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

Thursday, July 24, 2003
WORDS AND MUSIC BY PAUL MORLEY
(Improvisations in the same way that Archie Shepp improvises on “Girl From Ipanema”)
(Or as John Coltrane or Big Brovaz improvise on “My Favourite Things”)

How the fuck did he know?

After Laura died, about the only piece of music I could listen to was Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting In A Room. I listened to the harmonics of the solitary man – no longer solitary only because his tape recorder dictates so - with a view to drowning myself in them. Because I could only listen to multiple replications of my own voice, inside myself, to drown out what I dreaded could otherwise be audible. If I listened deeply enough, I figured, it would save the walk to Port Meadow. Virginia Woolf’s River Ouse by proxy.

One Sunday morning I imagined that I was still listening to Mr Lucier sitting in his room but discovered that I was in fact listening to “I Dream A Highway” by Gillian Welch. So similar in its structure and approach – that is, the need to approach an approximation of infinity. Welch’s highway can go on forever just as the remnant fleet of Lucier’s voices can (and do, if you let him/her/them). But Gillian Welch’s highway was a way out for me; a way back to music, a way back into the world.

In this city which Paul Morley constructs as he goes along in the third volume of his autobiography Words And Music - Ask says: do you have to ask? - Nothing cries: everything – he has opted for the twin towers of I Am Sitting In A Room and “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” to mark how high music can rise, dominate, mother and succour. Kylie is not on the cover of the book, except for her presumed shadow, looming over the Camberwick Green-done-by-Julian Opie picturescape (surely it cannot be Brian Eno?), but drives throughout the book towards the city of which she herself is the culmination and purpose, a city imagined by Morley but which could not hope to exist without Kylie. Perhaps when she reaches the other end of the city she will prove to be the Bartlebooth of pop; turning back, she douses the city in a soluble chemical, leaving a pristine sheet of Whatman paper in its place. In this case, Morley is the city’s Winckler; he has been allotted the duty of cutting it up into interesting and sometimes soluble jigsaw puzzles. Does Minogue fit with Mis-teeq? No, the hue deludes you; in fact she clicks in right next to Oval, nearer to Oval than to Mud at any rate. But only because the jigsaw has been dissembled in such a way as the puzzler dictates.

And why, in any of these jigsaws, in the hundred thousand or so words which Morley devotes to “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head,” is the centre of the song never mentioned? The black hole into which, if we’re insufficiently careful, all of music is likely to collapse:

“There’s a dark secret in me.
Don’t leave me locked in your heart.”

Now we are going to have to think very seriously indeed about this “dark secret,” about this sequence as a whole. Note how the music audibly slows down at this point, as if to pause for breath, as if to let the mask slip for just a few seconds (cf. the five seconds of His Girl Friday where Cary Grant lets the horror become visible: “The last man who said that to me was Archie Leach…”). Unless of course the dark secret is stealthily in the background of the book/Kylie’s drive as a whole. Unless of course the dark secret that, in imagining Kylie’s untimely death at the end of her throbbing ride, Morley is really writing about Marc Bolan.

Unless of course the dark secret is New Order. Joy Division and New Order played an indispensable part in Nothing - and you can interpret that however you like – and naturally take a back seat (or at least sit in those back seats not already occupied by LaMonte Young or members of Kraftwerk) in this new book. However, New Order come out when they’re needed – “Blue Monday” as the valediction/culmination/initiation of something very central to pop music, Kylie’s legit bootleg of “Can’t Get You…” and “Blue Monday” cementing that importance and tying all the threads together. Perhaps the dark secret is that there was the option of quoting “In A Lonely Place” (“Someday we will die in your dreams”) at the song’s climax and maybe making things too clear. Would I have liked “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” more, or less, or differently, if I hadn’t known, indeed grown up with, Mike Westbrook’s “Can’t Get It Out Of My Mind”? Do I actually need to call up “Paul Morley” here, into The Church Of Me, to seek advice and counselling?

