Friday, August 07, 2009

These Cars Collide

So John Hughes dies the same week I've been thinking about him because of a CD I bought in New York, and it's all Martin Hannett's fault. Not that enough people know who Hannett was, dead in 1991, at the age of 42, so if you want to talk loss, lets start there. Hannett produced records like no one's business, and I mean that in every way possible, and if you want the survey course there's no better place to start than the anthology I bought in NY: Zero: A Martin Hannett Story 1977-1991. If you want the grad school seminar, you have to listen to Joy Division, but we'll get to that in a bit. Got to walk before you can mope with an existential angst you can feel.

Hannett seemed to have his hand in on everything musically interesting from 1976-1981, even though he got more hands on as that time went by. For instance, it doesn't seem like he diddled the old knobs a lot for Spiral Scratch, the legendary Buzzcocks first ep and the third punk item ever committed to vinyl. But he was there for it, when Shelley and Devoto tried to share a band, when the best song was "Boredom," the best line was "I've seen the movie but it doesn't move me," and the best guitar solo, ever, was just two notes.

But there's more--the brilliant soundscapes he helped play as well as produce that turned irascible John Cooper Clark into something musical; the first U2 single, "11 o'clock Tick-Tock," before the Dublin messiah starting scattering crumbs (spot the Mekons allusion!); making OMD too bouncy even for them on their first single "Electricity" (and of course he was right); the dreaminess of The Durutti Column; you just need to get the disc.

Then there was this--I forgot, assuming I knew, that he produced the original version of the Psychedelic Furs' "Pretty in Pink." Hadn't listened to the song in years, although I liked the band enough in its day, and upon hearing it couldn't but help wonder: How did those lyrics get to a teen romp with Molly Ringwald? "The one who insists he was the first in the line is the last to remember her name"? Not to mention Richard Butler's insinuating "isn't she?"s [now that's a call to the proofreader] that question "pretty" on more or less an ontological level.

Alas, and this is where I speak ill of the dead, bastard that I am, it's little surprise John Hughes might be tone deaf to that sort of thing. We're talking about the man who killed whatever was good about Simple Minds (young, romantic me adored New Gold Dream) by making them record a Keith Forsey song, which, of course, the public loved, so they kept chasing after dreck. I would argue, further, that The Breakfast Club is so utterly phony that Holden Caulfield would let the entire group go pell-mell over the cliff with nary a thought. But that's a different essay.

Suffice to say, the Furs re-recorded "Pretty in Pink" to make it less Hannett-esque for the Hughes' film. Call it "Prettified in Pink." Less psychedelic, more fur. Probably fake fur, though, so as not to disturb milder sensibilities.

This kind of thing bothers me, and I wish it bothered more others, too, the notion there are things we can't expect people to put up with. Edge. Difficulty. Dissonance. Fur and blood and bone. Well, I didn't mean to go all high moral dudgeon when I started this so I'll just move into the Joy Division portion of the program. What Hannett did to the band was open it up, let us peer into the songs longer than we might have otherwise if they just played them straight. Yes, Ian Curtis was the tortured talented soul at the center, but the echoey chambers Hannett helped build made the soul all the more haunted. Closer, in particular, is the most ghostly record ever, even without Curtis's suicide.

The oddest thing, though, is while Joy Division meant so much to me when it was released, I guess I'm a different me now. As a desperately poetically sensitive 18-year-old Joy Division gave me access to a despair I don't feel I have the privilege to wallow in as an adult. That's not to say that despair wasn't real--Hannett made sure of that. The thrill of Joy Division is the challenge--can you take it? Do you want to recognize it brings you to a place that already was in you?

So John Hughes? I'm sorry he's dead, but meh. I still want to lament Martin Hannett.

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Anonymous Freealonzo said...

Nice post George. I was introduced to Martin Hannett through the movie 24 hour Party People and was utterly enthralled. He was the star of that flick (played by Gollum no less).

Also thanks for clearing up something. I always thought that there was a cooler version of Pretty in Pink than was in the movie. It bugged me for a while but then I kinda just forgot about it. But then I would hear PIP and would get all upset again. I can now put that particular issue to bed.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Freealonzo said...

Ooh, I just went to Amazon and bought a used copy of that CD for $7.50.

8:13 PM  
Anonymous The Yellow Menace said...

I had the privilege of seeing the Psy Furs and The Go-Go's open for The B-52s in 2000 at Verizon Amphitheater. The show was full of small children and their parents. Many of them were visibly confused, some offended, at various points in the show because their idea of the Psy Furs was the film soundtrack; The Go-Go's, Beauty and the Beat; The B-52s, Cosmic Thing. Very few seemed prepared to hear British post-punk, L.A. garage punk, or early new wave.

When The Psychedelic Furs perform "Pretty In Pink," it is very much the more raw, harder driving original.

Thanks for the nostalgia!

8:36 PM  
Blogger E-6 said...

Great read, George. Loved the Furs first two records--saw them in '82. Also loved New Gold Dreams. Probably haven't heard either band in over 25 years. I may have go digging in the crates of vinyl, as I'm pretty sure those records are still there. I also need to re-watch 24 Hour Party People.

So, who is this John Hughes fella?

7:56 PM  
Blogger Marty said...

Terrific piece, George. Lots of nostalgia buttons. And happy anniversary.

3:11 PM  
Blogger George said...

Thanks for the nice comments, folks. Alas, this is another one of those that could have (should have?) spiraled into something even longer--I hardly scratched the surface, especially as to the Joy Division issue. At some point I have to tackle how they meant so much to me once and don't now (same for other groups in other musical registers, too: XTC, Peter Gabriel, Bill Nelson, to name a few).

9:55 AM  

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