Thursday, May 21, 2020

Unknown Pleasures - Oddly, Six Months Before The Wall

Through a glass darkly you see her with an Unknown Pleaures T, hot as hell, jeans shorts, big black belt, black eye shadow, and she's outside Vinyl Fetish on Melrose and you feel stupid cause you bought Duran Duran's "Girls on Film" and you think she'll think you're a poseur, worse, but she smiles like a frown and you walk down Melrose and she's got chili on her chin from a Pink's hot dog and you wipe it off and lick your finger and she says something funny and you realize she's the poseur 'cause she’s all gloomy Gus on the outside, but all smiley unicorns really, and not the girl you thought you'd impress only if you made a suicide pact 'cause you couldn't be together 24/7. That's what happens when you read too much into something.
I don't call, but I run into her coming down the escalator in Bullock's Westwood. I was going up. She came up again and I went down. I took her to dinner. I took her home. 

In the morning we went to the Glen Market. We bought salads and cold cuts and fresh rolls.  We stopped at a house down the street and bought half an ounce. We made a fire. I read to her: Bukowski, Love is a Dog From Hell. We watched TV. We made love. We smoked a lot of dope. We ate. We listened to Unknown Pleasures over and over: "Feeling, feeling, feeling, feeling, feeling, feeling, feeling."

We listened to "Boys Don't Cry" and David Bowie's Low. We danced. I wrote a poem about her pussy. It wasn't any good. She let me finish in her mouth. We giggled. We ate. We smoked a lot of dope. 

On the third day we slept till the afternoon. We watched the news. There was a picture of a missing girl. We were having breakfast for dinner and I was in the kitchen. She said, "That's me!"  The bacon was sizzling. The windows were open. It was the time of day when everyone in the Valley was headed home to the city and everyone in the city was headed home to the Valley. "Did you hear me?"

"Huh?" "I'm on the news." "You're on the news?" "I'm on the news." "What did you do?" "I'm missing." "You're not missing." "Right?  Am I not right here?" "Where’d you go?" "Shhhh.  I'm missing." "For real?" "Yes." "Should we let someone know?" "My father, maybe." "Now." "Not now.  Tomorrow." "Tomorrow?" "Are you hungry?" "Famished." "Let's eat." "Put on Talking Heads." "From the desert to the sea to all of Southern California, good night." It was The Big News"Good night, Gerry Dunphy." "Fuck me." In the morning she called her father.  "I'm not missing.  I wasn't missing."  She made mocking faces.  She said, "When I get there," and hung up the phone. "He can’t trust me at all?  I gotta be on the news?" I never saw her again.

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It's nearly 40 years since that day. I never saw her again, but I can relive it, nonetheless, like it was yesterday, if only I listen to Unknown Pleasures, the music that fresh, that alive, like Yeats or like cummings. This was an album that launched a million stories. This one was mine.

"Disorder" with its swirling soundscape is evidence of how quickly the band had developed since Warsaw. "Day Of The Lords" is a stunner. Brooding, a menace roiling, holding off. "Candidate" is densely atmospheric. Forget the post-punk label. This is art in music. "Insight" hints at the synthetic direction New Order would take, electronica, nonetheless, pushed firmly aside by an achingly melancholic Ian Curtis vocal. 

As good as Unknown Pleasures is thus far, a bench mark to end all bench marks is set: "New Dawn Fades" opens with bits of backward guitar-detritus, turning left into a requiem sung by a 20-year-old for his own life, utterly resigned and moving. And that would be enough, but towards its end the track shifts up a gear, climaxing like no other song in rock; despair expiated. Again, this one will have your hair standing on end, a hush vocal from Ian Curtis, a soft washing guitar, the drums picking up so slowly that you don't even realize, building into a powerhouse of sound. Bass and vocal lock and neck hairs flex. 

"New Dawn Fades" hits with the Shock of the New. All these years later, it seems thrown from the void, fully-formed and unprecedented, new each time (perhaps its nearest relative is "Tomorrow Never Knows"). "She's Lost Control," from its electronic style and bass in your face punch, is the most accessible track. The flutter of the music paints the image of Curtis dancing jerkily in your mind's eye. "Shadowplay" follows some kind of imagined urban murder, charging through neon-lit darkness on the back of Sumner/Albrecht's guitar: alternatively chordally violent or flying through systemic solos that cycle like Reich or Glass, this will make your heart race faster. "Wilderness" is more soundscape. Dreamy. Somehow it's all over the place yet ordered. "Interzone" picks up faster. That bass. (Fuck.) The vocal more like earlier Joy Division. "I Remember Nothing" will make you jump out of your skin. So quiet, then those crashes. The longest track closes the LP in fitting style. Moody. Gothic. 

Unknown Pleasures hit the lofty heights of No. 71 on the U.K. Album Charts. Imbeciles. One of only two studio albums by Joy Division, it was, and is, an LP with few peers. 

o o o

I think there's a great dichotomy here. Next to Unknown Pleasures, and thinking back now, The Wall is so out of place. Progressive Rock had come crashing down; Yes was no longer Close to the Edge but Tormato, sigh, Gentle Giant had come to the Missing Piece, awful, and Love Beach, heavens. But Pink Floyd had Animals, and plundered on, amidst disco and Sex Pistols; a great feat in the face of adversity. The critics were falling all over Darby Crash and Circle Jerks and bands that couldn't play their instruments, but somehow Pink Floyd put up The Wall. Still, the juxtaposition of Unknown Pleasures and The Wall is hard to digest.