Posts Tagged RIP
This really is very lazy of me, inserting my very own ‘Bob-Holness-has-died-let’s-look-back-at-Blockbusters-in-some-kind-of-post-ironic-way-as-if-I’m-still-a-fucking-student’ post. But still, I’d forgotten how bloody brilliantly futuristic these early-90s titles were. I’m still angry that, now we’re officially living in the future (or do we need to wait til 2020 for that?), we’re not yet being transported around by hexagonal flying hovercraft things.
La Peste by Albert Camus (1947)
Set in the Algerian town of Oran in “194.”, Camus’ novel tells a story of a plague-infested town cut off from the outside world, and of individuals separated from loved ones. Aside from the specific circumstances of the individual characters (a doctor trying to treat, if not cure, the ill; a journalist separated from his wife in Paris; a ne’er-do-well profiting from circumstances by channelling in contraband), the story is simple and constrained: the plague arrives, thousands die, it ends; we never leave Oran, and never experience the feelings of those outside the town.
The story of the fight against the plague stands up in its own right, yet it serves easily, and skilfully, as a metaphor – for morality, for the human condition, and for occupied France in the Second World War.
The war metaphor can be clearly seen: the sense of imprisonment, both physical and mental, hangs heavily over the book, with the gates of Oran firmly closed and an ever-present sense of isolation and exile. In this town ‘occupied’ by the plague, the main protagonists respond by forming small, organised medical teams to resist the plague’s spread by helping the sick and improving sanitary conditions elsewhere. As for morality, we’re told that Oran is an ugly town, full of money-focused and fundamentally dull people, built with its back to the sea, ignoring its open expanses – as if, through its rejection of life, it were somehow inviting the plague to attack. Furthermore, as the plague takes hold, attendance at mass soars; later it becomes more an act of superstition and fear than belief, if it is attended at all.
I prefer the reading of the novel as a consideration of the human condition – let’s not stray towards the term existentialism, not because I don’t really know what I’m talking about (though I don’t), but because Camus reportedly distanced himself from the movement: “No, I am not an existentialist” (though with ambiguous statements like that, who knows what he was really up to?).
In effect, the plague comes and goes for no apparent reason; the local administration is ineffective (their optimism and pessimism are equally inconsequential); neither individuals nor organisations have any meaningful sense of control over the plague’s spread, while the successful recovery or painful death of its sufferers are a product of chance alone. Despite the futility of inconclusive serums and the realisation that the plague takes its victims indiscriminately, a curious kind of emancipation arises, the sense of efforts to take action being worthy in their own right, regardless of their outcome. Deep, yet emotionally restrained, friendships are forged on the back of these efforts, and our protagonists set aside their personal suffering to work for the collective good – the doctor whose wife was sent away to the Swiss mountains to recover from illness just before the plague struck, the exiled Parisian journalist who renounces his intentions to have himself smuggled out of the town in order to stay and help, the frustrated writer who divides his many sleepless hours between torturing himself over the opening sentence of a never-to-be-finished novel and recording the statistics of the plague.
In a strange way, optimism abounds in this novel – optimism in the shape of man’s willingness to continue to fight, to resist in the face of attack from a faceless, inhuman enemy. In an apparently capricious world, exerting this will elevates the characters above their daily horrors, into some sort of meaning. Appropriately enough, there is no firm conclusion to the book after the plague disappears, no trite, easy end. Instead we are left with a rather chilling (not to say lengthy) warning:
“Car il savait ce que cette foule en joie ignorait, et qu’on peut lire dans les livres, que le bacille de la peste ne meurt ni ne disparaît jamais, qu’il peut rester pendant des dizaines d’années endormi dans le meubles et le linge, qu’il attend patiemment dans les chambres, les caves, les malles, les mouchoirs et les paperasses, et que, peut-être, le jour viendrait où, pour le malheur et l’enseignement des hommes, la peste réveillerait ses rats les enverrait mourir dans une cité heureuse”
“For he knew what this joyous crowd did not, and what can be read in books, that the germ of the plague never dies nor disappears, that it can remain asleep for tens of years in furniture and sheets, that it waits patiently in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, handkerchiefs and paperwork, and that, perhaps, the day would come when, for man’s misfortune and learning, the plague would wake its rats and send them to die in a happy neighbourhood”
Sadly for all concerned, the return date of 1st September has turned out to be more of a fulfilled promise than an empty threat. Still, summer’s officially over, kids’ll be back at school soon, and the winter frost has killed a blackbird in the back garden (maybe), so what else is there?
Are we ready? Let’s do this.
But before we do do this, here’s Tony. This was his unique way of asking me if I’d had a good bank holiday weekend:
So, did you have some good social interaction?
I’m beginning to think he may have killed.