You should be so lucky.
I’ve got to be certain. I was extremely touched by my cameo appearance on page 120 as one of the…
For God’s sake don’t say “keepers of the flame.”
…I’m sure Thomas the Manchester lover will be pleased to see he’s been mentioned too.
It’s strangely reassuring to have lived long enough to see the proof that, actually, I was right. About so many things. And now it’s all being taken as gospel.
I envy the fact that, no longer being a “rock writer,” you now have the free time simply to listen to the realisation of what you predicted and planned 20 years ago, without the pressing need – or indeed any need – to have to write about or criticise it. It’s a luxury I’m not sure I have any more, and I’d quite like to get it back. You see, for the best part of 20 years that’s how it was with me. I had my audience – Laura, the only audience I wanted or needed. I felt no need to become a “music writer.” So in a Magnolia kind of sense, I’ve regressed back to about 20 or 21.
You are clearly not cut out for Uncut. Why is your writing there so crap?
I know, I know, but as Paul Eddington says in The Good Life: “It pays for all the goodies.” It’s impossible to express an opinion – in any event, Your Own Opinion – in any music publication now. Give everything some stars – no matter that my two stars for Beyoncé may count for much more than Barney Hoskyns’ four stars for Goldfrapp; glorified ticksheets for lapsed 35-year-old Clash fans. In any case, there’s an agenda to my Uncut writing: note the deliberate flatness, the endless repetitions in which I purposely indulge; it’s a ghastly ghostly parody and undermining of the flatness of this kind of writing. To work it towards some neutral point of post-amoebic anti-existence, and then maybe extricate all the studium from the world, or at least from writing about music, as opposed to writing because of music.
Yet you continue to insist that Church of Me is not a blog about music.
Music is used as a therapeutic tool, a life-saver. You might consider it as the expression of a lonely and frightened widower staring intently at every record in his collection, defying it to mean something again, or mean something different, in order to avoid pouring paraffin over the lot of them. Primarily The Church Of Me is a series of post-life conversations with Laura, the weblog as ouija board/confessional booth. Secondly there is the struggle to avoid the truth that music, though never a replacement for humanity, remains completely central to my determination to continue existing. Nothing has been more important in these last two years. “Music is the only saviour” says Gail Brand, whom I would trust with my life.
And there’s another thing…
Why can’t people see that pop would be even better without the crassly tasteful careerists, if we actually had Gail Brand and Chan Marshall as primary potentates rather than Goldfrapp or Topley-Bird? (Clue: anyone who calls their album “Quixotic” isn’t) Why, in essence, cannot Lunge and Cat Power be allowed to be pop? Because they are. Really.
Anyone I should have included?
I presume that the absence of Dollar and Albert Ayler from Words And Music was intentionally so that I can use them as the dual starting points for my own forthcoming variation on the theme: The Next Five Minutes After Death. “Give Me Back My Heart” and “Ghosts (Second Variation).” Although a more personal duo for me would be George Crumb’s “Music For A Summer Evening” and ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky.” 1978. I was in love at the time. It was not reciprocated.
Dollar and Ayler are there of course. Any city has too many buildings to analyse comprehensively in a book of this nature. It was not intended that this should have been pop Perec or pop Pevsner.
It is of course correct that these other books of yours have, in a McGoohan sense, no need to be written, because – as with you and Lucier – the image I have of Eighty-8 or 132 is so much richer and perverted than what any realities might offer. Like the lost books in Prospero’s Books - they are great precisely because they are lost and thus unspoilt by you or I having read them. Eighty-8 in particular – that list of records was, in many ways, the soundtrack to my childhood.
You really couldn’t have done any of this without me, could you?
David Thomson and Max Harrison also had important roles to play. But it’s useless and joyless to deny it. Can you imagine how important it was to a 17-year-old to be told that the first Was (Not Was) album was pop’s Escalator Over The Hill? That review changed everything. My dark secret is that it may have kidnapped my life.
But was I really the greatest?
It becomes clearer with every new year that Paul Morley cannot be beaten. He’s the undefeated champ, the man who illuminated the shallowness of nearly everyone else who has attempted to write ABOUT music in the literal sense – i.e. creeping around it and pretending that it doesn’t really exist, or that cinema is there in its place.
The greatest practitioner of a shallow art?
You said yourself how frustrating it was that it was so easy to be the greatest music writer in the world. Why isn’t it harder? Why aren’t there more of you?
There certainly are far more of me now…Heronbone, Ingram, Nixed, Carmody, Southall, Cozen…it could be said, Marcello, in fact here I am saying it, that now you even have children of your own.
And I’ve only been at it for two years. How easy and frustrating is that?
That’s not really why you did it, though.
B S Johnson – “I’ll get it all down, mate.” I had to leave evidence that the Laura I knew existed, because here was a life and, well, here was a couple, and this is what they were like and this is how they lived and here’s what music had to do with all of it, which was pretty much everything. So I couldn’t have done any of it without Laura.
Metal Machine Music?
It’s there, as of course it had to be. Linked horizontally between Tubular Bells and Branca’s Ascension, linked vertically to the KLF. You can’t really understand the KLF without first having heard, listened to and lived with Metal Machine Music. And I couldn’t have understood anything without first having heard, listened to and lived with Escalator Over The Hill.
Your writing on which significantly appears on Stylus rather than on CoM.
It’s an absent centre. Laura, and to an extent my dad, of course are THE absent centre. But the Stylus piece will be in the book version of CoM; it would be meaningless without it. Or indeed my Freaky Trigger piece on Pulp. Or indeed the things from ILM and ILE which I cannot afford to lose; the 1982 piece (central), Jools Holland, Spiritualized, Perry Como, childhood and cheapness.
So, what do you think?
The source – from and towards. Would I have liked Words And Music so much, or differently, or more, or less, had I not known Mike Westbrook’s Metropolis as the dark secret in the heart of Petula Clark’s “Downtown”? Had I not read Constant Lambert at an impressionable age? Had the Third Eye Centre in April 1980 not taught me that John Stevens actually was the centre of everything? And what about The People Band?
Is it the greatest book ever written about music?
It might just be the greatest book ever written because of music.
Am I Nabokov yet?
One has to keep one’s options open.


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