How A Mid 80s ‘Alt Rock’ Radio Hit Defined Dramarama
One of Los Angeles station KROQ's most requested songs, ‘Anything, Anything’ helped launch the career of Dramarama.
Though located less than a 40-minute drive from Midtown Manhattan, Wayne, New Jersey is a world away from the brash and flash of New York City and a universe from sunny Los Angeles. Best known as the headquarters of Toys "R" Us and the place that 90s indie band The Fountains of Wayne took their name, the township is also the birthplace of Dramarama and their 1985 hit "Anything, Anything (I'll Give You)".
Released as the first single from their debut album Cinéma Vérité, the track is a raw but buzzy piece of power pop that hangs on vocalist John Easdale's urgent and anxious pleas and the big time guitar hooks and melodies that bring to mind the rowdy American bar rock of the Replacements or New York Dolls.
The song may have been born in Jersey but it burst into life in Los Angeles when scenester and broadcaster DJ Rodney Bingenheimer started playing it in on his KROQ radio show. It soon became one of station's most requested songs and led to the band leaving the Jersey bar scene to relocate to Los Angeles.
Though the song became the band's signature and featured on the A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master soundtrack, they never reached similar heights with subsequents songs and albums.
Dramarama disbanded in 1994 and formally reunited in 2003 following an appearance on VH1's Bands Reunited reality show.
We caught up with John Easdale to chat about "Anything, Anything (I'll Give You)".
Noisey: Where did you write the song?
John Easdale: I don't recall exactly where or when, other than it was in New Jersey sometime in 1984 or 1985. It was definitely not a high point in my life.
Was it an easy song to write?
Because of my personal turmoil, it was the easiest thing in the world. I wish they were all like that—sans the turmoil, of course.
How many times do you think you have performed it?
Hundreds, if not thousands. It's a fun song to play, the crowd more often than not sings along, the best is when the audience is singing louder than me. "Anything, Anything" is the only song that has consistently been performed at nearly all Dramarama live shows since 1985.
The opening line "Okay, what is it tonight?" captures the frustration and negativity of a doomed relationship. Was the song written about a person or situation?
It was written about my ex-wife and I. We lived in a one-room apartment downstairs from where the rest of the band lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Lodi, New Jersey. Couples often tell me it's "their" song, and I'm flattered that they feel the emotion and passion of it, but I am always a bit reluctant to mention that it is essentially an ode to a bitter break-up.
The rhythm section pretty much keeps the same beat throughout the song. It's just the guitar riff and your pleading vocals. Was this deliberate?
I don't think it was necessarily intentional, but since the emotion of the song doesn't really change, i.e. there is no midpoint realization that "everything is going to be okay" or "fuck her," it was a way to keep the anguish constant. When I taught it to the band while we were in the studio, they all thought it was the most boring thing until they heard the vocal.
There are references to getting wasted and giving pills. You had drug problems later in your career. Was drug use prevalent at the time when you wrote the song?
We looked at it as "partying", mostly beer and weed, psychedelics on occasion. Never pills. "Pills" was only in there because it rhymed with "$100 bills." Having said that, I am a recovering addict, inherently in denial about drugs being a "problem." I'm sure my parents, former teachers and many friends and acquaintances would argue that I had undeniable problems with dependence with what I considered "partying." Soon after Cinema Verite was released I first had serious difficulties with substance abuse.
You've said that you moved to California because 'our song' was on the radio. What were you leaving in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, we were completely unknown, and even after we released our first few records, there seemed to be very little hope of improvement in our fortunes or notoriety. Our first album, Cinema Verite, came out in November of 1985 on a small label in France called New Rose. Unbeknownst to us, legendary L.A. scenester and radio DJ Rodney Bingenheimer picked up the album at a record store because Edie Sedgwick was on the cover. Rodney started playing songs off the album on his show on KROQ, a popular commercial radio station, and saying we were from France! "Anything Anything," immediately started getting phone requests and KROQ added it to their regular rotation, it became one of the most requested songs ever on the station. In Los Angeles, we could almost pay the rent. We left behind our families, friends and minimum wage jobs at record shops, etc., but not much in terms of career opportunities, musical or otherwise.
