Him Again 

Howard Jones is an '80s icon, Utah stalker and a one-man gateway to synth-pop's glories.

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Mountaintop pilgrimages to listen to charismatic male figures invoking quasi-spiritual feel-goodisms are pretty common in some circles. But for me, it was new, the result of my giving in to the zealous peer pressure of some Ogden friends who promised a weekend of fun and frivolity if I only joined them on their journey.

I can't say I became a full-blown convert that summer, but the unseasonably frigid show in the mid-'80s, at the long-defunct Park West ski resort in Park City, opened my eyes to the Church of HoJo and its multitudes of Utah adherents.

HoJo refers to Howard Jones, but you already knew that. The diminutive British synth-pop pioneer has been visiting Zion virtually non-stop ever since he arrived in 1983 with a monster-sized hit in "New Song," a multi-platinum album (in England at least) in Human's Lib, and a strange bald man in chains dancing around his videos and his concert stage. Besides the MoTab, The Osmonds and Kurt Bestor, it's hard to think of a more distinctly "Utah" music act than Jones (although 311 has been doing their damnedest).

That show was epic in my development as a Utah music fan. And it was huge for Jones, too, he says during a phone call from his current tour with Barenaked Ladies and OMD. The response he got from the audiences here pushed him to greater heights elsewhere; Jones tallied 15 Top 40 hits during his heyday, selling nearly 10 million albums in the process and earning a global audience. But those Park City shows still stand out.

"From those very early shows I did at Park West when it was a venue, it's a connection I made with people then," Jones tells City Weekly. "It's historical, really."

As a teenaged punk rocker, the Jones show opened my eyes to another world. I was familiar with the man's cavalcade of MTV hits that followed "New Song," tunes like "Pearl in the Shell," "Life in One Day" and "Things Can Only Get Better." But watching a guy perform behind banks of keyboards, essentially solo (save for that bald mime), and seeing the rabid reaction of 10,000 or more people clued me in that there was life outside my beloved guitar-bass-drums bands like Black Flag or The Replacements.

If Jones was a bit saccharine for me, his Park West show was a worthy gateway to bands I still listen to now, more than two decades later, that I never would have given the time of day: New Order, Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears.

Jones has continued making new music—all of it piano and keyboard-based, naturally—but he's not a slave to the hits. He's managed to parlay his dedicated fan base into an army of folks willing to go hear him play an all-acoustic show, or take part in multimedia explorations like last year's Engage DVD/CD and tour.

At the same time, he embraces his catalog, and is always game to play one of Britain's huge '80s festivals, knock out 40 minutes of non-stop hits as he's opening the Barenaked Ladies tour, or float on a retro-themed cruise. Generally dismissive of most modern pop he hears on the radio, he says, "It feels quite generic at the moment." He's proud of the sounds prominent in the Reagan years.

"It was a departure from the '60s and '70s," Jones says. "We had videos to use, so visuals were important. Style and fashion were incorporated much more into the whole thing. And there were a lot of different genres coexisting. There was heavy rock, there was indie rock, there was electronic, there was pop. It was all happening at the same time, and to be dismissive of that music is to be dismissive of a whole generation of people."

My generation, actually. And those coexisting genres are all represented in my music collection to this day. I'm sure there's even some Howard Jones in there somewhere. That first time I saw him at Park West was my first concert in Utah, and I'd go on to see more great shows there—from the Ramones to Sting to Love and Rockets—before it closed.

I can look back at that night, and my biggest regret is most likely whatever atrocious fashion I was wearing at the time (there was probably a mullet involved). Jones doesn't share my hesitation, telling me there's not a song, haircut or fashion choice he dismisses from back in the day.

"Honestly, and I really mean this, I don't, because it's what I believed in at the time," Jones says. "I took risks. I didn't back off from taking risks. Obviously, I'm looking at myself as a younger man, but I'm proud of the history. I know a lot of people are not, but I'm totally cool with it. Maybe I'm just weird."

Aren't we all?

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