Speaking of subverting the norms, the Kinks released Dead End Street as a non-album single in 1966 (later included on CD issues of Face To Face), and shot a rather memorable video to accompany it. Another counterpoint to the perception and proclamation of ‘Swinging London’ as being the hip place to be, it paints a picture of a life spent trapped in debt, unemployment and minor squalor. I regularly find myself incapable of the words required to do justice to the phenomenal Ray Davies, so it’s just as well that his inspired works do (most of) the talking for me.
I’ve only seen one of his films, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), in which Granger (l) stars alongside John Dall (r), and the peerless James Stewart (centre). This is a gripping film, full of tension, intellectualism, and repressed homoeroticism between the three characters pictured here (fairly remarkable stuff for 1948). Granger puts in a wonderful performance of a timid, nerve-wracked man, struggling with his conscience having carried out something he can barely believe he was capable of.
Oddly, the main reason I watched this film in the first place was as a result of an episode of (some of) The League of Gentlemen’s Pyschoville which paid homage to the film, despite being a Hitchcock fan in any case. Odder still, I’ve been intending to write about The League of Gentlemen for a long time but haven’t done yet. On reflection, this isn’t odd, just procrastination.
Speaking of procrastination, watching Granger’s other most notable film appearance, in Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train, is one of many, many things on my ever growing (and rarely tackled) mental to-do list.
I’ve alluded to the Young Knives’ contemplation of mortality here before. They do it particularly well on the back-to-back tracks Coastguard and Loughborough Suicide on their first album.
The first of these sees them chastising a coastguard for carelessness resulting in a young girl’s death (“..are you familiar? / High tides are not peculiar”), using the surprisingly haunting image of a domestic table to hammer the point home: this being home to first an unused yellow coat, then the coastguard’s sorry face, and finally an empty dining place. Far from being maudlin, this is a dark, driven track, with vocals alternating between near-screaming and clinical, matter-of-fact statements (one of which led to me to learn a new word, the adjective ‘benthic’).
Loughborough Suicide takes us from under the sea to up in the air, contemplating a leap from a tall tower. In Loughborough. Obviously. Resignation permeates the song, as well as a nice sense of procrastination (“Well it’s cold, cold, cold / And I think I’m going to die in here / Considering Loughborough suicide / Which I’m definitely going to do this year”). The tone is lighter than Coastguard, reflecting an uncertainty in the lyrics (year abroad, psychoanalysis, death from a great height… oh decisions, decisions).
Both videos are below, while here you can access a map of the Loughborough Carillon: I hear it offers marvellous spring-time views.
1991’s Kill Uncle found Morrissey in something of a half-way house. While the response to his debut solo album, Viva Hate, had been almost wholly positive, following this up proved tricky. As a result, Bona Drag, intended to be his second studio album, instead became a compilation of non-album singles, B-sides, and the two biggest hits from Viva Hate.
Thus, after a near-three year gap, Kill Uncle was released, Morrissey having parted company with Stephen Street, who successfully co-wrote and produced Viva Hate, and teaming up with song-writer Mark Nevin of Fairground Attraction. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the resulting album was musically slight (Found Found Found standing out as an obvious attempt to remedy this) and lacked much of the deft ear for a popular tune that Street had brought. Lyrically, much of the album is on equally thin ice: King Leer is usually put forward as exhibit A in this prosecution, featuring rhymes and puns which are, regrettably, as bad as the title of the song itself. Either that, or in twinning “surprise yer” with “Tizer”, Morrissey is simply demonstrating that any fool can indeed think of words that rhyme (as per Sing Your Life).
Similarly, Mute Witness can be an uncomfortable listen for its seemingly unkind treatment of the witness (and implied victim) in question. There’s an argument which says Moz is merely reflecting the attitudes of the criminal justice system when faced with a young, vulnerable, and possibly disabled victim, but he doesn’t manage to pull off this ambivalence with as much empathy as in November Spawned A Monster.
This is becoming far too serious and earnest (not to mention nearly hinting at gentle criticism of my hero), so, moving swiftly on…
(I’m) The End of the Family Line is a statement of intent (or rather, non-intent) regarding parenthood. Getting beyond the inevitable speculation as to the meaning of lines such as a family “all honouring nature / until I arrived / with incredible style”, this is a touching song which acknowledges the selfish side of the decision (“I’m spared the pain of ever saying goodbye”) as well as being a declaration of a life to be spent alone.
Asian Rut is delivered with the singer’s typical mix of sympathy, pity, mild scorn, fatalism, despair and empathy for the outsider, and sees Morrissey contemplating a schoolboy who is seeking revenge for the killing of his best, and only, friend. From the outset it is clear that the ensuing confrontation will not go the way of our wannabe hero.
Our Frank, the opening track and first single, comes the closest to Morrissey’s initial (and still arguably finest) batch of guitar-pop radio-friendly solo singles. Ostensibly aimed at an acquaintance who insists on initiating deep and ‘meaningful’ conversations, more revealing is the end of the track where Moz is desperate to be released from his incessant introspection: “won’t somebody stop me / from thinking / from thinking all the time / so bleakly, so deeply / so deeply all the time / about everything”. Sounds familiar.