Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Jon Savage on the Lines

A re-post of a great writer on the subject of a great, lost song:

Jon Savage on The Lines

Jon Savage is one of the great writers on rock music and related culture. Here he is with a quite brilliant article on an undeservedly forgotten band and song. From The Guardian.

Jon Savage on song: The Lines make a White

 Night of it

This obscure gem from 1978 succeeded in melding punk with psychedelia for a journey through a derelict, nocturnal city
Transcendence is not a quality usually associated with punk rock but if you keep your ears open, it's there. Just think of the spacey noises in the Sex Pistols July 1976 demo of Submission – thanks to unrepentant stoner soundman/producer Dave Goodman – or the phasing liberally doused over Cheatby the Clash. Buzzcocks had a psychedelic edge that they were quite happy to let off the leash on tunes like Moving Away from the Pulsebeat.

Which goes to show that the punk fatwa against hippies – first declared by John Lydon in Jonh Ingham's April 1976 Sex Pistols interview – was always as much about rhetoric as substance: heralding a new generation with different values and different drugs. Whatever everyone else is doing – which in early 1976 was pretty much watered-down hippie stylings – DO THE OPPOSITE, and do it loudly.

However, many early punks – most of whom were born between 1954 and 1959 – had been hippies or wannabe hippies, particularly Roundhouse near-resident John Lydon, and they retained a love for the music of their early teens. Their psychedelic youth would become more apparent during 1978: on Siouxsie and the Banshees' The Scream, Buzzcocks' Love Bites and PiL's First Issue.

Then there were those who didn't care at all about these distinctions and went ahead and did what they wanted. There were more of those in 1978 as punk became both a template and a strait-jacket, and as the full implications of the Do It Yourself imperative played out into streams of great 45 records. With nobody telling you what to play, you could do what you wanted.

Issued early in 1978 in a plain white sleeve – adorned only with a stencil image and a contact address – the Lines' White Night exemplifies that DIY energy. It begins with a nagging, stuttering riff, soon augmented with a second, acidic guitar – an open feel that complements the lyrical invitation: "Oh baby won't you come along/I need somebody when the night is long".

The words are allusive but the ambience is clear enough – a night-time drive through the empty city: "There's something that's calling me on/Shattered light and silver neon." The sound has that nagging post-punk rhythmic itch but also some of the unhurried, minor-key tunefulness of 1960s groups like the Zombies (in fact, the cool, slowly ascending guitar solo borrows its melody from She's Not There).

The lyrics flash by in a sequence of rapid snapshots of a world in motion. They're impelled forward: "We can't stop and we don't ask why/In our flashing paradise." Sex is in there somewhere – "We're in a high-speed tunnel of love" – but most of all there is the feeling of expansiveness, of an almost mystical surrender: "Night stretched out in a string of pearls, a million planets, a million worlds." 
Anything less like Sham 69 – thankfully – could hardly be imagined. Like Pere Ubu and Television in the US, X-Ray Spex and the early Clash in the UK, the Lines saw the derelict city not as an economic and social tragedy, nor as a theatre for social realism, but as an opportunity: a playground, an empty landscape that allowed freedom of movement and of thought – if not spirit.

You can hear White Night and the Lines' other excellent records on the recent Acute CD reissues, Memory Span and Flood Bank. Like the Twinkeyz' Aliens in Our Midst, it remains one of the most successful late-70s attempts to meld those two great genres: punk and psychedelia. It embodies the period's sense of possibility, of something great about to happen.

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