Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.
It is hard to overstate the giddy hedonism of the early ’80s. Riding the tide of the ’70s sexual revolution, when feminism and gay power met the “if it feels good do it” ethos of the era, it was a great time to be young and on the prowl.
For many, it was all no-strings encounters, erotic explorations and good dirty fun and if there were consequences, well, that would be for another day. It would be a year of two before the specter of AIDS reared its ugly head and there was a feckless, fumbling innocence to it all that in retrospect is kind of touching,
It took a band from Boston, Human Sexual Response, to provide a great soundtrack for those wild sweaty nights. With songs like “What Does Sex Mean to Me?” they were an art rock ensemble with a literate and hilarious take on sexual politics. Borrowing their name from the Masters and Johnson bestseller, the band blended four-part vocals with a bouncy new wave beat.
Their origin story goes back to singer Casey Cameron, who formed a short lived, all-kazoo band with her friends Windle Davis, Larry Bangor and his brother, Dini Lamot. They morphed into a country western outfit, Honey Bea and the Muffins. But as Larry Bangor points out, “It was 1976, so we said, ‘Let’s start a rock band.’”
Guitarist Rich Gilbert, bassist Rolfe Anderson (later replaced by Chris Maclaughan) and drummer Malcolm Travis came on board and the Humans were born. “Some of our first gigs were in the Combat Zone in Boston,” Dini Lamot recalls, “where the bikers and strip clubs were. Then one day we were called to open at Symphony Hall for Jimmy Cliff. We got a lot of boos at first, but then we won them over. It was an interesting beginning.”
With a sound that combined rock and roll with cabaret theatricality, HSR were soon playing all over Boston in gay bars and punk clubs. The band’s mix of openly gay and straight members was unusual for the time but as Casey Cameron observed, ” I think of the band as being pansexual. There was a huge spectrum within the band of sexuality and there was also a freedom at the time. Gay pride had happened and we were just so relaxed with all those kinds of things. It was fabulous. It was as if all this stuff flew out of the box and we were able to talk about it in music. It was really a lot of fun.”Their lyrics had a biting campy wit evidenced in songs like “Jackie Onassis,” their college radio hit. Walking the razor’s edge of satire and seriousness, the song explores the lust for fame and glamor while acknowledging the pain and angst that is its inevitable baggage. It is poignant and hilarious at the same time. Dini Lamot remembers Caroline and John Kennedy, Jr., coming to their show. “Caroline did not like the last line of the song and left, but John actually came backstage to say hi to the band. And Jackie’s mom, Mrs. Auchincloss heard us at a wedding and said ‘I’m sure Jacqueline would love the song.’” Watch today’s clip and see for yourself.
HSR had a great run, with two albums under their belt, but broke up in 1982. They all remain friends and then some — Dini Lamot and Windle Davis got married and run a bed and breakfast in Hudson, N.Y. Cameron sums it up, “Our band was like a tribe of people that were totally bent on the same thing and yet were in a constant state of flow.” They still do the occasional reunion gig, wowing a Boston crowd this past November. As Bob Moses, a reviewer for Huff Post put it, “If you can’t be entertained by thought-provoking analysis of sexual politics while helplessly shimmying like a fool, then you simply can’t be entertained.” Amen to that.
Correction: March 5, 2013. This post was revised to correct an error. The original version misspelled the surname of a band member. It is Lamot, not Lamont.
This post originally appeared on The Local East Village.