In a year that has already been a tough one for so many reasons, the loss of my father-in-law just recently has hit us hard. It wasn’t exactly unexpected, but the circumstances of it meant that things happened very fast. My wife did get to him in time and spent the last hours with him, but it has needless to say been very difficult to deal with since, and we have the funeral to get through next Monday too.
/Tuesday Ten/386/The Way We Used To
I’ve long vowed I’d never do a /Tuesday Ten that was strictly and explicitly about death, and I’m rather skirting that rule here. It is about memory, remembrance, and how people and events remain in our mind, even after death robs us of the physical connection. There is celebration, grief, sadness and happy moments within these ten. This was something I needed to do, to help process my own thoughts right now, and if it is difficult to read because of your own experiences, I’m sorry.
What was really interesting with the songs suggested for this week was just how personal many of the songs appear to be. We tie music to memory all the time – certain events in my life cannot be untangled from particular songs, and the same with certain people and songs, and from the relatively small sample size of the suggestion thread for this, my friends think similarly. This does bring up the problem, though, of making it difficult to listen to previously-beloved songs, for example, my wife and I simply cannot get through True Faith by New Order anymore, because of what it invokes.
On the flip side, though, music can be a great healer for this. Unexpected songs suddenly gain great power in the right context and get you through particular moments as you grieve. So even if most of the songs here probably wouldn’t be relevant to my father-in-law (although at least one absolutely is), this week is for him. I miss you, Jeff.
Thanks to everyone who did provide song suggestions, then – there were 196 songs suggested, and fourteen of those suggestions (eleven unique songs) had been used before. There were 181 unique songs to be considered, from 93 people (including a number of first-time contributors – Hi, and thanks for joining in). The quality of suggestions this week left me with a lot of thinking over what songs to include, and if this hadn’t been so difficult to write as it was, I’d have included twenty songs.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
mind.in.a.box remain one of the most singular bands in the wider electro-industrial sphere. Across six of their seven albums, they’ve spun a lengthy, dystopian sci-fi story about the character Black, one that hinges on the themes of identity and memory – but if you aren’t too bothered about the storylines, you can still enjoy the exquisitely human songs that use vocal treatments and some unusual musical arrangements along the way. The other interesting part about the group was that it took three albums before they even considered playing their complex music live, and rather than just play it from synths, they tore apart their songs and rebuilt them to be played by a full live band – with astonishing results, as we found out at Infest 2011 (/Memory of a Festival/013 refers). This song was the opener then, and is very much the bridge from the first few albums into where the plot goes next – as Black tries to pull together the shattered remnants of his memory to understand what has happened. But it can also be seen as a damaged person trying to piece together their own life, trying to find a way to move forward.
Memory is funny like that. I find stress shatters my own memory, and trying to piece together those bits and pieces when in that frame of mind becomes so, so hard. As if it’s a jigsaw where the pieces don’t quite fit together.
/Sleeping With Ghosts
Funny how timing works out sometimes. I was at a friend’s wedding reception on Sunday night, and one of the most popular songs on the dancefloor across the night was 36 Degrees by Placebo, a song that takes me back a long way, too. Placebo were one of the first bands I saw live, supporting Whale in November 1995, in the long-gone Cockpit in Leeds, a gig I have a whole lot of memories of, and I saw them a whole lot more across the rest of the nineties.
A later song from Placebo, this one – at a point where I’d perhaps lost contact with them, as I wasn’t a fan of this album at all – This Picture appears to be preoccupied with fragments of the past, parts of which are allegedly about James Dean’s preferences, others seem to be Brian Molko perhaps looking into his own past as he got older. Reflection on our past – mistakes or no – is something that we all do. I try not to do regret, though – why muse and obsess over things you can’t change?
/She Wants Revenge
Something so commonly associated with memory is photography (which I’ve covered previously on /334/Pictures of You), and it was perhaps inevitable that the two subjects might cross over a bit. Here, Justin Warfield is overcome by a flood of recollection after rediscovering old photographs – amid one of the band’s best ballads – and the feelings generated from this are rather a mix of both good and bad. It’s funny, though, how forgotten photographs can be identifed almost to the day, years later – as we identify fragments of identity that help us place people and times, something I’d normally struggle to do if someone brought it up in conversation.
The early, classic Soft Cell material shows Marc Almond – or the characters he inhabits – in a lonely world. Songs like Bedsitter get across the excruciating loneliness of being young in the big city, whereas this is something vastly more personal. Memories here seem to be something of an obsession, collecting, rejecting, loving, hating – the electronic pulse under it being almost as cold as the delivery of the words. Conversely, too, for a song so obsessed with the past, it is such a futuristic sound that Almond, Dave Ball and producer Daniel Miller came up with, and the echoes of it can be heard through electronic and industrial artists in the decades, never mind years, after it.
