August 20, 2009

Death posture: David Peace and Joy Division

Now three-fourths of the way through David Peace's Red Riding quartet, which means I've just done Nineteen Eighty. I came to this via various pieces of writing by K-punk, especially this one, and have been especially interested in the way that Peace translates the jittery-creepy-paranoid mood of post-punk groups like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire -- eerie synths and muffled vocals -- into the wider, dark, rain-drenched and arguably evil atmosphere of West Yorkshire in the years of the Yorkshire Ripper. Or takes the music as expressive of what the times felt like, his boyhood memory of it (in a similar way, the frustratingly open-ended mystery of the serial killer in David Fincher's Zodiac surely reflects the helplessness Fincher felt as a kid living through those years in the Bay Area). Clues are scattered through Ninety Eighty, particularly in relation to TG: a section titled "Nothing short of a total war", a birthdate given as 6/6/60, the police-state slogan "Assume this phone is tapped", snatches of lyrics ("this is the world now", "blood on the floor") becoming incantatory phrases in Peace's prose. (Another song from the time -- "We Are All Prostitutes" by The Pop Group -- is used as a section title, apt in relation to the Ripper's crimes and Peace's radical and unusually sympathetic identification with the victims, and his sense of police corruption as so all-encompassing, so total, that everyone else in the story lives beneath or is trapped within the world it creates.) I was also struck by the way that Peace occasionally breaks the spell of this netherworld and reminds us of what official popular culture was really like in the late 70s, its ugly surfaces: Starsky and Hutch and Morecambe and Wise on television, Hot Chocolate and Wings in the pop charts, the assassination of John Lennon as a talking point. The strange boredom and brutality of the period, the sense of things coming to an end or not able to go on as they were. Of course, the suggestive mood of records like Heathen Earth and The Voice of America. So I was suitably briefed about some of those appropriations, but I was completely unprepared for and floored by this one: the Christmas Eve suicide of a woman named Libby Hall, the widow of a murdered, corrupt cop, borrows directly from the suicide of Ian Curtis, which would have happened about six months earlier. Her son discovers the body.
"I saw her out of the corner of my eye, through there in the kitchen. She was kneeling and I thought, 'Now what you up to?' I went over to her, about to say something. Her head was bowed, her hands on top of the washing machine. I just stared at her, she was so still. Then I saw the rope, I hadn't noticed it. The rope from the clothes rack was around her neck. I ran through into the hall and picked up the phone but then I went back into the kitchen because I wasn't sure."
That resigned glance up at the clothes rack that Anton Corbijn "immortalised" in Control. I think it was even in the trailer ...