Thursday, May 31, 2007

Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me

Actually, last night I dreamt that I was stranded on some sort of jungle planet with one other guy and a bunch of the xenomorphs from Alien. We got across a river, and for some reason they couldn't swim, so we were safe. And then I remember in that dream-vivid way looking across the river through the foliage and seeing this thing - the alien's phallic head jutting out of a mess of carbuncles and antennas and what have you. That's when I knew that they were "evolving" just to get to us. Somehow they'd sped the breeding process up and by impregnating different animals were trying to find a form that could cross the river. A brief nightmarish run from a series of jaguar/fish aliens later the guy and I somehow lost the aliens and ran into this giant (modelled, in my head, equally after Gene Wolfe's Baldanders and Grant Morrison's Max Thunderstone). He seemed a bit dumb but nice enough, and we found a building to hide in. So we were safe - until the giant punched through the face of my travelling companion and I realised he was an alien too.

Now, I can only assume my mind picked up on the Alien imagery because I'd seen it and not John Carpenter's The Thing, but I haven't watched that movie precisely because of my horror of shapeshifters (or more precisely, of malleable flesh). The aliens in my dream still terrified me without headcrabs of anything like that (I'm still shuddering at the memory) because of the way they usurp the bodies of the species they breed through, a series of adulterated forms. I nearly screamed when I woke up and went to the bathroom to find a trash can full of hair (then I remembered my brother gave himself a haircut last night). It's not the biological I object to at all, it's the violation of biology, and my subconscious dished up a particularly obscene and graphic version of it for me (believe me, I am not doing the dream justice, partly because I don't want to try and describe the aliens more vividly).

So I'm sitting there trying to think of what Low song connects to that sense of utter horror and revulsion and danger, and there isn't one. Like all of the great bands I can think of, Low don't cover the whole emotional spectrum so much as they trick you for the duration into thinking of what they do cover as the emotional spectrum. This is part of the reason, I think, why I go on listening binges with Low or Joy Division or whoever - you just want to hit that emotional range again, and it's hard to do that with anyone else, even superficially similar acts. But as I'm mulling that over, I realise that I did in fact have a song by Low in my head, a kind of ironic waking "end credits" song to the horror movie in my head, and unfittingly enough it was their cover of the Smiths' "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me."

As with "Blue-Eyed Devil" I first heard the cover rather than the original (although it only predated me finally picking up the flawless "Singles" disc by a few weeks at most), but that's much more important in this case because the Low version seemed much more shocking at first. I had already heard "Canada" and "Dinosaur Act" and all the other album tracks that showed Low moving away from their quiet, still existence (which, again, was always more ideal than reality), but for some reason this cover completely caught me off guard.

The Low version cuts off a minute by skipping the crowd noise and piano prelude of the original, which always makes me think of Morrissey-as-Frankenstein's-Monster. The Smiths' version is actually just a three minute song with some padding, but of course the Low version is nearly four. It starts off with Alan's echoed voice and his customarily restrained guitar and bass from him and Zak. But just before they hit "So tell me how long / Before the last one?" these dark, massed strings plunge into the track and for just under a minute Alan and Mimi's now-combined vocals fight against those strings (almost a slower version of AC Newman's "The Town Halo," for comparison) and Alan's distortion pedal. After that the track does one of those slow dying falls that Low are so good at, with just the bass and a solitary, quiet violin(?) and the vocals. By the end when Alan's falsetto is stretching out "goes on" the echo is once again the most prominent element of the song.

And I do love that, the same way I love My Morning Jacket's It Still Moves. I'm not really going to get into the hauntological qualities of echo here (I think I've had enough tangents for one entry), but suffice it to say while the original intro positions Morrissey as a very corporeal monster, one shunned by other people, Alan sounds more like a poltergeist in an abandoned house (right down to the middle section of the song, where presumably shit starts flying), not so much shunned as forgotten. Both make the overly lugubrious lyrics work for them, but the way Alan makes explicit the rage implicit in the original makes it the more powerful version in my opinion. Yes, "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" is a sad and despairing song, but lurking underneath that is the curdled anger of someone who secretly thinks the problem is with the rest of the world, not them (...Morrissey?). I've pretty much already said my piece about the psychological geography the Smiths tended to cover, but this song is definitely in the same tradition. And I'm of course not holding myself above that - while my comments in the "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" piece sometimes seem strikingly naive to me now, I've grown up a lot in the last three years. I no longer identify so much with Morrissey's protagonists, although admittedly in this case I'm not sure I ever did. I do wonder whether Alan does.


Inverarity said...

I need to start having some nightmares that connect with Cale songs. That was a great read. Of course, I'll think of shape-shifting aliens every time I listen to this song for the near future...

Ian said...

Thanks! I almost took that part out - I just wanted to use the first line as a bit of a joke, but I got caught up in writing about it... I was worried people would think it's too far afield from the song and the band. I don't tend to remember my dreams very often, though, and this one had clearly gotten to me so I let it stay. I'm glad you got a kick out of it.

(and I really liked the entry for "In the Library of Force," by the way)