Playlist Notes: Novas 5.1: Up To An Ivory Tower

(previously: Mixtape of the Found Decade)

(previously: Novas 4.4)

The orchestra sits again, though the curtain has not yet risen.

It is an alternate 1979 to 1987. A spacecraft is exploding. A singer and a soldier are running. A shadowy Company plays a game with human pieces.

Novas 5.1: Up To An Ivory Tower

Act 1: Running

James, come on home. You’ve been running too long baby. You can’t let our hero die alone.

So I’d finished Novas, or so I thought. Then in mid 2018 I found the James Bond theme surfacing in my mind. Echoes of which I had found in a bunch of songs: p:Machinery, Mechanical Ballet, Game and Performance, Redemption Day.. even right back to the start, to Danseparc. I started to see it as a theme running through the whole of Novas: the musical glue that held it together. I suppose not surprising since the reason why a song ‘feels like it fits’ must be because the music matches.

And I like James Bond but much more in the abstract than in the particulars. I like the idea of a battle between good and evil but I’m not a fan of actual guns (most especially so, now, in April 2019). So I thought, okay, let’s surface the Bond riff. But let’s do it a little sideways, do a deconstruction of Bond through primarily 1980s music and see where it leads.

Where it led was to a spy romance – well, obviously – which then spirals through fiction and film into metafiction and then metaphysics. As reality falls apart the music switches from pop-rock to progressive rock and the songs get long. So there’s only 10 songs on this album. Act 1 is songs 1-5, Act 2 is songs 6-10

I didn’t initially see these two characters as our protagonists from the first trilogy, and it can stand alone without that. But as the project progressed I began to see that yes, this is our Susan and Jack. Just that the story starts a little earlier than when we came in.

01 Kate Bush – James and the Cold Gun (1979, England)

James, come on home
You've been running too long baby
You can't let our hero die alone
We miss you day and night
You left town to live by the rifle
You left us to fight
And it just ain't right to take away the light

Remember Genie, from the casino?
She's still there waiting in her big brass bed
The boys from your gang are knocking whiskey back
Till they get out of hand
And wish they were dead
They're only lonely for the life that they led
With their old friend

James, are you selling your soul to a cold gun?

Where lies your heart?
It's not there in the buckskin, baby
It's not there in the gin that makes you laugh long and loud
You're a coward, James
You're running away from humanity
You're running out on reality
It won't be funny when they rat-a-tat you down

1985: Susan seals Jack in the escape pod and ejects it. It’s his turn to be designated survivor, this time.

1985: Something strange and wonderful occurs.

1986: Time passes in orbit.

1987: Susan simultaneously watches over Jack’s pod and looks back in time.

1970: Jack plays with a toy gun.

1980: Jack is taking heavy fire as his Special Operations unit are ambushed in the jungle.

It’s not actually a song about James Bond! At least supposedly it’s not. I guess it’s about some other Scots chap a few hundred years ago. But it might as well be a song about James Bond. In fact that was my first idea, just edit a Bond trailer to this song.

02 Triumph – Just A Game (1979, Canada)

Wizards of a modern age cast spells of electric power
But the corporate strings that make them dance
lead up to an ivory tower
There sit the fates in solitude, far from the public eye
No-one ever sees them smile and nothing makes them cry

Welcome to the kingdom, land of bought and sold
A world of real-life fantasy where truths are seldom told
Try hard to remember all that glitters is not gold
You can pay the piper, but you cannot buy his soul

It's just a game, you're in it all the way
It's just a game, don't let yourself slip away
It's such a shame, I heard somebody say
It's just a game, and all I can do is play

What do you choose now? What do you believe now?
Who are you gonna trust?
All your dreams and fancy schemes just crumble into dust
Calm and cool and computerized
To calculate and collect
Wait and watch and wonder just which puppet they'll select

Like the moth too near the flame
We learned this truth too late
We're all too deep into the game
That is the master of our fate
The poets and the pipers have got their motives
And you've got yours no doubt
So the game continues
That's what it's all about

It's just a game, you're in it all the way
It's just a game, don't let yourself slip away
It's such a shame, I heard somebody say
It's just a game, and all I can do is play

1980: Jack walks into the Game Control Room on the Company space station.

