I probably woke up this morning to last night’s events that occurred 30 miles across the pennines with the same sense of disbelief as everyone. I imagine we are all awash with a mixture of feelings, but I sense that the main feeling is compassion, not only for the victims, but with all those who woke up to the news like ourselves. And it is always heartening to see that most people feel the urge to bond, rather than to rush into an ‘who dunnit?’ hysteria.
It is deeply appropriate that all political parties have agreed to put their campaigning on hold.
But please remember this moment of genuine heartfelt solidarity we are communicating today, when the divisive politics of fear seeps into political campaigning tomorrow. Social media sites show ample evidence that today most of us are wanting more than ever to break out of our modern cages of loneliness, to share the emotions and values we wished were dominant every day. But tomorrow a silent attempt to hijack this will begin, as it has before.
I’m not saying by whom, but we all know what sort of politics benefits most from divide and rule tactics. I’d like to ask us all to remember that the bonds we feel today in our collective mourning (whether it’s via the internet or not), will be replaced by fearful and hollow loneliness if those who’s aim it is to divide and conquer succeed.
Corny as it is, certain songs rekindle my faith in the collective good at times of lonely thoughts about the gravity of the challenges all face. In light of this, I’ve attached this song from the Hope of The States’ 2004 album The Lost Riots.
This is the 5th blogpost in part of a series that has thus far have largely centred around times/spaces where gatherings/events have felt like ample territory for my thoughts on the past (my past), present, and longings for a future decisively different from the present. This post is centred around the demonstrations taking place outside the Tory Party Conference 2015 in Manchester. There is an urgent aim to map out the here and now, as I don’t otherwise seem to be able to sense it – constantly looking back over ten years to when it felt that memories and experience stuck, rather than blew away with every given day. These half-truths of stories based around cognitive mapping processes are an attempt to counter this sensation.
4 October 2015
“Michael picks me up early on and we head over to Ossett, a small town sandwiched between Wakefield and Dewsbury; a ligament in the West Yorks conurbation of towns. On the car radio a program speaks of French Electronica, such as the likes of Air – of whom a sample is played. A warm, lush sound. “Why don’t I listen to this more often?” I think to myself, knowing full well I won’t, as something of my reality cancels it out; the warm sunny glow it evokes is squeezed out between the fear and disbelief of these hyper-connected and hyper-competitive times. We pick up Tony and Michael’s partner (both of whom I cannot remember if I’ve met before), and I have a moment of open embarrassment and inner concern over the utter absence of any memory of meeting Michael’s partner at an event almost exactly 2 years ago, as we drop down the hill that brings you to Dewsbury (an attractive town that always surprises you for being so, due its unjustified negative press in the shadow of the Leeds/Harrogate/Ilkley perception of what is good/nice), . I haven’t felt there to be any duration to time or continuity to its passing during the past few years, to the extent that nothing seems to stick anymore – not like it used to. Further more, if this is a common complaint from the elderly who suffer memory loss, could this suggest that something of contemporary life could be bringing about an epidemic of ‘premature’ Alzheimers? – cold stabs of terror that aren’t appropriate to bring into the conversation right now. But any life so uneventful that nothing sticks, and nothing registers until death, isn’t a life worth living, and this is actually one of the reasons contributing to the utmost emphasis I began to place on partaking in political demonstrations in the wake of the May 8 election results. The sun shines on the now-sandblasted yellow sandstone that Dewsbury is built from. It doesn’t look so dissimilar from my home town, Barnsley, which stands alone in Yorks for being a former mining town that looks more like a former mill town.”“As we wait for our delayed connection in Dewsbury station, two Manchester Airport-bound trains race past at a pace that can’t help impress in a way that an ever-quicker broadband connection can never. Trains used by TransPennine Express franchise trains aren’t the world’s fastest, but in relation to the still-slightly-slower pace of Sunday life, they are like horizontal space rockets, that force our primitive responses to watch them off into the distance towards the Pennines. As our train approaches we see the Sardine Can-scenario usually reserved for the weekday peak-time commutes. It’s heaving, and the member of staff on the train’s tannoy apologises for this in a tone that may as well have openly spoke of the inadequacy of privatised rail services for not putting on extra carriages. He could probably judge the spirit on board this train, as the majority of the passengers were clearly on course for the anti-Tory demo over in Manchester, and a general good air quelled any of our felt-grievances about being crammed into the wobbly section between the two carriages. With people from the Newcastle, Middlesborough, Leeds Metro areas all piled upon this train, there’s a feeling that The North can show London that not all big demos have to gravitate to the capital. My lack of window views means I’m missing out on my felt-need to see the Pennines as they rise up to separate Yorkshire from the blueprint for modernity – the sprawl of Manchester. However, I find great encouragement in that a man is walking around handing out free copies of the left-wing paper The Morning Star; such a refreshing gesture in comparison to the UK’s usual commuter misery-staple The Metro, which somehow still manages to present itself as not being a right wing rag.”
“As we approach Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), towards the gathering of people, via the carpark next to the Aquatics Centre (a onetime novelty addition to this built-up environment, constructed for the 2002 Commonwealth Games held here), I look up at the surrounding fir trees and into the clear blue sky – it looks computer-generated. I am moving in and out of a melancholia over an unfinished course (at MMU) that is a cipher for an unfulfilled adult life – I lapse into melancholia whenever self doubt and estrangement kicks in when I’m in large social situations. All the more appropriate that I am telling the other two about always feeling like a spectator of my own life, like I’m always in 3rd person to myself, as we’re discussing a potential lack of political engagement within my age group (late 20’s to late 30’s?) compared to those either side of us. Perhaps what my age group shares is the experience of growing up amidst mass political indifference as the so-called ‘end of history’ 90’s passed into the 00’s via the smoke and mirrors of Blair. An ambivalence to anything happening around us that was only compounded by the illusion-of-democracy-erasing military invasion of Iraq, which sent the “nothing you can do but get pissed [find your own privatised happiness]” mentality into a full-throttle common conclusion. My MTV-ED age group share an inability to act, to risk getting our noses broken in the midst of political fracas – maybe because there was an assumption around that millennial moment that everything had already been said and done, and was on constant replay for us now? Whereas today, the only thing that seems to have meaning is to overthrow this ‘nihilizing’ empire, and those ten years younger than I are politically active not because they haven’t been jet-washed with the isolating media technologies and forms like us (as they’ve had it ten times worse since the birth of Broadband), but because they have been left with no illusions about this political-economy offering them any future worth enduring.”
“I move in and out of the crowd, to the toilet and to find [expensive bottled] water, and back onto Oxford Road – the crowd density distorts my perceptions to make me think I am walking far further away. I get Flashbacks to my time here after now standing on this section of road for over two hours, as if the duration of my presence is helping me absorb my old haunts. As I reflect on my inability to act, I realise that doubt is the main obstacle to invention and intervention, and I’m plagued by way too much of it. And all I usually find I can resort to is the sober resistance of a long-time depressive. I think of my life since I came to this place aged 19, and it conjures a soundtrack that is one constant noise….and it makes me nauseous. Leaving that course due to severe weight loss-provoked-anxiety/dysfunction meant I had to go back and face certain demons I’d been literally running, cycling [and swimming – at the Aquatics centre!] away from. This forced out the beginnings of my political awareness and the beginnings of being on the road I am still on. Even if that road now feels blocked.”
