Wednesday, December 17, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 351): "THE ADVERSARY" (1991) Crime and the City Solution

On her recent visit, Kajsa reminded me that the original Miscellany tape was not comprised entirely of songs from the 1968-74 period. I’d forgotten. In fact, the third Miscellany tape I made was a bust. She rejected it—this was in 1995—and I erased it. So, in 1996, she got two to make up for the missing year, and that’s when Brit folk and prog were sealed as sources for those tapes.

The first Miscellany included today’s song by Crime and the City Solution—a band I knew not at all (they’re from Australia, got started in the late Seventies), but I had this song on the soundtrack to Wim Wenders’ film Until the End of the World (1991), a CD that my friend Joe gave me because, when he watched the film, he recognized that it was filled with the kind of music I like. Crime and the City Solution features Mick Harvey who was also in Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds and the song is a bit Nick Cave-like, a bit Leonard Cohen-like, and generally very moody and dark in its demeanor. The film attempts to be an arthouse adventure story with an end of the world theme, but is too discursive to be gripping, but not trippy enough to be visionary. Still, it has a great soundtrack and a very late-20th century Europe feel. Kinda “brave new world.”

The part of the song that stuck in my mind at once is how the singer (Simon Bonney) intones “you run from me, run from me, run from me, I am the ad-ver-sa-ry.” The song was very much a part of my life in grad school in Princeton, c. 1992, and Kajsa found that listening to the copy of the CD she picked up recently transported her at once to her pre-teen years of 11, 12, because that’s when this CD, along with the Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan (1991) were oft in the changer on shuffle.

The initial part of the song, sung in a deeper register, evokes this rather threatening figure—“behind the burning cross / Begrudged, imagined loss”—who may be only perceived as threatening. “I am your foe / I go where you go” always struck me as a way of saying that this foe that goes with you everywhere is yourself, or your bad conscience, or bad faith. But I remember putting it on a tape for someone with the sense of “you can run, but you can’t hide.” I’m following your every move.

Then the song lifts into a relation to a woman that is very lyrical, evoking a femme fatale who can simply encapsulate so much “as she lets fall her soft summer dress.” It’s a lovely verse and, contrary to every lyrics page on this song that I found on the internet—including persons who print lyrics on videos as though with full authority—the lines in that verse are: “On your shoulder her hand lightly rests / As she lets fall her soft, summer dress / Without self-consciousness, self-loathing, or conceit / Without intention to triumph, submit, or defeat / She moves in her own chosen way / My invisible hands are not in play.”

It’s a wonderful evocation of someone who can disrobe without showing off, or feeling ill at ease, or apologetic or even very aware of the effect it has. And that part about not intending to triumph or submit or defeat pretty much lets us know that this is someone who knows her value but doesn’t feel she has to rub anyone’s face in it. In fact, it was that very verse which was the cause of me putting the song on the tapes it graces. I found the lines full of a sense of self-containment that seemed admirable and worth remarking on. It’s as if the singer wouldn’t dream of touching her.

I’m also fairly convinced—at least it’s the way I’ve always heard it—that he says “To her I’m just an unknown / To her I am unknown.” The distinction is one that also endeared the song to me, particularly with regard to a certain someone: I’m “an unknown” is (as in Dylan’s “complete unknown”) a way of saying that, in terms of name and renown, I’m a nobody to her. “To her I am unknown” makes that condition more personal: she knows I’m not “known,” but I also know she doesn’t know me. The two senses of “unknown”—no fame, not understood—is what I liked about those lines.

Then there’s that bit reminiscent of T. S. Eliot’s “between the idea and the reality falls the shadow”: “Between ideals and fact / Between the thought and the act / You sink without trace / Grow to hate your face.” Ay, there’s the rub. What we want doesn’t happen, what we think of doesn’t get done. Our best intentions sink without trace in the currents of the day, till it’s a trial to even confront one’s own reflection . . . .

It’s a brooding song, but a beautiful song, full of foreboding and resignation, but also somehow strong in its animadversions, fitting for a perennial—or eternal—adversary. Foe of all half-assed self-conceptions.

Will you run to me, run to me, run to me

Oh, and happy Saturnalia!

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