Playlist Notes: Novas 5.2: Alleys That We Run Through Act 1

(previously: Mixtape of the Found Decade)

(previously: Novas 5.1)

It is an alternate 1984. Two forces are fighting for control of the Western world. A shadowy Company armed with mind-altering artificial intelligence, and an underground network of musicians: the Novas.

This story takes place between Acts 1 and 2 of Novas 2 .

Novas 5.2: Alleys That We Run Through

Act 1: Embers

“Children, behave”. That’s what they say when we’re together. “And watch how you play.” They don’t understand. And so we’re running just as fast as we can. Holding onto one another’s hand.

So in many ways this was a spinoff of Up To An Ivory Tower. The more lo-fi Bond/intrigue themes struck me as worth mining and there was a bunch of material around the concepts of fire, riots and love. Songs like Firelight, Subdivisions, Fire and Destroy/Create had been circling around in my head for years, ever since I started thinking about ‘New Wave revolution’ as a theme. I was kind of startled however just how well it came together. Like the songs were Lego with magnets in them. I know the Bond theme is a kind of universal attractor but still..

I like this one. It can stand on its own as a portrait of a city on the brink of meltdown without any knowledge of its place in any wider mythology and that’s the kind of novelistic feel I’m going for.

In my mind 5.1 and 5.2 make a natural pair. Both linked by Bond themes, one abstract and metafictional, the other naturalistic and dramatic. At this point I hadn’t intended to extend the series beyond this. But my subconscious had other ideas.

01 Lene Lovich – I Think We’re Alone Now (1978, USA)

Children behave
That's what they say when we're together
And watch how you play
They don't understand
and so we're

Running just as fast as we can
Holding onto one another's hand
Trying to get away into the night
And then you put your arms around me
and we tumble to the ground
and then you say

I think we're alone now
There doesn't seem to be anyone around
I think we're alone now
The beating of our hearts is the only sound

Look at the way
we've got to hide what we're doing
Cause what would they say
if they ever knew
and so we're

Cold open.

The best of the three versions of this song I know: the 1967 Tommy James and the Schondrells original is meh, the 1987 Tiffany cover is terrible, this one is perfect. It’s got that ‘siren’ sound that meshes with the Bond riff and it carries through the running/shadows/night theme from Up To An Ivory Tower.

Another thing that makes this song great as an opener is the words ‘alone now’. There’s an arc from loneliness to community as the story progresses.

02 Wang Chung – To Live And Die In L.A. (1985, England)

In the heat of the day
Every time you go away
I have to piece my life together
Every time you're away
In the heat of the day

In the dark of the night
Every time I turn the light
I feel that God is not in heaven
In the dark of the night
Dark of the night

I wonder why I live alone here
I wonder why we spend these nights together
Is this the room I'll live my life forever
I wonder why in LA
To live and die in LA

I wonder why we waste our lives here
When we could run away to paradise
But I am bound in some invisible vise
And I can't get away
To live and die in LA

If I let myself go
And for what I just don't know
I'd maybe hit some cold new river
That let out to the sea
An unknown sea

I'd either swim or I'd drown
Or just keep falling down and down
I think it's that that makes me quiver
Just to keep falling down
Down, down down

I wonder why I live alone here..

In every word that you say
I feel my freedom slip away
I feel the bars come down around me
And I can't get away
I can't get away

There’s still a gap between Jack and Susan.

This is the Opening Widescreen Cinematic. The city could have been anywhere but for this version it seems to have located itself very specifically in Los Angeles. Funny thing, lots of songs about America are all by non-American artists. As if the America of pop culture doesn’t quite exist… it’s more of a dreamstate.

What is it about the chords in this song? There’s some deep magic in the progression. It’s got that tension-relaxation I recognise as vaguely Bondian but the very specific half-harmonies give it just this edge of aching longing that put it way above just an action film soundtrack.

03 Kim Wilde – Kids In America (1981, England)

Looking out a dirty old window
Down below the cars in the city
Go rushing by
I sit here alone and I wonder why

Friday night and everyone's moving
I can feel the heat but it's soothing
Heading down
I search for the beat in this dirty town

Downtown the young ones are going
Downtown the young ones are growing
We're the kids in America
We're the kids in America
Everybody lives for the music-go-round

Bright lights the music is festive
Look boy don't check on your watch
Not another glance
I'm not leaving now honey
Not a chance

Hot shot give me no problems
Much later baby you'll be saying
Never mind
You know life is cruel
Life is never kind

Kind hearts don't make a new story
Kind hearts don't grab any glory

We're the kids in America...

Come closer honey that's better
Got to get a brand new experience
Feeling right
Oh don't try to stop baby
Hold me tight

Outside a new day is dawning
Outside suburbia's sprawling
Everywhere
I don't want to go baby

New York to east California
There's a new wave coming I warn ya
We're the kids in America
We're the kids in America
Everyone lives for the music-go-round

We're the kids
We're the kids
We're the kids in America

The heat is oppressive and the music is the only escape.