1980: Jack has a heated discussion with unseen Management.

1980: Jack watches a monitor screen, Susan’s face freeze-framed.

1980: Jack enters a simulation pod.

I love this song. There’s always something interesting about Canadian bands and this had cycled around my ‘possibles’ shortlist for a while. It’s describing the music industry, of course, but we can read it much more literally as a vision of the Company that runs the Simulation.

03 Laura Branigan – Gloria (1982, USA)

Gloria, you're always on the run now
Running after somebody
You gotta get him somehow
I think you got to slow down before you start to blow it
I think you're heading for a breakdown
So be careful not to show it
But you really don't remember
Was it something that he said
Are the voices in your head
Calling Gloria?

Gloria, don't you think you're falling?
If everybody wants you
Why isn't everybody calling?
You don't have to answer
Leave 'em hanging on the line
Calling Gloria

Gloria
I think they got your number
I think they got the alias
That you've been living under
But you really don't remember
Was it something that they said
Are the voices in your head
Calling Gloria?

Gloria
How's it gonna go down?
Will you meet him on the mainline?
Or will you catch him on the rebound?
Will you marry for the money?
Take a lover in the afternoon?
Feel your innocence slipping away
Don't believe it's coming back soon

And you really don't remember
Was it something that he said?
All the voices in your head
Calling Gloria

1979: Susan’s face, but a different name.

1979: She’s some kind of computer programmer. Stacks of printouts and glowing terminals behind her.

1979: She looks up, troubled.

1979: Head in hands, on the desk.

1979: Slumped in a seat on a subway.

1979: Silhouetted in a corporate office, talking to someone, wreathed in smoke.

1979: A meeting in an alleyway.

1979: A bag with all her possessions in it.

1979: In bed, wide eyed in the darkness.

1979: A gun on the nightstand.

Pop ballads and choirs are always a nice mix.

04 Russ Ballard – Voices (1984, USA )

If you could see my mind
If you really look deep, then maybe you'll find
That somewhere there will be a place
Hidden behind my comedian face

You will find somewhere there's a house
And inside that house there's a room
Locked in the room in the corner you see
A voice is waiting for me, to set it free
I got the key, I got the key

Voices, I hear voices

In my head the voice is pleading
Pleading for me to set it free
I locked it inside my imagination
But I'm the one who's got the combination
Some people didn't like what the voice did say
So I took the voice and I locked it away
I got the key, I got the key

Voices, I hear voices
Voices, I hear voices

Don't look back back, look straight ahead
Don't turn away then the voice it said
Don't look back, yesterday's gone
Don't turn away, you can take it on

1979: Jack, running in the jungle as a guided rocket fireball rises behind him.

1980: Jack, running and jumping into a ditch as a nuclear fireball rises from a rocket tower behind him.

1981: Jack, running along a road as a nuclear fireball rises from a city behind him.

1982: Jack, running along a road as a nuclear fireball and the road itself pixellates into gridlines behind him.

I’ve been waiting to use this song for a while. It was used in a Miami Vice episode and had the balance of headlong energy and urban espionage I wanted.

05 Pat Benatar – Shadows of the Night (1984, USA)

We're running with the shadows of the night
So baby take my hand, it'll be all right
Surrender all your dreams to me tonight
They'll come true in the end

You said, oh girl, it's a cold world
When you keep it all to yourself
I said, you can't hide on the inside
All the pain you've ever felt
Ransom my heart, but baby don't look back
'Cause we got nobody else

We're running with the shadows of the night
So baby take my hand, it'll be all right
Surrender all your dreams to me tonight
They'll come true in the end

You know sometimes it feels like
it's all moving way too fast
Use every alibi and word you deny
that love ain't meant to last
You can cry tough baby
it's all right
You can let me down easy
but not tonight

and now the hands of time are standing still
midnight angel won't you stay you will

1980: Their eyes meet for the first time.

