NEW ORDER: Taras Shevchenko
JOY DIVISION: Here Are The Young Men
THE BIRTHDAY PARTY: Pleasure Heads Must Burn
In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. We were not a party crowd, any of us, and our spirits were lower than they had been in several days.
It was ironic that the suggestion to watch the tapes should come from Raymond–what little initiative he had left had only showed itself at mealtime, when we opened the packets. There were very few of them left, and the four of us watched Raymond carefully as he quickly gulped his ration. The End had changed all of our personalities very subtly, and even in the best of times he had been extremely shrewd. Kathleen took me aside by the generator and mentioned her suspicion that Raymond had been hoarding the packets in his clothes, picking and choosing from the remaining supplies while we slept. We found out the truth, obviously, but by then no one cared. “Shall we watch the tapes, then?” he asked, breaking the silence.
Michael smirked, glancing toward the four steel walls that contained us all. “No. Let’s go outside and play badminton.”
No one laughed. Alison–as always by the entry door, checking its thick lead lining for the cracks she was certain were there–strolled over to the console. She glowered at Michael and picked a videocassette from the box.
“New Order,” she noted. She looked up at us, sharing the irony.
We huddled in front of the monitor, finally resigned to watching the tapes we’d been saving. Since The End announced itself the week before, there were few activities left for the five of us. Watching the videotapes–for there were no actual broadcasts anymore–was all we had left.
The Trinitron glowed. “Live at the Ukrainian National Home, New York City, November 18, 1981,â€ Alison read from the box. It was gloomy. The quartet played along to electronic percussion, beeps and blips almost drowning out the lead singer, who looked quite pained to be there. “Hey, I heard this at a club once,” said Michael. No one replied. “Except it doesn’t sound as good here. I can’t hear the guy’s voice.”
Alison stared at the screen. “It’s funny,” she said. “I always thought this kind of music would be impossible to play live. All those synthesizers and stuff. But that girl”–she pointed to a woman hunched over a keyboard–“she’s only playing with two fingers!”
“They can do anything with a synthesizer once someone knows how to program it,” said Michael, smugly. Michael, as he had told us daily during the week, had been in a band before The End. He knew everything.
“I like this, though,” said Kathleen.
“It sort of puts you in a trance.”
“So what?” asked Michael.
“So I like being in a trance,” she said. She looked over at the thick metal door. “I bet the people out there wouldn’t mind being in a trance.”
We stared at the screen, fascinated. The tape ended. Alison got up to stretch and change tapes. “I think maybe I would’ve liked these guys more if I hadn’t seen this,” she said.
She pulled out a new cassette, sheathed in black. “Joy Division–‘Here Are The Young Men,'” she noted. “Ever hear these guys?”
“Yeah,” said Michael, oblivious to our nods.
“That’s the guys in New Order before their lead singer OD’ed or something.” Kathleen rolled her eyes, fixing them on the bare light fixture hanging from the low ceiling.
“He killed himself, Michael. With a rope.”
Michael looked surprised. “Oh. You heard of these guys?” Kathleen remained silent.
The tape was poorly done, the camera noticeably distant from the stage as the band performed. “Shit, that guy moves around onstage just like Iggy Pop,” grinned Michael.
Alison laughed, meekly. “You know, you’re right, almost. I can’t believe it.â€
Michael was suddenly enthused. “These are the guys who did ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’! Can you believe how much that guy is moving around? I always thought he’d just stand around moaning about stuff. This is great!“
Michael was right. As bad as the photography might have been, there was an energy you could almost feel emanating from the screen. It was an odd moment, the closest any of us had felt to being normal in days. It surely wouldn’t last.
The final moments of the tape brought a video clip of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” no doubt tacked on by the manufacturer as some sort of bonus. It reminded Alison of MTV, she said.
We sat and wondered what remained of MTV. Michael made a grisly joke about Martha Quinn.
“One left,” said Alison. As she got up, the six of us looked at each other
“One left,” repeated Raymond.
Inspirational. Utterly inspirational. Huddled around the screen we stared transfixed, as if primitive cavemen staring at fire for the first time. Raymond’s mouth hung open. â€œJesus,â€ he said. The madman onstage walked back and forth, howling like an animal, while his band steadily screeched, white-hot, creating noises very few of us had heard before. “This sort of sounds like Captain Beefheart,” Kathleen said, looking at me. “At least the guitars do. But that guy sure doesn’t.”
It was Nick Cave, Michael announced. He’d seen the Birthday Party once before, he said. In New York. “It was real cool,” said he. “Hardly anybody was there.”
Alison examined the cassette box. “Listen to these titles: â€˜Dead Joe,â€™ â€˜A Dead Song,â€™ â€˜Release The Bats,â€™ â€˜Big Jesus Trashcanâ€™…this guy is nuts!â€ On the screen the live performance abruptly halted and the title “Nick The Stripper” flashed. What followed was unbelievable: a filmed performance of a song that might have been sung in hell. Cave ran about like a lunatic, shirtless, with words painted on his chest. Everything was red; people wore pigs’ heads; someone was crucified. Cave, grinning idiotically, crouched underneath a goat, reaching for its udder with his mouth.
The music pounded relentlessly. “Toby Dammit,” muttered Raymond.
“No,” said Kathleen. “Weirder than Toby Dammit.”
Michael stared at them both, blankly.
Kathleen shook her head. “Lots weirder than Toby Dammit.”
The tape ended, and still we glared at the screen. No one spoke.
The next morning, all the food packets were gone. Raymond, his neck broken, was hanging limply from the light fixture. We found Michael by the door, sobbing. His hands were bloody red.
“Open up!” came a muffled voice from behind the door. “It’s me! Nick! Open up!”
That was when we started dying.
(CREEM, October 1984)