News Column

Beaver County Times, Pa., Scott Tady column

October 20, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 20--Here's a story about a boy and his lighthouse.

Starts out simply enough with a young man living along England's coast, soothed to sleep each night by the reassuring flash of the lighthouse's beam on his bedroom wall.

Decades later, the tale takes on strange twists and turns, including shadow-y government figures and reports of UFOs.

First, though, the boy grows up to become a New Wave star who sings one of the most iconic songs from the early days of MTV.

You remember Thomas Dolby and "Blinded Me With Science," right?

Dolby is still plugging away as a musician, with an Oct. 29 show at the Andrew Carnegie Music Hall in Carnegie borough (aka "The Carnegie Carnegie.")

This is more than just a concert, as Dolby and his artistic partner Blake Leyh, award-winning sound designer and music supervisor for HBO's "Treme" and "The Wire," will perform live to the backdrop of Dolby's debut movie, "The Invisible Lighthouse."

Dolby taught himself how to shoot and edit a movie so he could present his story about his favorite lighthouse, which was ordered to be permanently darkened and left to sink into the North Sea after 221 years of operation.

Dolby felt the urge to film the final flash of the lighthouse, but when he tried to visit the structure on its remote island he was shooed away by England's Ministry of Defense. His further research yielded stories of classified World War II secrets, unexploded weapons and a reported UFO sighting on the island.

Cue the creepy, conspiratorial music.

What, did you think the U.S. government was the only one hiding "X-Files" type secrets?

"No, you guys didn't invent that," Dolby said with a laugh, in our phone chat last week about the Carnegie concert.

The Powers That Be were keen on preventing him from filming, though Dolby out-foxed them with a dawn raid on the island armed with networked spy cameras, and a radio-controlled Quadrocopter.

With the Quadrocopter -- or "drone" -- capturing aerial footage, "If I had stepped on one of those unexploded bombs they warned me about I would have had a fitting climax for my movie," Dolby said.

Dolby said his clandestine filming won't come as a surprise to anyone familiar with his five studio albums, including 2011's "A Map of the Floating City."

"In a lot of my lyrics I'm almost like in a parallel universe, or have cast myself as a dissident rebel on ham radio, fighting the resistance against the oppressive voice," Dolby said.

Dolby realizes lighthouses have become obsolete in an era of satellite-operated GPS systems, but he still hopes governments and preservation groups can work together to save them for their historic and intrinsic value.

"I think they're very symbolic," he said. "We feel shielded and comforted by them, and it's sad if we just let them crumble into the sea."

His English lighthouse will stand an estimated seven more years before beach erosion turns it into a pile of rubble at the bottom of sea.

Not a pretty picture for Dolby, who scored four Top-40 hits in his native land, most notably 1984's "Hyperactive!"

In America he's thought of as a one-hit wonder.

But what a hit that was, as "Blinded Me With Science" continues to charm as a geeky-cool slice of synth-pop.

The opening line, "It's poetry in motion," will send anyone from my generation time traveling back to 1982, yet the song is hipster enough to have been a ringtone in episodes of TV's "Breaking Bad" and "The Big Bang Theory."

Dolby said he visualized the song's video before writing the lyrics, wanting to set a story in a Home For Deranged Scientists. He grew up in a scholarly family with a healthy fascination for science.

"My dad was a professor of archaeology, so you see the stock from which I come from,' Dolby said.

Dolby performs "Blinded Me By Science" in his "Invisible Lighthouse" shows, using a midi controller synthesizer that looks like a small, strapless accordion with buttons.

"It's hooked up to my laptop and has pads that trigger samples, so I can play any type of song or sound effect I like," Dolby said.

He and his guitarist, Leyh, also conduct Q&A's with their crowds.

"We have fun with it," Dolby said.

"The Invisible Lighthouse" shows were spurred by private performances Dolby gave for friends while playing piano and spontaneously narrating his film.

"They all said it was a really special experience to be in the same room with the auteur of the film discussing his movie," Dolby said. "It's quite a novel thing."

Local residents can enjoy that same experience at Dolby's 8 p.m. Oct. 29 all-ages show. Tickets are $26 to $60.

"I mean there's no DVD or Blu-ray of this," Dolby said. "And you can't download it from Netflix."

THERE'S GOT TO BE A MORNING AFTER

Pittsburgh is bracing for life without a 40-foot rubber duck.

The Rubber Duck Project (notice the capital letters) that's been moored memorably at Point State Park the past month will float off into the sunset, ultimately to relocate in some other city craving a quirky photo op.

Today's your last chance to bid adieu to the over-sized art project though it can remain fresh in the minds of fans thanks to Leanne Regalla of Ambridge.

Regalla shot a music video filled with footage of the Rubber Duck to accompany her 2012 light-hearted folk song "I'm Just Ducky."

The video stars Regalla strumming a ukulele, magician David Lawrence doing tricks with a rubber duck, and 80 unabashed people, many of them Facebook friends who heeded Regalla's duck call and sent in photos of themselves posing with the four-story tall waterfowl. Wait'll you see the handsome stallion in the Pirates ballcap at the 1:56 mark.

Regalla wrote "I'm Just Ducky" as an ode to letting troubles roll off your back, like water rolls off ducks.

"I started writing songs for my second CD. People really liked 'Ducky' so I recorded it first, with plans to release it as a single as I finished up the rest of the album," she said.

But then the Rubber Duck came to Point State Park.

"I actually didn't put two and two together at first. My mom suggested that my song could be the theme song for the giant Pittsburgh rubber duck. I mentioned the idea to another musician friend and he said, 'Do it!'"

The "I'm Just Ducky" video logged 800 views in its first three days.

See it here.

MEET PAUL

Wooley Bully's continues to be a haven for touring Midwest musicians seeking a western Pennsylvania stage from which to share their original songs.

On Thursday, Paul Erdman of South Bend, Ind., will hold sway at the New Brighton bar. Showtime is 9 p.m. and there's no cover.

Erdman, an Americana-blues artist, has opened shows for national acts Cracker, Justin Moore and Red Wanting Blue.

Check out Erdman's straight-forward storytelling via the five songs he streams at reverbnation.com/paulerdman.

"He's one of the best young country rock guitar players you'll see, plus he's a great singer as well," said former collaborator Jay Wiley of local band The Hawkeyes.

(Scott Tady is The Times' entertainment editor. He can be reached at stady@timesonline.com)

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(c)2013 the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)

Visit the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.) at www.timesonline.com

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