Friday, October 20, 1995
Typed in by Carol Paton.
By Lori Buttars
There is nothing maudlin about dancing skeletons, shrunken heads, loud polyrhythmic beats or anything else that characterizes Oingo Boingo.
So it should surprise no one that on the eve of the band's breakup, singer and songwriter Danny Elfman is not in the mood for nostalgia.
"Somebody joked to me, 'What if you were offered the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame to stay together for five more years?' And I said, 'F- -- that.'
"Rock 'n' roll is illegitimate. It was always meant to be illegitimate, and any attempt to legitimize it is a complete waste of time," he said in a telephone interview. "Unfortunately, a big chunk of our population, especially as they reach their 40s, has this tremendous desire to elevate it to a high art because it makes them feel better about it. Thus, we have the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, Grammys, American Music Awards and any way people can think of to make more money."
Elfman, by the way, is 42.
"We thought we'd make this our last tour, put a little announcement in the paper that the band had broken up and then there would be a whole group of people out there going 'S---, I wish, I'd known that.'" Instead, Oingo Boingo is issuing an invitation to the last "Dead Man's Party," coming Tuesday to the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.
Ever since Elfman's career as a film composer took off with the success of movies like "Batman," "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" and "Nightmare Before Christmas," rumors of the band's demise have been rampant.
Elfman said the subject of disbanding has come up around Halloween for the past several years as the band has discussed whether to play the popular "Dead Man's Party" shows in Los Angeles. The odd- holiday-themed concerts were a staple of Oingo Boingo's early career.
For the farewell shows, Elfman, Steve Bartek, John Avila, Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez and Warren Fitzgerald have reteamed with the original horn section of Sam Phipps, Leon Schneiderman and Dale Turner.
The band began with Elfman, his brothers and a few of his friends performing as the Mystic Knights, a theater-oriented ensemble that took to the streets with a bunch of props and oddball instruments. Even then, Elfman despised repeating himself night after night in a theatrical format. That incarnation of the band came to an end.
Oingo Boingo then was born as an eight-man profusion of sound and light in the early '80s, a time when traditional three-piece bands such as Genesis were defining rock 'n' roll. Under Elfman's guidance, the band dabbled in everything from Balinese polyrhythms and West African melodies to horn-laden rhythm and blues.
"Anything we did was a little off center," said guitarist Steve Bartek, original member and co-arranger on a number of Oingo Boingo's hits. "I don't see us as having made a major impact on music or anything. I see us more as a footnote because we've never approached it in a normal way. I mean, one of the smartest things we did starting out was doing a high-school tour."
The band soon found its following among those high-school and college-age fans. Its first hit, "Only a Lad," was also the title of the band's first album released in 1981. But Oingo Boingo didn't really make the big time until its music started showing up on movie soundtracks. "Gratitude" was featured on the "Beverly Hills Cop" soundtrack, and then "Weird Science," from the film of the same name, became a Top-40 success.
At that point, Oingo Boingo had several albums to its name and Elfman was already getting restless.
"Touring has always been a compromise, meeting the audience halfway," Elfman said. "At a certain point, where the repertory gets so huge, where the shows get longer and longer, it just becomes like a big endurance of playing older stuff, and I hate that."
Not that there haven't been plenty of good memories along the way, including many stops in Salt Lake City.
Elfman, Bartek and bassist John Avila all recalled their many stops in Utah at various venues from their first appearance at the Fairpark Coliseum in 1985 to their last at Wolf Mountain just over a year ago. The band performed the first concert at the Delta Center when the arena opened in 1991.
Among the common memories was that the band members were reluctant to come to Utah the first time and, once here, were surprised by the goosebump-raising february night at the coliseum.
"Outside it was freezing, but inside the fans were sweaty and crazy," Avila recalled. "We were just getting ready to do the encore and the power went off in the building and the people stayed. It was off for half an hour and they stayed. It was really amazing."
That display of loyalty earned Utah a place on the band's short list of places to play on the farewell tour, said manager Laura Engel.
"I presented [Elfman] with this list of West Coast dates and he said, 'Hey, what about Salt Lake?'" she said.
When asked about the past however, Elfman remained nonchalant.
"I've never been reflective," he said. "Once an artist starts becoming aware of one's historical significance and thinking along those lines, they are dead in the water.
"I'm always grateful to see an artist stop while they are still strong. I can't stand to see Frank Sinatra. I just wish he'd stop. I wish Muhammad Ali had stopped a few fights earlier. Fortunately, I'm not a fighter. I'm not brain damaged yet, and I can go on and do something else."