Kate Bush/Joy Division – 78-81, “They Keep Calling Me”

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The ‘”everyone MUST join in” fever is raging through social media again. “Go on then, I’ll do my DUTY and take part too …Oh, sorry, did you mean the ice bucket challenge? I thought you were talking about the return of Kate Bush….

Anyway I do have a lot of thoughts surrounding the artist Kate Bush. Mainly from the first decade of music she produced. Not that I dislike her work beyond this point, just that I feel it neither had, nor could conceivably try to have, the ‘strange phenomena’ of her earlier work, for which the only appropriate word could be magical. I really respect her request that no camera/iPhone or iPad recordings be used within her recent performances, she clearly recognises the impact that digital life has had on experience; she has no doubt watched it creep up on us throughout her musical career, and possibly anticipated our coming post-millennial dependency on it in the 1989 track Deeper Understanding. Yet, at least for the talking-husk that is me, I don’t think this would be able recreate that magical essence, and despite its insightful intentions, I’m not sure I could even experience it at all in 2014. I feel it is locked within a certain historical point. However, that her work simultaneously feels timeless is something I try to get to grips with here by looking at what happened during this particular historical point, by also including the recordings by a band whose time-span mirrors this early ‘magical’ period of Kate bush’s music: Joy Division.

Even though I wasn’t born until a few years after the time period of 1978 to the early 1980’s (January 84 to be exact), it seems to have served as a pre-birth milestone. Life has increasingly felt like a stuck record from there-on-after this pre-birth milestone. I was born into the stuck record whilst it was only just starting to relapse at a pace so slow it wasn’t really noticeable, and unique cultural production was still just about possible. Now it is relapsing so massively a quiet panic has begun, as we cling desperately to reunions and comeback tours. When I think of this time, it’s purple, dark red, yet misty hues that I can see – the colours of when your eyes are shut and ready to exit waking life. How do I feel I remember it? As with the sonic sound of synth music by the likes of Orchestral Manuoevres in The Dark from this period, it feels like a stored-up memory from the years prior to my existence. It certainly isn’t the case that I have this feeling for moments of a specific pop cultural aesthetic from say the 60’s or 50’s. What possibly caused this was my earliest memories being coloured by near-past television and radio repeats (The tune to Love Will Tear Us Apart and the Stranglers’ Golden Brown somehow attached themselves to Christmas periods in my mind from my early life).

What made Kate Bush’s music so magical-sounding was the way it felt like a dream-scape that mirrored the real world. The moorland of Wuthering Heights is uncanny, because it could only be the heathlands we know too well that hang above our towns further down the hills, yet with the dreaming folded in on them. The analogue effects on the videos of the time are the only appropriate effect, digital would ruin it. The hills that loom above the towns will always harbour my emotional responses to both Joy Division and Kate Bush.

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Because it evokes a dream-like version of the familiar, you are urged to say that her music operates outside the normal experience of time. Yet the music certainly isn’t timeless. It is very much embedded within that late 1970’s-early 80’s era. Precisely the point when modernity fell into itself, rematerialising as a digital no-man’s land of invisible (or internalised) control systems. Yet whilst her contemporaries, Joy Division, embodied that collapse and “day in day out” of life in that control society that emerged thereafter, Kate Bush’s music from this period seems to have caught a dream-scape, an unreal vision, both beautiful and nightmarish (think Breathing), that seems to have been cut off, almost like an air pocket within the passing of time. But the music doesn’t sound dated, it sounds more like a lost world, one we mourn. I don’t think Kate Bush’s music has changed in quality throughout the years – just that there’s something about the sonic quality, and the analogue effects of the accompanying videos that seems impossible to recreate once digital reproduction began to take over. The entire period of the movement from the 70’s into the 80’s, into Thatcher’s TINA (there is no alternative to capitalism) and the accompanying digital that spread like the DNA of the new ruling agenda – it all feels like a period locked in an air pocket within the passing of time, as if things could have gone another way.

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Today’s depressiveness, yesterday’s seductiveness

Both Joy Division’s and Kate Bush’s music feels like it belongs on the bleak, barren hills that hang over my town, and all the other towns that rest on the pennines for that matter. These hills, dark shapes that rise in the background, haunt us. Kate Bush’s and Joy Division’s music haunts also. It is all very much to do with death – the hills, the music, they all seem to bring inner attention to a deep impulse to escape the tightening coils of the 21st century world. There’s a seductive impulse running through Kate Bush’s earlier music to free oneself from the world that succeeded the dark but magic time pocket the music seems caught in, as if you’d fall back into that very world; that maybe it still exists under the bleaching of digital capitalism.

“If Joy Division matter now more than ever, it’s because they capture the depressed spirit of our times. Listen to Joy Division now and you have the inescapable impression that the group were catatonically channeling our present, their future. From the start their work was overshadowed by a deep foreboding , a sense of a future foreclosed, all certainties dissolved , only growing gloom ahead.” (Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life, 2014).