Kim Wilde, daughter of a British singer, was definitely not a kid in America which is what pushes this song to the legitimately New Wave ironic side of pop, and not just having lots of keyboards and slightly dissonant chords.

What in heck is in East California, not west? And what was the ‘music-go-round’? Was it just the party scene or the punk dream of having your own band, getting a turn in the spotlight? I guess Youtube channels are the new having a band.

There’s probably a whole generational culture clash thing here too about how much the suburb/city dynamics have changed since the 1980s because of urban renewal and gentrification.

“I wonder why” carries through the loneliness theme.

04 Rush – Subdivisions (1982, Canada)

Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights and the far unlit unknown

Growing up it all seemed so onesided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone

Subdivisions!
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out

Subdivisions!
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out

Any escape might help disprove
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth

Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction
Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly
Just to feel the living night

While some will sell their dreams for small desires
And lose their race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
to relax their restless flight
Somewhere out of a memory
of lighted streets on quiet nights

Subdivisions!

Neon like ice.

Yes okay there are still a few songs from larger name bands that have that cyberpunk-adjacent feeling.

05 Marshall Hain – Dancing In The City (1978, England)

If you're a stranger here
And you need some action
We have a remedy
That could really catch on

Nice to see another face
At light-up time
If you're feeling dull and run-down
We can really make you shine

Dancing in the city
Alleys that we run through
Now we've just begun to
Have fun tonight

Can you feel the darkness call
Let the streets have their way
They'll carry you on to morning
And steal your soul away

Club Nova is on fire.

This one was the spark plug. And I remember it from… 1980s or 1990s, but for a tiny song it definitely has that same air of menace and double meanings I remember.

06 Ghecko – Firelight (1984, Italy)

Firelight, firelight
I know I've seen a face, heard a name
So hard to turn from it
Another place, a burning flame

Saw it burning
Come the night, the fires are high
Saw it burning
Turn to me and say you'd try

Firelight
Firelight, firelight
Try
Firelight
Firelight, firelight

Somewhere out on the nightside
Life is low, the time is slow
Somewhere out on the nightside

Firelight, firelight
Flame and ice
Try
Firelight, firelight
Flame and ice
I saw it burning

Shadows moving across my eyes
I saw it burning
Impassioned voices start to cry
Firelight

I saw it burning
I saw it burning
I saw it burning
I saw it burning

The fire spreads.

07 Information Society – Fire Tonight (1990, USA)

Well there's a hot wind blowing tonight in the east
And I heart that the park is filled tonight with police
On the radio there's nothing
but a man saying to stay inside

Well I remember what you said on the telephone
That you didn't feel like it was safe to stay alone
And you would get yourself to me
if you could find a way across the line

But there's fire tonight on your side of town
Orange light in the sky without a sound

Well there's a vague sound of sirens tonight in the air
And I heard that the downtown streets tonight are bare
On the TV here they're telling me
the roads now all closed down

You said that if you couldn't take the car you'd walk instead
It was the last thing you said before the line went dead
And now I'm waiting by the window
holding all the things of yours I've found

But there's fire tonight on your side of town
Orange light in the sky without a sound
Fire tonight on your side of town
I watch and wait for you to come around

I know we always said that we were free
I know we never thought this would succeed
But now your face is all that I can see

And there's fire tonight on your side of town
Orange light in the sky without a sound
Fire tonight on your side of town
I watch and wait for you to come around

As riots throw the city into lockdown, Jack and Susan finally confront their feelings for each other.

08 Patti Smith Group – Because The Night (1978, USA)

Take me now baby here as I am
Pull me close try and understand
Desire's hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is the banquet on which we feed

Come on now try and understand
The way I feel when I'm in your hand
Take my hand come under cover
They can't hurt you now
Can't hurt you now
Can't hurt you now

Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to lust
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to us

Have I doubt when I'm alone
Love is the ring, the telephone
Love is an angel disguised as lust
Here in our bed until the morning comes

Come on now try and understand
The way I feel under your command
Take my hand as the sun descends
They can't touch you now
Can't touch you now
Can't touch you now

Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to lust
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to us

With love we sleep
With doubt the vicious circle turns and burns
Without you I cannot live forgive the yearning burning
I believe it's time to live, to feel
So touch me now
Touch me now
Touch me now

Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to lust
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to us

Because tonight there are two lovers
If we believe in the night we trust

She finds her way to his window.

There’s a strong musical thread linking Shadows of the Night and Because The Night, to the extent that I often get those two songs completely confused.

The ‘running’ thread from 5.1 ends here. No more running. It’s time to take a stand.

End of Act 1