“I’m awash with an hard-to-explain fusion of personal and political memories and feelings as The Manic Street Preachers’ If You Tolerate This plays out to the large crowd packed into the quintessentially narrow streets of this sardine tin-city of mills and terraces. Somebody shared this song on the all-important Facebook newsfeed during the past few days. There is something appropriate about it in 2015, even though it was released 17 years ago(!) this autumn, with a Brit-pop after-the-party musical style, in the year between the ‘things-can-only-get-better’ New Labour victory and the millennial malaise that had Travis/Toploader as its let-down soundtrack. The Manics’ song almost shouts at us “hey, why the hell didn’t we pay attention to the meaning back in the late 90’s?”. They are playing this song, among others from the stage where speakers are soon to enter articulating opposing ideas to the Tories with the aim of giving this crowd hope. If You Tolerate This, in the face of what we’re fighting against, and what disturbing policies are being suggested at the conference up the road, sends shivers all down my arms and legs -“this is serious, deep stuff”. But shivers are nothing close to what hearing The Smiths’ ‘There is a light that never goes out’ is like, played out onto the streets of this city. This all-so-private song, that yet millions upon millions of us have a special place for in our lives, without shame. It’s like when the radio plays your favorite song, and you know that everyone else is hearing too, and how that makes your hairs stand up on your neck. But I bet nearly half the crowd are thinking and feeling exactly like me right now. Why does such a song seem to unite the longings for emotional companionship with the desire for a socio-political revolution? Yet, it does: emotional loneliness and the miseries of living under a ruthlessly-market driven system that requires our atomisation, are part of the same process. Such a song jerks those tears ever-harder in an age when we are all ‘lost-in-commute’ in cyberspace, trying to find our destination, and sick, ever so sick, of living under this system. There is a Light is like a minute’s silence within a national anthem for a de-territorialitised nation of ‘sensitive type’s’, unable to reify themselves for the market-individualism of these times; a silent moment in which they all silently contemplate how they’ve endured, to which the ‘light that never goes out’ becomes an optimistic beacon for our will to survive. As the crowd begins to move, I suppose the sight of wheelchair-bound protesters, draped in skeletons with placards saying ‘fit-for-work’ is a sobering and chilling reminder of the stakes on survival in these times. “Don’t get ill, whatever you do”. One placard sticks with me more than any other: “ConServitude and Social Darwinism” – but so many reminders, yet no sign yet of a closure on this compassion-less reality”
“We watch most of the demonstration pass us, and as we stay stood down by MMU we join it right at the back. After heading under the bridge, where Oxford Road passes under the inner ring road, we pass a large camp supporting the homeless (echoed by the large graffiti lettering saying ‘homes for the homeless’ written onto a derelict building just over the way). On a visual level only, it resembles the scenes of urban inequality when US cinema dares to show us that nation’s rotten insides. And this is frightening; Manchester is no longer the chilled millennial studenty-indie-music city it became sold to us as in the late 90’s; the politics of class war is once again visible on its streets – a stark reminder that we can’t return to that bubble, we have no choice but to fight back. As we head towards the town hall, we end up clustered among the Black Block – hoods up and mouths covered (“should I be doing that?”). They are frustrated because the crowd has stopped; “what we fucking stopped for?” says one of them with an accent that sounds neither north nor south. Their haste for more direct action against the conference opens up the wounds of my dilemma between who I am, what I think is right, and that inability to act on this makes me uncomfortable about being more cowardly than I wish I was. I begin to lose my temper for reasons I can’t figure out, as my emotional confusion creates my own haste. I leave the crowd and go walking by myself, angry, and mildly paranoid that my abnormal movements will attract attention from the airborne police who may think I’m up to something, rather than just being my aimless self. Constantly feel a need to prove myself, but just walk around chuntering to myself. ”
“I eventually return to a level of sociality, retreat from my desire to find a pub, and locate my friends near a pub at Deansgate – where I do have one pint. We head down from here towards Oxford Road, surrounded by an increasingly fragmented group of demonstrators. I assume ‘the demo’ has come to that ‘glass of cold water in the face’ moment of late capitalist ‘realism’ where everyone starts thinking about work tomorrow, and what’s in their fridge for when they get back home (a thought conveniently attended to by the Sainsbury’s store we are now approaching). But as we begin to walk back down Oxford Road this proves to be a massively wrong assumption: whilst stood around the The Thirsty Scholar pub under the railway bridge, the police jump out of a van, approach and arrest a couple of members of an anarchist-leaning group who are having pints outside the pub. Tensions flare up as members/or friends of the young men being taken jump up, brandishing the cards we got handed earlier which state that the police have to state a clear reason for why they are detaining somebody. One of the friends I traveled with tries to intervene to help the young men being incarcerated, only for a police reaction to result in a scuffle that looks like it could get very messed up. And although it doesn’t, the potential sends my cowardly heart right into my mouth, and I’m shaking like always. I watch for what feels like an age with my customary dumb-spectator-glare, only to get more and more annoyed at my inability to act. I end up manically meandering up and down the nearby alleys where the graffiti-mural of ‘dirty old town’ Manchester no longer has that tame-millennia-mush-reflectionist-culture feel to it, and now takes on a look of ‘why we fight back’, which is what could be said of Manchester-2015 in general. As my friends stand on the pavement of Oxford Road absorbing what has just happened, they are in hearing distance of a pub bouncer who is that deeply bored with existence that his initially “everybody hear me(!)” dislike for the protesters is cut short to start talking about the football scores. I’m still shaking, and give in to half a pint within this focal point of trouble, The Thirsty Scholar. I realise I’ve walked into a poetry event, as the woman on stage recites verse on her guilt on walking past an homeless person who is asking for spare change – a guilt I feel I have documented thoroughly during the past few years. The event turns out to be part of this weekend’s nationwide ‘We Shall Overcome’ events.”
“Our friend James, who met up with us towards the end of our time in Manchester today, takes us home in his car, parked on a side-street halfway down Oxford Road. As we exit via the Gorton area of the city, through the mixture of the very-manchester-like red brick terraces, the nowhere place Tesco extras/ Subway sandwich establishments, and drunks stumbling home from Sunday drinking, that seem to constitute the entirety of East Manchester, it all leaves me under an ominous cloud of confusion as to where we go from this point onwards, in the future, and today – as personally speaking, what do you make of the remaining waking hours after such a bombardment of thought and feeling? How do you deal with it, so as to function the day after? As we link up to the motorway system, The conversation leads back to the actions of the police in the city, and focuses in on mild-terror-provoking potential future predicaments in a more extreme, less tolerant world, where state power goes to extreme lengths to stay control. All the more barren does such talk feel due to traveling amidst the overlooked and sinister-beauty of this landscape made up of motorway bridges as they twist and rise in front of the martian-like Pennine terrain, that feels like an unwelcoming ideal setting for the bleak future projections all-so-poorly hidden behind our conversation of tired banter. I decide I can’t go home just yet, and as we pass over into West Yorkshire I ask to be dropped at Dewsbury station, (I mean, we’re going past it, so I may as well) and as the day’s toll on my energy becomes apparent, I exit at Leeds station, almost crawling up to a large Wetherspoons that is scarcely populated in a city that looks deserted in comparison to the one I have just been in.
5 October 2015
“Trying to wake up this morning, after yesterday, was incredibly hard. Is it specific to my own make-up that I find ‘attending’ demonstrations to be an emotional rollercoaster to such an extent that I experience what a more far-flung version of myself would attribute to ‘jet-lag?’. But the emotional ‘wave-pool’ hasn’t died down yet, as now I’m up and about I’m borderline manic, which I make visibly evident in my haste of avoiding the subway on the way to Wakefield Kirkgate station, skipping over the dual carriageway, and jumping over the railings. I feel charged, you see, and I don’t want to go back to anxious sleep-walk of ‘everyday’ life, from where it’s ‘nihilizing’ affects beat me into daily-depressive-pleasure-seeking. This is why the sight of a stag-do on platform 1, gearing up for a night out (likely heading to York or Newcastle), already spilling beer everywhere, at 12pm on a dreary Monday, doesn’t initially stand out for being out of context. But then I realise that this isn’t down to that fact that I’m out of sync with any normal sequence of events: it’s because such a sight is utterly normal fullstop. It’s just one of many potential scenes from an already-anticipated slideshow; one of limited imagination and possibilities; a slideshow on endless-repeat. The return of the 80’s; not in class warfare, but in caricature, comic book and video-game fancy-dress-rehashing. A now-seemingly-obligatory ceremony for a Nowhere Time. And it’s literally standing in the way of my need to sustain the idea that there’s something beyond this Flat Earth Digi-box-Dystopia. I’m now on platform two as the train pulls in for Barnsley. I’m restless. I’m sat behind two men of baby boomer age – one with a Lancastrian accent, the other American. I can’t help it, but beneath the perpetual turmoil of my self-esteem, I’m quietly looking at the other passenfers and thinking “do you want social change? Are you sick of all of this too?”
