Mid-80s synth-pop with a byte: Growing Up Different’s “Watching in the Moonlight”

By on February 13, 2019

We thought we’d take another look at this special “Discoveries and New Sounds” segment from our 5th year anniversary show, which first aired on June 7, 1986 — you’ll now find it streaming on Night Flight Plus — where we found Baltimore-based synth-pop trio Growing Up Different’s noir-ish black & white video for “Watching in the Moonlight.”

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During the mid-’80s, Growing Up Different developed quite a loyal following in the greater Washington DC/Baltimore area, playing lots of small club gigs up and down the East Coast.

Three members had previously been in a popular power pop band, Face Dancer, who’d formed — initially as a progressive rock combo called Jack — while they were students at the University of Rhode Island, circa 1974.

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Face Dancer’s new name, applied sometime during the mid-to-late ’70s, came from a shapeshifting character from Frank Herbert‘s sci-fi novel, Dune.

This “shapeshifting” moniker was a clue, perhaps, that their eclectic sound was not likely going to retain one particular form as it went through many sonic permutations, rocking back and forth between buoyant FM pop to pomp-tastic Queen-influenced bombast, to middle-of-the-road AOR, to a harder-edged heavy metal sound.

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The band also went through numerous lineup changes before solidifying and eventually relocating to the Washington D.C. area, where they attracted huge crowds to their shows.

In 1979, after signing with Capitol Records, Face Dancer recorded their debut album This World, with producer Richie Wise, who had previously produced KISS and the Stories (“Brother Louie”).

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The album’s crunchy first single, “Red Shoes,” performed well in the local Baltimore/D.C. area, but Face Dancer failed to attract a larger audience beyond the East Coast, which possibly led to lead vocalist Carey Kress being replaced by Michael Milsap.

Face Dancer traveled to England to record their second album, About Face, but it also failed to sell well nationally, and, after being dropped by Capitol, the band struggled for a few more years before disbanding in 1983.

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Bassist and key songwriter Scott McGinn, drummer Billy Trainor and David Jesse “D.J.” Long (keyboards, synths, vocals) went on to form Growing Up Different (we found several excellent photos of the band on their Facebook page).

McGinn moved over to guitar and taking on the lead vocal duties, while Long and Trainor — using a double dose of drum machines and digital-sampling synthesizers — shifted their new band’s musical emphasis from a heavier guitar-based rock sound over to a more danceable synth/technop pop sound.

Read more about Growing Up Different below.

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Growing Up Different at the Wax Museum Nightclub, Washington D.C., November 1983 (photo courtesy of Growing Up Different)

The band’s name — D.J. Long told Washington Post‘s Wendy Melillo, in an article entitled “Music With a Byte to It” (May 1, 1985) — was based on the fact that “everyone grew up in different social stratas with different experiences, but it is not necessarily a thing that prevents people from relating to each other.”

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Growing Up Different at Q107’s Block Party, October 1983 (photo courtesy of Growing Up Different)

During their short career, Growing Up Different released just one 5-song EP, A+B=C (CES Records), which kicks off with “Watching in the Moonlight.”

Describing the song in the Washington Post (September 29, 1985), rock critic J.D. Considine wrote that its “minor key dance groove” was spiced up “with all sorts of synthesizer effects…”

Considine wasn’t too sure about the trio’s future, though, writing their “technical proficiency could take it far; right now, though, its sonic showmanship is little more than camouflage.”

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“Watching in the Moonlight” was given the music video treatment that same year.

Timothy Ratajczak — a film student at Towson State University (now Towson University) — shot the band’s black & white film noir-ish video in March of ’85 at two locations: the Shellman House in Westminster, Maryland, and the Robbins Motor Transportation Warehouse.

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Other than the band members themselves, the Girl seen in the video is played by Bernadette Vondersmith, while the Boy is played by Charles Geoffrey “Charlie” Keating.

We learned from a blog post on Ratajczak’s blog Tim’s World — “I Couldn’t Believe It,” from November 12, 2014 — that Keating died just eight years later, in 1993, from leukemia. He was just 22 years old.

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Growing Up Different, unfortunately, didn’t last too much longer, breaking up before releasing any more recordings.

In 1986, Scott McGinn moved to Los Angeles, where he formed a band called the Sleepwalkers, before eventually returning to the East Coast.

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McGinn occasionally performed with members of Face Dancer at their annual reunion concerts until the death of original lead singer Carey Kress in 2009.

That same year, McGinn self-published his autobiography, That World: My Life in a Band Called Face Dancer. He’s now in a band called FD Automatic.

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David Jesse “D.J.” Long — who had moved back to Jamestown, Rhode Island, where he served many terms on the Jamestown city council — died in 2017.

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Sometime around 2005, Ratajczak — who’d been working as a screenwriter in the faith-based movie business, co-writing projects with fellow Towson State film student and best friend Sean Paul Murphy — was contacted by Scott McGinn.

McGinn asked Ratajczak if he would be interested in directing a music video for a new version McGinn had recorded of his Face Dancer tune, “Red Shoes.”

Afterwards, Ratajczak began to focus again on directing, and you can read more about his films and other stuff on his blog.

Watch Night Flight’s “Discoveries and New Sounds” — which also features videos by Stop (“Wake Up”), Blackwell Project (“Explicit Lyrics”) and the Special Guests (“Paul Cézanne”), among others — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.