“Shame”: The David Fincher-directed music video by the Motels, Martha Davis’s L.A.-based band

By on August 20, 2018

In Night Flight’s “Take Off to Los Angeles” — which aired during syndication in 1992 — announcer Pat Prescott reminds us that “Southern California’s footloose sun-worshipping lifestyle draws musicians from all over the world.”

Watch this special episode — which also features music videos by the Beach Boys, the Doors, Randy Newman, the Eagles, the Untouchables, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, L.A. Guns, Lone Justice, the Blasters, and more — on Night Flight Plus.

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During her introduction to their David Fincher-directed video for “Shame,” Ms. Prescott tells us that “33-year old Motels singer Martha Davis moved to L.A. from Berkeley, California, making her debut at the glamorous Hollywood club Madame Wong.”

If you’re familiar with the geographically-distinct neighborhoods of Los Angeles, then you already know Madame Wong’s (not “Wong”) was a Chinese restaurant in L.A.’s Chinatown, located seven miles southeast of Hollywood.

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Martha Davis had dropped out of high school at age fifteen, got married and gave birth to her first daughter, Maria.

She and her Air Force enlistee husband moved to Florida, but when he was sent off to Vietnam, she moved back to Berkeley.

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Davis, divorced and living on welfare, was nineteen when her mother committed suicide.

Seeking solace, she devoted herself to her music, and in 1971 she joined the Warfield Foxes, a Berkeley band with lead guitarist Dean Chamberlain (who became her boyfriend), rhythm guitarist Chuck Wada and bassist Lisa Brenneis.

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In 1975, they decided to move down to Los Angeles — a five and a half-hour drive south on the I-5 freeway  — where a burgeoning punk & art rock scene was already exploding.

After changing their name to the Motels, the new lineup — Davis, Chamberlain, Wada, Richard D’Andrea (bass) and Robert Neuman (drums) — struggled to get booked at the Whisky and the Starwood, where you needed an album deal to get a gig.

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In 1976, the Motels took matters into their own hands, renting Hollywood’s Troupers Hall for a show billed “Radio Free Hollywood,” and soon they were playing on KROQ deejay Rodney Bingenheimer‘s radio show.

They continued to struggle, though, frequently disbanding due to musical differences (Chamberlain left and formed Code Blue).

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In 1979, a new Motels — Davis, Jeff Jourard (lead guitar), Marty Jourard (sax/keys), Michael Goodroe (bass) and Brian Glascock (drums) — were given a residency at Madame Wong’s, which actually wasn’t all that glamorous (we frequented the club to see the Motels and dozens of other mostly-local L.A. bands in the early ’80s), and signed a record deal with Capitol Records.

(For more about that era, read Martha’s fascinating 2016 LA Record interview here).

Read more about the Motels and “Shame” below.

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The Motels enjoyed success with their first two albums, The Motels (1979) and Careful (1980), which charted at #45 on the Billboard 200.

When the Motels weren’t touring, Davis concentrated on raising her three teenage kids (Maria, Patricia and Phil).

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In 1982, they re-grouped again for their third LP, All For One, which landed in the Top Twenty on the Billboard album charts on the strength of a Top Ten single, “Only the Lonely.”

Davis had written the song on a guitar her father had given her that he’d found in Stiles Hall at UC Berkeley, his employer.

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As a result of All Four One‘s release coinciding with MTV’s launch, Capitol Records began spending a lot of time and money on their videos.

By now, some of Hollywood’s top directors were lining up to direct the Motels’ videos, including Australian filmmaker Russell Mulcahy, who directed videos for “Take the L” and “Only the Lonely.”

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Their next album, 1983’s Little Robbers — recorded largely with the use of session musicians because of the band’s revolving-door membership — featured another Top Ten hit, “Suddenly Last Summer.”

For “Shame” — from the band’s fifth album, Shock — the Motels chose to work with David Fincher, who had grown up in San Anselmo, in Northern California’s Marin County, where filmmaker George Lucas was a neighbor.

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Fincher later worked as an assistant cameraman and did visual effects for Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) on Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom (’84) and The NeverEnding Story (’84).

He left ILM to direct TV commercials, winning acclaim for his transgressive 1985 American Cancer Society commercial, which featured a fetus in utero, smoking a lit cigarette.

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Fincher then signed with N. Lee Lacy in Hollywood and began directing music videos, his first being Rick Springfield’s “Bop ‘Til You Drop.”

His second video was the Motels’ “Shame,” filmed in July 1985, revealing his love for noir-ish lighting, and how he was inspired by movies like Blade Runner (1982) and The Hunger (1983).

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The video features Martha Davis in a cockroach-infested desert motel room, striped by shadows cast by venetian blinds.

Davis appears to be a loveless relationship, looking towards a distant billboard which features a glammed-up version of herself that comes to life.

Fincher ended up dating Davis’s 19-year old daughter Maria, who was helping out with Martha’s wardrobe.

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Fincher would end up co-founding Propaganda Films and directing dozens of acclaimed videos for superstar acts like Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Paula Abdul, Billy Idol, and the Rolling Stones.

He would go on to become one of Hollywood’s top directors, directing huge blockbusters like Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and many, many others.

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Fincher is currently working on a new 1980s-set HBO comedy series about the music video industry called “Video Synchronicity.”

Night Flight’s “Take Off to Los Angeles” is now streaming 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.