1981: Their eyes meet for the first time.

1982: Their eyes meet for the first time.

1984: Their eyes meet for the first time.

1984: Hand in hand, running down an alley.

1984: Standing together in a vast crowd.

1984: Alone, hands beating against the walls of a high-tech prison cell

1985: Braced against a space station wall as a security robot glides by.

1985: A spacecraft explodes and time stops.

I just love the tension-release cycle of the verses. This is probably one of my all-time favourite 80s songs, but it seems to melt effortlessly together with Voices and Gloria. Echoes of Deux ‘computer programs, shadows in the night’.

Oh, and the music video of Shadows of the Night is amazing, perfectly capturing the vibe I felt the song exudes: a fantasy within a fantasy of Rosie the Riveter dreaming of Spielberg-style Indiana Jones WWII spy heroics. The video edit just didn’t quite fit the inter-song pacing as well as the album version so but I love it deeply.

End of Act 1

Act 2: Wild

06 The Books – Spillane (1980, England)

something's in the road
something's running in the road
in my headlights
someone running wild
someone crying like a child
say it's all right all right all right
suddenly a car comes across me much too far
and I'm out and I'm out
waking sleeping lying facedown and the shaking
and the scream

she looked back don't say it too long too loud
he wouldn't stop he couldn't stop until she gets alone

inside there was something there to hide
like an old man's notebook
something else is strange something getting in the way
like a small time street crook
come on up to your room
here's a nickel
have a ?
go your own way Desiree
something in your eyes tells me you're so civilised
I can't tell what you say

she looked back don't say it too long too loud
he wouldn't stop he couldn't stop until she gets alone

undercover on the street
she on the run she pulled a gun
saying kiss me kiss me kiss me Mike kiss me
she was forward on the street
was on the run she pulled a gun
and she said give it to me gimme gimme I want have

everybody love romance so love will make the greatest that's all
what's in the box what's it what's what's the box in the box

meet me on the beach I'll be there somewhere you can reach
in the firelight firelight
there's danger in the ring it's not exploded on the wings
and your friend was too bright
suddenly it's late it's getting too late to explain
and the clouds are stirring
meet me in the scene it should be safe on Mary Brie
you'll have to solder and spark sheets
flick, flick

R M A F M A K M D
chief weary nosed said in no time who knows, me?

Spillane!
Spillane!

1986: She now has access to all her memories, every cycle of the Simulation.

“Was that… did we live a Mickey Spillane novel?”

“They had to calibrate the System. On fiction first.”

It’s anyone’s guess some of these lyrics. It’s like a Pop Art painting really. The impression of speed is what counts.

The car from Shadows follows us here and into The Friends of Mr Cairo.

07 Jon Anderson and Vangelis – The Friends of Mr Cairo (1981, England/Greece)

Okay, this is the picture. Johnny's been hurt. He's been hurt bad.
Look, we can't leave him here, we can't. Look, he's in a pool
of blood. He's gonna die, I know it.
We've gotta leave him here, honey. We gotta. He won't talk,
I promise you that! Will you Johnny?
Frankie, I don't care whether he talks or not, I just can't
leave him like this.
Listen. Leave me here I... I... I can ... I can ... handle it.
Oh, no, Johnny, no...
The cops are outside. Luke's in the car. Come on, let's get
the hell outta this joint.
Frankie, when they get here we're gonna be dead, I know we are!
We don't have a gun!
Listen. We got three million... Listen, bud. We got three million
in the can, here. We can't look after him, I'll send the bird
to his mother. Come on, let's just get out of this place,
we can do it!
Oh, no, Johnny, no...
Okay now, just lean up against that door. When I give the word
"Go" we just.. we just go through it and blast at the same time.