Both Joy Division and Kate Bush would be the music I wanted to listen to when I required the barren, even desertified, empty hill-scape above my home town. For the aforementioned comforting seductive lure of escape of Bush’s music, but with Joy Division is was much more in the way that the music and landscape seemed to work in unison to exhaust the painful 24 hour blend of fear, paranoia, and depression that I began to find constituted this new ‘always on’ life in the 21st century. Joy Division confirm and makes space for the nauseating feeling that isn’t really allowed to acknowledge itself in a 24hr anxious social landscape of networking, self-promotion, and the resulting emphasis on ‘being positive’ all the time: that of occupying a wasteland, and really-existing dysphoria. The barren, empty hill-scape, with its lack of landmarks, and long-straight roads that appear endless, compliments this just-beneath-the-skin outlook. After all, when the depressive spells do catch up with you, when the non-stop digital world exhausts you and leaves you in as a drained-husk of a person, more positive music, more feature-full landscapes can often being dangerously painful.

For this reason I’m not certain I totally agree with Mark Fisher further on in the Ghosts of My Life essay of Joy Division, when he says their seductive world can be dangerous for young men. I think it isn’t an healthy world to dwell in long term, but regarding the short-term, I’d argue that Joy Division, in confirming what I was already sensing, actually contained it, made it manageable – possibly even saved me at points. However, I have to keep returning to them, I need it like a prescriptive drug, the music really does ‘catatonically channel our present’.

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“They keep calling me”

Joy Division embody a violent vehicle smash of a generalised modernism, into the liquidity of the (commonly-named) postmodern world, and their importance keeps on spreading like black squid ink underneath the pretense of a seamless content and pleasure of our instantaneous Now. It’s hard to tell where Ian Curtis’ artistry and the problems that led to his suicide met, but in-spite of that there’s something almost uncanny about his jerky movements, and his lyrics based around control. Ian Curtis looked very much like a cypher for this instantaneous Now we are now all enmeshed in. The drums, certainly on live recordings, continuously have what (to a musically-uneducated ear) sound like relapses; singular, dancy beats that collapse in on themselves (the Peel Sessions version of Love Will Tear us Apart is a fine example of this). Trying hard, against all odds, to be in control, but constantly losing grip.

“feel it closing in, day in day out day in day out” – Digital

The psychologist and writer Sherry Turkle describes, in her book Alone Together, how in the baby years of cyberspace in the mid 1990’s she met young researchers at the MIT research lab who, by carrying “computers and radio transmitters in the back-packs and keyboard in their pockets”, were experimenting with being a “cyborg” – “always wirelessly connected to the Internet, always online, free from desks and cables”. I think most of us from time to time now have the frightening realisation that this is what we have become; a constant and feverishly dependent state of being that we wish we could somehow slip from the clutches of. Joy Division front-man Ian Curtis often looked like a human being hijacked by cyborg tendencies, a man under attack from something invisible. Despite his epilepsy, does he not often look like the first person to step into this dark reality of digital capitalism?

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“There’s a ghost in my hall just watching you, but I’m not here” – Watching You Without Me, Kate Bush

The above lyric is from Kate Bush’s critically acclaimed album The Hounds of Love, which I feel contained the last traces of the dark magic, and lost bubble in time, before this other world became truly unimaginable as the 1980’s got closer to the 1990’s. Perhaps one popularised word I’ve not used to talk of her earlier work so far is hauntology. The music is most certainly hauntological in essence. Today, due to being on a stuck record that is increasingly making the present disorienting and harder to locate, there is the evident frenzy of vintage, retro and general nostalgia for a past that looks simpler. However I don’t think this is nostalgia here. Hauntology is only nostalgic if it is for a world that never materialised, or was lost in time. This is what albums such as The Kick Inside and Never For Ever evoke. Whereas Joy Division is an increasingly subscribed pill as antidote to the failure of a different world to emerge, as it begins to look more extremely messed up with every year. But I don’t find comebacks or reunions to be satisfactory; they just ask us to squint and imagine the world we now have just isn’t really happening. Preventing phone/video/camera use at a gig is a response that forces us to stop and reflect on our digital lives, but I don’t think it is enough. My daily pill is still that one that gives me a taste of a past that promised us a future.

Back to the ice-bucket challenge and other MUSTS…

I don’t want to use the word fan, because I don’t feel like my need for music as a prescription pill is like that of a fan’s (I wasn’t subscribed to the Sertroline-Fanclub for a large part of my 20’s); likewise it does injustice to real fans, who seek out for new music every day. But anyway, I thought I’d listen my favourite Kate Bush and Joy Division tracks in no particular order; here ISN’T my ice-bucket challenge.

Kate Bush

1. Wuthering Heights (The original version)

2. Breathing

3. Cloudbursting

4. Deeper Understanding

5. Watching You Without me

6. Wow

7. The Big Sky

8. Kite

9. Never Be Mine

10. Army Dreamers

Joy Division

1.Novelty

2. Disorder

3. Dead Souls

4. Shadowplay

5. Heart and Soul

6. Insight

7. Love Will Tear us Apart

8. Isolation

9. Transmission

10. The Eternal

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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

2 responses to “Kate Bush/Joy Division – 78-81, “They Keep Calling Me””

  1. gregoryiain says :

    Reblogged this on flakes of nuisance and commented:
    John Ledger – right on target, so direct (even if he does forget the song of solomon, when it came) and I’m now wondering about his stance on Quadrophenia from ‘just before’.

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