“As I leave Barnsley train station I notice the headline on the piles of The Metro newspapers, ready to pounce on the easy-target of commuters made porous to such amnesiac-titillations by the drudgery of their 9-5’s. Today’s dish is a slur, focusing on a few minor occurrences to tarnish the entirety of yesterday’s demonstrations. It annoys me so much that I head into the interchange, down to the bus bays, looking for a copy I can take with me for documentation purposes only. I become engulfed by a sinking feeling, which captures me off guard as I battle with faltering energy levels. There is an era-long set-in sense of defeat around here. People may use the word ‘depressed’ to describe a place with a derogatory slant with the aim of shining a preferential light on themselves for not being from there (fuck knows what city of gold they come from...). Being from there, well, the word takes on a very different slant altogether. If the song ‘There Is a Light…’ compounded and united disparate longings I have whilst in Manchester yesterday, then it’s The Smiths’ lyrics “…for there are brighter sides to life and I should know because I’ve seen them, but not very often” that currently gives voice to an otherwise unjustified sense of let down, as I walk past the bus lanes. In the wake of being at/or doing anything that momentarily suspends this so-called ‘everyday’, I always get this sense articulated by these Smiths’ lyrics, as I come back to my extended-sleeping-quarters (for most my life) of the Barnsley Borough. I have seen slight glimmers of something that could take the place of this ‘everyday’, and I’m in no way referring to town centres such as this one being ‘Shorditched’ into an unending hipster’s paradise cyberparty. I’m talking of something that feels alive, and is beyond the black and whites of ‘fun/boring’ of this current reality.”
I have retroactively made this the 3rd blog in a series of map-making’s of meanderings and musings that coincided with decisive events for the wider society. My thoughts on the past (my past), present, and longings for a future decisively different from the present loosely congregating around these events. With my writings this year, there has been a consistent eagle eye for traces of social change; I am not aligned with any specific party/ideology that opposes the current state of play, yet most certainly not averse to any either, as I’m aware that any jostling for something beyond this sink-hole-for-sanity is essential for my well-being as much as anything else.
Here is the first post from 9 May: Lost Bus Routes and Pre-Election Reflections
The second from 22 June: London Walks, and Anti-Austerity Musings
10 September 2015
“I’ve been approaching Leeds by train for years now (for the best part of the lost-decade, starting 2008), and it is the wastelands (especially the unappropriatable bits) that are its saving grace. It says something that the boring central zone obliterates. I change trains towards Manchester, sitting backwards as the train leaves Leeds. Dead feelings still cling on, yet I know they’re just symptoms of something much larger than myself – something that throughout these years has only ever really become clear to me when staring out of the window of a moving train or bus. Yet I sense movement; movement out of this ‘stuckness’ that accumulates moments of feeling like being part of the living dead. I’m not sure what is happening, whether the world will spin whilst I stand still, but I’ll make any minor manoeuvre to help loosen from being stuck.”
“Sitting backwards means that I am facing the sharper, most hasty inclines that form Lancashire’s side of the Pennines that we leave behind as we near Manchester. I think what captivates me about landscapes, is that any given landscape is forced to become an illustrator for the most heavy of shit on my mind at any given moment. These glacial cuts between Yorkshire and Lancashire make me wonder if the water is starting to trickle under our socio-political ice age. But will the flow be guided, or will it burst out destructively? I need change anyway, coming to another town to drink has been a substandard substitute for a couple of years now, but it is beginning to wear thin.”
“Exit Piccadilly station platforms, and head up the escalators – not really sure why. There’s a banner for a TGI Friday’s eatery, based on a pastiche of mid 20th century American diners. The banner has those thin metal anti-climbing spikes all over the top of it. I can’t quite figure out why this would be necessary at all. But if I was in doubt, there’s also a CCTV camera keeping it company. It’s a coincidence, but it isn’t ironic: control is at the heart of every aspect of contemporary life, from controlled pastiche experiences of mid-20 the century diners, to maximum transport terminal security. No doubt the menu choice will tell you the calorie intake, so we can control that too. If not, I’m sure it will soon. I have to take a photograph, but I’m wary of the presence of an ‘officer’ nearby – as an artist was arrested last year photo-documenting London’s ‘ring’ of CCTV cameras. I exit the station and cut south avoiding the shopping area of Manchester, taking in the Victorian what-might-have-beens prelimery-skyscrapers, much more impressive than the reality given to us with the likes of the Beetham Tower.”
“Because my default memory of 2003/Blair-years Manchester is the one my brain reverts to every time I leave the city, I find all successive skyline additions surprising. Just past Oxford Road station on the way to Deansgate a huge blue-tinted glass phallus, complimenting the nearby Beetham Tower, has emerged from seemingly nowhere, with the name ‘StudentCastle’ hanging vertically down the side of the building. Talking of default positions, it will forever remain absurd to me that such a place could now be for student accommodation. It looks fit only for penthouses, Porsche owners, or for scenes from a Dallas-cum-Dubia-deal-doing-drama; not for those who I still (clearly erroneously) see as based at safe-havens from the dynamics of a system that they would be better momentarily safe-guarded from, in order to at least interpret it, through art, English Lit, Philosophy or whatever…..yeah, I’m definitely out of touch here, I guess.
“As I reach the view of Beetham Tower, further down Deansgate – hanging above what now merely resembles the atypical regeneration background imagery of red-bricked former industrial buildings – I come to the conclusion that Beetham Tower just looks like a virtual impressionist’s wet dream. And it may as well be, judging on how out of reach it feels. And I’m not talking about it’s relative height. The glass, the purported transparency of such structures is exactly what makes them seem so inaccessible. Across the road a block of private apartments has been named after the Hacienda night club. A city of so much promise – one I still look to (perhaps due to being an unreconstructed northerner) for promise, is now a city of signs that lead nowhere.”
Friday 11 September: Recovery, walking around my home town, assembled like dream-like collage of memories. … I cannot explain why this seems to be repeatedly occurring.
I miss things dearly. Especially those things that never got a chance….
….that in hindsight never stood a chance
Saturday 12 September: The Big Smoke (and Mirrors)
“Central Wakefield at 5am. The pouring rain doesn’t seem to impound any felt-miseries at such an hour, maybe due to the rarity of being awake at this time it is making me feel like I’m in a different climate/land. It must be said that I’m finding that there’s a way of looking at the world that seems specific to this time between night and day, possibly epitomised by the ghost train crawling through Westgate station back up to Leeds in preparation for today’s carting of people to and from London. It’s as if the empty train visualises a sense that I can see the inner workings of the ‘man machine matrix’ [Will Self] at this nowhere hour; like seeing the working arteries and veins of a living creature. It makes no difference that I know the train has to have staff on board, because their lack of visibility visualises this Metanomic servitude everything and everyone has to a system that tells us we are our own bosses. As our train pulls in, the man stood in front of me on the platform is so prematurely weak and frail (accident, degeneration recoverer?) that I feel a bubbling haste at the prospect of missing the train altogether, and can sense anger in me towards him, which almost immediately results in self-detesting; parts of myself I wish didn’t exist, but parts that are part-and-parcel of living in this age where an ideology of ‘rule of the jungle’ has engendered a growing fascistic attitude to our most vulnerable. Social change. It’s the necessity of a movement we can all taste in our mouths, to prise us out of such a miserable way to exist. To extinguish unnecessary ‘survivalist’ impulses riving and tearing through our bloodstream.”
