“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Face the Dawn Alone


Listening to the urgent, scary, magisterial, profound, threateningly clownish “Fly from Here,” I'm struck by the continuity of the imagery, which continues throughout the album in fact: flight, death. A fairly obvious Freudian metaphor, and something I love about Trevor Horn (happy birthday as of yesterday) is that he is ready to confront those big pictures, using cliché and plastic yet somehow not simply falling into platitude.

How does the song not do that (and the album in general?). I've been comparing it with Pink Floyd relentlessly this week. They also sing about death and other “big” things. 

It struck me that the beginning of “Machine Messiah” (the first song on Horn's 1980 Yes album Drama) was a parody of The Wall: almost identical chord sequences, but done with horrifying comedic bombast, with a marvelous groaning downward synth glissando from Geoff Downes. Of course when I first heard it I didn't like it. Pink Floyd was serious and it was wrong to mock what was serious. And the punks had already done it.

Of course now I see that as a stroke of genius. This parody, Mahlerian aspect is why Yes's new death song is so much heavier than Pink Floyd's, even though of course I love Claire Torry's wordless death-gasm (The Dark Side of the Moon).

The Floyd give us what Heidegger calls the take of “the they” on the subject of death: it's real, it happens, it's painful. A Hallmark card version, we could say. Without that horrifying urgency and weirdness that Heidegger says is intrinsic to being's intrinsic being-towards-death. The dark clouds on the horizon remain a moody Wagnerian backdrop; sorrow is the prevailing mood, the darkest color on the palette.

Yes, however, give us the Angst. The uncanniness. The “Bumpy Ride” quality, as well as the loneliness. This is thanks in part to the absurdly intense Horn production, which rips open Wagnerian worlds at every turn without retreating into cynicism.

Horn also achieves the strangeness of death through the terribly subtle use of dawn, rather than night, to evoke death. The opening and the beginning of something, rather than the closing or ending. An open space, more scary in its possibility than the shutdown of day in its finality. Without hearing dawn as “heaven” or “afterlife.” It's very powerful. 

You have to face the dawn alone. When you die, it's you who dies. This is why Heidegger writes about it as intrinsic to your being.

It's not an arcane image is it? But it's brilliant, and it continues in various ways throughout the album. More soon.

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