Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Stockholm Monsters - Fairy Tales


Download Stockholm Monsters - Fairy Tales.mp3

I have been hearing about Stockholm Monsters for years, but first listened to them only recently. In fact, I first heard Fairy Tales the day before Tony Wilson died, which is an interesting irony. This was one of the first songs the band wrote (as teenagers!), and in late 1980, they struck gold while playing at Rafters in Manchester. Peter Hook and Rob Gretton happened to be in the audience. When they played this little ditty, the two were incredibly impressed, and pushed for their inclusion on Factory Records. Hooky became the band's manager and produced nearly everything they ever recorded - except, of course, for Fairy Tales, which was produced by the Friendliest Man in Manchester, Martin Hannett. No wonder those drums sound so crisp and piercing.

But enough of that. What a beautiful song, right? I think I'll always associate it with Tony's death, and that seems fitting, since I imagine it was one of his favorite songs since the Monsters were supposedly his favorite Factory act of the early 80s.

Off to a bang with a false start. Let me try again. This song has no false starts, although the drum machines sound quite hesitant at the beginning, like a nervous bird. But its flow is strong and pure, simple and wondrous, like the flow of a brisk stream. It has this feeling of resignation, of moving forward although you're resigned to your loss. Like a death. It makes me look back at what I've lost, but also at what I have gained from it. It's like gleeful sadness. It keeps on going. I've been really interested recently in how time flows, how it just keeps going, no matter what, and I think this song embodies that feeling somehow. How can it be so indifferent? We tend to anthropomorphize things, even abstract things like time. I think there is a method to the madness of life, but dammit if time can't be frustratingly indifferent sometimes. Children grow old, friends change, people die, and nothing stops to let you rest. You don't get a chance to grieve. "Why do you speak when there's nothing to say?" What is there to say, really? Life almost always seems to present even monumental events as mere moments like any other; it makes no judgment as to their importance. Only we can decide what is meaningful, and what is poetic. Only we can decide what is cinematic. Isn't that what it is? Cinema? Aren't movies usually just about turning those indifferent occurrences into personally historic events? Don't we sometimes look at our lives like they were movies just to make them make sense for once?

I know I do. It's kind of like some weird form of anthropomorphism, but for cinema. We characterize moments as celluloid, as light. The mental and emotional transformation of events into light. But what are events? Are they tangible? Perhaps they should be called scenes: the transmutation of life into scenes, the editing. Isn't history a lot like editing a film? Except with a film things are usually filmed with the intent of making them into an important moment, one worthy of the film. Isn't it amazing that moments can feel more full, more present, when we think of them as though they were just light playing in the theater of our minds, with an added soundtrack of our choosing? Maybe we live as documenters, our camera-eye filming everything (the afterimages the imprints on the celluloid), and then in moments of rest we edit. We pick and choose and sometimes forget (the overexposed strip of film) and set out to creating our own histories, the documentaries of our lives to recount to others and convince ourselves of our importance as subjects.

But it can be so easy to feel alienated from yourself, as one can from the director. We never see ourselves work; we are at the heart of the story but we are never seen. We feel our convictions; This must go in, when we love or grieve or feel profound joy. Those scenes must be saved. They remain real when they are on the reel (zing!). But where are we in those scenes? It seems that all we remember is what we see (the camera) and what we feel (the purpose behind a scene, the reason for the narrative). But life always goes on; it is always dissolving into light as our mind's editor works and works.

But also, if one feels that there is a moral and ethical obligation inherent in the act of filmmaking (and architecture, of course, since both are seen and felt by so many), is there also one intrinsic to the act of "editing" one's own life? What is the purpose of each "scene"? What can we gain from its inclusion? What can its retelling offer another human being? Even if time presents us our lives with a confusing indifference, we must decide what really matters, and that is a moral choice, a judgment. Don't these things really define who we are? And I think that sometimes what we choose for ourselves without conscious intention can reveal a lot of meaning, too. Sometimes I think we even have to sift through our memories to decide what is important, too. So many Contra.

Fairy Tales (yes, despite my bizarre tangent, this is still about the song) is our ticket to the screening room. When we hear it, we watch our lives unfold and we see what we have gained and what we have lost, with a strange sense of detachment from it all, like we are helpless; we are the viewer of our own lives. It reminds us of what our infinite limitations in capturing what we desire and controlling what we experience, but also of our ability to retain its memory, to retain its magical light and play it over and over again, should we so choose. It reminds us of the injustice of time but gives us the chance to right those perceived wrongs with the power of memory. We can make those moments which time forgot last forever and feel like the most important events that have ever occurred, because we are the ones who experience our own lives.

How did people think before movies? I am endlessly fascinated with that question, and with the countless ways in which film simultaneously reflects and shapes our minds. I wish there was some way to accurately depict the way memories look.

Some songs make us think about the future and some make us feel the joy of the present, but Fairy Tales makes us feel the fragile beauty of our past. Enjoy.

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