“BBC Radio 4. Listening to the Shipping Forecast. Turbulent seas, maritime nation; so easily forgotten on the mainland; resonates so peacefully with the train’s humming electrical noises. Why does it somehow seem to be a component of a lost world (a better one in my opinion)? I’ve heard it said (somewhere) that the Shipping Forecast would be the last lone voice across the land at the dawn of a nuclear wipe-out. But this voice of the long night, for me, seems more a spectral trace of a parallel/or hidden-from-view world; evoking elements of a Britain that never took the tunnel of Thatcherism. I suppose it evokes the longing for the presence of a socialistic paternal force that is there in times of vulnerabilities we nearly all face at some point. These arable lands we are passing through in this point between light and dark resemble more hinterlands between two different types of world. The following news story suggests it is a forgone conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn will win the Labour leadership contest later this morning – maybe we are indeed in an hinterland between two different times?”
“With it still only being 8am (although 8am equates to 10am in this cinematic equivalent of all you know elsewhere in the UK) I wait sometime in a cafe staring out onto Euston Road. And I always expect to see somebody I know, as a place for me is a place, whether there are 1,000 or 13,000,000 people under its place name umbrella. I see a woman who looks like an older version of somebody my not-much-younger-self would day-dream about spending his days with, all-too-aware that I’ve been dumbly goldfish-like forgetful about how age hits us all, now I’m in a spell of my life where meeting new people gets harder and harder. Wake up, Boo! (The Boo Radleys) comes on the cafe radio. Couldn’t care less for it back in the summer of 1995, but I miss the vibe of the 90’s more by the year, and such songs evoke a freshness/sunshine that I cannot imagine now (and I’m more than convinced that our ‘always on’ times have hastened this colour-drainage). It’s certainly not just me who feels this way, when even people who can’t remember the decade are more-than-active in rejoicing in the unsheddable traces of it coating of the present. Good times are environing, not personal/private – even if such a time did prove to be all smoke and mirrors. But this era-based optimism cannot return under the current social reality which was still fresh and believable in the 1990’s. Now it’s just a dead idea-ruling. Perhaps a new age is dawning now; it certainly needs to be too, as the decade we’ve just gone through feels so lost, like a world under general anesthetic. ”
“After leaving the cafe, and with hours to go before a demo I’m supposed to be attending (I have to attend after spending limited funds on always-expensive train tickets), I turn right from ST Pancras into the Camden area. I manage to lose the macho swagger I use as a self-defense mechanism against the Euro-trotter-scape of St Pancras station, focused on the high-end shop Fortnum and Mason’s. The parks of London give the impression of opening up the seemingly endless chances at play in metropolitan life. Despite the ever-present tragedies of morning drinkers, these parks give out a certain romance, of something Unrealised – enhanced by the social housing surrounding them, but totally obliterated by the exercise machines, that have the presence of colonisers in such parks, disallowing anything but the Utopia/Dystopia of ‘mission: Self-Betterment’.”
“Half 9 and it’s not unbearably busy at the Oxford Circus/Oxford Road junction right now. On rare occasions I do feel so utterly detached from the world/culture I am attached to that I’m like an alien spectator of The Spectacle. If this could last, well then I’d probably be able to spout such “you-don’t-have-to-buy-into-it” cop-out-philosophy to all those ‘negatives”. Speaking of ‘negative types’ how do you tell if there is or isn’t breathing coming from these disheveled shapes coated in old blankets in these closed doorways (the army of homeless, of course)? How do you know if they haven’t died silently on these sleepless streets? The survivalist fever that funnels us into individualist obedience makes certain the we treat such uncertainties as ‘none of my business’. Next to one of the blanket-coated bodies is a virtual-reality advert-board offering the proposition of having your ‘selfie’ taken with hippy/venture capitalist, Richard Branson.”
“Down near Embankment now. The amount of bodies lying down in doorsteps/parks/under bridges, looks like the results of warfare. Which, of course, it is.”
“After confusingly walking back and forwards, over the river, I eventually find myself in Waterloo station. In a city of plenty, why does the panicky grip of scarcity take hold? A mentality that physically sticks you to the ground in a seizure of confusion. Reminds me too much of the humiliation of anorexia, so I end up just sitting and eating on a bench in the busiest station in the country. Waterloo leads to all that rests at the other side of uncircumventable gateway of London to where I’m hail from. I imagine what my life might have been if I’d have hailed from the other side of the gateway, in a land that cannot help but seem like a dreamy, green and pleasant mid-century England, due to all the children I’ve overheard talking to parents in the station sounding like they belong in Enid Blyton novels.”
“I get up and walk. Slowly get going again. Crossing back north over the river, a friend texts me saying Corbyn has won the majority to become next leader of Labour party. “You shouldn’t rest your hopes around things” – yes, but I can’t keep down a small smile that emerges on my face.”
“Always rewind to a default position of surprise when I pass Downing Street, surprised that it’s not really a street at all; more a half-way between Granada Studio’s Coronation Street set and an aggressively guarded compound. Whenever you see a photo/story featuring No 10, it only focus’s on the house, not the street, which is mainly constituted of massive Portland stone ministerial buildings that that sandwich no 10 in.”
“After over an hour of confused meanderings, useless, utterly negative, exhausted text-book scribings; unsure if this demo is actually occurring (I got the time/place muddled up) I finally encounter it flowing down past Trafalgar Square. I follow it down to Parliament Square, back down past no 10. The larger the crowd, the less alienated I actually feel. I eventually find some people I know. The demo has most certainly been strengthened by Corbyn’s election victory this morning, and that he is attending this demo shortly. When we get to Parliament Square he gets to the stage. You can’t hear a word he is saying, yet the uproar from the crowd gets rid of any uncertainty towards what is happening. “Always be wary of the crowd” – maybe so, but, trust me, as somebody who’s spent a lifetime feeling alienated from groups in the usual course of life, I feel there is much to be gathered from a large group of people sharing a disparate yet unified energy. It suggests, or even ascertains a potential for an alternative to the current state of play that seemed unimaginable in this country a couple of years back. ”
“It’s a quest to retain an optimism from which alternatives can be nurtured within. But too tired to deal with the growing atmosphere of lairyness that seems to be taking over the area close to King’s Cross/ST Pancras. Football fans heading home meet half-drunk pleasure-fix-seekers to make for an environment I never expect in London. But London is England; the shit, perpetual con-trick of our corporate culture, and the ensuing frustrations are all out to play here on a Saturday just like any other town or city up and down the country. Large swaves of London are still just the England-kept-provincial under Thatcherite occupation, but on steroids. After leaving an Internet cafe I need somewhere to sit with a pint for some time but can’t find a cash machine. I walk up and down, in what seems like miles judging on how tired I am now. I finally find one, only for it say it will charge me £1.50 for using it. Have to walk all way back again. Pass more homeless that I have to shut my head off to this time, drained of social compassion. A group of men mock a trans-gendered person in that abuse-disguised-as-laddish-banter style we all know well; “it’s water off a duck’s back, no doubt”, yet I doubt that very much – more like collateral damage. 13 million people and still they find time to pick on one of them. Eventually find a cash machine and a pub that is only just off the main road. So it feels so odd that it’s completely absent of the UKWEEKEND aura. Sit outside, nobody hassles me. I write and relax and find a potential in the city, and in the country again, for something different than this lost-decade I share with most. Things might be changing, but this is a long-long game, and I carry on in a punch-drunk manner.”
“On the train back I close my eyes. Intoxicated by the sensory overload of a London, that, these days can often resemble the hallucination of walking inside the World-Wide-Web, and, inevitably, alcohol. I am exhausted. I see pictures of things traveling so fast I can’t make them out – traveling faster than the speed of the train. The drink’s kicking in, and again I’m feeling I need companionship, and not just meaningless, nihilist bullshit; something that at least feels real. Tired of consuming the boring medication to endure the ‘Boring Dystopia’. How do I return to a point where things are fresh and can surprise again?”
“As I leave Westgate at 11pm, I misjudge my timing crossing the road. Yet I am certain the motorist speeds up. For sometime now I’ve been thinking how private vehicles encourage primal power trips, a driving force in us, unnecessarily so, due to the dog eat dog atmosphere we are forced to inhale. The driver, in a white t-shirt, may as well have been flexing his muscles at my slightly disheveled self as I scurry across the road. There’s so much work to do: the Tories more than anyone are masters at making us hate one another. But I’m so fucking tired of this game.”
