Friday, November 26, 2010

Death, dying, art, culture and "famous" people - one explanation as to why we're bummed out when celebrities die

Person on the internet #1,876,345 writing about the death of Peter Christopherson...

For those of you unaware you can read a decent eulogy in The Guardian here and from former bandmate Chris Carter here.

To my mind a major function of art and in particular music, is to carry difficult emotions of the consumer so they are better equipped to deal with them.

Unconsciously or concsiously, it doesn't really matter and people tend to do both, we seek out music that captures a certain moment of our lives and encode that moment into the sound. To this day i still can't hear Wonderwall by Oasis, a song which i don't even like, without getting slightly misty eyed as it reminds me intensely of an important period of my life where that song always seemed to be in the background.

People often listen to angry music when they've had a bad day for a reason. Frequently it's because they can project their feelings on to the music and then get on with their day. Similarly some people would rather listen to something that functions as soothing because of the mental and emotional association they've trained themselves to attach to whatever the piece in question is.

I believe that a small but significant part of the music industry's dying gasp is happening because in the 1980s there was a concerted effort to tie more and more music with more and more useless consumer products that ultimately only held a fleeting meaning; it's hard to get stoked on a night on the town when your anthem now makes you think of sanitary towels or low fat yoghurt.

When celebrities or artists die i believe a lot of the reason many feel a sense of loss towards people they never even met and probably had little in common with is not some misplaced sense of worship but the sudden loss of a deeply personal sense of sharing.

Whether you care or not Nirvana wrote songs that millions of people felt encapsualted some of their sense of alientation and loneliness in the world. When the creator of those songs took his own life i have no doubt that the effect on many was a feeling that the songs that in some way helped them had either been pulled away from them, or that now there was a new layer of grief encoded into their meaning for the listener.

This is in a sense how i feel about the passing of Peter Christopherson. After a sudden death very close to me i listened to a lot of music (it's what i do...) and found that certain pieces by Coil, amongst others, helped me substantially to deal with the drowning sensation that i find true grief to be.

The real help they gave me is hard to adequately explain, but as i talk about above it was really just a conscioius transferring of emotion of my behalf so i could try and turn off the sensation of loss.

On a certain level, hearing that Christopherson died in his sleep this week brings back some of those emotions to me again. Coil's music helped me get through a difficult patch of my life; i can listen to Wraiths and Strays now and i appreciate it as both a fine piece of music and a bittersweet mnemonic device that helps me remember both the good times i had with my friend and the hole in the world that i will always feel in his absence. And it's a sensation of loss i neither want to have clouding my thoughts constantly nor is it something i want to forget; it's just too fucking important to me.

So Christopherson's death brings some of that back to me. I'm sad for the death of someone important in my life who i never met and i'm reminded again of the very tangible loss in my own world.

There are lots of "if it wasn't for abc then def wouldn't exist" in the world and honestly, were it not for industrial culture and in particular Throbbing Gristle and Coil, then The Endless Blockade and any related output and this blog would have turned out quite differently.

Even more than Throbbing Gristle, Coil have long encapsulated almost everything i've looked for in music and culture for my entire adult life now. My early experiences generally revolved around being stoned out my gourd listening to Transparent, in particular Sicktone where everyone would basically try really hard to make themselves feel nauseated by listening to it as loud as possible. As my drug use progressed it became dropping purple oms and listening to Love's Secret Domain and Stolen and Contaminated Songs on repeat for eight hours straight. And i got pretty bored of drugs by about 1994 but have maintained my obsession with Coil since.

Ah, what else can i say? The man was a genius (as was partner Jhonn Balance); i don't think he's ever been on a record i didn't like. I'm not really one for nostaliga most of the time but i decided to travel to Chicago to see Throbbing Gristle last year, the main reason being less about TG and more so i could witness Peter Christopherson and Chris Carter perform.

I guess given the tone of this piece i should use this opportunity to state publically that i want Fire of the Mind played at my funeral. Someone point my family in the direction of this blog when the time comes.

