Group Defies Labels

Don Trubey

photos by Charles Silver



by Chris Dickinson
Indiana Daily Student  •  September 17, 1982

Together for two and a half years, The Dancing Cigarettes have survived within the transient nature of a college town. Yet during this time, they have created a schism within the Bloomington music scene. They seem to have as many detractors as they do enthusiasts. But often the lines between the two groups are not clearly drawn.

The Dancing Cigarettes have been accused of being avant-garde to the point of inaccessibility, and of having frequent self-indulgent brushes with discordancy. But it is a mistake to write them off so easily. They have made critical successes in a postpunk music scene that has splintered into a host of movements, from new romantics to rehashed hardcore. The Dancing Cigarettes continually defy any of these categorizations. They play what Michael Gitlin prefers to call "original dance music."

In a recent interview, the band's five members talked about the music they make. Emily Bonus described their sound, saying, "We have pop songs. We have jazz songs. We have waltzes..." And, John Terrill added, "We have tearsome ballads." At this point, pandemonium erupted among the band members, who eventually reached a consensus: they play "in music for outpatients."

"Pop Doormat," one of four songs on their EP, opens with a sneaking bass and keyboard line. It then tears into an infectious pop swirl. But juxtaposed against this danceable rhythm are dark lyrics that illuminate the fine line between love and hate, weaving a tale of longing and missed connections. "Puppies in a Sack" is an all-out attack on the forces that leave us helplessly desperate and defenseless.

"Razor Hand" [on School of Secret Music] begins eerily with Timothy Noe fingering distorted, eccentric rhythms on keyboard while alternately undercutting the mood with drumstick slaps on a dented hubcap. The song appears headed for a no-wave destination, but Gitlin quickly moves into a surprisingly melodic picking, and then the body of the song is unleashed. Don Trubey batters the drums with determined precision. He and Bonus, on bass, lay the foundation for Gitlin's lyrics that reveal The Dancing Cigarettes' forte: dealing with suppressed, long-submerged emotions suddenly forced to the surface.

The Dancing Cigarettes employ no flashy logos or slogans. They simply manage to create music with diverse substance, music that eludes any simple description.



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