21 May 2014


Talking to You about Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
(Part of my series on Rob Sheffield's Talking to Girls about Duran Duran)

I spent the summer of '82 in a student exchange program at Colegio Estudio, a school in Madrid . . . The night before I left, we went to a house party where the hostess kept spinning Enola Gay, a song about two kids wanting to make out so bad it's like a bomb about to go off. When their lips meet, it's a nuclear explosion that blows up the whole world, and nothing will ever be the same. It didn't sound like an exaggeration.

You know the story behind this song, right? The plane which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was named "Enola Gay," after the commanding pilot's mother. The bomb itself was named "Little Boy." But how obvious were the connections before OMD released this single? I confess that all I ever hear in the song is the anti-war message; I have to pull up the lyrics and squint at them to see the boy and girl for whom Sheffield says a kiss is exactly like an atomic bomb.

It's not surprising that pop music often mines politics for content, but I guess it's unfortunate that people believe their taste in pop music can be a political statement. I believe The Last Psychiatrist blog has a post which psychoanalyses those who have no identities outside their image and for whom the music is really just another label, like a tattoo. (If you don't like the way I've paraphrased it, here is the original: Time's Person of the Year Is Someone Who Doesn't Actually Matter.)

But music isn't political in and of itself. By what standard can we say that there are songs proper to fascists, but not communists . . . or proper to republicans, but not monarchists? Isn't the nightclub a perfectly democratic catholic venue, where we can all just get along?

There were fascist discos and socialist discos. One of our Spanish classmates invited us to a party at a place called Aguacates. [The American exchange students] never refused a chance to go clubbing, but the Spanish girls wouldn't go, because they said it was the right-wing disco. I was like, who cares, it's just disco, right? At midnight the DJ played Arriba Espana, the perky theme song of the Fuerza Nueva Party, and everybody rushed to the floor to sing along and give fascist salutes, even the very drunk girl in the fuschia tube top whose cleavage I had spent the evening admiring . . .

We left Aguacates a little rattled. I understood why my friends wouldn't go there. It was like
The National Front Disco, one of my favourite Morrisey songs, about how there's a group of friends and one of them starts going to the fascist disco and everybody grieves because they've lost their boy. In general, political enemies didn't party together.

Apparently not. =P But why should it be so surprising when even Catholics who don't mind listening to the same pop music as heretics and infidels will divide themselves along liturgical musical lines at church? (This really confused my Protestant friends.) Now, there's at least one socialist Marty Haugen song I kind of like, so I'm not a proper fascist Trad: I remind myself of this whenever I feel I need taking down a peg.

While I've never actually had the pleasure experience pleasure of writing someone off merely for his taste in music, I'm all too familiar with the emotional dissonance of finding out that a friend and I don't "agree in the good." Seriously, the last time someone told me that he didn't approve of a TV series I was very happy to be watching, my knee-jerk reaction was to say, "Maybe you should stop coming around then, if that's how you feel." (I didn't actually say it, though.) Even if he hadn't admitted it, I would have known that he wasn't turned off by my personal taste in entertainment, but by my enthusiastic reaction to the political themes I found there. He didn't like seeing that I was in a group whose principles he disagreed with, and when I learned where he stood, the feeling was totally mutual. That we've managed to stay friends is either a mark of maturity or an outright miracle.

Back to lighthearted matters . . . During my own clubbing days, the only division was between the place which played only slick, modern Hip-hop and the place which mixed them up with Pop and some Disco and New Wave classics. It was always a let down when my friends who preferred the first club prevailed over those of us who preferred the latter. As superficial as this breach between us was, it means that to this day we argue heatedly about which song gets to define our year.

Of course the correct answer is THIS one

And now, as I throw the old, tired gauntlet down again, I wonder whether even Sheffield's old friends from that "summer of '82" couldn't believe it when they saw he had persisted in picking Enola Gay to headline his essay about them. =P

Up next in my "Talking to You" series . . . I can't decide, so you'll have to help me pick! Shall we share our early memories of MTV or struggle together to remember Haysi Fantayzee?

Your Turn at the Jukebox: Is there a song (or book/movie/etc) that you and your friends just can't seem to agree on . . . to the point of argument?


Sheila said...

Me, I get upset when people don't like The Hunger Games! ;) And a friend of mine was mightily offended when he lent me the Pendragon Cycle and I didn't like it. He thought I would enjoy the romances. I thought they were the most ridiculous little-boy fantasies of utterly personality-less women I had ever read. Luckily he and I already knew we didn't share a lot of core values.

The books and movies I enjoy often reflect my philosophical and political taste, but music? Well, Rush is openly libertarian (look up The Trees, for instance, which is a criticism of communism). And so it's unsurprising that I like it ..... though admittedly that isn't WHY I like it. I like music for its message, but usually that message is more personal/emotional. But could I really sing or enjoy a song that had opinions I strongly disagreed with?

You know, I don't think I could. I'm too into lyrics.

Sullivan McPig said...

I can remember a very heated argument I had with my sister-in-law about the ending of Titanic.

I stated that Rose died in the end, and that's why I love the ending so much. She dies and is then reunited in death with Jack and the other people who were on board the Titanic.

My SIL argued that Rose didn't die, because that would be a horrible ending in her opinion: Rose was merely sleeping and dreaming.