She came, as in the book, Mickey Spillane
That Saturday night dark masquerade
Had filled his friend with lead, the same, sweetheart
But then, as nothing happens quite the same
Investigation is the game
He had to check her story right away - he dead

Sam Spade his buddy Archer first to go he got it
She spelt it out, how could they know the Fatman got it - he dead
Her sister didn't really live at all - confusion - he dead
His chase led to the Fatman, to face the friends of Mr. Cairo

Hey, there's a really terrific dress shop. Can we stop this raid
while I buy a new gown?
I'll buy you the whole factory, sweetheart. Don't worry.

That night, the double crosser got it right
Pretending he was really dim
He slipped to Sam a double gin (Mickey Finn)
He woke, the boys had gone, but not his gun
They'd left a note to lead him on
The chase to find the Maltese Falcon - you bet -

Early thirties gangster movies
Set to spellbind population
From Chicago to Hong Kong
Via Istanbul the Talking Tong
Dirty rats through prohibition
Money flowed through gangsterism
Acting out this fantasy
In Hollywood's vicinity
The best part for the best rendition
Al Capone he sent to prison
Citizen Kane came fast and quickly
Conquering ol' New York City
Poking fun at superstition
Media became television

Give me Cagney any day
Or Jimmy Stewart for President
Or Edward 'G' and all those guys
Who always shoot between the eyes
Between the eyes
Between the eyes

Ha, ha, well done Mr. Cairo, and what do you have to say about
that, my friend?
All right. So you've got me in it. What about her?
Don't worry about me, I'm okay
Very magnanimous, sir, very magnanimous indeed, ha, ha, ha
You mean... you won't make us an offer we... we can't refuse...

Father love do you work, do you work for Mother
Chances could call, and accept that, be no other
Science as it might, disappear correspond with colour
Chance is the fruit, will outlive, what is now the brother
Call for total wealth to distribute like a picture
In black and white, give it joy, give it, let it hit you
Spoil our existence by extreme gift to population
Father love do you work, do you work for Mother
Tell me straight be the Godfather be no other
Media Kings give us now give us total movie
Straight right now, give it clear, give us total movie
Now being here, being now, being here believing

I don't know which words to put in there sweetheart, you know,
I can't do it. Pretty kind of useless, though, don't you think
so Mary?

Come with me to the far lands of Baghdad.
Oh, if only I could. That's what I want more than anything
in the world, but it could never be...
Of course it can...
But my father would find us wherever we went. Yes, he has
forbidden me to... to even speak to you, if he finds me now,
I don't know what he'd do...
But he doesn't know that I'm... I'm a prince. Before, I was
the thief of Baghdad now...
It doesn't matter...
Then follow me, darling, follow me now to the ends of the Earth

One on one to talk to you
Like film stars they get close to you
You've mirrored his appeal
He wants you so, he wants to be beside you
Then you pass by giving him the other side of you
Like the mystics do
So that every time he moves, he moves for you

Soul and light can always see
The meeting of true love and she
This silent night and I,
I guess a lonely mind might see

I've seen love on the screen
I've seen a screen goddess and me - oh
How often this, how often this, the power of you

And so, I must confess
Whatever I see
I'm meant to be there with you
With you, with you

Silent golden movies, talkies, technicolour, long ago
My younger ways stand clearer, clearer than my footprints
Stardom greats I've followed closely
Closer than the nearest heartbeat
Longer than expected - they were great -

Oh love oh love just to see them
Acting on the silver screen, oh my
Clark Gable, Fairbanks, Maureen O'Sullivan
Fantasy would fill my life and I
Love fantasy so much

Did you see in the morning light
I really talked, yes I did, to God's early dawning light
And I was privileged to be as I am to this day
To be with you. To be with you

Listen. I have arranged this display for... for all of you
people to... to come here this evening and I... I know you have
been searched, but, what you... you don't realize is, is that in the
back of the Maltese Falcon, I have it ...

