“New Sounds” in ’86: NYC artist Robert Longo directed the Golden Palominos’ “Boy (Go)” video, featuring Michael Stipe

By on November 29, 2016

In this episode of “Night Flight”‘s “New Sounds” — which originally aired on April 4, 1986 — we took a look at some of the then-current cutting edge music videos by the Violent Femmes, Public Image Ltd. and more, including “Boy (Go),” by the NYC-based art-pop outfit Golden Palominos, which was directed by celebrated New York multi-media artist Robert Longo and also featured lead vocals by Michael Stipe, who was on a break from his main band, R.E.M. You can see the video streaming now on Night Flight Plus.

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Golden Palominos were principally formed in 1981 by ex-Feelies percussionist Anton Fier (drums) and Arto Lindsay (guitar/vocals) following their departure from the John Lurie band Lounge Lizards (Fier had actually wanted to call that band Golden Palominos but Lurie prevailed, which then left the name free for Fier’s next band).

Likely from the start, Fier and Lindsay — who were recognizable as active participants in New York City’s avant-funk jazzbo scene — had the idea for the Palominos to be a studio group that made records, and not primarily a touring act; the idea always seems to have been for them to invite their talented friends to come and play on their recordings,  as guest artists being backed by a core band that Fier and Lindsay would anchor.

This method of making rock records as if they were jazz career retrospectives fit right in with the way they did things at their label, the New York-based Celluloid Records, which had begun anew on Hudson Street in New York City in 1981 (we told you a little about the label here).

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And so, it was Anton Fier and Arto Lindsay’s own name recognition which drew an ever-changing group of players to accompany them on their 1982 debut album, Golden Palominos, mostly from the studio session world, including Bill Laswell, Jamaladeen Tacuma, John Zorn and David Moss. The album — very much an instrumentalist’s record — was mostly dominated by LIndsay’s vocals and powerfully incendiary guitarwork.

The band’s leadership shifted, however, between the first and second albums, and Anton Fier ended up becoming the band’s benevolent dictator thereafter; Lindsay would only appear on their second album’s closing track, and from that point on, Fier was completely in charge of whatever direction the Golden Palominos would be heading.

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Anton Fier

In the mid-70s, Fier — a Cleveland native — had traveled to New York City on the weekends, and in 1978 he finally made the move permanent when he was able to line up consistent studio work (he later said that fellow drummers and studio session pros Jeff Porcaro and Steve Gadd were his avatars).

Fier became a hot property, playing sessions with Herbie Hancock, Yoko Ono, Mick Jagger and Laurie Anderson, among others (like bassist Bill Laswell, he could make a fine living by playing on others people’s records and in their bands).

Fier also joined the Feelies, a Velvet Underground-ish rock band from nearby New Jersey, and between the studio work and club gigs with the Feelies, he kept pretty busy, holding down the job of “house drummer” in constantly shape-shifting improv-rock ensembles of one type or another.

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Michael Stipe

The Golden Palominos’s second album, Visions of Excess, opens with three tracks with vocals provided by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. — “Boy (Go),” “Clustering Train,” and their cover of Moby Grape’s “Omaha” — with additional lead vocals by John Lydon (“The Animal Speaks”), Cream’s Jack Bruce, and then-relative newcomer Syd Straw, who met Fier in a noisy New York City bar in 1985.

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As the story goes, when she heard Fier’s last name, she immediately thought she was being introduced to some punk who had adopted the last name “Fear,” and she said to him, “I’m not afraid of you,” but, as we said, the bar was noisy, and Fier thought she said, “I’m not a fan of yours.”

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Syd Straw

Once they got it all straightened out, later that evening, Fier asked Straw if she wanted to sing on his band’s upcoming album. He’d never heard her sing.

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The album — this time forgoing the noisy art-pop funk of their debut while attempting to achieve a much more accessible, college-radio 80s rock sound — would go on to feature vocals by Straw and Stipe, as well as Public Image Ltd.’s John Lydon and Arto Lindsay.

Each vocalist wrote and recorded their parts separately, okaying their lyrical contributions first by showing them to Fier, who would deftly coordinate putting a studio session together to accommodate their travel schedules when they were planning on visiting New York City.

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When Stipe and R.E.M. completed the recording of their third album (they still signed to I.R.S. Records at the time), he ended up coming to NYC and recording the vocals for a couple of tracks in the Radio City Music Hall studio.

For “Boy (Go),” the recording session would also feature Richard Thompson’s guitars, which together with Stipe’s vocals sound like “beautifully rusted barbs of wire,” as one rock journo put it.

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The catchy track — which in addition to Stipe (vocals), Thompson (lead guitar), and Fier (drums), also featured Bill Laswell (bass), Jody Harris (guitars), Bernie Worrell (Hammond organ), and Syd Straw and Chris Stamey (background vocals) — was chosen to be the first single released from Visions of Excess, which of course would therefore require its own promotional video, directed by famous New York multi-media artist Robert Longo.

Longo was born in 1953, in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Long Island. As a child he was fascinated by mass media: movies, television, magazines, and comic books, which continue to influence his art.

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Robert Longo

By the time he joined the underground art scene of the 1970s, he was drawn to doing drawings, and portraits in particular, which led to the creation of his seminal “Men in the Cities” series, an idea inspired by a still image he saw in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film The American Soldier.

Longo produced about sixty in the series between 1979 and 1982, including one that was used as the album cover to Glenn Branca’s The Ascension.

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Longo — who worked for avant-garde filmmakers Paul Sharits and Hollis Frampton in Buffalo — eventually began sourcing his work from pop culture images taken from movies, wanting to make a film so he could use his own movie stills in his work.

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Longo’s first attempts to work in film began in 1977, for an aborted project called Empire/Steel Angel, (originally intended as a vehicle for Eric Bogosian in the role of a Lenny Bruce-esque nightclub performer) which was abandoned, although the idea later surfaced in his 35-minute video “Arena Brains,” which satirized the downtown art scene and premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1987.

He was, however, able to use this process of using his own movie stills in music videos, and soon was an in-demand director, which led to his work with New Order (“Bizarre Love Triangle), R.E.M. (“The One I Love”) and this video for Golden Palominos.

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Watch Golden Palominos “Boy (Go)” music video — directed by Robert Longo — along with other cutting-edge music videos in our “New Sounds” episode from April 1986 exclusively 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.