“They keep calling me”
Amidst the pretty stark turbulence I experienced as 2015 began I became obsessed with trying to write something about Joy Division’s eternal-presence in my life. But I never got anywhere, convincing myself it needed to be a project of a sizable, I-know-everything-about-Joy-Division, quality due to the task of writing about one of those bands guarded with pitchforked-opinions by musos. But it felt crucial for me to write something both for myself, and for the reason brilliantly articulated in Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life: “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).
Ben Hewitt’s article Joy Division: 10 of The Best, in the guardian this week, gave me an motivational template: I’d use a selection their songs to expand on all this stuff about the band that I have been driven to tell people in pubs for the past 3 years. But I don’t have any desire to write about a fave song list per se: the album tracks I reference gain a great deal of their significance when listened to within the context of the entire album (this should seem obvious, but in the Ipod age, the ‘shuffle’ features heavily in the way we listen to music). I also wanted to use individual tracks to explain how the din of their resonance seems to get louder and louder the further we (in UK terms) descend further into the Thatcherite experiment that may finally be coming to end… “this dream it takes too long”. And although I found only managed to write about 7 songs, they were more than sufficient. Thus I have proceeded in writing the blog I’ve been wishing to write all these years.
In the past few years it seems overwhelmingly the case that we are looking back to a certain time for answers to a present day inertia. Yet we don’t seem to realise that this is what we’re doing, and so just continue doing it blindly. Cultural artifacts from the 70’s into the early eighties seem to be constantly at hand for reference on all media platforms. For example, Ben Hewitt’s article: although I think it’s brilliantly written in its own right (far more imaginative use of language than I could ever achieve), and it creatively touches upon material that relates to their ‘channeling of the present’, it also seems oblivious to it. When he writes of Dead Souls that “…Curtis sounds like he’s being pulled by ghostly apparitions, trapped in a place “where figures from the past stand tall / And mocking voices ring the halls”…” isn’t the most ghostly aspect of all in how this perfectly describes our relationship to Joy Division in the 21st century? Such articles and documentaries don’t seem to understand the motive behind their accumulative coming-into-being 35 years after Ian Curtis killed himself. Of the 7 Joy Division songs I have picked, I have tried, when possible to introduce them in relation to personal experiences, 1. Disorder
“Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?”
It must have been 2010; in that murky moment between something bad (New Labour) and something worse (all-out-Tory Class War-disguised as ‘the coalition’). Up until now Joy Division had been off my succession of cheap mp3 players for a few years – having told myself that the obsession I had with them in my early 20’s, some five years back into the thick of Blair’s Britain, had been a sign of immaturity, and that they’re subsequent increasing popularity was no more than a Topshop accessory. As the fall of 2010 arrived with the threat of immobilising snow storms entrenching a deeper existential inertia, it all reversed, and I found myself hurtling back towards some kind of early 20’s point.
We were drinking at a friend’s flat in the back-end of Barnsley- one of those new-build apartment complexes, squeezed in amidst unhappy-looking Victorian terraces still stained by the soot of a vanquished industry. A few cans downed and then it was time to head into town, myself regrettably still hooked the mirages of fulfilled hopes and dreams that coated the shell of the so-called Blair-year Party-times. But this was now descending into its zombie stage.
We came to an agreement that we needed a ‘going out song’, and we chose Disorder. The throbbing beat of the bass drum kicked in, and the trance-like state took over for the first time in years. This wasn’t a flashback, as I was back there again. The way my slightly inebriated friends were moving around the room, getting seduced into the whirlpool-like nature of Disorder when played at volume, made me realise that this wasn’t some “Lets all dance to Joy Division” indie-cool trend: this was real. My early twenties-daily dependency on Unknown Pleasures didn’t seem so weird any more. My friends may or may not have been depressed, but they existed, like me, in secretly-depressed times. At that point, despite differences in opinion of the severity the global and social issues outside the window, Joy Division felt like understanding of life that we all shared.
The insightful left-wing group Plan C convincingly argue, in their essay We are all Very Anxious that anxiety is the dominant ‘public secret’ of this current stage of capitalism (which doesn’t mean to say that other negative emotions have disappeared, just that this is the definitive one of our age). By ‘public secret‘ it is meant that it is “…something that everyone knows, but nobody admits, or talks about. …[W]hen discussed at all, they are understood as individual psychological problems, often blamed on faulty thought patterns or poor adaptation”.
I would add that there are two public secrets; the anxiety we endure being the first, and the second being that we exist in ‘depressed times’, and many of us spend much of our lives rocking painfully back and forth from anxiety to depression. But what is incredibly important here is that Joy Division share the public secret with us, ‘catatonically channeling our present’ as Mark Fisher says. What makes Disorder so [Unknown]pleasurable is that it shares that publicly hidden anxiety with us. It speaks about something we normally have to hide. The guitar riff between verses is so riddled with panic it is intoxicating, it recognises the pain that is otherwise barred an outlet.
From 2010 onwards I remembered what this music did for me. How it’s darkness was often a life-saver. Perhaps a necessity as I stared down the barrel of a nastier, more Tory reality. As the drums continue to smash out in a death-drive whilst the rest of song exhausts itself into finitude, Disorder becomes an introduction to a record that makes no emotional compromises; doesn’t pretend things are OK; makes no effort to pretend it sees a bright side to life. And this is why from this point onwards it resumed it’s place as a make-shift prescription tablet ‘day in day out’, from 2010 onwards.
“I’ve lost the will to want more, but I remember when were young”
The mid years of New Labour were a weird time for those of us in our late teens and early twenties. So many people I thought were sorted were actually in a real mess, trapped between small-town college courses they had no interest in and bleak job prospects, propped up by bi-weekly drug or drink intake. I never put 2 and 2 together at the time. One friend from back then spoke of his recent depressive spell: “It’s like somebody flicks a switch, and I’m gone for days on end.” The minute-long opening to the track Insight has something of the uncanny about it. The soundscape of lift-shafts moving and doors locking is so close to epitomising the nausea-like continual-return of depression it’s almost an unreal sensation as the shivers go down your back and you think “fuck me, that’s exactly how it is!”.
I was pleased Ben Hewitt included it in his list of songs, although it’s with tracks like Insight that I come to realise that listing album songs merely for their individual qualities is somewhat lacking. Insight’s intro is the seminal moment in Unknown Pleasures. Even after the self-destruction of Disorder, and building terror in The Day of Lords, there is still potentially room for another world, another way. But Unknown Pleasures is the world of the depressive; once that door locks the depression sufferer knows all-too-wll what world we’re in; he/she knows that feeling of that ‘locked door’, once you’re inside “gone for days on end”. Insight plays the pivotal role in signifying that this is no ordinary record; you’re entering a specific world, at which point sufferers of repetitive bouts of depression have a moment of strength due to being able to invite others into it. It has much the same relationship as Heart and Soul does on their second album ‘Closer’ – the position of the sorcerer’s hand, dictating the overall direction of the record. Their producer Martin Hannett was clearly quite unique, his ability to conjure the soundscape around Joy Division’s tracks is so fitting the only word you could use in hindsight of what Joy Division became is ‘perfection’. It now almost seems like he was electronically connected to Ian Curtis’s emotional state, forcing him to be the cypher for our present day cyberspacially-fucked subjectivities.
Insight makes sense of what has been and what is to come from the viewpoint of clinical depression. But if we are to conclude that we live in a secretly-depressed time, then that sense seems far more wide-spread than merely being down to personal shortcomings. Insight really does channel something. The world they and their post-punk contemporaries saw/foresaw, one where social democracy was crumbling under a return of more powerful and relentless capitalism, where industry no longer needed them, no longer of value to society, well all that never went away. All that happened was that it was buried under the incessant command to be positive and proactive in the market fundamentalist economy that requires us to be market individuals, where opting out of the game is all but impossible without dying as it seeps into all potential waking (sleeping) moments due to computer technologies. This sense of having “no future” actually intensified, but was barred an expressive outlet amidst an intensifying downpour of aspirational dogma. I think this is why these days we so often find ourselves praising certain artists from the Post-Punk-New Wave crossover of the late 70’s to early 80’s, because that period seemed to be a ‘breathing space’ for raw emotional response to the early days of the Thatcherite transformation, before it became so entrenched that raw expression became so much harder to articulate; a ‘reflexive impotence’ (Fisher) that not only affects our ability for political engagement but also our emotional expression – “smile or die”.