In the last two months i've found myself listening to a lot of Coil again. I put up the Nameless Dread link last week (and thank you for the kind comments) which a number of people refered to as breakcore or similar. The truth is that most of it is influenced by Coil filtered through my love of power electronics and grindcore. And if you listen to the opening of Some Names Must Always Remain Unspoken you'll notice the track is built around the main refrain from What a Day by Throbbing Gristle (whether that was Carter or Christopherson's idea i have no idea...).

This week i was also in the infant stages of figuring out a Nameless Dread take on the Coil song Triple Sun and have also been reading Mick Fish' book on Cabaret Voltaire (the band), Industrial Evolution, which makes several references to Throbbing Gristle.

And if you've managed to get this far and your interest in music doesn't go that far beyond hardcore and metal then this interview is a great introduction to some of the thoughts of the man. It's worth watching the entire thing whenever you have a spare fifteen minutes.

"We are all only temporary curators of our present bodies, which will all decay, sooner or later. In a hundred years or so all the humans currently alive will have died. I take great comfort in knowing, with certainty, that thing that makes us special, able to enrich our own lives and those of others, will not cease when our bodies do but will be just starting a new (and hopefully even better) adventure ... "


pentagrimes said...

That sums it up beautifully Andy.

I was kind of a latecomer to Coil, but they were a band who I completely fell in love with when I finally heard them."Restless Day" was the first thing I heard and that song is eternally entwined with a particular (difficult) period of my life now - in no small part due to it being a small comfort.It was, to be cheesy about it, definitely on of those moments where hearing a piece of music made you feel like you weren't alone.

I missed what turned out to be Coil's last show ever, when they played in Dublin years ago, because Serpents were playing in Cork, and I'm still kicking myself for it.

I loved that band for their ability to create a completely other world sonically, their ability to imbue it with emotion and atmosphere, and for their sense of mischief.

These Seans said...

Excellent post, and a great interview clip. I wish it was longer.

Thanks for posting

Carm said...

I was at one of the Chicago shows last April at Logan Square Auditorium. Did you go for all 4 shows that weekend? I went to the late Sunday show because of work responsibilities. Anyways, I love the fact that the band chose to keep the house lights on during their performance. It felt less like a conventional music show and more of a true art experience. That was one of the best shows I've ever been to.

Anonymous said...

andy, do you have a facebook? how do you feel about social networking? there are a number of fan pages dedicated to his passing on there if you are into that sort of thing.

Survivalist said...

Carm, i was at the two performances on saturday. The Shadow of the Sun (wait, that was it right?) performance was incredible, the greatest hits was good, but i have a hard time untying my actual feelings from the grip of nostalgia in those kinds of situations sometimes.

And anonymous, yes, i have a facebook page; as an immigrant and touring musician i find it useful for me to have one as my friends are all over the world.

There is yet to be an "Andrew Nolan and 34 other friends like OMG Sleazy's dead and it sux" in anyone's update stream though.

Maybe when Thatcher dies i'll join some groups though

Carm said...


I just checked the archives of the Empty Bottle website (they're the kind souls who booked the shows), and yes, the first sets of both evenings were TG accompanying the Shadow Of The Sun film.

Originally, this church called Epiphany (I believe they're Unitarian?) were originally supposed to have hosted the shows, but a month before the shows were to have happened, they were moved to the Logan Square Auditorium. The reasons are still unknown.

Ultralazer said...

I listened to a lot of Coil and especially Throbbing Gristle when I was thirteen/fourteen. LSD was in prominent use by myself then. Although it seems to me that listening to this kind of music had as much of a profound effect on my consciousness as drug use.

What was more interesting was discovering TOPY and their involvement/influence in the chaos current, after getting heavily into magick some nine years later.

Coil and TG will forever be a unique connection into my past. Peter will be missed.

Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

sorry bout this off topic question, but can you please tell me who put out the hatred surge split black cover version? i cant find anything about it on the net.cheers

Survivalist said...

it's a tour version, i think we made 70 like that

discogs is pretty inaccurate when it comes to our releases

i think there's something like four versions of Primitive and three versions of Turn Illness Into a Weapon