24 February 2008

Patience is bitter, but its fruits are sweet.

...or so says Rousseau.  

As of 16 minutes from now, there will only be three more days before I can call up and ask about the fellowship.  On the one hand, I'm looking forward to that:  I'm justifiably irritated that my department wants my course descriptions for next fall, my bookstore wants my book order for next fall, but I have no idea whether or not I'm going to be here next fall. Plus, knowing that I had the fellowship would make it easier to live here in the near future -- I could move more easily through my days if I knew they were numbered.  On the other hand, lately I've been realizing that I just believe I'm going to get this fellowship, but I could in fact not be selected.  It has happened that the first-ranked person has been passed over.  So maybe waiting to hear is not so bad.  Of course, I won't know that until I hear.

Anyway, I decided to while away some of the remaining time by writing a post about New Order.  I've been listening to some of their old stuff lately, and it reminded me how affecting music can be.  I once tried to explain to my best friend an epiphany I'd had while listening to a Cure song, and she said, "You just get so much more out of music than I do."  I don't know if that's true, but it's certainly true that I get an enormous amount out of it. Truth be told, I think it has a greater effect on me even than literature, which I've made my career.  And this effect is most clearly displayed by New Order.

I didn't know who New Order were until I lived with my friend Jennifer for a year. 
I scarcely knew Jennifer before I moved in with her, so I didn't know that she had what was, for America in 1986, very unusual taste in music.  Jennifer's very favorite band was Joy Division.  She's the only person I've ever met who actually had a crush on Ian Curtis (that's him on the right.  I myself have always thought that Ian Curtis is one of the most nondescript people I've ever seen.  He's not unattractive, but he's not attractive, and to me he just looks like thousands of other ordinary English boys).  Of 
course, by this time Ian Curtis was dead, and Joy Division had become New Order...and Jennifer had all their albums (I think at the time that meant four).  The first thing she ever played me was "Temptation," off the Temptation ep.  

Now, I had already heard "Love Will Tear Us Apart" on my own, and I thought of it then what I think of it now:  that it was a fine song, but nothing to drool over.  Since I'd moved in with Jennifer she'd played me other Joy Division, and I certainly thought "She's Lost Control" was very good (although not as fantastic as I now think it is).  But Joy Division did not prepare me for New Order.  Ian Curtis has a very unusual voice for a singer of popular music, I know.  But "unusual" does not mean "plangent," and I found and find his monotone a little dull after the first couple of lines.  But Bernard Sumner!  I once read an interview with Peter Hook in which he described talking to 
his mother after Ian Curtis hanged himself and the band decided to continue on under a new name.  She said to him, "What will you do?"  And he said, "Bernard Dicken will be the singer."  To which she apparently replied, "But Bernard Dicken can't sing!"  If you listen to "Temptation," there's no arguing with that, and if you listen to later stuff you can see that, although he got a lot better, he never became what you'd call a singer.  Not that Ian Curtis was what you'd call a singer, either - but the two are totally different.  At least up until Technique Sumner sounded to me as if he was pitching his voice riskily high:  he always seemed to be singing slightly above his natural range, and cracking could be a mere hairsbreadth away.  The result of this, for some reason, was an undertone of anguish for me so emotionally raw that it grabbed on to my own raw emotion.  And Peter Hook's bass imitates and enhances that sense of anguish.  He plays so high up on the neck that it's actually slightly slightly painful to hear.  The combination of the two creates a tightly suppressed pressure in my stomach - which is where I feel music.

But "Temptation" has neither Sumner singing like that nor Hook playing like that, so that can't be the reason why I was entranced by the band from the first.  In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I think I paid attention to the song because the opening line is, "Oh, you've got green eyes," and I have green eyes.  But I suspect that what hooked me was that four-on-the-floor beat.  There's no mistaking "Temptation" for anything other than dance music, and the best kind of dance music:  the kind that forces your body to move whether or not your mind wants it to.  And if you listen to the lyrics of "Temptation" your mind will not want to dance.  This is a song in which a man seems to be mourning the human lot -- "Bolts from above hit the people down below;/People in this world really have nowhere to go./Oh, it's the last time, oh, it's the last time."  Even if this isn't an expression of sorrow, it's an utterance puzzling enough that you want to stop and think about it for a bit (the last time for or of what?).  But that utterance is set to a driving back beat that just, literally, moves you.  This construction is repeated in numberless New Order songs:  "Face-up" (in which Sumner screams, "Your  hair was long; your eyes was blue:/Guess what I'm gonna do to you?/Oh, how I cannot bear the thought of you!" over a poundingly complex drum line), "Perfect Kiss" (with its strange lyric about, apparently, suicide and guilt), "Love Vigilantes" (which Jennifer and I loved one summer, and played in the car whenever we drove anywhere)....  In fact, I would say it's their trademark (well, that and Hook's bass).

I think, honestly, that it's this combination that makes New Order affect me so strongly.  My body dances with happiness while my mind listens to those terrible sorrowful lyrics sung in that anguished voice, and my emotions are made miserable.  The result is a strange kind of catharsis -- I might even say a perfect catharsis, because my body performs a catharsis of happiness while my emotions are worked up to a pitch of intensely felt sorrow that is also released through the dancing.  "Temptation" was the first example of this, and it still remains the best and fullest.  There's a point close to the end of the song where Sumner sings:

Bolts from above hurt the people down below;
People in this world we have no place to go.
Bolts from above hurt the people down below;
People in this world we have no place to go.

And then, with his voice rising as if what he had to say was now intensely urgent,

Bolts from above hurt the people down below;
People in this world we have no place to go.
Oh, it's the last time; oh, it's the last time; 
Oh, it's the last time; oh, it's the last time; oh, it's the last time...

This point in the song is the closest to a Sufi transcendental experience I've ever had.  The lyric, combined with its music, becomes incantatory:  it sucks you into its moment as fully as possible.  Moreover, if you're dancing (and at that point I always am), you can release your head from you neck and snap it back and forth.  I'm quite sure this does or will do some damage to the brain stem, but the effect is to release me from my mind in some way, so that I am erased and become, for that moment, part of the song itself.  There's nothing outside the body moving to the music, and there's nothing moving inside the body but the music.  It's ecstacy, in both senses of the word.

How could poetry ever have anything on that?

(This doesn't work on the 7", by the way.  They've edited out one of the "bolts from above..." sections, so the cumulative lead-up is destroyed.)

Funnily, Jennifer and I have had some sort of strange cessation in/of our friendship, an unexplained trailing off.  But I'll never stop being thankful to her for this introduction.

Incidentally, my parents were shocked at the band's name.  They kept asking me if I knew what it meant, and they simply couldn't get over that a band would ever choose that name, or be successful once they had it.

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