I have previously written about this uncanny-like-relationship music from this period has with our contemporary situation. It’s like what happened from then onwards was some sort of icing over, and that we now stare at these voices as if they have been frozen in time, floating underneath the ice. I wrote previously of Kate Bush and Joy Division in particular. I think of the music video to Kate Bush’s Breathing (based on nuclear war – another issue that, although as relevant today, seems frozen into a 70’s/80’s time-pocket), and the images of her trapped behind the see-through skin of the bubble she is encased in seems to pretty-much visualise what I mean here. Perhaps the drive towards retrospection in this current moment is due to a slow-awaking to the horrifying future-less reality we actually exist in, finding ourselves with no choice but to push away all the hyperbole that disguised this truth to us from its onset there-on-after? 3. Novelty
“You’re on your own now, don’t you think that is a shame, but you’re the only one responsible to take the blame…so what you gonner do when the novelty is gone, ?”
A sense of loss. Novelty was actually one of the first Joy Division songs I ever listened to. Aged 18 (2002), it was a cassette featuring a Joy Division compilation on the one side, and Television’s Marquee Moon on the other. It signaled the end of teenage life. I was experiencing my first ‘They Live’ moment (where he puts on the sunglasses and sees the Real), when the comforts and sugary surface of the social construction fell away, leaving me shit-scared of a world my nervous system has no way of coming to terms with. It resurfaced into 2012 when my messy inability to adjust to a Masters course in 21st century London made me face the truth that I my youth had now come to an end, with no progression to another stage of life on the horizon.
I reference these two points because I think it is arguably most tragic of their songs, because it seems to document the point of loss – that point where a little something of you dies inside, from which ‘New Life’ proves impossible for many. Mark Fisher in his 2005 Kpunk blog The Nihil Rebound (published in Ghosts of My Life, and probably the strongest piece on Joy Division I know of) writes that “what separated Joy Division from any of their predecessors” was that their “bleakness was without any specific cause… …crossed the line from the blue of sadness into the black of depression, passing into the ‘desert and wastelands’ where nothing brings either joy or sorrow…Curtis sang ‘I’ve lost the will to want more’ on ‘Insight’ but there was no sense that there had been any such will in the first place”.
Yet I don’t think Novelty does this: it is even more tragic in that it evokes the act of loss. For me Novelty shares the same emotional space as The Smiths’ This Night Has Opened My Eyes (“and I will never sleep again”), the result of which Morissey sang he neither “happy or sad”, just numb. The songs evokes a point of departure. The Smiths, hailing from the same city, would (in my opinion) not make a song that came as close to the point of bleakness as this, whilst for Joy Division it signals the point of departure to “a bleakness without any cause”. 4. Digital
“Feel it closing in. Day in Day out”
As 2005 got messier and messier, I briefly entered a wider social group including of a group of lads from the incredibly-deprived former pit villages of the Dearne Valley (Thurnscoe to be exact), and a group from former mining communities straggling between Wakefield, Barnsley and Hemsworth. All of the places somewhat left abandoned after the pit closures, and which saw our area of South/West Yorks (Darton) as posh – a consequence of us getting the M1, and it becoming a split community of tepidly-affluent commuter houses at one side and council houses built for coal miners at the other.
Sections of this wider group would end up fighting and momentarily-despising each other (mainly over women), and each constituting a more-or-less ‘with it’ group leader and many emotional or physical wrecks. The Dearne Valley lot had no time for Joy Division’s near-death finale Closer, but were obsessed with Unknown Pleasures (and the album tracks most akin the Unknown Pleasures sound), even wearing the album-sleeve t-shirt. I would’ve thought it a fashion accessory back then, until I realised how much of a ‘fucked up’ generation I belonged to, and why such music may just appeal to these people.
“Let’s All Dance to Joy Division” was a track by a then in-vogue indie-cool outfit The Wombats (to which you WON’T find a link on here). It seemed to treat their surging popularity as something with a comical tint to it, as if we were all easy-come easy-go hipsters unaffected by REAL shit. But I saw no joke in what these tracks meant to me, at a very turbulent point, and even 25 years after they ceased to be. Before the death of small town student nights, the customary dingy indie night club would play non-album-track Digital for us every Wednesday, demanded as necessity and eventually granted.
If it weren’t so minimal the message would be lost. The song is like a drill piece, which, like the outro solo to Shadowplay, is violently unwilling to divert from it’s acceleration towards a dead end. It is 3 minutes of medicinal joy, an energy-release from the general continuity of mild-distress. “I feel it closing in”. If one sensation is necessarily put to the back of the minds of those who hit their twenties in the post 9/11/post Iraq invasion world of increasing cyberspace-interpenetration, it is one of being on borrowed time; where the future has imploded and is hurtling back towards us. ‘Stay young – what else is there anyway?’. With our hands perpetually hovering over our panic buttons, and our feet walking a tightrope above depressive dysfunction, Joy Division’s chaotic hell begins to arrange the look of the world in a way we can deal with. A way we could deal with, back then, when I for one most certainly relied on their music for survival at the most unstable of points. And yes, we did dance to Joy Division. 5. Decades
“Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders”
Decades, the final song on their second (and last album) begins with a soundscape the feels like entering some sort of bone-yard-remnant of unquantifiable suffering- but a suffering being undertaken with total indifference. Again, Hannet’s soundscaping seems, in hindsight, so close to a putting the seal of inevitability over Curtis’s then-imminent suicide, that you often wonder if he truly was a man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time: a tortured pop artist, radical to the cause, caught in the crusher of one huge transformation paving the way for the a much worse world: one lacking a future. The chilling intro conjures to mind a scenario similar to the raising of the skeletal dead from a parched graveyard on one of the most unnerving of Ray Harryhausen‘s stop-frame-motion scenes in the 1962 film production of Jason and the Argonauts.
Decades doesn’t just seem to drag behind it the weight on the shoulders of the punk/post-punk generation, it seems to drag the ghosts of all previous proletarian generations, embodying the destruction of all that the working classes had worked for/fought for. Not only do Curtis’s vocals sound like the voices of the dead accidentally picked up on a tape recorder, but it is as if our forefathers are raised, bent and buckled by two centuries of exploitation, to see the future they believed they were building for their grandchildren crumbling into wasteland.
“I guessed they died some time ago” (Interzone, Unknown Pleasures)
Joy Division were beyond a cause, and weren’t political, even when Curtis sang of the worst excesses of unaccountable power. But without meaning to or not, they remain a cypher for the collapse of a humanist future, the swansong of a post-punk movement that woke up to the depressive reality of the no-such-thing-as society-nihilism that was Punk’s rallying call; the ‘spirit of ’45’ had been buried and a new nastier phase was on the cards. Curtis’s own political leanings and obsessions were more collateral damage than anything, conveying a sense of despondency with the course being taken by humanity, who seemed too far gone to be able to threat any longer over rights and wrongs. As I said before, this despondency articulated by post-punk never went away, but has been largely denied a contemporary articulation due to appropriation of any idea of individual expression into ‘market individualism’. Consequently their legacy grows larger and larger. Collateral damage indeed.
