Tuesday, March 06, 2007

today : ...resentment takes hold

I was watching this catch-up episode of popular hospital dramedy Grays Anatomy. It's not, to be honest, my favourite show and recently there's something about it that has irritated me more than the normal things that irritate me - such as the endless pastel frocked and Birkenstocks pop-folk music and the way each scene's emotional direction is signposted by predictable music ('ironic' cartoonish pizzicato strings to tell us "this is a comedy scene!"). Anyway, I didn't set out to criticise the Sex and The City meets ER hospital drama which has a certain level of undeniable quality in its writing, acting and production. What I did set out to say was that some parts of popular culture transcend their popular status and make it all the way into a category that, for the purposes of this missive, we'll call 'art'. Art that kind stands outside of culture - sort of convincingly transcending history, context, nationality, that sort of thing.

Anyway, there was a very 'emotional' scene (signified by the abscence of cartoony pizzicato strings) in Gray's Anatomy where a family were having to make a decision. Do they switch off a life-support machine? In the show, romantic interludes are underpinned with that fairly jolly inoffensive pop that at one end of the market has Hilary Duff and at the other has someone like Kelly Clarkson. Medical dilemma scenes are underpinned with the aforementioned fragile female folky music (patron saint : Natalie Merchant). It's like all the artists and labels that supplied Dawson's Creek missed their old royalties and needed a new place for their songs to go.

The underpinning of the life-support machine switching scene was the usual Lillith Fair kind of thing. But this time it was a version of Love Will Tear Us Apart. I couldn't focus on the scene at all. In fact I became rather irritated by it. Why? Is it because I am just an ornery old grump? Perhaps. But the real reason was that I was thinking that a law should be passed banning anybody from doing a cover version of Love Will Tear Us Apart. In fact, it should be de-listed from popular culture. Nobody should ever be allowed to even think about a cover version of it, apart from maybe Johnny Cash. That's because the power of the song is so tied up in the sound of the original recording. Somehow, Joy Division, with their faltering, unskilled instrumentation and the stark production of the late Martin Hannett, created a thing that could neither be replicated or imitated.

Of course, I can't actually put my finger on it without sounding like a tossy musicologist, or worse, a serious music journalist. The fact is that Love Will Tear Us Apart is a whole package. Art that is untouchable and hermetically sealed unto itself. Some of its power is derived from Ian Curtis's suicide. Some of it is derived from the context in which it was first released, the time and even the geography from whence it was created. For me, some of its power is caught up in when I first heard it and my initial reaction (which was a kind of confusion). More pwer is derived from when I 'got' it and the context of my life at the time. The bottom line is that it is a devastating and magnificent sound. Using even a pastel version of it to underpin a soppy scene in a hospital soap is just wrong.

No comments:

Post a Comment