Tag archive: Joy Division
Though I’ve a long-standing interest in matters esoteric and otherworldly (fairies, mysterious beasts, aliens and the like) I rarely buy or read books on the area. The simple reason being that (other than the fine work of folklorists such as Eddie Lenihan) the vast majority of material published on such subjects is excessively credulous, bargain-basement fare. That’s not to say that what I’m looking for are scientific, materialist denunciations of weird and “unexplained” phenomena, however, for such works are often (at least to my mind) fairly uninspiring (empirical) analyses of things that are incompatible with such scrutiny.
Three cheers then for books like Patrick Harpur’s Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld, which I’m currently about ½ way through. It’s a rare pleasure to read something that both articulates & makes concrete one’s own vague feelings & intuitions on a “subject”, while simultaneously going beyond the trite, the obvious and the “common-sensical” (dreadful word that) in its analysis.
He covers so much ground it’d be hard to give even a representative flavour of the book here, but it beautifully (and wittily) sets out to demolish the idea that the world (as we apprehend it) can be reduced to 2 categories: “The literally real” and “The wholly imagined/imaginary”. I’ve made brief attempts to articulate my own vague (agnostic) feelings about all this on the blog before [see here & here] but I’ve never seen such a sustained (and confident) attack on prosaic, literal-mindedness before. Great stuff.
In the introduction he has this to say:
I do not want to convince or convert, but merely to persuade people to recall odd experiences of their own which, lacking official sanction, have been forgotten, as dreams are. I would like to stick up for people who, having seen funny things, have set them apart from their otherwise ordinary lives because such things have been outlawed by the orthodox, respectable world of science or literature, of the Churches or even their own families. (Harpur, xvi)
I’ve decided, then, to take Mr. Harpur’s advice and do a bit of (public) recalling of my own, right here on this blog. Settle yourselves down then, with a nice cup of tea or a soothing glass of wine, and I shall relate a tale both rum and uncanny. Every word of it is true (memory lapses aside) and it remains the oddest, most “otherworldly” experience I’ve had to date.
One Friday evening, many years ago (when I was but a youngish lad of 17), I was sitting in the bedroom I shared with my brother, listening to music with a friend and chatting about the impending trip to “Termight’s” (Limerick’s famous, and much-travelled, alternative nightclub).
The music in question was a cassette copy of Joy Division’s Closer and it had reached perhaps the second last track when my pal announced that he was off home to get changed into his “going out clothes” (an important ritual back then). I walked him to top of the landing, told him I’d see him later, and returned to the bedroom, closing the door behind me. As I wandered round the room, busying myself with this and that, the final track “Decades” reached its climax and the end of tape ‘hiss’ kicked in.
Now I’d listened to this cassette on numerous occasions – usually allowing it to run its course before flipping it over to side 2 (rather incongruously, Paul Simon’s first solo album) – so it was by no means the first time I’d heard these last 2 minutes or so of tape (and I’d certainly never noticed anything unusual before). As I settled down on the bed to read whatever book was at hand something very odd indeed began to happen.
With about 40 seconds left on the cassette the hiss was interrupted by a clear voice – a rural, middle-aged, female Irish voice.
“Seán”, it said, “Are you there Seán?”
A brief pause followed as I sat up on the bed.
“Seán”, it started again, “It’s me Seán. Can you hear me?” [In case you're wondering, my name is not "Seán", but I was called that in my all-Irish primary school]
By the end of the last sentence I had slowly climbed off the bed and was squatting on the floor beside the stereo. Pause.
“Seán, I just wanted to tell you not to worry about things and what people think. I’m looking out for you.”
“I don’t have much time.”
Click. The tape ended.
I sat there in silence, frozen, breathing heavily. In the next 20 (or so) seconds various thoughts zipped through my mind: I was somehow tuning in to one half of a telephone conversation; It was a recording of one of those “phone gag” things that were doing the rounds at the time etc., etc. Of course just below/behind such sense-making thoughts lurked the creeping feeling that something more otherworldly was playing itself out.
Snapping out of this reverie I quickly rewound the tape a bit and started to play it again. Cue hiss and the voice once more. This time, however, the “message” was different.
After a few other brief words of comfort and reassurance (words I can’t precisely recall, as I was beginning to become freaked out) the voice announced that it “had to go now, Seán” and that it would try and contact me again soon. There then followed five or ten seconds of garbled, gibberish (what religious types might classify as “speaking in tongues”) before the tape stopped again, leaving yours truly flabbergasted and slightly terrified.
