Genre: Pop Rock
Preceded by: The Point! (1971)
Followed by: Son of Schmilsson (1972)
Related to: not available yet
Not in any way obstructed by the open curtains, the bright morning sun suddenly intruded the room very forcefully, and soon put a ruthless spotlight on my face, changing black into orange. Meanwhile, a tiny dwarf seemed to walk through my hair, tapping on my forehead with his tiny hammer in a very accurate rhythm, perhaps celebrating the fact that I’d just successfully eaten an ashtray. Anyway, according to my morning routine I grasped at the spot where my glass of water is likely to stand, but there was no glass, neither a place where it could have been. I had no choice but to open up my eyes, the first thing I saw being the ugly as hell tablecloth that had served as my blanket. Our blanket, as it soon became clear that there was a soaked woman beside me, also reasonably skinny and therefore allowing this small old couch to be our bed. Slowly it began to dawn on me that we eventually ended up in Johnny’s house last night; I got up and chased after some water.
Johnny was already sitting at the kitchen table, in his bathrobe, with a glass of milk and a cigarette. We wished each other good morning by means of a mutual smile that didn’t need any words, I gobbled up half a liter of water and went searching for Paul in the wood breathing house. He was in a room at the backside, lying next to a woman at least twice his age. I threw some water in his face.
P: Richard? … Where the fuck are we?
R: Johnny’s house.
P: Johnny’s house? Who the fuck is Johnny?
R: Johnny Niles!
P: Shiiiiit. Who’s this woman?
R: OK, so at least it’s not your mother. We raised hell with Johnny last night.
P: Shit man, what time is it? I gotta let the people know I’m gonna be late!
R: You go be all you can be, man. We’re in the kitchen.
The kitchen was meanwhile wrapped up in smoke, and Johnny had treated himself with the first beer of the day. I put on the white record that was lying next to his record player and joined him for breakfast. Some minutes later, Paul stumbled in.
P: OK, can somebody tell me what happened last night?
J: So Miss Alzheimer couldn’t remember, could she?
P: Fuck you, Johnny.
R: You called me yesterday evening, asking me if I could drop by. When I arrived, you were howling along some completely over the top seventies production, like a freakin’ teenager, telling me that you could not live without her, that kind of shit you know. You said that she had left once again, and that ‘it was very lonely at the bottom of your existence’, really, really sad, man. So I called Johnny, who just got back from London.
P: Brilliant plan man, for my life wasn’t worth saving anyway?
J: Hey, fuck you man. And apparently, she’s breaking your heart, so fuck her. Man, I brought you my best bottle of whisky.
R: He surely did. It totally got you over it, and Johnny took us for a ride across town afterwards.
P: Great, you really wanted to get me killed.
J: Hey, sometimes an idea is just too good for it to be spoiled by responsibility. By the way, it totally cleared your head. You kept on talking about all those people we drove along, all looking very frustrated, depressed, and even angry, and having nothing to say to each other. We talked about how you could read the problems from all people’s faces nowadays, how tired everybody seemed to be from having to look at each other, diverting their glance when they pass by.
Eventually, we drove to the top of the hill to see them all, and the rest of the city, in one view. We had a couple of reefers and from what I remember, I was staring for half an hour at a nocturnal breeze and a lovely moonbeam, chasing each other through the city’s airspace, really fabulous. Could I perhaps offer you something, Paulie? There’s milk, vodka, some beers.
P: Thanks John, but my head is still exploding.
J: Which is exactly why I’m offering. The cause is the cure, man. Take a beer, put some vodka in it and drink it altogether.
P: Well all right. But where the hell do these women come from?
R: We left the car behind at the hill and walked to the valley below. Some people were having a campfire at the lakeshore, so we joined them for a couple of drinks and went swimming with these women. Two of them are sleeping it off in this house now.
J: They took us to some roadhouse bar, where you ran into this, well, very experienced lady. You were really drunk as hell and kept screaming ‘Rock me all night long!’ at her. Shiiit, did I have good laugh out there. You know Paulie, back in her youth, let’s say the early fifties, those things still had a completely different meaning.
R: Shit man, is he really throwing up in your sink?
J: Fuck that, gimme a cigarette.