1986: Spillane cut to Hammett. They had lived so many lives, so many worlds. So few of them even remotely real.

“It wasn’t just a war-game, was it? It was full-scale social extrapolation.”

“And media. Experimental gameplay. Artforms. The Company had its hands in everything.”

“Media kings give us total movie.”

“Then that’s why the Videotheque felt so familiar for us. We’d been there before. Hands held in black and white.”

Callback: Movieland.

What is it about this song? It conjures ghosts. Much of a piece with Trevor Horn’s work around the same time (Buggles: Video Killed The Radio Star and Elstree, Yes: We Can Fly From Here, Propaganda: p:Machinery, Dollar: Videotheque) it seems to be about this sense of techno-nostalgia that was everywhere at the start of the 80s, tying in with themes of social control and simulation. Thomas Dolby’s The Golden Age of Wireless has a similar vibe. (But I couldn’t use any of his music and now I think I understand why: no Bond progression.)

For such a long song, it divides into two halves: first male ‘gangster’ archetypes, second female ‘goddesses’.

The Maltese Falcon wasn’t actually Mickey Spillane, it was Dashiell Hammett, but who’s counting?

08 Renaissance – Ashes Are Burning (1969, England)

Travel the days of freedom
Roads leading everywhere
Come with me now
And show how you care

Follow the dying embers
Cross on the paths they lay
Breath of the past
The Earth's yesterdays

Clear your mind
Maybe you will find
That the past is still turning
Circles sway
Echo yesterday
Ashes burning
Ashes burning

Colours are fading starlight
Silver the way to find
Walking the shadows
There in our mind

Changing the order slowly
Leaving the mist of time
Fingers are holding
fragments of mine

Clear your mind
Maybe you will find
That the past is still turning
Circles sway
Echo yesterday
Ashes burning
Ashes burning

Imagine the burning embers
They glow beyond, above
Your sins you won't remember
And all you find there is love

Ashes are burning brightly
Smoke can be seen from afar
So now you're seeing how far
Ashes are burning the way
Ashes are burning the way

1987: Time itself is evaporating and now Susan she can see everything: all the paths that led here, and what comes next.

Starfall.

I know it’s not 1980s but Annie Haslam and her friends in Renaissance / Illusion have appeared in ‘Eclipse Suite’ which doesn’t directly connect to Novas but, like Novas 4, is part of the the underlying dreamscape. Like ‘Carpet of the Sun’, I found this song lovely but it’s the very strong Bond progression which links it right back to Kate Bush. So this kicked off a bit of a 60s Easter egg thing.

We’ve glimpsed Susan progress from someone very different into what she’s become now.

09 Shadowfax – Angel’s Flight (1982, USA)

Instrumental

1985: A white plume of vapor rises to the heavens.

A theme song for a 1982 anime version of Aladdin.

10 Rita Coolidge – All Time High (1983, USA)

All I wanted was a sweet distraction 
For an hour or two
Had no intention to do
The things we've done
Funny how it always goes with love
When you don't look you find
But then we're two of a kind
We move as one

We're an all time high
We'll change all that's gone before
Doing so much more
Than falling in love
On an all time high
We'll take on the world and win
So hold on tight
Let the flight begin

I don't want to waste a waking moment
I don't want to sleep
I'm in so strong and so deep
And so are you
In my time I've said these words before
But now I realise
My heart was telling me lies
For you they're true

1985: On the acceleration couch, she reaches out and touches his hand.

1985: A glowing blue disc envelops the exploding spacecraft

1987: A single-person escape pod returns to Earth

Look, you didn’t think you could walk away unscathed from a playlist centred on the Bond Theme without an actual Bond theme, so here’s the Bond theme. Is this the best Bond theme? I think this is the best Bond theme. Was it written perhaps for Moonraker, or just in response to it? Because it doesn’t really seem to fit Octopussy at all.

End of the Entr’acte