Men Without Hats dream of aliens

The road tales were fun. Now it’s time to conduct another microscopic examination of another seemingly trivial matter in the world of rock bands – the band name. This week’s guest: Men Without Hats, a new wave blast from the past this Friday at the Century Casino.

The very process of naming a band goes against all common sense. Band names themselves are gibberish. How can you sum up your music, style and attitude in a few simple words? You can’t – and yet you must. The band name must be clever, it must be memorable, it must look cool on a big sign outside the concert hall. The name like “Closed for Renovations” is not recommended. “Anthrax” is apparently OK, though.

Once the name is picked and advertised, the band is stuck with it forever – unless by superhuman effort one can brand a new handle. Famous case: Finger Eleven, formerly known as the Rainbow Butt Monkeys.

Big deal, it’s just the name of the band, you say? That’s what they all say. Rock band nomenclature is nonetheless a fascinating topic that – like a good road story – can reveal a lot about the personality and character of the artists, sometimes without even being aware of it. So many angles: from how the name was chosen to how the band members dealt with possible effects of said ridiculous name – including attempts to repeatedly explain what they were thinking when they came up with Rainbow Butt Monkeys – to how the band’s musical direction may have been shaped by its own name. If your name is Ludacris, it’s got to affect your writing.

Men Without Hats singer Ivan Doroschuk kindly agreed to be the first subject for WHO NAMED THE BAND? He says the name came to him in a dream: “The world was being attacked by Martians and they had these big vacuum cleaners on these vessels and the ships had these big logos, too. And they were sucking people up and I realized after a while that they were only sucking up people with hats. The only ones left were men without hats.”

No, he insists he was not under the influence of psychedelic drugs at the time.

Ivan compares himself to Trent Reznor as it applies to the working relationships in Men Without Hats – since his band is just one guy plus whoever he happens to hire (Men Without Hats has had about 30 members in its three decade history), so he didn’t have to get approval for his wacky new band name. But the musicians liked it and so did the record company.

“They all thought it was great,” Ivans says. “They felt it was the most appropriate name for what we were trying to do. It was the beginning of the punk and new wave era and they wanted something that could mean pretty much anything to anybody.”

Runner up: Electric Warthog. Also, Spleen. Men Without Hats easily won out. The band’s massive hit Safety Dance of course has gone onto become ubiquitous in pop culture, poked and paid homage to in numerous television shows, including The Simpsons and Family Guy.

As for the name, Men Without Hats has presented no problems at all, Ivan is happy to report, unlike situations where the legal owner of the name moves on. Then you get acts like “Paul Rodgers of Bad Company” or BTO without either Bachman or Turner or two bands that could call themselves “Supertramp.”

The only band name confusion for Ivan came in his previous band, Heaven 17 (from Clockwork Orange), circa mid-‘70s.

“We sent a demo to Virgin records and then we broke up. A year later another band from England named Heaven 17 put out a record. We always wondered: Did they see our demo?”