Preceded by: Radio-Activity (1975)
Followed by: The Man-Machine (1978)
Related to: not available yet
Good morning boys and girls, take your history books out and open it again at chapter 23: ‘Europe: Endless? (150-50 B. OWG)’. Put yourself in a comfortable position and switch your focus to maximum power, as this chapter presents itself as all-comprehensive and will be treated without any break. So Maxine, put away that walkman and listen together with the rest of the group carefully to the following sound fragment.
Sweet. So what did you hear guys? How could you link it with what we saw last week? Mima?
Artificial, fictitious sounds. But nevertheless somehow recognizable. It was not all organic, notwithstanding it did have a certain kind of verve in it… Last time we spoke about how the population in new urban areas started to grow, surrounded by machines and industry. They must have become acquainted with a whole new range of sounds they’d never heard before.
Absolutely. The European continent was developing on various domains at an enormous high pace, one that was never seen before. What you heard was a nice example of cross-pollination, an example of how culture was fed by the economic and technological world it was created in. Those technological innovations of course also greatly influenced the sociological domain, what to think for example about the rise of the high-speed train? You should realize that free of charge flying for everybody was not introduced till 60 B. OWG, so this train really was the first-rate way to visit and discover all those new countries during the early years. Travelling quick from metropolis to metropolis, suddenly it became reality with this miraculous machine. All those borders between all those former different countries seemed to disappear aboard of this train, and the New Europe seemed to be one infinite entity. Nationalities that were at physical war with each other for about 95% of the time during the previous gazillion years, wasn’t it great that they all dissolved in this one, big, promising European identity now? What it certainly promised was prosperity. Prosperity, welfare and an unlimited wealth for everybody. It was the fulfillment of the last part of this promise that proved to become the greatest battle for Europe in the decades to follow.
The continent seemed to wallow in elegance and decadence, which indeed became reality for a certain amount of the New Europeans, while it was destined to remain an imagination for others. At this point, history offered two options: ensure that this balance will be restored again or ensure that the boundaries between reality and imagination become invisible. The last one was picked, supported by the infinite opportunities that the digital revolution now had to offer.
Boys and girls, and this is really important, when a person doesn’t have an awful lot to be proud of or happy about in real life, you give this person a mirror. Obviously this won’t change his reality, but what does it matter when you’ll only have to see and show your reflection? This reflection can be completely adapted to your likings, eventually becoming a totally different result. After a while, it doesn’t matter anymore how you perceive things yourself, but only how others perceive you.
This is exactly where we situate the origins of the so-called ‘dummie-mass’, that would persistently ensure the stability of the young and ambitious continent during the following decades. Called after synthetic dolls that were used to sell certain products and their accompanying ideas, the dummies were considered not to be able to think for themselves any longer. The only thing the dummies were expected to do, was to utter that which was put in first, hereby permanently striving after an enormous uniformity with its congeners. That’s why they often speak about ‘the human being as flawless minimalistic pop-art’ when talking about this era. Are there any questions?
Who actually was the creator of the sound fragment we heard?
Well, the artist was officially never discovered, but according to unofficial research he should have been a pre-European, Austrian composer who lived a quite enigmatic life, as a result of which there’s very little known about him. All right, next week we’ll see how Europe evolves towards 1 B. OWG, with the interchangeable relation between humans and robots and the rise of a new source of power: control of data.
Genre: Folk Jazz Soul
Preceded by: Hard Nose the Highway (1973)
Followed by: A Period of Transition (1977)
Related to: Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
I already ran into him on the first day of my stay, during a short hike around the guest house, the first evening after arriving. It approached me against a background of nightfall and lush broadleaf trees, this bowed silhouette with large, black hat. I politely saluted him ‘Good evening.’ (greeting passers-by is always one of the first social corrections a city dweller makes after leaving his natural habitat), and it grumbled something incomprehensible.
I saw him again the next morning, when he shuffled into the breakfast room. He queued up, decorated with black sunglasses, looked down when the waitress was serving his British delicacies, and growled something when she asked if the gentleman would prefer two or three sausages. He seated at the table next to mine and started the processing of his plate carbohydrates. A short break was inserted halfway, when he took a sip of his coffee and asked me without giving a look: “Here for hiking?”. “Mainly for the pretty women”, I said while nodding towards the table opposite to ours, where a number of devouring creatures had plumped down, whose ancestors were at the time wisely left behind on the island by the Vikings. He looked at me, as far as that was possible from behind the sunglasses, and something that could pass for a smile appeared on his face. “If you would like to make a long hike, I leave one hour after breakfast”, he said.
