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October 1, 2009 6:19 PM

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80s Pop Flashback: Book of Love

Photo by Eric Hopper Unless you have been living under a rock, even the least interested follower of fashion can see that the Eighties are back. And since now many things from that period are at or nearing their...

Photo by Eric Hopper
Unless you have been living under a rock, even the least interested follower of fashion can see that the Eighties are back. And since now many things from that period are at or nearing their 25th anniversary, it was a happy coincidence that downtown synth-pop band Book of Love held a concert Sunday, timed with the rerelease of their 1986 album.

The timing is perfect for me, who came of age in the Eighties, to recall that certain slice of East Village life as veteran designers like Marc Jacobs and relative newcomers such as Alexander Wang and Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler try to capture in their aesthetics the time and feeling in New York when Book of Love burst onto the scene.

The song that launched the band's career, "Boy," was really a protest song on the part of the women in the band who weren't allowed to enter the infamous gay spot Boy Bar on St. Marks Place. I happened to be a fan of Book of Love while living in my native Omaha, and upon moving to New York City in 1986 befriended them. By 1987 Boy Bar began admitting women, thereby allowing a whole era of "hagdom" (i.e., my own) to commence.

"Boy" became an international dance hit and the band went on to release "I Touch Roses," "You make me feel so good," "Pretty Girls/Pretty Boys" -- all of which were played at popular clubs and bars of the time such as Pyramid, The World and The Palladium as well the tail end of Area and Danceteria.

The concert held Sunday at the Highline Ballroom was also a reunion of sorts for people who used to frequent that scene, such as Jo Jo Americo and Ivan Ivan of "The Dominitrix Sleeps Tonight" fame. The chance to dress up in current Eighties garb such as black leatherlike leggings and a gold and black sequined dolman sleeve tunic, to dance with gay males on a Sunday night made me all the more nostalgic.

There were fashion insiders as well -- Richard Chai, who used the Book of Love song "Modigliani Lost in Your Eyes" to open his very first fashion show in September 2004 (for spring 2005). "I've always had a strange fascination with New York in the Eighties, and while I was too young to participate in it, it evokes a very sentimental time for me," said Chai.

Jewelry designer Phillip Crangi and sister Courtney, as well as CFDA executive director Steven Kolb also attended. Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra of Costello Tagliapietra, who have had long-standing relationships with the band, designed vocalist and keyboardist Lauren Roselli's dress for the show but were unable to attend.

DJ Bill Coleman, a former Billboard columnist who was influential in the early careers of Book of Love, Deee-Lite and Ultra Nate, warmed up the crowd with songs from Yaz and The Violent Femmes.

The band opened with "Modigliani" but was thwarted by a technical glitch that haunted them for the rest of the show. It did not, however, dampen the crowd's enthusiasm as lead singer Susan Ottaviano charmed with stories of their reunion. The band has remained close friends although their paths have varied since moving on, from teaching history of Electro Pop at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Ted Ottaviano); acting roles in Jonathan Demme films (Lauren); to food styling (Susan), and book art direction (Jade Lee).

Although no formal plans have been made, the band would like to hold another show to, at the very least, correct the technical glitches. Regardless, they succeeded in returning many in the crowd, including myself, to a time they fondly, if fuzzily, remember.
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