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.