R.I.P. Robert Palmer

Too bad about Robert Palmer. He died and he was only 54. The best thing I remember about him was his whole involvement with Powerstation, the side project of John and Andy Taylor of Duran Duran. What an amazing band. It was the mullet crew of the boy band of all time, and then Nile Rodgers, legendary percussionist, then there was Robert, who was the hottie business guy, with his bespoke suit and Saville Row stance. All was flashes of hot pink and turquoise blue, the strobe of the late eighties. Even though it was never acknowledged, it seemed like cocaine was the fuel for all of the artistic vehicles of the time, especially in the case of Duran versus Duran. Arcadia, the side project for the not-as- mulleted-yet-still-mulleted Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes, also included Nile Rodgers, and they were even more blatant in the video for the single “Election Day.” Piles of white powder, skeletal models, lots of kohl eyeliner, lots of staring, presumably the exploration of dreary recesses in the psyche, the image of death and the maiden – played by women resembling Anna Wintour and Marissa Berenson. It’s practically a New Wave Scarface.

Powerstation were subdued in their imagery, and made no use of ionic columns or any of the neoclassic silhouettes that had become so integral to Duran Duran. Robert Palmer had a lot to do with that. He seemed like a refined British thug, something out of a pulp novel – Reggie Kray. Handsome, murderous, millionaire dandy. That is what he brought to the table. The Taylors were not the stars of Powerstation, even though they were the famous ones and the only reason little girls tuned in to see them on Friday Night Videos. They were merely the backup band. Robert Palmer was the showman, and in a subtle way that no one had done before. His style was minimalist, bare. He moved very little, but he sung huge.

The performers of the time were wearing hair that defied logic in length or shape, dayglo colors, brooches! Robert Palmer subverted all of that, by giving merely the white man his day. He said – Look. I am a white guy. What you see is what you get. He never apologized about it, and he wasn’t made to. His voice was beautiful and authentic, a bluesman down deep. He made white alright! The films of the time, ‘Wall Street’ and ‘Working Girl’ – fetishized the white collar executive, giving them prime time on the popular culture scene, which is ironic, as they are still there, they always were there before, probably always will be there.

Robert Palmer enjoyed much success after Powerstation in his solo career, with his ushering in the ‘all women are the same’ concept in his music videos. The songs lyrically betray the visuals. In them he talks of his one special love whom he is addicted to, whom he finds simply irresistible, these three minute pop confections as confession to desire and enslavement to one woman, yet all the women – sometimes playing the instruments, sometimes just standing by looking disaffected, are dressed and made up exactly the same. They are all the same height, build, color, age, everything, so the effect is that he is surrounded by a Helmut Newton army. I think this messed up the entire generation of men I grew up with. Royally. But too bad for Robert Palmer. Rest In Peace white dude. You had a great voice, and you affected all of us more than you will ever know.

3 Comments. Add To The Mix…

  1. Thank you for your article on Robert Palmer. I knew Robert since 1975. One of the things that Robert said more than once was that he was “misunderstood.” A lot of people said that he was trying to put women down in some of his videos, and that just was not the case. More than anything Robert was just trying to entertain his audience, who he very well knew were fickle and jaded alot of the time. He said that he enjoyed being the “boysinger” backed by the ladies. It was all in good fun. The girls had a blast. Robert’s true love though was R & B. You can believe that. He once told his girlfriend, Geraldine Edwards, that he felt that although he was a white British man, he had the soul of a black man inside him. She laughed because she was crazy about R & B too, and told him that she wanted him to try to get together with Mr. Ray Charles for a project. He actually tried, but the plan never came together. Robert had a wry sense of humor, and sometimes it took awhile for people to get Robert’s meaning. Prior to Robert’s death, Robert was planning on moving from Lugano, Switzerland to Los Angeles, California. He wanted to base his operations there at that point in his life. He loved Switzerland, but he wanted to be in the center of action, and Lugano, though beautiful, could not be qualified as that. He was looking at a beautiful estate in the Wilshire region of Los Angeles with Geraldine Edwards, who was moving in with him permanently. He had met her in 1976 backstage at the San Diego Sports Arena. He told me that he fell in love with her on sight, but that she kept wondering why he was hanging around. As it turned out “Almost Famous” was written about Geraldine. She nearly died when Cameron Crowe told her he was going to make a movie out of the book. She was fourty-two years old at the time. She thought Katie Hudson did an excellent job in the film. Another major plan that Robert was working on in 2003 was buying a Record Company. He was in active negotiations with Compendium Records, the label he was signed to, to acquire the record company. As it so happened, Compendium was one of the last Independent Labels still existing, and had only one owner, who had acquired the Record Company in 1975. He was going to be retiring and Robert took the opportunity to open negotiations with him about becoming the sole owner of the company. Robert was a very good businessman. A lot of his money came from his well placed investments, and not just his musical career. Robert was a unique human being and someone you just could not catagorize, though many people tried to do just that. They invariaibly failed. He was a good friend and a good man. And sometimes, yeah, he became the tough guy he appeared to be. That was not all an act. Thanks again for an original and well thought out article. May Robert RIP.

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  3. Tony Thompson was the drummer in The Power Station, not Niles Rodgers, who is a world famous guitarist and producer. Fairly large details to get wrong even in hindsight.

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