One hour and eighteen minutes later, I was waiting at the entrance of the guest house in my comfortable hence completely tasteless outfit, when the former shadow appeared. The black hat, dark sunglasses, long coat and black boots passed me by without a word and after a brief moment of astonishment I started to follow him. The glorious woods of the Green Country were reached quickly due to his high pace, and I took the risk of asking a question. Yes, he was indeed well acquainted with the area, already coming here in his youth, lying around the river on cool summer nights. I was still trying to paint that picture in my head, constantly walking one meter behind him, while he deliberately told more. How he kept returning here with friends and women, offering them the perfect setting for endless conversations about literature and poetry. Countless times had he walked these tracks with a girlfriend of that time, who he had met during one of his sparse social escapades at Miss Lucy’s. I’d already read about this place and its notorious binges in the brochure that the owner of the guest house had given me, being mentioned as one of the main attractions in the region. However, she left for the US to pursue a career in show business and he’d never seen her since.
After a while we arrived at a small crossroads, where he decided to have a short break, not fully to my dismay considering the shape I was in. He asked where I was from. “From the city”, I said. He repeated those last two words, but this time accompanied by a cynical undertone, while he offered his whiskey flask. “I also lived in the city for a while. Never liked it. Too many people that I actually didn’t want to get to know, in an environment that is completely constructed on reason and ratio. Never a proper view at the stars, too much light.”… “I always remained a stranger in my own town, got the feeling that I could no longer trust anyone after some affairs. Danish or sandwich?”. I opted for the danish, we carefully ate our lunch in silence, he blew his nose and grumbled “Geronimo” before taking off again.
I was taking in the astonishing nature and asked my guide after the length of our undertaking, initially answered by some silence. “People waste too much time by asking too many stupid questions. Just make sure you reach a point where you learn something you’ll remember the rest of your life. What’s your greatest sin?”, he asked. “A general disappointment in the entire humanity”, I said. The Hat remained silent, while The Boots drudged on through a long mud trail. The next hill (up and down) was also consumed in silence, he just looked behind him once, and like if he was amused by the visibly weary look on my face, he started to whistle while accelerating just a tiny bit.
He sipped another time in the valley and he actually started to talk again. “When distrust becomes destructive, it manifests itself as the impossibility to appreciate anything at all. Those people end up as collector’s items in museums that nobody visits.” We walked on and I hoped for another short break when he opened up his bag again, but that proved to be wishful thinking when he handed over a last snack while carrying on. “Always remember that you’re part of humanity yourself too, so there must be something good about it.”, he said while our path met the river again. He stopped and spoke: “We’re at your point. To get back home again, you just keep walking alongside the water for about four miles. It’s not the shortest way, but the river doesn’t mind.” He shook my hand, tipped his hat and wandered back into the woods.
Genre: Rock, Heartland Rock
Preceded by: Born to Run (1975)
Followed by: The River (1980)
Related to: not available yet
I always had my doubts about people who cherish some kind of blind faith in an unassailable higher power. Whether it’s some teenager with a petrified glance into the deep nothing at a young Christians meeting, the stern ideologist that defends the healing power of the free market until his death, or people proudly risking their lives for the flag. Because of completely enigmatic reasons, I always suspected Springsteen fans of some mild form of this faith. However, driving a couple of miles, listening some music and having some beers always appeared to me as a more respectable way to overcome your tragic situation than killing other people.
The sixties just met their boundaries when Springsteen gets his first recording contract in 1972, signing with Columbia. The message that Messenger Bruce came to bring, is already told on his debut album (Greetings from Ashbury Park N.J. 1973): Springsteen is Jersey, and life can be tough out there. Just like its hastily released successor, it barely had any success, opposite to his numerous long live gigs throughout the region, ever injected with loads of energy. Messenger Bruce succeeds to absorb his growing amount of disciples into his story during these gatherings, but struggles in the studio due to his ambition to create the next Astral Weeks or first Desire. This is the point where he gets his first handshake from above, as he soon realizes that he just has to put that awesome live sound on a record. Thanks to an enormous production, he majestically succeeds with Born to Run (1975), but it was probably the endless tour that followed (because of a trial with manager Mike Appel, prohibiting him to record new material) that made him aware of the divine touch: such a muscled sound asks for a straight, in your face message.
