break down any taboos at all. I try not to be dishonest about it. It was totally innocent, we just did it for a laugh. People missed the humour of íRelaxí. Sex is still such a taboo. They canít laugh at it. Thatís the only thing that I get serious about ó narrow attitudes. Especially with all the stick Iíve been given all my life ó about the way I look and my sexual attitudes. Holly and myself always look upon ourselves as total outsiders. We never fall into one category. OK, weíre bent. But neither of us fall into that gay clone scene 100%. We fall somewhere in between. Anyone who has accused me and Holly of perpetrating the gay stereotypes is talking through their own arse. They just donít know what the stereotype is ó there are about ten. I donít think Iím stereotyped at all. Iím quite ordinary in that way.
"One thing íRelaxí did was show how obsessed and prejudiced people are about sex. People are going to find out that there is more to Frankie than gay machos into leather and all that crap. I mean, we do have our own morals. I do feel strongly about a lot of things ólike an anti-war stance. As The Peech Boys said, íLife is something specialí Itís as simple as this ó Iím having a great laugh and I donít want anybody to press a button and take it away from me. Thatís what annoys me more than anything ó people using other people."
With that debutís miraculous success, Frankie find themselves in a position to extend the fantasy that, presumably, is their raison díetre to begin with. Likewise, their label, the irrepressible Zang Tumb Tuum, suddenly find the freedom on their hands to do what the hell they want. Paul is wary of the need to avoid complacency all round.
"It can be difficult because we realised our main ambition with the first record. I mean, I everyone wants to sell a million. In a way, that success makes it so much harder to follow. So it gives us that sense of challenge. Thereís elements I canít handle, like the thought that I might be able to go out and buy my own house. Amazing! Itís things like that. Also, wondering how we would go down in America. I just hope we donít have to go to The States ó I donít think Iíd get out alive!!! All the fame that goes with it though ó because we didnít get to do TOTP regularly etc., it hasnít been realised fully. Thereís no real personalities there. Nobody know who we are. I know Holly treats it like an art, so heís serious enough about it not to become complacent. I treat money too lightly to become obsessed with it."
If anything, Frankieís runaway success gives ZTT the license to gamble a little more frivolously, to kick over the traces with more gay abandon, with more license to toy with new possibilities and improbabilities. ZTT promises to treat pop music with a little respect for the madness and inventiveness amongst us. If pop has to be superficial, then ZTT would ensure that theirs would be a superficial adventure. At least. Frankieís speedy upsurge cast itself even beyond their sky-high expectations, From now on, the fantasy would take shape. As they all willed it to be.
"The idea of fantasy in anything we do enables us to be even more creative. It goes for all the band, All our little dreams are being realised. Frankie exists so that we can live them out publicly. Thereís so many sides to it as well ó video, artwork, as well as records. Everything that happens with ZTT (as a label) is important to the development of Frankie. It has proved that it can work. Iím just happy that Iím living. Sometimes itís that easy.
"What makes me jump up and down? Well, thereís things that make me jump with ecstacy. Then thereís things that make me jump with fear. Planes ó they bring out the fear in me. Iím sure that Iíll die in a plane. I have this feeling. But Frankie? I want it to be a celebration of being alive!! I want it to say that the world has no real reason to be gloomy. The only problem there should be is death. It sounds too simplistic to put it like that. But it should be that blackíníwhite.
"I sometimes worry that what we do is analysed far too deeply. Thatís why we would sooner do interviews with the teenybop mags from now on, rather than the others. Ultimately, theyíre the ones that buy the records ó the kids."
It surprises him that the sociologists of the pop world were intent on ripping apart the whole rhyme and reason of their existence when, to him, they were making a record about something so unambiguous and unblurred as coming. He didnít want Frankie to be seen as some over-serious pop resolve. He wanted it to be seen as an orgy of pleasure. Ideally, Frankie would be like humping your best friend. An ideal fantasyÖ a little bit tempting, daring, downright depraved. They wanted to flaunt their sense of fun, take their masturbatory fantasy out into the open where they imagine it belongs ó with a dash of indecency and a sprinkling of the forbidden. Sex was neither their manifesto nor their shock tactic but if thatís the way you wanted itÖ It had bugger all to do with sexual politics and everything to do with the celebration of the sexual act (whoever, wherever).
Paul tells me that he worries that people think Frankie have no depth. And I wonder along with him. He never read too much into it. People might tell him that íRelaxí (for all the fuss and bother) was as emancipating ó and invigorating ó as a sticky, stained copy of íS&M Monthlyí. Heíd simply smile that ardent, endearing smile of his.
"People were telling us what it was about. Maybe that was part of the beauty of it. Since it was such a massive hit, we can sit back and laugh at all that was said about it. There was a time when it was a bit tedious though ó when everyone seemed to be upset about it. Holly insists that the record was about selfmotivation, finding an excuse to be happy. Thatís what weíre all about. And what better way to get happy than sex? People are happiest when they come ó in that instant. íRelaxí proclaimed that we were the outsiders and the new single continues that. We never will fit in. It took a long time for The Thompson Twins to start talking to us. Mind you, that might have something to do with Holly writing íThompson Twatsí on their dressing-room door. Most of those pop-stars are so standoffish towards us for some reason. For me, the most uncool thing to be is cool.
