OINGO BOINGO TO ENERGIZE MEADOWS
Waiting for an invitation to arrive
Goin’ to a party where no one’s still alive
It’s a dead man’s party . . .
Leave your body at the door
--from Oingo Boingo’s
“Dead Man’s Party”
When Oingo Boingo lead singer Danny Elfman straggled up the stairs for an interview at his manager’s second-floor office in Hollywood recently, his unshaven face, tousled red hair and the dark glasses shading his eyes made him look like he had just spent the night at a “Dead Man’s Party.”
But Elfman’s slightly disheveled appearance had less to do with trying to live up to the title of the quirky Los Angeles band’s last album than with the effects of a mild cold he was trying to shake.
“I’ll survive,” Elfman, 31, said with a wry grin.
While Elfman’s comment referred only to his cold, it could as easily apply to the tenacity and longevity--at least in the volatile rock music world--of Oingo Boingo itself, a band whose music seems to epitomize the concept of “disposable pop.”
As the group’s colorful, articulate and frequently outspoken leader and songwriter, even Elfman doesn’t expect future generations to reverently reminisce about Oingo Boingo’s percolator pop tunes.
“To me rock ‘n’ roll is and always has been a very temporary art form,” Elfman said. “It was designed that way since day one. So I’ve never understood these people who look back at the ‘rock classics’ with all this reverence.”
Consequently, those attending Oingo Boingo’s concert tonight at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre shouldn’t expect to find a whole lot of revering goin’ on.
Neither will there be much in the way of trumped-up special effects for the Halloween night show, which has become an annual tradition for the band. But that’s not to suggest the event won’t have a celebratory atmosphere, given Elfman’s wildly energetic delivery, the use of clever, animated film clips and the general spirit of the 1985 “Dead Man’s Party” album.
“The heart of the show will be our own energy,” Elfman said. “Anything else we do around that is just not that important or crucial to the show. As always, there will be little bits of visual things. But we won’t rely heavily on them--as we never do.”
The group will also use the opportunity to introduce several new songs from its forthcoming album “Boi-ngo,” which is due in January.
Yet for all his manic effervescence on stage, Elfman is rather straight-laced in his personal life and spends much of his non-performing time with his wife and two children, ages 2 and 7, in their Topanga Canyon home.
“I don’t see myself as a role model,” Elfman said. “But if (fans) do look at me or any of us as role models, I think they’ve got a good role model.
“I don’t use drugs, and I don’t drink. I think that anyone who is actually doing something, has a lot of energy and is creative without the use of drugs may have a very slight effect on young people, as opposed to the classic rock ‘n’ roll image that you can’t do what you do unless you are completely drugged out,” he said.
Oingo Boingo has defied rock conventions ever since the band evolved in the late ‘70s out of a theatrical-musical conglomeration known as “The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.” The group remains a favorite in Southern California, capable of attracting capacity crowds to the Southland’s biggest concert venues. But despite reaching the national Top 40 last year with the title song from the film “Weird Science,” Oingo Boingo has yet to achieve across-the-board commercial success.
“If it happens, it’s just going to happen--there’s going to be a certain amount of luck involved. We don’t aim for the Top 10. To do that, God, I don’t know what we’d have to do, but it would be scary. The stuff that’s destined for Top 10, to aim for that, for me, would be aiming for the lowest common denominator, and I wouldn’t even know how to do that.”
“I’d like to see us do well enough to know that we could just keep going,” he said. “That’s my only goal for the band right now.”
Since 1984, Elfman’s musical horizons have expanded substantially beyond Oingo Boingo. He recorded his first--and he now insists only--solo album and composed film scores for two hit comedies, “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” and Rodney Dangerfield’s “Back to School.” Elfman also recently finished the score to a new Emilio Estevez film, “Wisdom.”
“Film scoring was something I had hoped to do sometime before I died,” he said, “so I feel very lucky that the first two films I scored were hits. I want to learn all I can about film scoring, and, of course, the ideal way to learn is while working on films.”
Elfman’s foray into film scoring really dates back to 1980, when he supplied the music to “Forbidden Zone,” a low-budget sci-fi comedy directed by his brother, Richard Elfman.
“That helped bring me to the attention of Pee Wee’s people,” he said. “My initial reaction when they asked me--and I never told them this--was, ‘You’ve got to be crazy.’ I couldn’t understand why they were going to risk a film score that called for 60 minutes of music on someone who had basically just done rock and pop songs. It’s to their credit that they took a chance on me.”
Elfman is also working on original music for three episodes of CBS-TV’s “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” on Saturday mornings, a show he said he enjoys watching as much as his children do. “It’s great. Of course, my daughter doesn’t understand much of what’s going on, but the colors and the imagination of it just fascinate her.”
Despite his growing list of credits, Elfman remains philosophical, even bemused, about Oingo Boingo’s reputation as a band that some rock critics love to hate.
“There are different kinds of recognition. You’ve got to have your popular bands and your unpopular bands. We are completely satisfied to be one of the unpopular bands in (critics’) eyes, but to have such popular support because our support was achieved by word of mouth. I think that’s much more meaningful than getting support from enormous amounts of hype,” he said.
After a shaky year in 1984, during which rumors of the band’s impending breakup were fueled by Elfman’s solo album and the simultaneous departure of two band members, Oingo Boingo is once again on solid footing.
“The band is still the most important thing in my life and is still my top priority, above and beyond film or anything else that I may do,” he said.
The solo venture “was something I had to get out of my system, and, in fact, it helped facilitate our move to MCA (from the group’s longtime home at A&M; Records),” Elfman said. “The people at A&M; were great, but they didn’t have the slightest idea what to do with us. I really feel that if we’d stayed there we would have put out maybe one more album and then certainly disbanded for good.
“For now I would not say that the future looks grim for Oingo Boingo. Whereas it may have been a little tenuous there in ’84, in ’85 and ’86, I think we refound ourselves.”
At the same time that the band has been revitalized, Elfman said, “I think I’ve been tuning into my own musical sources more since ’84, since the solo album, which helped get me on that track as a writer for the band.”
The past that Elfman is tapping includes a one-year sojourn through Africa when he was 18, a year that, he said, has had a lasting impact on his life, his music and his general outlook.
“I became patriotic about 10 years before it was fashionable. When you see how the rest of the world lives, you’ve got no other choice. I was so sick of all the left-wing politics in this country at the time (in the early ‘70s), I just cut off all my hair and went to Africa for a year with Leon (Schneiderman, Oingo Boingo’s alto and baritone saxophonist). That was an instant cure for hippie-itis.”
Spending most of that year in West Africa also opened up a whole new musical world for Elfman. “My original concept for Oingo Boingo was loosely based on the popular bands I saw throughout West Africa, which were usually about the size of Oingo Boingo--about six to eight pieces, two guitars, bass, drums and a horn section. It was just real up, dancey music, sort of a cross between reggae and salsa. It was beautiful, beautiful stuff.
“So I think a little more of my past has been springing up in the last couple of years, more than when I started out,” he said. “There are a lot of African rhythms on the ‘Wisdom’ score, and a couple of the songs on the new album have that bent.”
“But,” he added with one of his irrepressibly devilish smiles, “that’s not to say I don’t still love a good fast dance tune.”
LIVE ACTION: Mojo Nixon will perform at the Meadowlark Country Club in Huntington Beach on Thursday. . . . Agent Orange will appear at Night Moves in Huntington Beach on Nov. 7. . . . The Ventures will be at Cal State Fullerton on Nov. 7. . . . T.S.O.L. will be at Bogart’s in Long Beach on Nov. 11. . . . Jason & the Scorchers will play the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Nov. 19.