Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A song for every year of my life #3: 1979

Wire's "The 15th" in two versions. The first, the studio version from the album 154, is gentler, almost pretty, but its angular metallic riff sits at a distance from the listener. You have to follow it. It won't follow you. Every time I hear it, I visualize a mesh screen covering the sound, creating a grid in which each square is a long, straight tunnel. I don't know how to describe where the tunnel leads.
The live version from a German television program is more aggressive and direct. The grid is gone, the tempo slower. Their control and confidence is almost frightening in its simplicity and ease. It's the kind of ease that comes after much work. They play with purpose and without antecedents. Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, even other punk and postpunk bands. They don't have anything to do with this song. Nor does any band that followed.
What I can't understand is how both of these versions sound so close to each other while sounding nothing like each other at all. The basic elements that give me so much pleasure are the same in each, but the places they take me aren't even on the same map.

Alternate choice: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "Sedan Delivery"
We know that welfare mothers make better lovers, but is it better to burn out or fade away? Is there a third option? This song is spooky. The verses trip over themselves in a punk rock hurry to get to that narcotic drift of a chorus. Then, the guitar lays you down and tucks you in too far from home in an achy, melancholic daze. Like "The 15th," you'll be digging these tunnels the rest of your life without seeing daylight.

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