“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tony Wilson, rip

Yesterday I read that Tony Wilson died Friday. This bummed me out. If you lived in Austin in the eighties and you were a grad student in philosophy – there were an amazing number of us – or a bright and likely undergrad in the Art school, the movie sound track for your life was very likely to come from Joy Division. I moved to Austin in 1985 from New Orleans. My New Orleans sound track was Donna Summer and the Talking Heads. Even though Donna was well on her way down in 1985, I had an abiding sentimental attachment. And fuck, I still do – don’t be telling me that Bad Girls isn’t one of the great albums, cause I don’t want to hear that shit.

Well, I had a sort of marginal knowledge of Ian Curtis. It was one of the people in the house I lived in who piled on the Joy Division. She had picked up the bug from a very popular instructor at that time, Rick Roderick, who’d also, I think, introduced Louis Mackey (my master’s director or whatever you call it) to Joy Division. And according to some story that was being passed around, Louis had actually met New Order when they came to Austin. All of this is rumor, twice removed and now recalled haltingly, but the point, here, is that the music was also a set of associations and rumors.

The Unknown Pleasures album did seem to permeate the little society of that time – looking back, it seems like we were all following some call to fuck up our lives as much as possible in as short a time as possible as a protest against the Ice Age that was Reagan. In philosophy, and in U.T., Derrida was still some kind of radical unknown, so you could get a good, dicey rep just by having read a bit of him. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was perhaps the age of the last stand of Liberal Arts, before they became wholly subordinate to what the Big U. does now – the churning out of business students, and the bending of all disciplines to provide tasty models for management papers. Derrida is now big in the journal published by the Academy of Management. And I grow old, I grow old. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. In New Orleans, I’d been politically involved in the movement for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, which was called the movement against U.S. intervention in Nicaragua although, in actuality, it was the movement to spread the revolution from Nicaragua to the entire continent and up through Mexico. Although, funnily enough, I lived for a while with a group of Nicaraguan exiles who were Contra supporters, and who were helping people get into the U.S. in a less than legal fashion (which meant I never knew who would be in the house), and we got along perfectly. But I’ve never let outright contradictions in my life worry me. In Austin, there was a lot more talk about politics and a lot less political activity. That suited me: I was definitely tired of showing up with the rest of the crewe to put out the coffin and the leaflets on Jackson Square of a Saturday morning. I’ve never been an early riser.

It is funny to think how much Tony Wilson, of whom I had never heard of in the 80s, shaped the Austin sound track. We were all hopping down that lipstick traces trail. And I was not ever even a great fan of New Order – it was simply there, in the air. It was what my buddies listened to. It was the perfect music to brood in, it seemed like. And brooding was glamorous.

Now I don’t think the best band Tony Wilson promoted was Joy Division. That was Happy Mondays, by a long shot. Of course, Bez, for an American, is incomprehensible – Bez represents that opaque point in Englishness that I will never understand, ever. What is he doing? Who knows. But what was important about Tony Wilson wasn’t so much in the bands he promoting as in the idea that the music was about riskier choices in a rich world. If you have such a great life movie sound track, you have to do things in your life that are worthy of it, even if they are rotten and stupid things that plunge you into karmic debt. That is what I loved, and still love, about pop music. That is something Wilson understood.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mackey did indeed get mentioned by New Order at their concert at Club Foot. They dedicated Blue Monday to him. They also still had Joy Division stenciled on their equipment, and a random hangman's noose was above the stage. There was an after hours party where all set sullenly on a curb in West Austin. Roderick, however, was not the source of Mackey's interest in JD or NO. Not to be too anti-Derridean, but I know Roderick's source, and, as you might expect, don't know Mackey's. Somewhere between a Snicker's bar and a smoke I imagine.

roger said...

Anonymous, it all comes back in a rush.
Oh, I didn't mean to imply that Roderick was Mackey's source for interest in Derrida - merely NO.

Anonymous said...

And I meant for JD in that instance to stand for Joy Division. Holy moly!

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