It was the same exhausting tour (considering this his second handshake) that prevented him to become a victim of uninspired reproduction, withdrawing right after this trial (and the tour) to a farm in Jersey. Right there he observed the small world he grew up in, including the tough life of his parents. So, although Darkness on the Edge of Town may have a less bombastic sound than its predecessor (it’s basically all about the guitar-piano combo), it definitely wasn’t a revolutionary switch of style in Springsteen’s career. It was just the next step in the refinement of his golden touch on Born to Run: while society was creating more ‘losers’ than ‘winners’, Springsteen succeeded to appeal to both, just like religion serves to overcome your problems, as well as to legitimate your lack of problems.
Just like throughout his complete discography, he pushes his fans between despondency and hope on the album. It results in a well-balanced record, strongly tied together by the granite bookends on both sides. The strong songs in between are especially the three autobiographical ones: ‘Adam Raised a Cain’, where Springsteen addresses his father by biblical imagery (which was about all communication there was between both at that moment), ‘Factory’, his simple but impressive narrative about the worker’s life, and above all the magnificent ‘Something in the Night’. On this track, Springsteen seemed to have left behind his careless youth and has grew wiser the hard way, more specifically by his troubles in court: “You’re born with nothing, and better off that way. Soon as you’ve got something they send someone to try and take it away.”
However, the fist is really clenched on the opening and closing tracks. Springsteen summons his followers on ‘Badlands’ to stop complaining, to stop waiting, but to just make something out of it, after all, it’s no shame to be alive. Sounds simple, but a lot better when you disseminate it as if it were your own gospel: “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything“. The fact that escapism is a serious option in this situation, is made clear on ‘Racing in the Street’: even if you’re living a miserable life with a shitty job and a desperate relationship, there’s always a way to escape, in this case through street racing. The song in that way continues Springsteens’s ode to a man’s urge for freedom that was set in on Born to Run: “Now some guys they just give up living and start dying little by little, piece by piece. Some guys come home from work and wash up and go racing in the street”.
Side 2 starts with a boom on ‘The Promised Land’, in which problems are faced and one is ready to eliminate them for once and for all. It was probably again Springsteens’ own hopeless situation that preceded the album that served as an inspiration: not being able to record a new album and to do what he wanted to do. The album is finally closed by its title track, being the sequel to ‘Racing in the Street’. The barriers that were on the path to the ultimate destiny are still being shaken off at that point, he just cut himself loose from everything that used to stop him and is ready to go all the way now. Bring on the darkness.
Preceded by: An Ideal for Living (EP, 1978)
Followed by: Closer (1980)
Related to: not available yet
Low. David Bowie wasn’t the happiest person on earth on his eleventh album (January 1977), which was subtly reflected in its title. Ian Curtis must have loved it.
Bowie was recovering from a cocaine addiction in Berlin, while Curtis was recovering from growing up in England during the seventies. Bowie was supported by Brian Eno, who co-wrote the track ‘Warszawa’, the ambitious opening of side two. Curtis met his peers Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Terry Mason, who had formed a punk band together. Curtis joined the band as the singer, and they called themselves ‘Warsaw’. From this moment on, Curtis injected the band with lots of personal ‘low’, turning rage into desperateness, or punk into post-punk.
The band made their first appearances as a support act for The Buzzcocks, before reaching its definitive line-up with Stephen Morris replacing Mason on drums during the summer of 1977. Caused by some legal issues with another band, the name of the band was subsequently changed into ‘Joy Division’, after a literary red light district in a nazi camp. As provoking was the main raison d’être for punk bands (after all, the band mentioned above was called ‘Warsaw Pact’), the four enlarged the controversy surrounding them by portraying a Hitler Jugend member on the cover of its first EP, calling it An Ideal for Living (June ’78).
It was Tony Wilson, just after creating his own record label Factory Records, who offered the band a place in the spotlights by letting them perform for the first time on TV, in his own show (Wilson and his relationship with Joy Division was elaborately portrayed in the movies 24 Hour Party People (2002) and Control (2007)). The popularity of the band subsequently grew, and they start the recordings for their first studio album. However, concerns are raised about Ian Curtis, who suffers from his first epileptic episode in December.
