Having lived a life in music and story I am increasingly convinced that they are not separate entities but differing shades of the same thing.
Sorry Steven Pinker, music is not “cheesecake for the mind”, it is quite clearly part of what makes the mind. And to bend his metaphor for the purposes of this blog, it is not the icing on the cake; it is part of the cake. If you regard it as the former then you miss a great opportunity to nourish.
Earlier this week I watched the LCD Soundsystem documentary ‘Shut Up and Play the Hits’ which is about their farewell concert at Madison Square Gardens in 2011. It’s a great film and the band was clearly wonderful live. I knew little about them, only being familiar with their rocking wee track ‘North American Scum’.
That said, they were one of the acts that was a must-see at the 2008 Big Day Out, a concert I got tickets to but didn’t attend as my partner at the time was due to give birth to our child within the following couple of weeks. That in itself wasn’t the only reason we didn’t drive up to Auckland from Wellington to see the great line-up that included Arcade Fire, Battles, Hilltop Hoods, Dizzee Rascal and Bjork, it because on top of the immanent child we also had no place to live. And no jobs. It just seemed to be tempting fate to head into a sea of 30, 000 revellers in that situation.
But this blog isn’t about that story, nor is it a review of ‘Shut Up’. It’s about the power of the unexpected to throw a new slant on what you have just enjoyed.
I’m referring to the outro songs that often get played over the credits of a movie or TV show. More often than not they are very obvious and add little to the experience of the drama: show’s over folks, here’s a bouncy tune you all know to see you out the door with a smile on your face.
But increasingly there is an acknowledgement that punters aren’t necessarily all sheep to herded elsewhere; that credits offer a chance to play to those folks who actually read the words as they digest what has just transpired.
‘Shut Up’ is both wonderful and sad. It shows someone gaining fame, adulation and respect without asking for it, who then finds it all too much so he pulls-the-pin (this isn’t meant to be a spoiler; the film is about a farewell concert).
James Murphy, the kingpin, is the one who calls time. He’s one of those great singers and performers who struggles with his gift. The self-consciousness is as agonising to watch as is his performance is wonderful.
He needs it to end but feels great loss and wonders if he’s making a mistake. The final song ‘New York I love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down’ is amazing. I had never heard it before but it knocked my socks off, especially when viewed in the context of what it meant in this situation… being in NY and the last song they would ever play… the final part of the documentary.
It went to black and the credits rolled. It wasn’t an LCD song but one I recognized from the distant past. It took a few bars before I realized the voice singing the final track on an LP I hadn’t played since the early 80s.
“Standing in the door of the Pink Flamingo crying in the rain…” it was Marc Almond, Soft Cell c.1981 and I knew all the words.
I never really liked the song or the album but when you’re 14 and just spent $10 on a piece of vinyl you play the album to bits hoping it will take your fancy. While some the keyboard sounds on the track (and album) clearly haven’t stood the test of time often sounding like a Farfisa organ trying to be hip, the song just builds and builds and once it got to the chorus (I still knew the lyrics without knowing that I did) I understood why the track had been chosen.
Maybe James Murphy is a Soft Cell fan but there is so much about ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ that is directly relevant to the documentary and the tortured ambivalence of Murphy that what I had just seen kept opening up to further and further layers.
Afterwards, I pulled out ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ and listened to it. Just the once. Yikes. But I have played ‘Say Hello’ every day (and sometimes several times) since I saw the movie 5 days ago. Do I think about Soft Cell? Not a lot. But I go into those lyrics (and Marc Almond’s performance) further and further.
“It was a kind of so-so love, and I’m gonna make sure it never happens again”
So apt to the movie, Murphy and the ambivalence of love.
It’s not the first time this sort of opening-up has happened to me. The other was in the first series of Girls (a brilliant, fun, clever show). I can’t remember what happened in the twisted and funny relationships but the ending was a bit of a shocker and I was dumb-founded. The screen went to black and credits started with a very retro 80s-sounding electronic track I did not know. It was either very old, or trying to sound old: cold boom-smack-boom-smack drum machine laying down an unvarying beat ‘even white folk can dance to’ (as the saying goes). The lyrics were about seeing your ex with someone else, hence why it was chosen.
It was “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn. So it wasn’t old, being from 2010, it was just trying to sound like it. I fell instantly in love with the Scandinavian coldness of the lyrics and production and it has been in my top 5 tracks ever since (“stilettos and brok-en bott-les” being my unchallenged fav lyrical image of the last year). It has gone past the dramatic moment in Girls which it was juxtaposing (I can’t even remember who it was about) and become a song of strength, resilience and defiance.
In my head, I relate these moments to the famous, infamous and (of course) outstanding final scene of The Sopranos where Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ is played over the mundane family moments at the diner, waiting for onion rings and Meadow to park the car. Let me just say, I really don’t like Journey but I have listened to that song many, many times since. Why? Because that scene (and song) seem to encapsulate the whole 6 seasons, the hopes of the well-loved characters etc and I get to relive all that in the course of Steve Perry’s pompous bellowing and Journey’s overblown and average FM rock.
I just re-watched the scene and realised that, unlike the above, it doesn’t play over the credits. However, the credits were silent, and this was done to further the story (as opposed to ushering you out the door). What’s even more unusual about this is that there is dialogue all over the lyrics in the final scene… something which is very rare as most punters find it hard to focus. But it’s all part of the telling, and opening up, the story. Just brilliant.
I still have my ticket to the Big Day Out where LCD played. The ticket is worthless and having now seen ‘Shut Up’ I wish I had gone, despite the pressing concerns of my situation. Maybe LCD will reform after some time off and I will get to see them somewhere else.
Either way, this isn’t the end of the story.