A few years ago, at my second home of WMPG Community Radio in Portland, Maine, I was the featured guest on a show hosted by my friend, Jeff, which aired back then, called “Desert Island Discs.” It was the WMPG equivalent of a show inspired by a BBC program of the same name that began in 1942, created by a man named Roy Plomley, and which has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 since the year I was born, 1967.
The basic (and important) premise of the WMPG version of “Desert Island Discs” is that the guest was asked to choose eight recordings (usually it was music), and talk about why you’d want to be marooned on a desert island with them. The first of the 8 on my list was easy – “Modigliani (Lost In Your Eyes)” by the New Wave / Synthpop band, Book Of Love.
Originally formed in Philadelphia and later based out of New York City, Book Of Love didn’t initially catch my ear when their self-titled debut album was released in April 1986. “Modigliani” was on that album. But, like many other folks, I didn’t discover “Modigliani” or Book Of Love until John Hughes introduced them to me through film.
I’ve often said that John Hughes was the most influential person in music for me that I DIDN’T meet. Certainly holds true here. “Modigliani” was featured a couple of times in the absolutely brilliant 1987 film, PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES (it also appeared in an episode of MIAMI VICE). As soon as I heard it in the movie, I had to find out what it was and pick it up as soon as bleeping possible.
I studied a bunch of painters and artists in high school, but didn’t really care too much about it at the time (my grade would also reflect that), but I grew to love art, including the work of Amadeo Modigliani, and several years ago, I was mesmerized with a French impressionists show at the Portland Museum of Art – so much so, I bought the book. My favorite painting is the amazing “Stars” by Maxfield Parrish, from 1922.
For years, “Stars” was a fixture at the Portland Museum of Art, much like myself (Free Friday nights 5:00-9:00pm – couldn’t pass it up!). I just saw there is a “Stars” shower curtain available online. When I get my next apartment, I’m so getting one, though I’m sure that’s not what Maxfield Parrish had in mind when he created that sensational masterpiece.
Book Of Love keyboardist and songwriter Ted Ottaviano (no relation to Book Of Love singer Susan Ottaviano) said this of Modigliani in 2008:
“Amedeo Modigliani had always been the band’s own version of a rock star. After all, we were all art school students. At the time I was working on the [Requiem Mass] remix I became submerged and almost obsessed in his life story. It read like a Bronte sisters novel. I wrote a short biography for the front cover of the 12 inch.”
With “Modigliani,” Book Of Love was not only giving me a lush and lovely New Wave song disguised as a popular BILLBOARD Dance hit, on the picture sleeve for the 12” single, they also gave me a brief, albeit sad, history lesson on the inspiration for the song, too. I’ve always respected that.
Book Of Love released 4 studio albums between 1986 and 1993, and only reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 once, with 1988’s “Pretty Boys And Pretty Girls,” which squeaked in at No. 90. Their biggest success was on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart, where they placed 8 songs, 5 of those reaching the Top 10, including one No. 1 song – a 2001 updated remix of their first hit, “Boy.”
Since Day One of STUCK IN THE 80s, my little 20-year-old 80s radio show on WMPG, Book Of Love has been a favorite. For the David Bowie Tribute in January 2016, their sweet 1993 version of “Sound & Vision” was included. I get requests for them often, and every time I do, it always makes me smile. Because, even though Book Of Love wasn’t a household name like Sire Records labelmates Madonna or Depeche Mode, it was really great to know there were other fans out there like me who appreciated this heavily underrated band.
As for Modigliani the artist, I am a fan, thanks to the art students who eventually became known as Book Of Love, and as for “Modigliani” the song, it’ll always be in my Desert Island 8. To borrow a lyric from the song, “You’ll always be real to me…”