I canít look ahead at all. I canít see us twelve months from now and try to envisage what weíd be like. Iím not that presumptuous. I can only see it in short stages. There was so much waiting for the new single to come out. I just couldnít wait. What íTwo Tribesí wanted to do was talk about happiness, but with more depth than íRelaxí, I thought the first single was a bit bland like that, strangely enough. The Idea is basically the same ó just saying, whateverís going on, have a good time. Every single is going to be different. íPower Of Loveí, which we did for the Peel Session might just be the third single. When the album finally arrives, it will be so diverse, every song will be different. To a certain extent, it will have that sex element throughout. Every thing we do seems to be done in a very sexy way! I think, even if íRelaxí wasnít about sex it would still have been dead sexy ó just the sound of it was so full of that sex feel. Thatís why we listen to so much black music ó that incredible sex rhythm. I love songs that make you want to dance or make you want to cry ó mostly black records. The last white record that made me cry was This Mortal Coilís íSong To The Sirení ó that was so full of emotion."
Frankie, he confides, have been overreacted to. Their live PAís, particularly, he feels have been treated with more scandal than they deserved. "Iíve seen much worse things on a stage", he laughs. To him, Frankie are íalmost tameí. I tell him that ísexismí is an interesting word to play about with. He smiles a knowing smile.
There was all that fuss about the way we presented our act on íThe Tubeí ó about the semi-naked girl. Well, she wanted her face on the screen as much as we wanted ours. I say íbullshití to all that controversy. Do what you fucking want! Itís okay if itís your bag to sit down and complain about being put down as a woman, but itís not my problem. I personally donít feel sorry for women like that, because I think they bring it upon themselves. Instead of going out and having a laugh, they want to sit and brood about it all day. Thereís so many unnecessary problems in the world. Why does any woman want to complain that showing a pair of tits is being unfair to them? Itís not really a problem. I know women and I know theyíre not all the same. But I donít think in terms of male/female, black/white. So what I say is íIf you want your fanny shown in a magazine ó go aní do it galí. Itís been there for years and the world goes round because itís like that. I suppose Iím a bit of a fatalistÖ I believe everything just happens ó as though everything was meant. To me, when youíre fucking somebody, that person is a sex-object ó everyone wants to come. You become totally selfish when youíre pumping away.
"I donít want to wave banners for anyone else. Itís like with my gay sexuality. If someone wants to call me a stereo-typed gay, then thatís their problem. It doesnít really affect me. If people can just see a moustacheÖ itís a natural instinct to label people. We do it all the time. For me, itís a matter of realising how unimportant we all are as people. The only thing thatís important is this earth spinning around. As a mass, weíre very important, but as individuals weíre not important at all. Iíd just tell people not to worry about the categorisations that are put upon them. They have to define it for themselves."
Paul was telling me how much they want to break down the last taboo: sexuality and, more specifically, homosexuality. Frankie donít believe in a subtle means of persuasion. Instead, they try to take the argument by storm ó believing that if they are seen to enjoy it enough, the barricades will topple accordingly. Frankieís hell-for-leather misogyny is like the antithesis of Boy Georgeís huggable sweetness. I suggest to Paul that Georgeís polish and tact has the edge that will change minds, win hearts. He disagrees.
"I think itís the opposite way round. The only people who are interested in Culture Club now are middle-aged women. Heís not upsetting, anyone. Heís not breaking down any barriers. Heís just establishment. The only reason he gets away with it is because he sings nice little songs. I donít think heís at all interested in breaking down any barriers. He just does it for himself. He knows whoís buttering his fucking bread now. Thatís why heís been going on about Princess Diana being the best-dressed woman in Britain. Heís turned into something of a monster. To everyone, heís just a singer. If you stuck on a porn movie with two fellasÖ it would be the same as itís always been. You can only get away with it if you look like Boy George. It doesnít mean that you can walk around with a pair of leather knickers on. Boy George, at the very most, is like an English eccentric. He sounds like Matt Monroe or something."
Paul admits that íRelaxí probably changed nothing at all. He sighs a long sigh as he tells me that attitudes canít really be changed at all. Most people who bought that record would just apply it to their own lives. Itís not necessarily about homosexual relations entirely, it just happened to be sung by someone who is gay. It can just be about someone that you love. You just apply it to whateverís going on inside you. "Can I separate love and sex? Well, I love my dad but I donít want to screw him."
As we turn to go, we catch sight of that man Morley watching a couple of young Frankie fans, gathering at the front door of ZTT waiting for a glimpse or maybe a quick autograph. He shakes his head in disapproval and tells me that Frankieís next step will be nothing short of magnificent. The next step will make The Redskins. Killing Joke and The Clash look like minor Auberon Waughís. Outrage (so he says) for the sake of outrage. Because what else is there for the sheer sake of it? "With íTwo Tribesí, weíll be doing things that have never been done with a pop record ó in a way that is enjoyable and not serious or solemn. This next step will just be poking fun. Itís an exciting prospect."
Iíd be the last to contend that particular point.