King of the Mild Frontier

Like so many of his British brethren who would later choose careers in music, Stuart Goddard began his career as an art-school dropout, fascinated with punk because it was as much about the packaging of image -- torn clothing, men wearing makeup, performance art creeping into concert, treating the audience like shit -- as about the noise of three chords strung together randomly till noise coalesced into song into statement.

Goddard became part of the London punk crowd, born again on the screaming sounds of the Sex Pistols. In the fall of 1975, while fronting a '50s-fetished American greaser-styled rock band called Bazooka Joe, Goddard even had the opportunity to headline a bill on which the then-unknown Pistols opened. That small fact, and that he would later hook up with the Pistols' impresario, Malcolm McLaren, cemented his place in the punk-rock history book as, at the very least, a footnote.

Goddard's first outings as a musician proved him to be a rather talentless, ham-fisted songwriter fascinated with religious iconography and sexual perversion. He often wore bondage gear on-stage and attacked audience members, and he revered David Bowie and Marc Bolan as much as John Lydon, becoming fascinated with the way each man assumed a different persona through which to make music. As Goddard immersed himself deeper into the underground, he revised and revamped his persona, molding his influences into his own guise -- and so was born the man now known as Adam Ant, a name that, at 40, Goddard still uses as his moniker.

After a series of singles, a role in Derek Jarman's punk homage/kiss-off film Jubilee and an indie release (Dirk Wears White Socks), Adam and his Ants hit pay dirt in 1980 with Kings of the Wild Frontier, an album that knocked the Who's Face Dances out of the number one slot in England's pop charts. Built upon a series of clever gimmicks -- two drummers pounding out a tribal beat, riffs and lines stolen wholesale from various spaghetti Westerns, war paint replacing the eyeliner of glam-rockers past -- Kings of the Wild Frontier subverted punk's dangerous elements into something kinkier, with sex and S&M imagery replacing politics as a manifesto.

"Antmusic for sexpeople, sexmusic for antpeople," Ant chanted, presumably ushering in a new sound to replace the old one. He was point man for the charge of the lightweight brigade that was the second British Invasion, leading hordes of New Wave bands that would storm American radio in the early '80s -- acts such as Culture Club, Flock of Seagulls, Gary Numan and many more bred on punk's image, if not its sound. The punk became the pop star, and in an instant, through such venues as MTV, Adam and the Ants and a whole host of British pop acts provided the soundtrack to an era.

"MTV made music more accessible -- people see music now as much as they hear it," Ant says now. "I thought it was a time to exploit what MTV gave me to be theatrical, and the sort of work I was doing then was very focused on that. Video could capture some kind of fantasy world for people and make it very accessible."

Following Kings of the Wild Frontier, Ant released a handful of mediocre albums (Prince Charming, Friend or Foe, Vive Le Rock) and a couple that were absolutely dreadful (Strip, Manners and Physique). With each successive release, Ant faded further from memory. His career stalled quicker than a '53 Olds with a bad carburetor and old plugs, with Ant plunging into a series of B-grade film roles and a four-year period in which MCA Records killed a whole record and finally bumped him right off the label and onto his ass.

But, like Lazarus back from the dead, Adam Ant has been resurrected through the strength of one single, "Wonderful," which is in moderate rotation on modern-rock radio and, more important, on MTV, the cable dance-party station that made the former Stuart Goddard a very wealthy man more than a decade ago. And it's quite deserving, damn it all: the song is catchy and moving. It may not set the world aflame, but it's hardly lethal.

Like his Capitol Records labelmates Duran Duran -- fellow video creations once thought eradicated from existence -- Antmusic returns. Ant has been seen on TV once again, his fey, handsome mug shedding tears in a stark black-and-white video; he has also been spotted sharing the stage with Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, running through a trio of old Anttunes -- "Physical (You're So)," "Red Scab," and "Beat My Guest." He's even held his own with Howard Stern. And coming soon to a video store near you: Adam Ant and Debbie Harry in a rock and roll mystery called Drop Dead Rock, presumably shot direct to video.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky