The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Wednesday, July 17, 2002
"You wondered where my wild ideas come from.

I have often been truly unhappy and miserable as only a human being can be, but I have also been infinitely happy - and so it is that I am able to cast aside suicidal thoughts.

It takes courage to die, but even more to live. And to you, too, happiness will offer its roses, soft moonlight, and the sun's golden rays. You are so young!"

(Excerpt from letter from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch to Emilie Mataja, 2 January 1875)

" imagination is a seething thing that swims in raging waters, always bubbling, hissing, wild and restless, and he spoke to my imagination, whirled it around still more wildly, fanned its flames into a sea of fire with his burning breath..."
(Emilie Mataja, diary excerpt, undated)

"I so like to listen to the storm desperately howling as though moaning for the release it cannot find."
(Excerpt from letter from Mataja to Masoch, undated, autumn 1875)

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .

When I feel such a way, the Virginia Woolf option always seems the method I would choose; just hold your breath and succumb amid surroundings of former beauty.

But what if you grow old? Camden High Street is fine when you're 25 and learning about the world through its multiculturally inhaled dust, but as life proceeds one needs more air, even if it means slipping away down Parkway, through the Georgian terraces astride Regent's Park and finally ascending Primrose Hill. Or venturing through the parallel flatlands of East Anglia, stopping to meditate at the astonishing view of Cromer's seafront as you descend upon it, conveniently missing out the Pier Theatre wherein Ted Rogers was forced to eke out a meagre living in his last years.

Case Study 1
Do Saint Etienne still leg it to Out on the Floor of a Saturday lunchtime and rifle through its increasingly decreasing stock to uncover that one forgotten Joe Meek produced B-side which would open a new aesthetic gateway? Or do they just idly mp3/Ebay their way to the same thing at Mario's Internet Cafe? One thing's for sure; they could never make Foxbase Alpha 2 now, just as Lydon could never go back to Finsbury Park.

The whole of Saint Etienne's career has seemed to consist of a gradual yet graceful deceleration; from the ecstatic Brian Wilson collides with Northern Soul nudges the Aphex Twin along the way of the original Foxbase Alpha - one of the GREAT London albums, to the still happy but more considered admittance of doubt in So Tough, to the final resting place, on a seashore bestrided by tankers, of Tiger Bay, one of the greatest and most final albums ever made, truly in and of the West.

Where for them to go after that? Some kind of suspended afterlife, perhaps? Certainly not to the rather pointless Good Humor (their first major error, as "back to basics" always is, especially when they weren't even your basics to begin with).

But let's skip that red herring and proceed to what is so far their last album, Sound of Water - interestingly, in the US it came out on SubPop. Using various avant-indie costermongers such as Sean O'Hagan and To Rococo Rot, one would expect a bit of an undifferentiated worthy stew, rather than the unexpected and shattering poignancy which Jon Brookes, aka King of Woolworth's, found in some stock High Llamas chord changes and manipulated beautifully in "Bakerloo."

But no, this is a different sort of reconciliation.

The whole record is quiet, hushed as if trying to hide from the world, or trying to communicate while nailed into a coffin. The double meaning of the opening ambient skirl "Late Morning." Cracknell's unmodulated but quietly desperate voice breathing its way through "Heart Failed In The Back of a Taxi." And on it goes, a sorrow achieved only when one realises that Caroline's nos were final. "Sycamore," "Don't Back Down," "Just A Little Overcome," "Boy is Crying" - an embracing yet simultaneously alienating sequence of songs (in the real sense of the term), rather like what one hopes Bacharach could be capable of now without the expired windbag Costello obstructing his view.

The heartbreaking harmonic modulation from verse to chorus of "Downey, Ca" reminiscent of the quiet grace of Gallagher and Lyle's "Breakaway" or "Love on the Airwaves."

The jarring glitch intro which ever so naturally flows into the epic meditation "How We Used To Live." SAIL AWAY. Do you remember how we used to live? Cracknell pleads at the end, having gone through Brian Wilson on Sarah Records balladry, restrained house beats, bebop changes; all xeroxed 20 times over, being recalled desperately as one's own life fades. Before the machine takes over.

"I'll write a letter/Don't know who I am" (Gillian Welch)

"The Place at Dawn" - an end, like the end of Roxy Music's Avalonwhich blends perfectly with the opening of Brian Eno's Ambient 4: On Land - the two great parallel explorers find, after a decade apart, that they've arrived at the same conclusion.

Case Study 2
Chris Rea also wants to sail away. On what is so far his last album, King of the Beach, he sings about little else. Ostensibly, this record would appear to be an extended holiday snapshot, the songs for which were written on the Parrot Cay, Turks and Cacos islands in January 2000 - in other words, escape: escape from the winter, escape from the sales (sale away?). The record has to be taken in tandem with the rather despairing conclusion of his previous one, Road To Hell Part 2 (which included, amongst other things, the astonishing and unambiguous "What's Wrong With E?").

So he has escaped. But to what?

"Let your fighting scars heal in the sun...there's nobody here now except this salty blue day...whatever I was, well I'm not that now. I tell you because it may help you somehow."

That's from the opening title track. Fairly standard midzone rocker (alas, the preponderance of guitar riffery fails to provide an angst-ridden counterpoint to the apparent resignation of the lyrics - just gets in the way. It's a delicate balance - and over aberrations like "Guitar Street" I shall draw a respective veil).

Next is the single "All Summer Long" a beefed-up revisit of "On The Beach" which is my own personal Winter Gardens photograph and which I couldn't possibly hope to justify to you, as its beauty and art relate only to what I find in it and what I have derived from it in my life. But is he speaking metaphors here?

"Look ahead/There's nothing but blue sky/Kiss the rain/And laugh as it goes by/Learn to smile/While everyone else cries..."

"Turn it up" repeat the backing singers, a lobotomised Greek chorus.

Then "Sail Away" the song, a graceful ballad about loss, followed by the misleadingly jaunty "Stay Beautiful" which begins with the cheery image of "your million torn up moments/of the rarest happiness/each one a dancing snowflake/a piece of memory."

And as it progresses through "The Bones of Angels," "The Memory of a Good Friend" and the terminal "Sandwriting" (refrain: "let the wind and high tide take it away/each white gold grain that made up your name - yes this is all you are my friend/some shapes upon the sand/of white gold grain/washed and blown away/with the memory of your name." Or a box containing a single bone chip, perhaps. This is a fatalistic surrender to death comparable (if less immediately perceivable) with his soundalike Rob Dougan. There is, of course, no real sun, sky or beach - the track "Waiting for a Blue Sky" makes that clear with its "I'll be here through the wind and rain/Don't care what anybody says." But at least he's staying here, staying around.

Postscript 1
It is of relevance that Rea was, at the time of his trip to the Bahamas, recuperating from illness, having almost been killed by a collapsed colon

Postscript 2
The song "God Gave Me An Angel" is musically Dire Straits B-side all the way, I'm afraid, but the lyrics are worth quoting in themselves. In any case, most of these lyrics were originally written as poems.

"I was never born with the face of a movie star
I was never blessed with an easy load along the way
I have taken the wrong turning
So many times I can't remember
But one thing I have for sure
I can always smile and say:

God gave me an angel with a smiling face
God gave me an angel - this I know
My churches are all empty and I'm guilty every day
But God gave me an angel anyway

Talk of being good and what became of me
Do I hide my head in shame and turn away?
I have taken the wrong turning
So many times I can't remember
But God gave me an angel anyway."

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .

Two pieces of music which can reduce me to tears:

Before redemption must come loss - Young Ones by Leila (closing track of album Courtesy of Choice)
A Kraftwerk-does-Satie waltz in two parts. The first part is playful, with synthesised clarinets/melodicas punctuated by child sound effects and a male voice chuckling "Just a young one...a little confused!" Idyllic early childhood - the opportunity to nurture new life, to watch it develop. Light.

Then the clarinets/melodicas suddenly move out of synch and quickly fade out, as though extinguished.

A new melody comes in - sad, formal, aching with loss. Bereft people skating on a pond at 4:48 am. The tune echoes and redoubles as if to underline the horror. Then it fades out in resignation.

It transposes and fuses with my loss - the future which was so horribly taken away from us on 25th August 2001.

BUT THEN AN ANGEL ECHOES IN MY EAR reminding me of wisdom from 18 years ago:

"When you come to me
I'll question myself again
Is this grip on life still my own

When every step I take
Leads me so far away
Every thought should bring me closer home

And there you stand
Making my life possible
Raise my hands up to heaven
But only you could know

My whole world stands in front of me
By the look in your eyes
By the look in your eyes
My whole life stretches in front of me
Reaching up like a flower
Leading my life back to the soil

Every plan I've made's
Lost in the scheme of things
Within each lesson lies the price to learn

A reason to believe
Divorces itself from me
Every hope I hold lies in my arms

And there you stand
Making my life possible
Raise my hands up to heaven
But only you could know

My whole world stands in front of me
By the look in your eyes
By the look in your eyes
My whole life stretches in front of me
Reaching up like a flower
Leading my life back to the soil"

The title track of Brilliant Trees by David Sylvian. Performed by Sylvian, Steve Jansen, Jon Hassell, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Holger Czukay; four cultures fusing. As with "Rawalpindi Blues" on Escalator, the song eventually mutates into a long devotional ambience and finally gives way to a resolved major third with occasional flattened fifths to remind us of doubt: OMD's Sealand seen from the other side of the shore.

And when I enter the water I will not drown, for I know that wherever I land there will be a hand stretched out, waiting for me, ready to take me in.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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