'Blinded' Star Thomas Dolby Is Back

Thomas Dolby, the 1980s British pop star best known for his hit "She Blinded Me with Science," is back and on tour. Our resident musician, David Was, recently caught his show. He thought it was all right, but admits his opinion might be colored by a negative personal experience he had with Dolby two decades ago.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And we end out program today with another tale from inside the world of pop music. Here's music veteran and DAY TO DAY contributor David Was.

DAVID WAS: Back in the long-derided 1980s, Was (Not Was), my wacky art funk band - at least that's what the New York Times called us - had caused a bit of a stir in far flung places like London and Paris, where they didn't seem to mind the mix of genres and races that went into our vision of the Temptations meet Frank Zappa.

(Soundbite of song "Walk the Dinosaur")

Mr. HARRY BOWENS (Was (Not Was): (Singing) It was a night like this 40 million years ago. Well, I lit a cigarette picked up a monkey start to go.

WAS: In London, guys like George Michael of Wham took notice, and one of our twisted ballads, Where Did Your Heart Go, wound up on that band's final collection and stopped a string of seven top ten singles they'd enjoyed in the States up until that point.

(Soundbite of song "Where Did Your Heart Go")

Mr. GEORGE MICHAEL (Wham): Where did your heart go?

WAS: I'm grateful to Mr. Michael for helping me purchase a roof and some groceries nearby but have nevertheless joked for years that I singlehandedly put the whammy on Wham, driving them out of the business. And you know where George wound up?

(Soundbite of song "Blinded Me with Science")

WAS: Another British subject was making a strange kind of noise on the dance floors back then - one Thomas Dolby, that bespectacled Blinded Me With Science guy whose signature use of the then-state-of-the-art Fairlight synthesizer made him a fresh voice as disco gave way to more experimental dance music.

Dolby is out on tour right now and wears goggles with little cameras attached, so you can see his antic expressions on plasma monitors while he does his digital version of the one-man band.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: I caught his show in Detroit recently and found it mildly entertaining. But perhaps my response was colored by a two decade-old incident that I'm still smarting about.

In 1986, I got a call from Mr. Dolby, who expressed admiration for my work and wondered if I might want to join forces in a supergroup of sorts that he was forming. I was flattered indeed by his interest and invited him by my West Hollywood apartment for tea and a wee chat.

Little did I know that behind those innocuous round glasses beat the heart of a ruthless Fagan, one who would break the heart of my poor five-year-old son Nicholas, who was innocently watching a reel of Disney cartoons on the tube while Dolby and I sipped our Earl Gray.

I quite like the sounds on those Disney cartoons, he said offhandedly. Do you think I could borrow the tapes? I might sample them. I, blinded by visions of supergroupies chasing us through hotel corridors, agreed without hesitation. Me and Dolby, we was like this.

Off he went to his studio to sample Goofy's laugh for his next masterpiece.

(Soundbite of duck quacking)

WAS: And off I went with my son to the park for the next week, unable to fill his spare time with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse gags. I phoned the meek and proper Mr. Dolby again and again in the ensuing weeks and months, never to hear back from him. My assumption is that he drove directly to the border at Tijuana, checked himself into a seedy motel and smoked bags of Mexican giggle smoke while watching my son's cartoons.

(Soundbite of cartoon)

DONALD DUCK: Oh, boy. Oh, boy. Oh, boy.

WAS: P.S. on that fabled day in my apartment, little Nicholas took one look at Dolby's inscrutable mug and asked, is Thomas a bad man? I hushed up the lad and asked him to apologize.

Now it's Dolby's turn. Either that or I'm sending Radiohead's Karma Police after him.

(Soundbite of song "Karma Police")

Mr. THOM YORKE (Radiohead): (Singing) This is what you get...

CHADWICK: The recollections of DAY TO DAY contributor and musician David Was.

(Soundbite of song "Karma Police")

Mr. YORKE: (Singing) This is what you get when you mess with us...

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And Thomas Dolby, if you're listening, tell us you're not a bad man. We'd love to hear your side of the story.

(Soundbite of song "Karma Police")

Mr. YORKE: (Singing) Karma police, I've given all I can, it's not enough, I've given all I can, but were still on the payroll, this is what you get...

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