Strange things can happen during a pandemic: two old bandmates rediscover the perfect song.
In the spring of 1987 High Performance magazine invited Bachelors Anonymous to perform in a local all-star revue in commemoration of its “Art & Crisis” edition focusing on performance artists’ work related to AIDS. Wrote Hubert Mensch in L.A. Weekly’s “Good Times” column:
Tim Miller dances; Doug Sadownick reads; Martin Kersels performs; Noreen Hennessy, Jan Munroe and jumpin’ John Fleck perform too, though not together; Bachelors Anonymous do whatever it is that they do; and John Greyson and Barbara Hammer show videos […].1
Given the crowded bill, our slot may only have allowed for one or two songs. We chose our cover of “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)” from the Broadway musical Hair. The lyrics then (as now) seemed appropriate in the face of a global pandemic. We asked Nancy Taylor—who David had known since they worked with the United Farm Workers in the ‘70s—to accompany us.
“I think we did two songs,” Nancy recalls. She’s right, because: “I think we wore pajamas???” Right again, but we’d forgotten it. While the de dfacto uniform of the PWA (Person with AIDS) was the hospital gown, we used pajamas on stage. This allowed us to signify the PWA as well as to remove the, mm…, tops and bottoms quickly to reveal the costume for the second number. “John Fleck was on the bill and he did something where he walked along the bar,” Nancy remembers, “and then Jan Munroe was on the bill,” Munroe being an alumnus of Rudy Perez Performance Ensemble for which we would create a score four years later. Rob thinks our second song might have been “Ritual Life,” although we had another AIDS-related song in our repertoire, “Bells of La Brea,” which we performed at the benefit Craig Lee organized a month later.
And yet we hadn’t worked up “Flesh Failures” for the 1987 High Performance event. We’d played a tape of it a year earlier during our KPFK-FM interview with John Callahan (David’s former band mate) on January 18, 1986.
John: What’s this about a cover from Hair?
Rob: When David first suggested it I wasn’t real thrilled, but it turned out this was the perfect song for Bachelors Anonymous to do.
David: I was mainly inspired by Julie Driscoll (of Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity fame), a white-soul singer from the ’60s. […] She brought out all the moodiness of the song. The chorus of this song was tacked onto the end of “Aquarius,” which the Fifth Dimension popularized, [also] from Hair. The words go:
At one another
Short of breath
Walking proudly in our winter coats
Wearing smells from laboratories
Facing a dying nation
Now, that sounds like it was written in 1985.
David: It was written in the ’60s and it is the verse from Hair that “Let the Sunshine In” was the chorus from.
Continuing, John raised something both David and Rob had forgotten today, regarding a manager who suggested we consider taking on a sound like Human League’s Philip Oakey, who’d released a solo album with disco titan Giorgio Morodor in the summer of ’85.
John: You had mentioned earlier that on that last song [“The Flesh Failures”]—
John: —you were involved in a management agreement that wanted to alter that considerably.
David: Yeah, we were involved with someone who—if you remember the original song, it’s considerably faster and we wanted to milk it for all of the dark side that we could. And somehow he didn’t get the point. This was not going to be a disco hit. [both laugh] It was more—I mean my inspiration was more the Ronettes than anything else, [both laugh] in terms of the beat, you know. Phil Spector.
“It’s ironic that we were picked for that High Performance show,” David recalls today, “because at our very first club performance in early 1985 I distinctly remember John Dentino of the Fibonaccis telling me he was disappointed that all we did was stand there, play our instruments, and sing. He’d hoped our act would include the theatricality of my band with John Callahan, Age of Consent.”2 By the fall of 1986 critic Tom Kidd would comment on a live performance by Bachelors Anonymous: “Arrangements tended to be stretched out to make room for the band’s theatrics.”3 Less than two months after the High Performance show, L.A. Weekly‘s Craig Lee somewhat understandably lumped us under the category of solo performers and performance artists prior to his gargantuan Rock Against AIDS show at which we presented our original, topical song “Bells of La Brea” (about which more later).4
BACHELORS ANONYMOUS is
Rob Berg: Synth, Vocals
David Hughes: Drum Box, Vocals
Words by Gerome Ragni and James Rado
Music by Galt MacDermot
EMI U Catalog Inc. (ASCAP)
Arranged by Berg & Hughes
Bachelors Anonymous and Rick Novak
Instruments recorded at
The Men’s Dept. (4-track)
Vocals recorded at
Control Center, 1985
Control Center, 1985
Scott A. Jennings
Artistry in Sound, 2020
Cover design by
from a photograph by
and an original idea by
℗ 2020 Berg & Hughes
- “Good Times: Crisis Party,” L.A. Weekly, 3–9 Apr 1987, 71. Mensch doesn’t appear on the masthead of that edition of the Weekly. The show was held 05 Apr 1987.
- See “Calendar: Pop Music: Clubs: Thursday [24 Jan 1985], Anticlub,” Los Angeles Times, 20 Jan 1985, 70.
- Tom Kidd, “Reviews: Clubs, Bachelors Anonymous, Be-Bop Records, Reseda,” Music Connection, 05–18 Oct 1986, 18.
- Craig Lee, “Rock Against AIDS,” L.A. Weekly, 22–28 May 1987, 49.