Berlin’s songwriter says there’s message in the steamy lyrics! 1984 INTERVIEW

By Bob Andelman

May 27, 1984

Last year, a song called Sex introduced America to new-wave band Berlin.

The lyrics of Sex (“I’m a virgin … a slut … a geisha … I’m your mother”) caused a lot of blushing around radio stations, but they put it on the air and helped turn it into a hit.

“The song got us attention in a sensationalist way,” admitted its 24-year-old author, John Crawford, in a recent telephone interview. “But it’s also a good song. It-has an important thing to say to those who listen and interpret the way it was intended. Jerry Casale of Devo thinks it’s going to be one of the most important songs of the ’80s.”

With the follow-up success of The Metro, Berlin – a California group amid mostly British competition – has managed to set itself up as a leader of new-wave music.

JOHN CRAWFORD podcast excerpt: “Music is in a positive stage right now. There is a lot of great music and great personalities. To compete, not only do you have to be good but you have to take a chance. You can’t sit there and say this was successful so we’re going to do this again, because someone’s going to pass you up.”

Berlin: Terri Nunn, John Crawford and David Diamond
Berlin: Terri Nunn, John Crawford and David Diamond

BUT THE IMAGE of the band created by the steaminess of Sex has not diminished.

In the latest issue of Rock Magazine, the members of Berlin joke about their sexual preferences. Crawford says he has carnal urges for Marie Osmond, singer Terri Nunn claims the same for the late Rod Serling and synthesist Dave Diamond, an admitted homosexual, makes leading remarks about actor Tom Cruise.

Now it’s the group that is crying foul.

“We talked to that girl (Rock Magazine’s reporter) for probably an hour, felt really comfortable with her,” Crawford said. “When we felt (the interview) was over, we were having a sort of locker room talk with her about sex. It was who could say the funniest; wittiest thing – her too. We let our guard down. (The reporter) was either really stupid or she set us up.

“She took 5 percent of our personalities and made it seem as if that’s all there was,” he said. “We’re not that unintelligent to paint ourselves in a comer like that. No band can survive on such a narrow public image. It would have been commercial suicide to be that stupid.”

“Sex” and “The Metro” were culled from a six-song EP that Crawford recorded for $2,900 in 1981. On an independent label, the album sold an amazing 25,000 copies on the West Coast before being picked up for distribution by Geffen Records. With national outlets, the record went on to sell 250,000 more copies.

IN EARLY 1983, Berlin first appeared on the Suncoast, at the Pinellas Park Crown Lounge. The band has come a long way since. Last summer, Berlin participated in the second US Festival, along with David Bowie, the Pretenders and Van Halen. Then in the fall, the band put on a sizzling performance for NBC’s experimental Live and in Person program.

Berlin was to tour the United States this spring and summer as opening act for Yes, but was scrubbed a week before going out. The last-minute change has caused bitterness.

“We passed up a chance to go to Japan and play with Culture Club and Big Country in a big festival, which would have been a great deal of exposure,” said Crawford. “We spent a lot of money, made a lot of plans, passed up other tours … No one in new music wants to play with Yes (although they) spawned new music, acting against dinosaur rock. They’re the band that probably coined that term. I wasn’t disappointed that we didn’t go- I just thought it was kind of rude.”

Berlin then arranged its own tour and scheduled a performance for St. Petersburg on May 31 at the Bayfront Theatre. On the Suncoast at least, the group is not yet a drawcard and the St. Petersburg performance was cancelled last week because of poor ticket sales. The group did perform Friday in Orlando.

Berlin’s drawing power may increase in the wake of its first full-fledged album, Love Life, and its hit song, No More Wards.

“Music is in a positive stage right now,” Crawford said. “There is a lot of great music and great personalities. To compete, not only do you have to be good but you have to take a chance. You can’t sit there and say this was successful so we’re going to do this again, because someone’s going to pass you up.”

The challenge to an up-and-coming band like Berlin is to be good at their music and all other facets of the business as well.

“YOU HAVE TO do good videos, good interviews and good records,” Crawford said. “You have to look good and you have to do it so it catches someone’s attention: be different.”

The group’s most public figure, singer Nunn, has undergone radical changes from last year’s’ tour when she was cast as a sexy, long-tressed blond vamp. For the cover of Love Life, she had a soft, old-fashioned look, yet when she was a presenter on the American Video Awards earlier this month, her blond hair had been straightened with the lower halves of her bangs dyed black.

Crawford fancies himself a bit of the romantic in his songwriting, despite the many women who consider him to be a bit of a sexist.

“I would like everyone to understand what I am and where I come from: a very suburban, middle of the road, Orange County (Calif.) conservative background,” he said. “The thing that always got me or the kids I knew going was romance, relationships or one-night stands.”

“No More Words” tells the tale of two people who love ‘each other, even though one of them wants to end the relationship. They feel badly because they don’t know how to call it quits without hurting the other person.

CRAWFORD SAID an important difference between himself and lead singer Nunn is the way they deal with disappointments of the heart.

“If she loses a relationship, she’s pretty strong about it. It hurts her for awhile but it doesn’t affect her personal feelings towards herself. But if someone hurts me, it destroys me. I get so close to someone – I feel like they’re saying I’m not a worth while person. It’s really damaging to me when someone says look, I don’t love you anymore. It’s something I doubt I’ll ever be able to handle well.”

Looking to the future, Crawford is optimistic about the band’s ability to establish a solid foundation.

“I feel confident enough that we’ll be able to prove we are not a fluke-type band,” he said. “We are forcing ourselves to compete with bands that survive with quality work – the Thompson Twins, Culture Club, Modern English, Eurythmics. Everything they do, they do well. We want to show everyone that we can do that, too.”

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