Ten years later The La’s, a Liverpudlian band, fronted by Lee Mavers, who was hell-bent in trying to make the best pop album in years, closed their only album with two tracks that seem to be living through Post-Punk’s anticipated breakdown in a city smashed by the Tories, Failure and Looking Glass. After the defeat of working class solidarity by Thatcherism in the 80’s, The La’s’ self-titled album now seems to make more sense in 2015 than it’s more lauded ‘Madchester’ contemporaries whose energies were far more easily subsumed into a more omnipotent capitalism’s demand that we enjoy our servitude. Although stylistically following the late ’80’s guitar-band tendency of looking back to the 60’s for solace, the lyrics to the La’s’ Failure “So you open the door with the look on your face. Your hands in your pocket and your family to face, and you go down stairs and you sit in your place” could easily have found a fitting place within Decades. But the incessant demand to ‘dance, dance, dance to our servitude‘ of neoliberal capitalism is wearing thinner and thinner by the day. I think the increasing popularity of Joy Division with young people is a sign of this, even if there little self awareness of the motive.
“there’s a taste in my mouth as desperation takes hold/heaven knows it’s got to be this time …..avenues all lined with trees.”
It’s early 2002. I’m a anti-social 18 year old, plugged into his cassette tapes, still capable of day-dreaming in the learning centre of a now-demolished college. A tune comes back into my head from some early childhood point. This was a few years before the days where a tune could be found in just a matter of seconds after remembering it. If this could be classed as memory at all: as memories for me seem more akin to the pre-digital-tech cassette player, in how the original pitch of a track always seems to be lost in translation; a memory/cassette-tape error that allows for a unique relationship with a tune. This only really became apparent after I recently re-watched the film Donni Darko; Love Will Tear us Apart features on the film, and I am convinced that it plays at an higher pitch, which incidentally makes it sound like a cassette tape version.
The tune I remembered in 2002 was Love Will Tear us Apart. But it took me until the summer to actually manage to listen to it again. Thereon-after, as my teenage inertia was superseded by a young-adult inertia (based around what I would come to see as ‘Depressive Pleasure-seeking‘.), Love Will Tear Us Apart became an staple in The Retro Bar at The End of Universe; former bars would be replaced by future former bars, with their only continuity being the ‘stuck record’ of the ‘Indie Disco’. The hair-raising synth and drum outro feels like it could stretch out into eternity, due to perpetual dependency placed upon music that was new when capitalism’s ‘slow cancellation of the future’ was only just beginning. The ‘eternal present’ of our capitalist reality has to come to an end, in some form. But the end cannot be seen from within. But, my god, it is longed for.
As with Atmosphere and These days (written at a similar point) Love Will Tear us Apart and Ceremony (although properly recorded as New Order, after Curtis had died) share the same sense of painful longing for something that never materialises – “this dream it takes too long” as Curtis sings in 24 Hours. Ian Curtis’s lyrics may have been most directly attributable to the specificities of his collapsing personal life, but it is clear that there’s a longing here for something that stretches far beyond these confines, towards a promised world, perhaps? the dreams of postwar optimism, now falling into tatters in front of the atomised, lonely type of Utopia offered by Thatcherism. It is inconsequential whether Curtis voted rightward or not, he was caught in the headlights of a pivotal moment in history and expressed an anguish an increasing proportion of us identify with.
I listen to Love Will Tear us Apart and Ceremony with that sense of longing that other Joy Division’s songs do not allow for: the social world I long for, not the one being blown into atomized, lonely pieces by the end-game of neoliberal (market fundamentalist) political economy. It’s an in-the-making conclusion that I never thought I’d come close to making when listening to Joy Division; that there is a longing in some of their final songs that looks for an escape route from certain-demise, a last gasp of life. Ceremony’s “Heaven knows it’s got to be this time”, is a plea: that ‘I want another chance to live!’. “Avenues all lined with trees”, a social world of vitality, for our families, that we once saw as a guarantee. For me, in this past year, these lyrics have served as a mute wish I carry around with me to supersede this awful stage in something I have no embarrassment in calling ‘the human project’. You see, with all these documentaries, and articles, we are looking back to Joy Division to trace our steps back towards a future that was stolen. We want it back.
Thoughts on the proposal to remove the ‘ugly’ electricity pylons from the Dunford Bridge landscape
I am disappointed to hear of plans to demolish the giant electricity pylons stretching from just beyond Penistone across the Pennines to Tintwistle. The BBC article states that the “50m (164ft) tall structures are set to disappear… as part of National Grid plans to remove ugly overhead lines” and “could be buried underground as part of a £500m scheme.”
The structures come into their own within an area known as Dunford Bridge, just within the South Yorkshire side of the hills; a post industrial gateway, not so much to the Peak District, but to the industrial/urban centres on either side of the hills; where there was once a freight railway line you now find a bicycle trail.
I will put my opinion on this proposal straight out there with saying how I place a high value on the presence of these pylons within this landscape. Additionally, I’d find it easier to accept their fate if there were clearly laid-out practical reasons for the National Grid plans to demolish them; for example, if the placing of the power-lines under the ground was more energy and environmentally efficient. But there’s no indication that this would be the case, and as my friend was saying to me; it will mean digging up so much of that landscape in order to place the power-lines underground. Also, the scheme is being funded by Ofgem, meaning the public (or ‘customer’) will foot the bill, something the BBC article only vaguely touches on. But none of this is getting to reasons I’m about to make as to why I like these structures; however, it at least refutes the anticipated-responses demanding me to see the practicalities behind such a plan.
The article quotes Anne Robinson from Friends of The Peak District, who says “There’s no doubt that customers are willing to pay and have a very small sum added to their electricity bills a year to make sure these landscapes are enhanced.”, and although I find a general consensus on increased electricity bills in our current situation hard to believe anyway, my main response to this is just how does such a plan ‘enhance’ this landscape anyway? And referring to other words used in the BBC article, just what is ‘ugly’ , and what is this ‘character’ of the Peak District?
The Peak District is a landscape totally molded by thousands of years of human activity. Moreover, like much of this national park, the Dunford Bridge to Tintwistle stretch is, at least in terms of what is likely was before human interference, a barren desert-scape, a bleak ominous-looking landscape. In fact desert-scape is too soft a description; it is more Martian-scape – there’s something other-worldly about it. And So be it. As they stand, they are ecologically unsound. But as places of intrigue they have enormous stature, laden with symbolic meaning. They contain a beautiful emptiness; a ‘climb-to-the-moon’ feel due to their roof-top-like place within the hearts of all those settled in the post-industrial cities that nestle in the beginnings of these dark dark hills.
What are we looking for from this landscape? What is this character, this non-ugliness we wish upon this place? Dunford Bridge itself is a graveyard for industrial transportation between two mass urban areas that still contain more industrial graveyard sites than they’d like to admit. It is now a bleak lost world, hidden within the huge huge hills – and this is what makes it such a fascinating place (it is also the location of the only large-scale project I’d sanction upon these hills: the re-opening of the railway line as a direct connection between southern Yorkshire and Greater Manchester). Is postcard-picturesque all we want in a country so quick to forget any unrevised past? The Dunford Bridge landscape is far more powerful as it stands precisely because of how dark, unsettling, and unworldly it is in comparison with the more pasteurised landscape further down the hills.
I’ve always argued that structures within this ‘beautiful emptiness’ take on a monolithic presence, and would certainly attribute this to the pylons which only really begin to reveal their alien-like nature in such a barren landscape. They can’t be ignored up here, that’s for sure. Yet this is what makes them so appealing, rather than something to be got rid of. They have a presence of prehistoric sleeping giants nestled as they are within these huge barren inclines. And they are so well webbed into the symbolic nature of the hills, as the pylons aren’t just a (East Pennines) practical connection to the lost-world-metropolis of Manchester, they act as symbolic carriers of cultural exchange – as if the chilling and dislodging grooves of The Smiths’ How Soon is Now, and the haunting synths of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear us Apart were being channeled through these make-shift obelisks to Modernism, sending Pulp’s abandoned steel workshop sound-scape backdrop back in return. All Jean Baudrillard says in how the essence of America is to found in its vanishing-point-deserts, can be said of these barren hilltops in relation to the industrial north (all-be-it on a very British toyland scale).
