St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come ’round
Because something is lost, that cannot be found…
These are the words that introduced the band, New Order, minutes before they took the stage at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia to present material from their latest opus, Music Complete. The words were spoken by Mike Garry, a poet who felt inspired to commemorate the late (An)Tony Wilson with a thoughtful recording: his words had been threaded through an interpolation of New Order’s own album cut, “Your Silent Face” (as re-arranged by composer Joe Duddell). I’d never heard the piece before, and I stood in rapt attention as Mike’s voice rattled off a list of things he wished Tony could talk to him about once more, ranging from the Sex Pistols to Catholicism, to Alan Turing and Tony’s beloved poet laureate, W.B. Yeats. It came across like a reasoned, yet desperate plea for someone, somewhere, to talk about something that matters.
* * *
It’s March 15th today, and the year is 2016: I’m typing this from the comfort of my home in Dayton, Ohio. I’ve found it hard to avoid the news these days, what with an intensely heated political shitstorm exploding around me and the daily atrocity exhibition of tragedies in the “human interest” niche. It’s difficult not to become embittered and cynical, but I endeavor. I think back upon the events of this past weekend and how, for several hours, I was completely transported away from all this mundanely dispiriting drama. I think about the first words Bernard sang at the start of Saturday night’s show: “Winter came so soon/And summer never happened…” I think back upon the weeks leading up to this show, each spent reflecting upon the years I’ve lived wrapped up in the quilt of New Order’s music. As with all quilts, it was never a perfect cover—but it’s always been the most comfortable one to wrap myself in. I picked away at the loose strands of thread and traced them back to their origins: to that first moment I heard “Bizarre Love Triangle” on a dancefloor, or the hours I spent dancing in my room to 12” singles; or the lazy afternoons I spent daydreaming about my own life’s trajectory; or that ecstatic feeling the day I stumbled upon my vinyl copy of Power, Corruption and Lies. I thought about the inspiration this music has played in my on-going life, and the ways in which I felt it to have influenced me as a person (for better or worse). I pulled away at each of these dangling threads, but ultimately succumbed and wrapped myself up in it all over again.
Unlike fans in the band’s homeland, I never experienced firsthand the influence of Tony Wilson via his televised music and culture program, “So It Goes.” That said, I knew enough about him to follow the words of Mike Garry’s poem; and soon enough, I found myself closing my eyes and wanting to hear Tony talk to me about, well, any of these things. I found myself reflecting upon the layers inherent to the lineage of New Order—from Warsaw to Joy Division, from New Order to Electronic and Revenge (not to mention the cultural baggage that precipitated the early efforts of Sumner, Hook, Curtis, and Morris in the first place). I found myself reflecting upon the trip my partner and I took to England in the fall of 2014, and all the time I spent riding the Underground and listening to Marianne Faithfull and David Bowie on my iPod. I found myself wondering if any of this would matter to anyone, years from now when the dust has settled on this chapter in musical history: will anyone recall the joy and the sadness, the agony and the ecstasy of Unknown Pleasures, of Hunky Dory, of Broken English… It’s too much to ponder, but I wonder all the same.
* * *
I can still feel the energy that charged through the Tower Theater as the band launched into their set with the pulsating rhythms of “Singularity.” “One day at a time/Inch by inch… For all lost souls/Who can’t come home…” I can feel that same energy slipping away now—leaving me depleted, in a state of longing. I can feel the distance between the show and the present—between the celebratory, revelatory exuberance of 4,000 people crammed into a theater, bouncing up and down to the beats of “Temptation,” and the buzz of the silence filling my living room as I struggle to find words for those things which can only be felt. It’s difficult not to turn into a sad old bastard, but I endeavor.
I think about the train ride following the show, and the guy who sat across the aisle from us with Music Complete blaring at full volume from a set of iPhone earbuds. I think about the barely discernible smile that spread across his face as he fought a losing battle against the urge to sing along. I think about that one night I walked the streets of London, alone, a stranger in a foreign land; I think about this big blue door that sits beneath an overpass on the Southbank, over by the British Film Institute—and of crate-digging in the basement of Kensington’s Music Exchange, and picking out flimsy import LPs by Hot Chocolate and the Walker Brothers. I think about Italy, the land I lived in for 11 of my childhood years, and the ways in which Europe courses through my veins and lives in my soul. I think about the time I spent adjusting to life in America, and I try to pinpoint the exact moment when nostalgia set in.
I keep hearing the words of Mike Garry as they resonate in my head: “…because something is lost that cannot be found.” I wonder if the sentimental thoughts circling my brain are nothing but a ruse, a mirage that will disappear tomorrow—replaced by thoughts of work and coffee, and bills to be paid. I take a moment to appreciate the fact that I’ve got a pretty great life, all things considered, and that refrain from “Regret” comes to mind. But no matter how grateful I allow myself to feel, the distance between then and now remains (and now I fear you’ve left me standing/in a world that’s so demanding). So I think about the future, about the music I’m working on and all the things I have to look forward to. I think about the ways in which the music created under the moniker, New Order (along with those timeless images by Peter Saville), has enhanced my ability to look both forward and backward—to orient myself in the grander scheme of things, to feel connected to a rich tapestry of queers, philosophers, artists, and dreamers.
So I sit and wait for the sirens’ call, and I wrap myself in this tattered musical quilt that I will continue carrying with me. I recognize that I’m running out of room for more squares, but I’ll endeavor to make room whenever possible. I think about all the roads that wrap around this world, both large and minute; I think about the distances I’ve traveled along them, and the distance yet to be traveled. I think about the hate and the love, and the tears and the laughter, and the emotions riding high as a nation waits in fear of one another. I think about how, 1,000 years from now, none of this is bound to matter all that much, and the humans roaming the planet at that time will still laugh and cry, and hate and love one another. I think about Tony Wilson, and about all of the words Mike Garry rattled off in his poetic tribute. I think about the hours I’ve spent dancing like no one was watching (because no one was, truly), and I recall bouncing up and down with the crowd as we all sang along: “oh you’ve got green eyes/oh you’ve got blue eyes/oh you’ve got grey eyes…” I think about the moment the houselights came up on 4,000 sweaty New Order fans, and how we all dreaded that exodus out of Eden and into the world outside. And I think about Ian Curtis. And I think about David Bowie. And I think about Lou Reed.
I don’t know how much more thinking I can do before I lose track of all these thoughts; a fragment from a Confucius quote, “thought without learning is perilous,” begins to taunt me. So I listen again to the rise and fall of strings in Duddell’s arrangement of “Your Silent Face,” and I wait for the noise outside to settle down—so that I can hear the voice of someone, somewhere, talking about something that matters.
And all I hear is:
up, down, turn around
please don’t let me hit the ground
tonight I think I’ll walk alone
I’ll find myself as I go home.