The debut album was nonetheless released in the summer of 1979, called Unknown Pleasures. The sales of the album initially were disappointing, but significantly increased after the release of the single ‘Transmission’ (no singles were released from the album). But more important, the combination of Joy Division’s original sound with the working methods of mad genius Martin Hannett resulted in an album that, above all, sounded very new. More than any other did this album describe the atmosphere of desperateness in Northern England during the late seventies. Even on The Smiths’ cynical debut album, you could still hear echoes of Roger McGuinn’s sunny guitar playing, while Unknown Pleasures only offers a low baritone and minimalistic instrumentation.
The album can in fact be divided into two types of songs: tracks (6) with very dark lyrics on which depression is cunningly camouflaged by a dynamic and often uptempo instrumentation, and songs (4) that overtly ask you why you still haven’t killed yourself. Let’s start with the first ones, as the brilliant album opener is one of them! It’s Stephen Morris kicking things of on ‘Disorder’, with an uptempo drum rhythm that survived the band’s punk years. Right on this opening track it becomes clear that this is no place for screaming singers and primitive guitar riffs that are repeated till eternity: the uncontrolled punk rage has been replaced by resigned depression; a feeling exhaled best by no one less than the bass player, the most obscure species among musicians. It’s Peter Hook calling the tune here, condemning guitarist Sumner to complement him. Meanwhile Curtis sings about the pleasures of life, being unknown to him as he’s losing ‘the feeling’.
Also on side 1 is ‘Insight’, an interesting song musically (the general lyrical theme may be clear already, besides, their specific meaning is often open for interpretation). While the drum pattern doesn’t differ much from ‘Disorder’, the bass line would return later in the tremendous (and much better) song ’24 Hours’ on the following album Closer. Moreover, the influence of Hanett is clearly audible here, with vocals that were recorded through a phone line and lots of special sound effects.
The four other songs in the first category are to be found on side 2, back to back from the start. ‘She’s Lost Control’ is the first in line and also the most interesting. Of course it’s one of the band’s best known songs because of the fact that Curtis sings about a girl he once saw while she was suffering from an epileptic attack. But above all, listen to the surprising combination of that simple drumbeat (which I seem to have heard another 843 times in random electronic songs afterwards) with those sharp guitar riffs from Sumner!
Following are ’Shadowplay’ and ‘Wilderness’, with the first being one of the few tracks with a dominating guitar (including a real opening riff). The second one has another catchy bass riff which creates a moderately relaxed atmosphere that contrasts in an absurd way with the, again, dark lyrics. The penultimate track on the album is ‘Interzone’, by far the most punky track on the album. Not only because of its minimal length (2’15”), but also because of its high pace, which is set by Sumner. Adding the alternating vocals between Hook and Curtis makes this song the odd man out, but therefore not less delightful.
Over to the second category of songs on the album then, starting with track two, ‘Day of the Lords’. While you can pep up any party with the albums’ opener, the second song is well suited to send everybody home in anxiety, thinking about the remains of what once was a person, sitting in the corner of a dark room with a pistol on his bed. No doubt that the synthesizer from the chorus will still chase them down in an occasional dream, while Curtis asks them where it will end. The following song,’Candidate’, only further intensifies this mood. Not just for using some haunted house sounds, but especially because Curtis’ frightening voice is now only supported by a minimal drum and bass section.
Side 1 is closed by ‘New Dawn Fades’, which has a great intro with Hook and Sumner playing in opposite directions. It also contains one of Curtis’ best vocal performances on the album (building up towards a climax in the end), which makes this song one of the highlights on the album. Last but not least, the album is closed in a sinister way with ‘I Remember Nothing’. This song might give you the idea that Jim Morisson didn’t die after all, that he now has a hypermodern studio (including a large collection of Hannett’s sound effects) at his disposal to make a sequel for his own debut album’s closing track, ‘The End’.
The recordings of Joy Division’s second album, Closer, started early 1980, while Curtis’ epilepsy worsened and also appeared during live performances. In the early morning of May, 18th 1980 Curtis hangs himself, right before the band would undertake its first tour around the US. The posthumous single ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ was released in June, followed by the album in July. Unlike The Doors, the three remaining members didn’t continue without its original singer, but transformed into New Order.
Unknown Pleasures was one of the best attempts to come up with something new in rock music’s history. The questions remains whether or not the band would have stagnated on this point of breakthrough afterwards (variation never was the band’s greatest trump). Considering this, the short lifespan of Joy Division might have been its blessing, and critics might touch the truth in this way when stating that the band owes his praise because of Curtis’ suicide. However, their two albums remain two of rock’s finest and deserve your attention. Enjoy.