I have yet to meet someone whose musical roots are not in his or her teenage years. I am no exception. Granted, I still consume great amounts of music. But the base of the tree grows firmly out of the sounds of my adolescence. Everything new somehow gets measured to that base. It will have to better or extend what I merged with back then, or it won't pass muster. Sure, I listened to a lot of mainstream, like Madness, Housemartins, Simple Minds, Cohen, Bowie, etc. But the core was new wave and punk: Yello, Kraftwerk, Eurythmics, Ultravox, Dead Kennedys, Jean Michel Jarre, Yazoo, Erasure, Soft Cell, Sex Pistols, New Order, Gary Numan. Oh, and Depeche Mode.
It all somehow leads back to DM. A cult band through the eighties, they didn't become truly commercialized until the nineties, with Violator. Personal Jesus, and all that. And they didn't handle the ascension to super-group status very well. The lead singer drugged out and tried to kill himself. Other members slowly drifted apart. Those with insignificant emotional soft spots for the band will tell you that their music suffered.
But I won't.
They had me long before all that. They had me at Master and Servant. Sure, I had listened to their earlier stuff, Speak & Spell, A Broken Frame, and Construction Time Again, along with all the other new wave stuff. But it wasn't until Some Great Reward that something clicked. And it actually wasn't Master and Servant. That came later. No, it was Somebody. That innocent, little song played with something inside me. It was as if my innermost, deepest and most precious feelings had been written out in the lyrics. Since then, that song has been the chink in my armor. And only once has somebody gotten that. But that's a different story. Finally, it was 1986 and Black Celebration and its darkness that caught me for good. Gripped me like only a teenager can be gripped. At an age when you are fighting to become yourself. All the answers emerge. And they are all Yes or No. No Maybes. So I delved into the blackness of DM's world. Their dark melancholy truly made up a part of my core self. Musically, emotionally.
Literally every track on Black Celebration had deep meaning to that simple sixteen year old: Black Celebration, Fly on the Windscreen, Question of Lust, Sometimes, It Doesn't Matter Two, Question of Time, Stripped, Here Is the House, World Full of Nothing, Dressed in Black, New Dress, But Not Tonight. I can still hear every single one of those songs, just by reading the titles. And they open the gates to a flood of memories. Of values affirmed, opinions made, lessons learned. Teenage years truly are a turbulent, even violent, time. Everything is possible. The world is your oyster. You are invincible. And at the same time, you are so terribly vulnerable. You alternate triumphing and dying, a thousand times over. The next year, Music for the Masses came out. And I was ready. I opened a vein and the music poured in. Strangelove. Sacred. Pimpf. Little 15. Never let me down again.
When DM's next album, Violator, came out, they had changed. I had changed. They had shed the last remnants of their underground cloak and become fully mainstream. I had gotten into law school. I still liked the music. But there were other branches growing now, and the straight, black lines were not as appealing to me anymore. I bought suits. And ties. Besides, mainstream has never been my thing. I was more intrigued by Songs of Faith and Devotion, which came out in 1993. Partly because they had gotten heavier, truer, and partly because I was not as self-conscious as you are when you are entering law school and are trying to distance yourself from all the 'silly' things that you were devoted to as a teenager. When Ultra came out, in '97, I had at last become secure enough to embrace the music again. Plus they were even heavier, and rawer. And then, when Exciter came, in 2001, with a tour to boot, I drove up to Montréal with my wife and introduced her properly to DM, by taking her to a concert of theirs. She still talks about that strange man, vaguely resembling her husband, on his feet the whole time, yelling his lungs out to every song with the rest of the 20 thousand plus rabid fans.
Exciter is a delicious come-together of it all: The new wave roots, e.g. in I feel loved, Gore's solo aspirations, in Breathe, the heavy undertone in The Sweetest Condition. And then there is the ever-so precious and fragile beauty of Goodnight Lovers, which one has to go back to Somebody to find a match for. And again, the lyrics just write out the essence of me. Uncanny. Finally there is a lone guitar riff on this record which always manages to cause ripples in my soul. It's the last part of When the Body Speaks. When I hear it, I need only close my eyes, and I am instantly transferred down to the seaside in the city I grew up in, on a mild summer night, sort of like tonight, except there the sun is slowly climbing into the clear sky. The sea is calm and smooth like a mirror, and not a sound can be heard but for a few seagulls, yapping away. I have probably been downtown, dancing all night with friends that have since headed home to sleep, but I am stubbornly cheating the night out of my unconciousness, stealing the start of a day that looks just like an empty piece of paper, patiently waiting for me to write out what ever I want on it.
And now Playing the Angel is finally coming out. I just pre-ordered it on iTunes. And I'm also getting in on the ticket presale of the ensuing concert tour, Touring the Angel.
Call me a fan. But really, that music is simply an expression of me.