When we rolled across the country with the band—Martin, David, Andy and Alan—in their shiny green jet, with bus-loads of friends and accomplices and two 40-foot semis full of equipment, they were like a shipload of pirates looking for spoils. They’d pick out a city where their records sold well, arrive there at dawn, set up their stuff, and when they had an audience half-crazy with expectation, stage manager Andy Franks would announce, “Start the intro tape!” and the magic would begin. For two or three hours fifty thousand fans would sing and dance as they did for no one else. When it was over, and the fans had gone home, the band and crew would pack up and roll out, a few hundred thousand dollars richer, and by daylight only those who had seen the concert and bought a $20 t-shirt would know what had happened. Their parents would say, “Depeche Who?”
Still in their twenties, the band’s youth belied years of hard-earned experience and what we heard that night was a tight band performing a unique sound—their own brand of pop music– not more variations of ‘60s or ‘70s rock and roll. Throw away the drums and the guitars for the most part. Playing synthesizers with haunting songs written by Martin and performed with David’s incredible energy and signature alto voice, Depeche Mode arrived to take America, and they did. The fans weren’t the typical rock band enthusiasts either—a case of beer and an afternoon of Grateful Dead songs. With rapt devotion, dressed mostly in black, with marvelous flourishes such as garters holding up thigh-high stockings, the audience almost seemed like they were conjured up especially for this band alone, and the rest of the year they stayed home studying Druid ceremonial rites. Jane Spears, the band’s lighting designer who hailed from New Zealand, created an aurora borealis on stage for every song, playing the lights on a keyboard just as if they were music. It was a big show, a fantastic show. So when this young band decided to risk all and try to fill the Rose Bowl for their final 101st concert we knew we had a band after our own hearts, and we had a film.
With son Frazer Pennebaker back in New York as our producer and David Dawkins as a collaborator we set out on tour. We filmed most concerts just the three of us. Three weeks into the filming, the band’s producers suggested a dance contest where a busload of fans would win a trip across the country and meet up with Depeche Mode at the final Rose Bowl concert. New York radio station WDRE and DJ Malibu Sue hosted the event which drew thousands of fans. Somehow eight fantastic kids were chosen and we put two of our favorite filmmakers, Jeff Kreines and Joel DeMott, on the bus with them. Some people say that the bus kids were the first of the MTV Real Life series. For all of us it was an incredible journey. We always tell people that the time we spent on the road with Depeche Mode was our favorite film adventure.
D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus
- A film by Chris Hegedus, D A Pennebaker and David Dawkins. 1989, 120 min., color .