Monday, June 25, 2018

Close the Window. It's Too Beautiful

There may be nothing on record like The Ninth Wave (side two of Hounds of Love). Conceptually as adept as Days of Future Past, few artists swim this deep. According to Kate, The Ninth Wave is about "this person being in the water. How they've got there, we don't know, but the idea is that they've been on a ship and they've been washed over the side so they're alone, in this water. Now I find that horrific imagery, the thought of being completely alone in all this water. And they've got a life jacket on with a little light so that if anyone should be traveling at night, they'll see the light and know they're there. And they're absolutely terrified. And they're completely alone at the mercy of their imagination. Which again, I personally find such a terrifying thing, the power of one's own imagination being let loose on something like that. And the idea that they've got it in their head that they mustn't fall asleep. Because if you fall asleep when you're in the water, I've heard that you roll over and so you drown so they're trying to keep themselves awake."

"Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,/ Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep/ And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged/ Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame:…" Yeah, when a song suite includes liner notes from Tennyson - to quote Kate, "Wow." In mariner folklore, waves come in threes in a set of three*. The last wave, the ninth, is the largest and most debilitating. And so our story begins. "Really for me, from the beginning, The Ninth Wave was a film. That's how I thought of it." The suite begins with "And Dream of Sleep," our narrator at sea, in the water, bobbing like a buoy: "Little light shining,/ Little light will guide them to me./ My face is all lit up,/ My face is all lit up. If they find me racing white horses, [white caps] / They'll not take me for a buoy./ Let me be weak,/ Let me sleep/ And dream of sheep." A voice is heard providing information to all the ships at sea, and then Kate's mother, closer, yet spiritual and aloof: "Come here with me now." Kate, we can only assume struggles to stay awake, but a contradiction is clear, she's cold, the struggle is increasingly difficult: "Let me be weak,/ Let me sleep/ And dream of sheep."

"Ooh, their breath is warm
And they smell like sleep,
And they say they take me home.
Like poppies heavy with seed
They take me deeper and deeper."

"When I was little, and I'd had a bad dream, I'd go into my parents' bedroom round to my mother's side of the bed. She'd be asleep, and I wouldn't want to wake her, so I'd stand there and wait for her to sense my presence and wake up. She always did, within minutes; and sometimes I'd frighten her—standing there still, in the darkness in my nightdress. I'd say, 'I've had a bad dream,' and she'd lift the bedclothes and say something like 'Come here with me now.' It's my mother saying this line in the track, and I briefed her on the ideas behind it before she said it." 

Flaubert’s dying words were, "Close the window. It's too beautiful." It's how I feel as the suite begins: Press pause, it's too beautiful." Like opium, she is lulled into a hallucinatory state, and now, so cold, she dreams of skating away on ice ("Under Ice"). Listen for the voice at 00:47. Is it someone calling out to her? Worried? There is thunder in the distance, then louder; still she is skating away. Softly, but still obvious, we hear the distinctive blip of sonar. As Kate yells, if halfheartedly, "It's me," the track transitions into piano and silence, the coming out of a dream. A voice: "You must wake up," and a laundry list of those who have awakened her in the past:
"A good morning, ma'am. Your early morning call."/ "You must wake up!"/ "Wake up!"/ "Wake up, man!"/ "Wake up, child! Pay attention!"/ "Come on, wake up!"/ "Wake up, love!"/ "We should make the night, but see your little light's alive!"/ "Stop that lyin' and a-sleepin' in bed--get up!"/"Ma needs a shower. Get out of bed!"/ ["Little light..."]/ "Can you not see that little light up there?"/ "Where?"/ "There!"/ "Where?"/ "Over here!"/ "You still in bed?"/ "Wake up, sleepy-head!"/ "We are of the going water and the gone. We are of water in the holy land of water"/ "Don't you know you've kept him waiting?"
Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky - The Ninth Wave
And finally, a squeaky voice, "Look who's here to see you." Amidst the wakeners is the phrase "Little light…" The light of her life jacket? The little light of her soul?

Here Kate has created one of those tracks that may seem merely to propel the theme forward, something like the ticking of the clocks from Pink Floyd's "Time," which could initially be dismissed as transitional fluff; indeed Alan Parsons had been fooling around with new equipment in a clock shop. The band, according to Gilmour, heard it and said, "Great! Stick it on." That's the kind of mistake you want, one that takes on life, one that becomes meaningful of its own accord. But that is not the case with the ridiculously thoughtful opening to "Waking the Witch." This is calculated, strategic and T.S. Eliot over the top.

I have to stop here and go to bed. Press pause. It's too beautiful.

*In Irish mythology, the Ninth Wave is the barrier that separates the Earthly world from the Hy Breasil, or "Otherworld." The legends told of a mystical place that lay beyond the West Coast of Ireland, far out across the sea. This island was invisible to the naked human eye and only accessible if you managed to survive the mighty onslaught of the ninth wave. The wave would have had deadly consequences for a flimsy fishing vessel; hence the fear that such a wave could carry its victim off of the mortal plane. (The bodies of those lost at sea were very rarely recovered, so it’s possible that the idea that they had been swept away to some mysterious island would have provided comfort for families left behind.) Tennyson uses it here to strengthen the notion that King Arthur was more than just a mortal, having been borne not from a woman but from the wave that separates us from the "Otherworld." It may also be worth noting that the legend of a magic land found across the West Sea, where the spirits of the dead dwell, is a theme on which Tolkien drew for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy; Frodo and the Elves travel to the West as they come to the end of their mortal lifetimes.