Time Has Got Nothing To Do With It
1988′s Love Hysteria was recently remastered and reissued by the miraculous Cherry Red label. It’s an album I have revered since its original release. This is one of my two favourite songs on it.
Lyrically, it’s deliberately not a precise composition – images are conjured up and left to the thoughts of the listener:
Make me a mannered, a mannered thing
Carved of wood, a life force thing
Give it an arm, that points to the earth
And a hand, that points at me
No matter where I stand
No matter where I stand
And knows all
That we can’t see
This image works on multiple levels. Its hand and arm are partly an analogue clock face. The arm that points to the earth is a reminder that we are earthbound, or as Charles Dickens put it, “fellow travellers to the grave”. The image is also religious in an informal sense. The carved wood is invested with a spirit and omniscience. Yet it’s just a piece of dead tree. The study of dendrochronology is a form of time travel. Warped concentric almost-circles, a biological calendar – counting the earth’s orbits of the sun. So this wooden religious object – while mundane in terms of its material, is genuinely cosmic. And like the cosmos: a mystery.
The song builds to a crescendo, with Murphy singing the words “time has got nothing to do with it” with a restrained strength that is almost operatic. Peter Murphy is the best kind of singer, one who (not unlike Paul Buchanan) knows how to project the voice without sounding like it’s a technique. As much as I’m a fan of (for instance) Matt Monro or Dean Martin, these guys just didn’t have the ability to let the design aspect of singing disappear.
My Last Two Weeks
We ask The Controller. He sends us flames,
Our lying bodies sleep.
His whispered word says:
Ah, this is how, this is how it looks from where we weep.
Tethered to red rose, tethered to your shoe,
To the Seven of Cups, tethered to you.
The Seven of Cups is of course a Tarot card from the Minor Arcana. Not for Peter Murphy the obvious Major Arcana images such as the The Magician, The Star or The Moon. The Seven of Cups is said to represent illusion. The illusion here is (possibly) the soul succour that romantic love brings, except viewed after the fact. Like Bob Dylan’s lines in Shelter From The Storm viewed from the other side: back to the hail, back out on the trail. Darkness as a virtue.
Incidentally, Brian Eno was Peter Murphy’s first choice as producer for the album Love Hysteria where both these songs appear. Speaking to Drowned in Sound, Murphy had this to say: “When I was thinking about producers for my Love Hysteria album in 1988, I dropped some demos round to [Brian Eno's] Opal “offices and really wanted him to do it.
Wow. What a thought. These oblique and often atonal and often melodious songs, produced with the Brian Eno’s hand on the ideas tiller? A mouthwatering thought. Sadly it never happened. Or maybe happily: Love Hysteria’s production has aged like fine wine, and its dendrochronology will accumulate many more warped circles yet.
“I called back a few days later and was told that [Brian Eno had] listened to [the Love Hysteria demo tapes] and found them ‘Nice’, which I thought was great and very exciting, but also that he was still no longer interested in making music. Eight months later, Bono must have flown over his house and dropped a few sacks of dollars on his doorstep for him to produce The Joshua Tree and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Mirror to my woman’s mind
With one look I was yours
The things you gave, the things I took
See that star in the sky?
It’s a mirror to my woman’s mind
Let me burn in her fire
In that mirror to my woman’s mind.
The lyric starts with the quotidian – an initial meeting in a hotel reception. But like the best inductive thinking, the specific becomes universal, and the cosmos within projects and simultaneously perceives the endless light of the cosmos without. Both are one. Or are they? The song ends plaintively on the repeated phrase “say you will be mine”.
In The Flat Field
This is a Bauhaus song rather than a Peter Murphy song, for the sake of exactness. I love how American the vocal is, and how colourless the music is, with its monochromatic urgency. It’s this adept juxtaposition that marked the band out from less able contemporaries and launched Bauhaus into the popular music firmament. Like Joy Division, Bauhaus were making music because they had to: not because they wanted a career. This stuff is cri de coeur. They made music because they had no other escape.
Moulding shapes no shame to waste
And drag me there with deafening haste
Further information here, here and here:
Official artist site: www.petermurphy.info/
Nardwuar versus Peter Murphy (YouTube clip) http://goo.gl/LrjAP1
Drowned in Sound meets Peter Murphy: http://goo.gl/L6IoHq