Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Stories From the War – Thinkman

Yes, I was once a victim of one of the 80's great musical hoaxes.

My first job out of college in the summer of 1986 was as a production assistant at U-68 in Newark, New Jersey. Those who lived around the New York City area at the time might remember the channel. For a brief amount of time, it was an over-the-air equivalent of what was then MTV: Wall-to-Wall music videos, flanked every once in a while by newscasts that were light on the news and heavy on the entertainment. (Steve Leeds, my boss, would in fact go on to become a bigtime executive at MTV)

To bolster our news content, we took over a conference room at that summer's New Music Seminar and started filming interviews with whatever artists happened to stop by. I'll share some of the stories about those visits in later posts, but today I wanted to talk about Thinkman.

Thinkman was the creation of Rupert Hine, who had recently hit it big as the producer of the Fixx, Tina Turner, Howard Jones and Chris DeBurgh. He had also just scored the Savage Steve Holland/John Cusack film Better Off Dead, with one track on the soundtrack credited to Hine's new band called Thinkman.

At NMS, Hine was with his bandmates promoting their first album called The Formula. The first single, a catchy bit of synth-pop called "Best Adventures," was accompanied by a lavish, futuristic video. I sat down with Hine and the band's drummer Joe McArthur.

Download Best Adventures by Thinkman

It wasn't a terribly memorable interview, I have to say. I talked to both of them about making the album, Hine about his recent success as a producer and why he now wanted to make his own music. I think I even posed a few questions to McArthur about his drumming. In the above picture, he's the babyfaced kid standing in the center back behind Hine.

The one thing that stood out for me was Hine's comments about how he wanted the band to be as proficient at making videos as it was with making music. Thus, he planned to have a video filmed for every song on the album.

I remembered those comments when I learned something several years later after the interview: Thinkman never really existed. The Formula was actually a Hine solo album with him playing all the instruments with the exception of Stewart Copeland contributing some drum tracks and Fixx guitarist Jamie West-Oram playing some riffs. The other "members" of the band – McArthur, Andy Paris, Leo Hurll – were actors hired by Hine, who wanted to try something different after his first two critically acclaimed solo albums had flopped.

The actors weren't even using their real names: McArthur was actually Greg Crutwell, Paris was played by Andy Baker and Hurll was portrayed by Julian Clary. If you've ever watched the 1997 movie George of the Jungle, you've seen Crutwell. He played the sidekick of Lyle van de Groot (Thomas Haden Church).

Hine would go on to record three albums under the Thinkman moniker, none of them terribly successful commercially. Eventually, he admitted the whole truth about Thinkman.

But not before pulling the wool over the eyes of some kid who had just graduated from college.

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