One of those came in 1982 or 1983, an intriguing looking album entitled "Love in the Western World." (Yes, the title was borrowed from Denis de Rougemont's book of that name.) Exit Records in California, an ultimately ill-fated label, nonetheless gave us such bands as the 77s, Vector, Charlie Peacock, and Steve Scott, the odd Brit responsible for LitWW. Scott, a sort of mix of Os Guinness and Lou Reed with a side order of Japan and existentialism / Lamentations thrown in, had created an album guaranteed not to sell in the cheesy contemporary Christian marketplace. In fact, CCM magazine at the time panned it as a disaster. (Intriguingly, Larry Norman's Solid Rock label had a Scott album recorded, but never apparently released it. But that's another story...)
I listened to "Love in the Western World," was awed by the lyrics as well as Scott's wierd musical sensibilities (he's backed by the 77s), and panned CCM mag while pumping "Love in the Western World" as an absolute gem. The starkly haunting musical / lyrical marriage of his unique new wave / spoken word sensibilities and an almost grimly realistic view of human agony, touched me deeply.
One song in particular, "This Sad Music," still best signifies to me Steve Scott's complete originality. (I may dedicate another blog entry to "Safety in Numbers," my close second-place Scott offering from LitWW.) I've looked now and again to see if the song's lyrics are on line. Apparently, they are not. So, I finally have typed them in myself while listening (hopefully accurately).
Here's the thing, though... I would like anyone else who remembers this album or lyric to please read the lyrics below and tell me what they got out of it. As I have listened, some 25 years after it was written and recorded, I find "This Sad Music" as riveting, painful, and troubling as it was to me way back when.
What I most noticed as I listened recently was the compassion -- an element so central to the work that it left me wondering how I'd missed it. I guess we all get a little more fragile, sad of heart, and so (prayerfully and hopefully) more aware of compassion / empathy when we see it than perhaps we were before such lessons came our way. Or, perhaps I speak only personally. Whatever... here is the lyrical portion of "This Sad Music" from the superlative album (now on CD w/ additional "live" cuts). I have formatted it in a manner which attempts to communicate a little of its aural impact, but will change or even delete it if Steve yells at me.
This Sad Music
The whales are dying now,
hurling themselves upon the beaches
black dice reckoned under the sun's watchful gaze
There's sweat on the preacher's brow
as he talks about damnation.
The whales are in love with no one
They wanted to die without explanation
He mops his brow and quotes Malcolm Muggeridge
on - quote -
"the collapse of western civilization"
- end quote -
and the book he waves in the air
is as black as whaleskin
He urges people to "make their decision"
and the whales have made their decision
An awful silence surrounds them
Like a ruined castle they lie
still, passive, beyond explanations
Beads of sweat on the preacher's brow
like small clear animals clinging to a rock face
or like tiny transparent whales
flinging themselves from the boiling seas of his eyes
into a slow, certain dying
The sad music in their brains, a piper's lament
from that old castle in the mist-thickened night
"FIFTEEN THOUSAND CINEMAS ACROSS THIS LAND,
DEPICTING EVERY SEXUAL ACT KNOWN TO
THE HUMAN IMAGINATION!" shouts the preacher
His voice is a door slamming shut
the sea's noise is a vast intake of breath
a gesture in a room to break the silence
now the whales have broken the silence
They are the color of the preacher's harsh words
The white foam rushes to embrace them
like mother and father
The whales do not want to know, and now
There are people sprawled on the beaches
chained together by "HUMAN IMAGINATION"
All the music has bled out of them,
drained from the ends of their fingers
splashed from the loudspeakers of their wallets
And at the end of the service, people walk forward
Perhaps it is "the collapse of western civilization"
that moves them
or the sad music of their slow, certain dying
that guides their feet
And at the end of this poem
a strange light comes off the bodies of the whales
gathering up the shadows like driftwood
and splashing them against the far walls
you would think the shadows would make
the words there hard to read
However, I find it's at a time like this
I see the writing clearest of all
(c) Steve Scott 1983
Thoughts, anyone? Meditations?
More on Steve Scott:
Wikipedia entry on Mr. Scott (a.k.a., "The Duke of Drone")
I will attempt to review a book of Steve's soon, and should have done it in tandem with this. But one must write when the muse strikes what the muse would have one write.
Love in the western world Steve Scott This Sad Music Exit Records