Completed: February 2019
The basis of ATOE was the Dead Sea Poems commission. Harry had brought a fairly complete track called Beat Noodle, long left hanging around in the vaults. For that live shows we largely left it as it was, with the grinding, ominous beat propelling things forward at a lumbering pace. The basic guitar, organ and choirish voices were all in place.
When it came to develop the tracks, at first this was mainly left untouched. But beyond the quick interest of a live show, those beats did become a little one-tone. With the two most recent Low albums as a reference (Double Negative and Ones & Sixes) the recording developed it into something more sustaining of interest. Otherwise, it kept it’s two section structure, making it one of the simplest ODAS songs ever, in that regard.
Lyrically, it was a longer journey. The keeper-over from the original DSP shows was the image of birds hanging up in the trees, watching, waiting. In ATOE they become the imaginary, paranoid creations of a crazed mind, too long comfortable in the slow poison of small town life.
It really came together when I was told how a person from Wakefield who had been in bands since when I was but knee high had been using his position as a teacher at a University to show his students examples of how not to conduct yourself in the music industry – and those examples were my festival and a local record label. I found this really interesting, as this person is someone who has been on the brink of ‘making it’ since at least 1995. But never does. They are a self destructive and delusional character (from various reports) and it returned me to one of my recurring topics – the person who never leaves Wakefield and how insane they would likely go.
With an image of them in the pub, spouting their opinions, the line that came that summed it up was “Just me and my self taught theory of everything.” It perfectly summed up not just an individual, but the prevailing psychology of Brexit Britain. “I’ve never left the country, but I know all I need to know about the world”. And the death of experts, and truth, of course. A terribly insular insanity, but one that can be damaging. And it naturally fit with the idea of a Dead Scene.
First drafts were much more conversational in tone, some of which survived. But I decided to stick with the metre of my reading for The Dead Sea Poems, which allowed me to trim it all down. Instead, we start with the lack of communication that begins these issues, that creates the bubble. Forming a last refuge in Rome as it burns suggesting sticking to the old beliefs in spite of the impending doom, with a hint of crossing the Rubicon, very much how Brexit Britain felt at the time.
It’s brought to a more local level, and the loneliness and detachment that absolutes bring. “In the small stakes” was another song draft that didn’t pan out but was running along similar lines, The Small Stakes being a book on my shelf full of great gig poster designs. “I was nearly signed in the 90s” is a leftover of that conversational style and feels like another of my tonal nods to Luke Haines.
The black birds are that black dog on the shoulder, the whispers of the naysayers, the imagined criticisms that plague this deluded superstar in waiting. With a final irony that they’d rather be “deaf, dumb and blind” than leave their home town, let “leave” is the emotive word of 2019, and it’s quite likely they’d be in favour of leaving the EU.
The original line is later slightly to scan better, but infallible is a nice replacement. With the additional production and recording, the songs ominous claustrophobic mindset is well recreated, and that looping, limited structure plays the role of someone stuck in a self-made glorified rut.
Our words make the world;
we take it in turns
to form a last refuge
in Rome as it burns.
But we don’t speak the same language.
This town grows you stunted,
blunt and immune.
I deal in the truth;
Dust motes float in the fading sunlight.
There’s nowhere that I want to go tonight.
In the small stakes
lie the heartbreaks.
Remaster the memory;
leave in the mistakes.
I was nearly signed in the nineties.
Pull up a seat, I’ll play you the tapes…
But the black hawks hang high in the trees.
Their whispers of chance and change wilt in the breeze.
And the black hawks hang waiting to feed.
I’d rather be deaf dumb blind than leave.
So here I stand.
And now it’s just me and my infallible theory of everything.