I still think my view of the ending is more beautiful and emotional.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- You know, I have another friend who gets upset when people *like* The Hunger Games! =P A few years ago, whenever another blogger he liked published something in praise of the books or the first movie, he'd write to me, "Another one bites the dust =( . . ." LOL!

What he and I disagree on a lot is music. He noticed our divergent tastes before I did; it must have been quite a disappointment for him. =( But I do recall feeling a bit "traumatised" when I told him that I absolutely HATE the song Torn between Two Lovers because it rationalises infidelity, and he admitted that he really liked it. (!!!) Even his saying that it wasn't the subject matter but the singer whom he liked did little to mollify me.

You've actually made me curious about the Pendragon Cycle; I'd like to compare the romance and the women characters in it to those in your manuscript. ;-) I'm planning on reading some Plato next month, so perhaps I can try Taliesin in July, to see what I think of it.

Sully -- No argument from me! I think that Rose dies at the end, too. She has come full circle by then, after all.

Come to think of it, Rose is really old at the end of the movie. She has to die some time!

Carmel @ Rabid Reads said...

Well, you learn something new every day! Great post, thanks for sharing. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


You're welcome! I also like learning the allusions in famous songs. =)

Sullivan McPig said...

@Enbrethiliel: Exactly!
And what better place than close to the Titanic, where she experiences love for the first time and which changed the course of her life in such a major way.

Sheila said...

I've only read Taliesin and Merlin, but I hardly want to go further. In those two 600-page books, there is exactly ONE female character who isn't made of cardboard. We are always given good descriptions of what the woman looks like and what she is wearing, and zero about her personality. There is also zero reason for her to go for the hero -- he sees her, he likes her, he goes off and has adventures, and these make him worthy to go "claim" her. And she's fine with that. Sometimes she gets gruesomely murdered after, but I can't make myself care because she basically does not exist anyway.

The romance in those books is supposed to be a major part of it, but it's like what a 12-year-old boy would imagine romance worked like, based on having watched a few superhero movies.

I don't require great female characters -- but if you are going to HAVE female characters, you have to at least try to make them human. Ugh.

Is it okay for me to admit I am disappointed in you for liking Twilight? I've only read bits and I haaaaate it.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sully -- At the same time, I see how your sister-in-law's interpretation would fit. The ending is ambiguous. It's just that death makes more artistic sense.

Sheila -- Now I'm wondering what you think of J.R.R. Tolkien's Arwen, because that description in your first paragraph could apply to her and Aragorn as well!

I'm also feeling generous today, so I'd like to float the possibility that Stephen Lawhead really does consider the relationships in his novels to be romantic. I know what you think of love at first sight, but if my male friend is right that for many men attraction can be both instant and enduring, then Lawhead is just writing honestly.

Finally, of course it's okay for you to be disappointed in me over Twilight! ;-) In fact, given the original post, this combox is the perfect place to tell me! LOL! But I want to repeat what I said in my review of Eclipse: it takes a certain emotional state to plug into Twlight properly. (It's no accident that these books are defining what has been dubbed the "Emo" generation!) Getting to that emotional point was, for me, like having someone turn on a light: suddenly, I could see so many things I had missed in the stories I had thought I'd read so carefully the first time around.

But this emotional state, as interesting as it may be, is not what I want for my normal disposition. It's a little embarrassing to be my age and a professional, and to wish that the workday would go faster so that I can go back to reading whichever Twilight novel I happen to be on. =P Nevertheless, it's what I call a proper "reading experience"--akin to that magical monsoon afternoon when Ursula LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea became "the right book at the right time." I know I won't stay "Emo" for very long, so I want to enjoy it while it lasts.

Brandon said...

I confess I would not myself have taken romance to be a major part of the Pendragon books; to the extent that it's even there it seems to me to be more of a connecting device. But I also wouldn't say that any men in the story, other than Merlin, are drawn in a particularly three-dimensional way, either, and even Merlin, I think, gets much of his rounding simply from being the point at which at least half a dozen different storylines coincide.

Enbrethiliel said...


Hmmmm. Well, that dampens my resolve a bit. If the books are well-written and just polarising, that's one thing (one of my favourite things, actually =P); but if they're not that great with respect to an essential point, then I'll have to believe they'll deliver in another way before I make the time to read them.

Brandon said...

For my part, I don't think the characterization is bad, and the writing in general is better than most things teenage boys read -- Lawhead's very good at description, I think -- but I think he's best seen as a retelling, drawing together all the major Arthurian traditions from all sorts of different sources. Because of this, I think a lot of characters end up being primarily connecting devices, while other characters, like Taliesin, Morgian, and Arthur, already come from the sources so freighted with significance that they end up functioning primarily as symbols.

I think the Atlantis story in Taliesin is fairly good, and the attempt to integrate the traditions about Taliesin the bard into a coherent narrative is at least fairly interesting. I do think Sheila's definitely right that if one goes into it expecting some well-written romance, one will be very disappointed.

Enbrethiliel said...


To be honest, any interest I have in Taliesin is mostly due to Sheila's negative review of it here. There are times when I totally agree that a woman character is "utterly personality-less" and that the romance she is involved in falls flat . . . and other times when I have to disagree because I see something worthwhile in the character and the romance. You could say that I'm not interested in Taliesin as much as I'm interested in comparing notes with Sheila. Especially since right now the only novel we seem to be disagreeing about is Twilight and that doesn't tell me much! =P