Wednesday, September 14, 2005


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.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The comfort of routine

5:00 My wife wakes up, quietly slips from the bed and into the black early morning. I don't wake up any more.

7:00 Quiet sounds from my daughter's room, "Daaaddy? Dad?". A clean diaper, daytime clothes, hair brushed, oatmeal cooked while a book gets read. The table set, banana sliced into oatmeal, water poured into tall and small glasses. Cod liver oil and vitamin taken. Breakfast. Another book read. Dishes washed. The endless search for tiny shoes. Teeth brushed, two drops of baby fluoride on the tongue. Strapped into daddy's car. Off we go.

8:00 Daycare. As I walk out the door, I stop talking. Stop hearing other voices, seeing other eyes. For 8 1/2 hours:

8:15-4:45 Hopefully a lot of work gets done. E-mails answered, news read, lots of text of various usability gets hammered into the computer, stuff of various degrees of uselessness gets read, maybe something company related gets taken care of. Hopefully a bike tour gets squeezed in. If really, really energetic or restless, some work around the house as well. Who knows, one of these days I might actually build a deck in the back yard.

5:00 Daycare. A smiling ray of warm sunshine runs without exception to me, wraps her arms around my neck and says, ever so sweetly "Daddy!"

5:00-7:00 The park. Or the river. Or our back yard. Or just Borders for hot chocolate and some book on fire trucks. Cooking. Perhaps a beer. Mainly in summer, though.

7:00 My wife is back, ready for her dinner just before she falls asleep. So is my daughter. We eat. I hear about the often unbelievable reality that my wife lives in. My daughter chimes in with fragments of what her day brought: "Swimming pool", "Dog barked", "No touch!", "Nice to meet you", "Boo-boo on foot", "Gary puked".

8:00 I do dishes, while my wife brushes our daughter's teeth and puts her to bed. On occasion, a DVD gets watched, usually something short, like a TV episode. My wife crawls into bed. I am alone again. Do some more reading/browsing/listening/watching/dreaming/thinking, never ready to let the day go, until I have squeezed as much as I can from it.

10:00 I slip into bed. And dream some more.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

It's here

It may be four years, but it's here. It's all still here.

And it's still buried. Festering. Demoralizing. Scaring. Draining.

Perhaps for a brief moment, just after it happened, the shock seemed to spawn a greater unity, more tolerance. The rude awakening made us drop our masks. Trucker, preacher, professor, old, white, gay, young, fat, clerk, student, married, sister, brown, dancer, christian, father, thin, plumber, black, jew, singer, rich, accountant, president. Man. Woman. The labels got lost. For a moment. I was not here. But my wife was. And experienced it instantly. When I came back, a few weeks later. I could still see it, in the eyes of the customs officer at the airport. The disarmed, clear honesty. The hurt. The fright. I wanted to take that scared person in my arms. That overweight, uniformed, fifty-ish man. Comfort him. Tell him that it would be all right. That at heart, Americans had the warmth and strength not to let this consume their country. That now, this nation would prove that true strength to itself. And to the World, which had watched America go from Smalltown to Superpower in only half a century, could continue admiring this well-meaning, if sometimes overly simplistic people.

But it didn't last.

It has been a consistent, if not uniform, descent into suspiciousness, pessimism, cynicism, bullying, indifference, amoralism, anger, cruelty, hate.

The aftermath was an enormous, protracted, bloody, knee-jerk reaction. With the end nowhere in sight, even now. If a superpower gets hit, at least a few countries will need to be decimated. For every life of an American, a hundred lives of someone foreign enough so he won't have a face. Or a name. Just so that we can feel the revenge. We can close our eyes and experience the two wrongs make a right. Put our lives back in order. Give us our safety back.

And when that didn't work? Well, then the only thing to do was to try harder. In more perverse ways. Demand your rut back. "Go out and shop." "Your home is your castle." Can you remember how '0% financing' was actually marketed as Detroit's contribution to help make everything right again? How monumentally callous it seems today, but at the time, the numbness and surreality somehow made it look reasonable. Yes, if I buy a new car, it will help get things back on track. Plus it will make me feel good again. I mean, I bought a new car that spring. OK, maybe not for those reasons. Not conciously. But maybe I did, all the same.

So, what about this year? Well, this year, it is still the predominant elephant in the room. Because of the 'homeland security' myth/hysteria, it turns out all other security concerns were put on hold. Even natural disasters, and the response to them. FEMA has in the last decade gone from being represented by a cabinet position to becoming just another agency, to actually being tucked away in the travelling circus of lost agencies and fragmented departments that make up the Department of Homeland Security. And when this orphan suddenly gets put on the spot, it underperforms. Is anybody really surprised? Its fate was sealed. Four years ago. To the day.

But there's more. Not only can the roots of this impotence be directly traced back to this day, in 2001, but so can the responses to it. What would have happened if this angel of death, Katrina, had drawn her brush of devastation and pestulence over the southern coast of this country say five years ago, instead of now? Take a moment to think about it. Would the initial reaction be one of disgust, outcry and cynicism toward the federal government for being racist and elitist? Would the public's general consesus, a fortnight after the fact, really be that the powers to be looked at what was happening and coldly and calmly decided that the people dying where too black and too poor to be bothered with? Would any president remotely thinking of his own legacy, however stupid, do something that calculated to destroy himself? No, I don't think so either. If the response would really have been as limp and pathetic back then as it was now—which, as I said earlier, I do not believe—I know exactly what it would have been like: Outcry over ineptitute, deamands for resignations, senate hearings, the works, for sure. But not this outburst of general suspicion and depressive bitterness. No, this is something built-up. Something deeper. This is a people saying "Fool me once...". It's "You may get away with dragging us into a bloody war for no reason, while we are stunned and lost, but try it again and we just will not trust you again. Wheter that time it is by design or just because you are inept, arrogant idiots. Let's see how you like 'zero tolerance'."

I wish I was looking forward to this day in 2006.

But I don't.