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Psychedelic Furs frontman Richard Butler sidesteps the human jukebox syndrome



One of the most distinctive bands to come out of post-punk England, the Psychedelic Furs quickly earned a legion of fans thanks, in large part, to Richard Butler's raspy crooning and wryly poetic lyrics.

But what put them over the top was John Hughes' film, Pretty in Pink, which transformed a fairly dark, five-years-old Furs song into a starry-eyed Molly Ringwald vehicle.

Although his band re-recorded the song for the occasion, Butler's memories of what the 1986 film was actually about are mercifully vague.

"I think it had a pink dress in it," he says, "that's about it."

Which is not to suggest that Butler is ungrateful for the success of "Pretty in Pink." Or, for that matter, "Love My Way," "Heaven," "The Ghost in You," "Sister Europe" and other signature songs that hold up remarkably well 20 years after the band recorded its last studio album.

While the Psychedelic Furs, which includes Butler's brother Tim on guitar, resumed touring back in 2000, Richard has also gone on to establish himself as a painter, exhibiting in cities from New York to Florence, Italy. So how does the art school graduate describe his work? (Artists love this question, by the way.)

"How would I describe it? Um. I would describe it — Oh God. I mean, um, figurative. Slightly surrealistic edge to it. Melancholic. Very European."

Asked if he's talking about paintings or music, Butler laughs. "Well, I suppose it describes both, doesn't it?"

Butler actually had no intention of becoming a musician until he saw one of the Sex Pistols' first London gigs. The seminal punk band had just played a Manchester show that convinced future members of Joy Division, Buzzcocks, the Fall and the Smiths to travel down the same path. It's as if the entire post-punk movement was the result of a single Sex Pistols tour.

"You know what? To a degree, it was!" Butler says. "When I went to see the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club, music had always seemed so far out of anybody's reach. You'd go to see Bowie and the musicians were excellent, you know, and the lighting and all the theatrics. Whereas, you'd go to see the Sex Pistols and, well, it sounded like the New York Dolls with a cockney singer, didn't it?"

Butler still sounds pretty British himself, despite the fact that he relocated to New York in 1982. (His brother lives in Kentucky, which is what happens, he says, when you get married to somebody who lives in Kentucky.) The brothers will be bringing recording equipment along on this tour with the intention of writing a new album, which Butler expects to have finished by year's end.

Meanwhile, there's no shortage of songs to draw upon live.

"You don't want to leave audiences disappointed, that's not what you're there for," says Butler. "So if you've invested 10 years and you have a bunch of songs people want to hear, you become in a way like a jukebox. I suppose you can be like Bob Dylan and do completely mangled versions of your songs to keep it interesting for yourself, or you can take some time off. And we took 10 years off."

In his darkest moments, though, has Butler ever considered not playing "Pretty in Pink," just to mess with fans' heads?

"Oh, my moments get a lot darker than that."

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