/This Is The Day
Obsessing over memories has other issues, too. Allowing yourself to be trapped by them, kept in place because the memories are the good things, a crutch to keep you going through a potentially mundane life. Matt Johnson of The The knew this on this tender, delicate song. This song, while noting what has gone before, is trying to be the kindly voice that frees that person trapped within what they’ve become. “Recognise your potential”, he is saying. Cheerleading someone to make it better and have a chance at doing so. In lesser hands this would be trite. Here it is empowering.
/Memorial (feat. Chelsea Wolfe)
One of only two songs in the entire Russian Circles catalogue to feature the use of vocals, it is also one of the rare moments in their catalogue where they dial things back. The best Russian Circles tracks for me, particularly live, have a shocking, roaring intensity – I mentioned the other week in conversation about them that they are a band that make me feel viscerally alive. Appropriately for a band who rely on instruments to do the talking, even when Chelsea Wolfe joins the band there is a mystique, a feeling that they are deliberately holding something back. This is a song about memorialising someone, and a head swimming with so much detail that they can’t see clearly into the past.
/Burn The Remembrance
One important point to consider about remembrance is that memories are not always happy ones. There may be times where your memories are tainted by one bad event or awkward moments, or previous actions may then overshadow everything else about that person. They can still be alive, of course, they may just not be part of your life anymore, and thus you try to keep them out of your mind for the emotions they cause. I have people like that, who I’ve not seen for years and years, but those memories occasionally come back.
Many of Katatonia’s songs are about the darker sides of love and relationships – and particularly about when things go wrong (either in reality or in your head), and this song, one of the many highlights from their greatest, most searing album, digs into our interpretations of the past. The phrase “second-hand impressions” is used here, I suppose in the context of other people’s memories helping to provide unreliable detail on things you’d rather forget.
/One Last Goodbye
Like Katatonia, actually, the Anathema of now bears little relation to the growling, doomy band that they began as. Anathema had gradually moved into more restrained, proggy textures – and are now almost entirely in that realm – but they’ve not forgotten the journey they took along the way, as they continue to play many of their transitional songs in particular in their live sets to this day. One such song is this powerful, emotional ballad that comes from probably my favourite album of theirs (Judgement, of 1999), and as I understand it was written by the Cavanagh brothers about the death of their mother, and the grief is palpable through every moment. It was later re-recorded on Hindsight in a more acoustic, stripped-back form, I prefer the power of this version.
/In My Life
As of this week, I’ve had 8,988 song suggestions made in my various (69 – nice) suggestion threads, and The Beatles have actually been the most suggested artist in those threads (76 times) – and until now, I’ve used them just twice in my posts. Why I’ve not used them more often is perhaps as simple as…maybe using The Beatles is too easy? And, while I’m fine with just how influential and important they are, I don’t actually like as much of their material as maybe I “should”.
But this week, I’m including this because it is an exquisite, level-headed look at his own life, and the contrast between his working-class upbringing and the seismic change his life had undergone in the past few years – important things to consider: when this was released, Lennon was twenty-five, and The Beatles were six albums into that twelve album run in eight years where they arguably changed popular music forever. I guess you’d need to stop and take stock at some point, really.
The other reason I’m including it, though, is because Jeff loved The Beatles (and particularly Lennon). It felt appropriate that one of their more reflective songs was here, as a result.
/The Ape of Naples
And now, we reach the end. The final “new” Coil song, and the track that closed their final show in Dublin, 2004, is a lengthy, elegant piece that seems to flow like liquid as it takes a leisurely eight-plus minutes of your time. A beautiful epitaph, you might think (John Balance died unexpectedly later that year): except that the apparently ad-libbed lyrics (they are samples of that last show) are broadly the lyrics to the theme from Are You Being Served?. Somehow, Balance made it sound almost profound. In one of those little amusing things that life serves, too, apparently this was accordingly played at his funeral, too, another time when the choice of music is so important to the memory of someone.
My late grandmother’s funeral concluded with the 1812 Overture – there was a story about why earlier in the service that I’m not going to repeat here – but suffice to say that it was entirely appropriate, and everyone left with a spring in their step having celebrated her long life. That’s what we should do at funerals, and I try to do. Not just mourn a life lost, but celebrate a life lived. I’m going to do that on Monday, and later raise a glass to a father-in-law who genuinely accepted me into his life. Thanks, Jeff.