This landscape is the incidental outcome of human activity; and no less so than the wastelands of former warehouses in surrounding urban settlements such as Sheffield – in fact they compliment each greatly. The pylons, I would argue, now play an important part within this incidental human landscape, which shouldn’t be disguised as anything other than. Both ‘beauty’ and ‘ugliness’ are subjective, and the ‘default beauty’ we desire of our misleadingly-termed ‘natural’ habitats is an environmental and cultural dead-end. The promise that the underground power-line plans are aimed at enhancing the Peak District ‘character’, as stated in the article, is seriously misguided as to what this character actually is – in my opinion, of course.
The whole emphasis on ‘ugliness’ and ‘character’ renders the functionality of the pylons an irrelevant issue. Thus leaving us purely with a debate around whether we like them in the landscape or not. Like the now famous cooling towers (formerly) next to Meadowhall, Sheffield, many people protested against their demolition (although this didn’t stop them being demolished), recognising just how powerful a feature they were on that landscape, no less intrinsic than the features we foolishly perceive as eternal/of original essence to a place. I personally think all arguments made against these pylons are oxymoronic, because what they are claimed to be in their essence, is also what Dunford Bridge is in essence. They are all one, in the dark, unsettling beauty that is this area,
“And teenage tears sting my eyeballs, in a town where I wasn’t born” – A New Decade, The Verve
Yeah yeah, I’m aware that what can constitute a human is an incredibly plastic thing, shaped by many factors. But here I just want refer to the human condition regarding the ability the wish to show other feelings apart from fear and anger
For some reason this only seems to occur later on in the evening. And seems to be bubbling up far more frequently of late, like air bubbles from somebody finally submerged in water after years of flapping his arms around furiously.
One recent evening springs to mind. Because on this evening I was reminded of why I have found it so hard to feel human/part of the species (rather than merely knowing I am) throughout my adult life.
This scenario was on a train heading back from Manchester, anesthetized by drink, after a boozy meet-up with a friend there being rounded off by a can of cider for the tedious local stopping service back to Sheffield (any excuse to reach the required level of numbness).
Manchester will always be a funny place for me; like London, it gives me a feeling of part of my life being left incomplete; not just the degree courses I left incomplete in these cities, but also a potential life I never managed to live in them before I returned to my home town-inertia. Something was in the way.
Whilst in Manchester, this something in the way was one year through materializing as Anorexia Nervosa, or something that most closely resembled it.
However, catching this train, now far less introverted, 11 years older, and drunk, I was some distance away from these days (for better or for worse? well that’s not as clear-cut a answer as you’d think).
Northern Rail had provided us with one of their Northern Fail trains, where you can’t hide a single facial expression from the rest of the carriage.
I found myself sat behind a young female student, probably in her late teens, the same age I was when trying to complete a course in Manchester. She had a book which I couldn’t help but notice the content of without either staring at my feet or out the window into a pitch black landscape.
The book was titled Overcoming Anorexia. Then I noticed she had that all-too-familiar look: the slow healing of starvation, of being painfully thin but with that bruised and beaten look of the half-skeletal anorexic body finally disappearing under rehabilitated flesh.
I began to feel a lot of empathy for her (not something my general fearful, frustrated goldfish bowl-self usually finds easy) when I saw that she had stuck a sheet of white paper over the book cover. She was clearly so ashamed or frightened about the world finding out she had been inflicted with this destructive thing. So much for it being ‘fashionable’ to be anorexic, it can often feel extremely humiliating.
However, despite this, it didn’t feel intrusive and disrespectful that I was more or less reading the book with her. Quite the opposite, because it was a shared world, a world we both inhabit, although it was one shared in silence – you can never break that silence, if broken the response would be incredibly defensive and dismissive. The anorexic’s world is an incredibly lonely one. A self-made tomb between life and death.
I said inhabit rather than inhabited because I never really left it, even after 10 full years of not being properly anorexic. I still usually experience the world from within a lonely goldfish bowl (from which I watch the commencing and departure of human interactions, but as something unobtainable). Yet, the train scenario made me feel overly emotional in a way I’m not used to. Despite the drunkenness maybe having a part to play I felt momentarily human. I saw her reading the chapter on how the disorder damages relationships with family and friends, I thought about the stress/worry this disorder puts families under up and down the land, and silently wished her luck with it all as she got off the train.
The same fears that caused it still form the self-made tomb between life and death (you can never really feel alive – you drive through life, but it always feels like it’s through a window). A fear of so many things webbed so seamlessly together by the bullet-pace of the world. And an impulse to avoid the hell of empty/dead time, when you suddenly run out of ‘tasks’ to complete. Once I ‘gave in’ (as it felt) and could no longer keep the regime up, and after a brief spell where I felt that a life could be lived ‘properly’ suddenly became too emotionally turbulent to maintain, I merely re-channeled my compulsive behaviours into the way I made art, my increasingly politicised way of thinking, even the way I walked, and (unfortunately) the way I do social drinking. It can’t go on, I need to become human again. But the longer you leave it, the less you have to go back to. I don’t believe we maintain a ‘core-self’.
Yet, the emotional response I felt to seeing this student reading the book was a sort of affirmation that there is still something there that isn’t just fear and anger.
“I am twiggy and I don’t mind the horror that surrounds me” (4st 7lb, Manic Street Preachers)
Perhaps it was erroneous of me to come to understand the politics of anorexia, rather than spending that time trying to properly deal with it on a personal level. But I didn’t – it is a political issue. The odd thing was that when I saw this student reading the self-help book, my internal arguments were unusually mute over books that ignore the politics: I just hoped she’d get through it, in whatever way.
I wish her luck. But I have to deal with it politically. After all, it is the fallout from my anorexic spell that probably drove me towards being politically-minded more than anything.
Anorexia is both a response to, and an embodiment of, the dark side of society’s unspoken demands of us. It isn’t a timeless human condition, but a reflexive response to a certain type of world, a world of pressures, demands, fears and horrific inhumanity that we are forced to witness through our media-pummeled eyes. It is intrinsically bound up with our cultural values of hard work, the good citizen, and the pure/innocent person who abstains from ‘indulgence’, which has still persisted, and even intensified under an era where ‘greed’ was claimed to be virtuous. But it’s persisted because these days thinness is also associated with success, as the richest, most successful generally maintain lifestyles that keep them at a socially-approved level of thin. To be skinny is bound up with success – to be unsuccessful in our ‘X-Factor Society’ is be a non-person. A failure. “Shame on you.”
In addition to ‘hard work’, the need to feel ‘pure/innocent’ is a crucial factor to kick-start the spiral into anorexia. To be conscious of the horror in the world, and our unwilling participation in it (bound up in the consumer life), is to feel guilty; guilty for being tainted with the knowledge of our unhappy planet. Whilst to be overweight, ‘lazy’, gluttonous, is to be guilty in the eyes of society. To be alive, to sweat, defecate, smell is to be guilty in the eyes of society. Sacrificing ones life to the pursuit of the model of ‘innocence’ that is skinny becomes an unacknowledged impulse and inflicts many unfortunate sensitive (still mainly young female) humans.
This is the violent age of global financial capitalism. It’s media technologies are a concrete realisation of its ideology of market individualism. We are pitted to compete against an increasingly fast, violent and unstable world, alone. And our response is to wage war on ourselves, make our bodies the world, a world we (feel we can) control. The writer Laurie Penny puts it well in her book Meat Market, saying ““when you are anorexic, your world shrinks to the size of a dinner plate”. Regarding the invisible flows of financial capitalism, and the flow of digital media, which is an expression of this dominant system, I’d go further with the violence it deals out, and say that the bruised, crushed-tin look of the war-against-the-self of anorexia, is in fact a concrete abstraction of the violence of capital flow.
Yet, in spite of this I have a life to live. And I can’t ignore it anymore as it’s bubbling over in the only way it can do so when it is repressed – destructively. Suddenly you realise ten years have gone by, and you begin kicking and screaming to get out. I can understand the political implications of Anorexia down to every last electrical node attacking the psychological state, but when I saw this student reading that book I realised “it’s nowhere near enough – life has to be lived”.