This past weekend I finally got a chance Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blowup after being recommended it countless times over the past year.  Overall, the film is a mod-era masterpiece, but there was one scene in particular where the main character Thomas, a photographer played by David Hemmings, traipses through a park, snapping off frames of a couple in the distance, that I keep coming back to.  The scene is beautiful and brilliant, but I must admit, that’s not why this scene stuck in my mind.  Wearing a pair of Beatle boots, stark white denim, a button down shirt with the collars undone, and a forest green jacket, Hemmings’ outfit, which would become his uniform for much of the film, had me considering the remaining few cold months ahead.

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Starting out on this week, I hadn’t really thought about how all these bands that I’ve been drawn to lately are related.  Most are loosely connected, sounding somewhat similar to each other or falling in the same relative genre, yet, with The Specials and today’s artist, Elvis Costello, the connection is direct.  Just two years after Costello released his debut album, My Aim is True, he had his hand in producing the debut album for another burgeoning British band.  That band was The Specials.  While The Specials were a breakbeat ska band, Costello was more of straight forward pub rock artist, but they both shared the same mentality of the English underground music scene.

Costello, (who was born Declan Patrick MacManus) began his career by hustling his way through the local London music scene at night and working menial jobs during the day to make ends meet.  Inspired by his father, who was a musician himself, and early rock bands, Costello adopted a strongly pop sound guided by his distinct voice and prowess as a storyteller.  In 1976 Costello signed to Stiff Records, a newfound label that was scooping up British New Wave artists, and began working on his first album.  At the behest of his label he adopted a stage moniker, taking Elvis from Presley and Costello from his own father’s stage name.  The album, which consisted of songs that Costello had written late at night after coming home from his data-entry job, was slow to take off, forcing Costello to keep his day job during the release, but three weeks later it all clicked and Costello gained overnight success.

My Aim is True became one of the greatest rock albums of not only the mid-seventies, but of all time, propelling Costello into the world music spotlight.  Yet it wasn’t just the album itself that helped Costello’s rise, it was his overall image.  The now famous cover of My Aim is True shows him wearing a colored sportcoat, his signature Buddy Holly glasses, and a well worn Jazzmaster, setting the stage for Costello’s career.  His two next albums, This Year’s Model and Armed Forces captured this same aesthetic, harkening back to those early days of rock and roll when showmanship and personality were equally as important as how you sounded.

In the eighties, Costello began to show just how expansive his musical background is, branching out into soul, country western, harder rock, punk, new wave, and jazz.  While this didn’t always spell success for Costello, it did show his diversity as an artist, something that was reflected in his presence, donning polka dot shirts, patterned jackets, and porkpie hats.  His exploration into other genres continued into the nineties as Costello dug deeper into jazz and classical, growing a beard and producing vast orchestrated pieces.  Coupled with with darker outfits and a long beard, this became Costello’s most severe period.  Yet, by the late nineties Costello had swung back to his roots, returning to the straightforward pop songs of his past.

As the turn of the century rolled around, Costello settled into his current stage, flowing through various genres with each respective album.  Now clean shaven, and a bit more toned down, Costello still throws in those patterned sportcoats, low-top brimmed hats, darker dress shirts.  As a man that has always been renowned for his ability to tell stories through his music no matter how it may be classified, Costello consistently keeps that solid, well-put together base adding in various touches here and there to echo his emotions during that period.  And of course, no matter what, he’ll always have his thick Buddy Holly glasses.

With temperatures beginning to rise into the nineties, and the city generally taking on what can only be described as a syrupy haze, I’m easing nicely into the summer slump.  For the foreseeable future it seems all I want to do is wear the same shirt everyday, take five times as long to do simple tasks, and choose air conditioning over everything else.  Normally this has always been my response to the sweltering summer heat, but this year there’s a new addition to my routine, listening to the same bands over and over again.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m too lazy to scour the internet for something new, or if I’m content with my current collection, or if I simply just never liked that much music to begin with, but as of late I’ve been perfectly happy listening to the same ten or so albums on repeat.  Naturally, as these bands are pretty much all I’ve been listening these past few weeks, they’re starting to really influence my whole summer outlook.  So as a nod to that, this week is dedicated to three bands that have shaped my early summer, not only through their music, but through their entire image.

The Specials are one of those bands that I’ve been listening to for as long as I’ve really cared about music.  By balancing the rocksteady beat of reggae with the raw energy of early seventies punk, The Specials became one of the most prolific of all seventies ska bands.  Yet, it was the band’s politically charged sentiments that helped to make them so much more memorable than most other bands from their era.  The Specials took a strong stance against racism, hoping to help diffuse the tension between races that ran throughout England during the late seventies.  Their attitude took on larger meaning as The Specials lead the way in the Two Tone ska movement.  It wasn’t just about music, it was about their personalities.  Inspired by 1960’s Rude Boys and Mods, the Specials wore dark suits, well worn hats, white sneakers, plaid pants, patterned jackets, black loafers, and dark sunglasses.  While their clothes made them stand out for what they believed in during the late seventies, it also helped solidify them as style icons for decades to come.  Their clothes were strong and at times severe but they wore them with this relaxed sense of comfort that made them look entirely natural.  The Specials knew they stood out, hell they wanted to, so they went with it.  And along the way provided us all with some pretty damn good inspiration on how to pull off outfits we normally would never even consider.


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