What was LA like in 86? It was the year before Guns and Roses released Appetite for Destruction. Did things change after that? How did you fit in?
We have never fit in anywhere, certainly not on the Sunset Strip of the 80s. To quote our bio, we were, "Lacking eyeliner and an androgynous frontman." We were a few years ahead of the curve when bands like Nirvana made electric guitars, bass and drums cutting edge and cool (again). In the 80s Dramarama was completely out of sync with the swing of the musical trend pendulum.
Did you feel part of the MTV Generation?
I certainly watched a hell of a lot of MTV in the early 80s, but aside from a couple of later stints on "120 Minutes" I never really felt a part of the MTV generation. In fact, if memory serves, MTV rejected the "Anything" video because of my use of the word "pills." I re-recorded the word, changing it to "chills" to make the video air appropriate.
Why are there two versions of the video?
The first is not really a video but more a clip we made with the help of a French TV show, a bit of a mish mosh of things we thought were edgy and cool mixed with live footage. The second video was filmed when the song was released as a single by Chameleon Records in 1990. It's difficult for me to watch; when I look at it now all I can say is that by then I had definitely become more familiar with cocaine.
How has the song helped you financially? Have you been receiving regular checks since then?
Yes, the checks are regular but not nearly as hefty as one might think considering the popularity of the song. At the risk of sounding a bit like the songwriter's version of Dr. Seuss' Lorax, unless streaming services and alike begin to care a lot more about the artists who generate their content, bands on the level of Dramarama will never/rarely be financially soluble despite a large fan base. My optimism lies in hope that consumers and fans begin to, once again, realize the beauty of the full length album. A massive amount of time and consideration goes into which songs to include, the track order, liner notes, artwork etc. Streaming or purchasing one or two songs is a bit like eating a ground beef patty. Sure it can be quality, but just isn't nearly as satisfying as a cheeseburger.
At what point of the show/set do you play the song now? Last song or encore?
It depends. If we're playing a short set at a festival, it will be last. For stand-alone Dramarama shows we don't have a set list. "Anything" is often last. However, our catalogue is pretty deep and we can play for a few hours. If time allows for an extra-long extended set, I'll throw it in earlier so that those who cannot stay until the bitter end are satisfied. We haven't left the stage for an encore in a long, long time.
I hear a fair bit of New York Dolls and the Replacements influence. Were you a fan of Paul Westerberg?
I loved the Dolls, and David Johansen is another one of my heroes, for sure, and I am truly flattered by the comparison. The New York Dolls have been a huge influence on my musical stylings, simple, straightforward rock & roll. A personal highlight of my career was when Sylvain Sylvain joined Dramarama on stage during our cover of "Trash." And although, I am a fan and greatly respect and enjoy the pure and unpolluted rock of Mr. Westerberg and the Replacements, I was already trying to do my own music before I ever heard his; my influences had already been deeply imbedded.
The song has become a cult song but what does your family think of it?
I have never asked any of them what they thought of it. I know it embarrasses some of my daughters sometimes. I think because the song was popular before they were born, it's just something that has always been there, like white noise.
What does the song mean to you?
I love that people I have never met know the song. I love hearing strangers perform cover versions. I love that it is still getting played on the radio, on the internet and elsewhere. I love that I still get to sing it and that people still come to hear us play it in concert. I love that 30 plus years later, outlets like NOISEY are asking me questions about it. I have written many, many songs, but it is the only one that has really had a life of its own.
Would you say that is has defined your musical career?
It only defines my "musical career" to the extent that I never even considered a "musical career" as a remote possibility until after this song had exploded on Southern California radio. Deep down, most artists just want to be relevant and, fleeting though it may be in the whole scheme of things, "Anything Anything" seems to have given me that relevancy.
Lead image: Artist Direct