After a brief interlude (during which my heart thudded rapidly in my throat) I got to my feet, ran to the bedroom next door, grabbed my older sister and told her, “You’ve got to listen to this”.
Readers familiar with the conventions of supernatural tales will probably see where this is heading. I rewound the tape, pressed play, and (of course) there was nothing to be heard but the gentle hiss that should have been there all along. I repeated the exercise. Same result. Fortunately, she had heard – though the wall separating the two rooms – the murmur of what she took to be conversation, and had wondered who I might be talking to (as my friend had left some minutes before). This, at least, proved that the experience wasn’t – as glib, pipe-chewing, pragmatist scientist-types might put it – “all in the mind”.
Later that night, as I recounted the story to a group of friends who’d gathered to “bush drink” in a local alley (hey, we were 17 and broke), I suddenly, unexpectedly, burst into tears, feeling deeply shaken and disturbed.
Yet like most people who have “such experiences” (I’d imagine) I soon filed the whole thing away in the mind’s storehouse and thought about it only infrequently – and then merely to use it as material for an interesting and creepy anecdote. In other words, it changed my life not a whit.
One night, a year or so later, as I sat in my room in University College Galway’s “Corrib Village”, I came across the tape in a drawer while searching for something or other. I hadn’t realised that I’d brought it with me to Galway and hadn’t actually listened to it since a week or so after the incident. Though curious, I found myself reluctant to play it again…not because the initial experience had been a particularly unpleasant or sinister one, of course, but…well..when you’re alone in your room on a dark (windy) night then why take any chances?
After sitting and staring at it for a few moments however, I took the plunge. I inserted it, pressed play and…[pauses for dramatic effect]…at that exact moment there was a power cut, plunging the entire student village into darkness.
As my heart exited my mouth and rebounded off the far wall, I leapt off the bed and ran into the corridor, there to find a house-mate emerging from his room with a torch. “Just a power cut”, says he. “You don’t know the half of it” thinks I.
So there you have it. Make of it what you will. All I’ll add is that after wading through a few Readers Digest: Mysteries of the Unknown-type volumes (this was in pre-internet days remember), and chatting to a friend’s family, I first heard of Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP). For those unfamiliar with the term it refers to “speech or speech-like sounds of paranormal origin occurring on previously unused recording media”. After rooting around in second-hand bookshops for a while I came across Peter Bander’s Voices from the Tapes (1973), and a natty scan of that volume’s natty cover sits at the head of this post. Alas it was pretty dull, earnest and uninspiring stuff – largely describing recordings of indistinct “voices” that required some imagination to decipher. “My voice”, however, was as clear as day (apart from the garbled bit at the end) and for some reason never struck me as that of as deceased individual (as crazy as that sounds).
I don’t really feel the need to understand the experience anymore (if, indeed, there is anything significant to understand) but it’s something that has stayed with me as (by and large) a pleasant, stimulating memory. Perhaps there’s a rational explanation for it all, perhaps not. All I can say for sure is that it happened…and it makes for a pretty cool story.
(with apologies to Flann O’Brien)
Myself: Given the relative infrequency of my posts on this oft’ neglected blog, submitting myself to an experiment requiring me to complete a 50,000 word novel by the end of November, may seem the act of a man o’erburdened with baseless confidence.
Plain People of Ireland: What’s that you say? What class of scrape have you got yourself into now?
Myself: Novel. 50,000 words. End of November.
Plain People of Ireland: We got that much, but we’re still in the dark…Is it a big fancy publisher in England has asked you to write a buke?
Myself: Sadly no, rather it is a challenge set by the good people at National Novel Writing Month. Perhaps I’d better let them explain…
National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.
Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.
Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.
What is NaNoWriMo?
Myself: Any clearer?
Plain People of Ireland:(suspiciously) It sounds like a quare exercise altogether…Are you sure it’s not a class of a scam?
Myself: Well, I hardly think…I mean it all seems so…
Plain People of Ireland: Is there any money in it?
Plain People of Ireland: Any chance of a job above in the Civil Service, or RTÉ?
Myself: Not really…
Plain People of Ireland: Any remuneration at all, at all?!
Myself: (agitated) That’s not the spirit of the thing! I mean to say…em…democracy of the net…creative liberation and all that…the tyranny of ‘sanctioned’ mass media…hierarchies…em…”information is power”…Rupert Murdoch…Fox Mulder…and so forth…
Plain People of Ireland: HoHo! You’re a gas man entirely! Terrible gullible, but a gas man all the same. ‘Tis a scam as sure as onions is onions.
Myself: I’m going to my room…*runs upstairs, slams the door, and sits moodily on the bed listening to Joy Division LPs*