Mark Hollis, Part II: Aching for Grace

tt soe
Ironic or sincere?  1988’s Spirit of Eden.

Yesterday, I had the grand fortune of spending a serious amount of time listening to and writing about Talk Talk.  There are few subjects in the world that give me so much pleasure as does TT. For years, one of my closest friends (and a friend since the fall of 1986), Kevin McCormick (a fellow progarchist and progarchy editor) and I have talked about writing a full-length book on Talk Talk.  We even have a rather strong and detailed outline.  The publishing venues, sadly, are not as easy to find as one might imagine. While Talk Talk has a loyal following, it is a small one.  A few years ago, we submitted a proposal—which, from my biased perspective was really good—to 33 1/3 Books (Bloomsbury).  Sadly, they not only felt no enthuasiam for our project, they deemed it unworthy, even of comment.  Just a simple “no thanks.”  But, Kevin and I are nothing if nothing if not persistent and enthusiastic.  Indeed, some might even say “obnoxious!”

So, if there’s anyone in the reading audience who would like to publish a roughly 60,000 word manuscript on the significance and influence of Talk Talk, please let us know!  We could have a completed book to you within a year or less.

Ok, back to the series. . . Yesterday, I wrote about the potential religiosity and the proggy-ness of the first three Talk Talk albums—THE PARTY’S OVER (1982), IT’S MY LIFE (1984), and THE COLOUR OF SPRING (1986).  Today, I’d like to look at the fourth album by the band, SPIRIT OF EDEN (1988).

On a deeply personal note, Kevin and I first listened to this album in the preview area of WSND-FM, our college radio station.  It arrived in mid-September, 1988.  The two of us listened from beginning to end, utterly blown away by every second of the album.  We talked of little else for weeks after.

While I would agree that it takes a bit of explaining to convince a reader (and, truth be told, myself) that Hollis actually means to be proggy and actually means to be Christian.

As to the former, I mean that he’s extremely artful and full of influences beyond those of the normal musician.  He might not be Roger Waters, but he’s also no Simon LeBon.

As to the latter, I mean it in the sense that he’s not just being “ironic” about Christianity as some critics have argued (wishful thinking or lack of imagination on their part, I say!)

The structure of SPIRIT OF EDEN is about as prog as it gets.  Side one is one twenty-two minute song, labeled as “The Rainbow.”  That song, at least according to the European packaging is divided into three parts: Rainbow; Eden; and Desire.  Side two has three separate songs: Inheritance; I Believe in You; and Wealth. Notice how similar this is to, say, 2112 or CLOSE TO THE EDGE.

I have had the chance to write at length about the recording process of the album—unique in rock history, and Phill Brown describes it in great and loving detail in his fine book, ARE WE STILL ROLLING.  Though the recording process was full of psychedelia—with darkness, candles, and lava lamps—it was equally filled with holiness (even the very darkness, candles, and lighting speak to a traditional Catholic holiness), and, perhaps most tellingly, it was recorded in an old church.

With this article, though, I am mostly concerned with proggy-ness of the music, and the Catholicity of the lyrics.

“Oh, yeah, the world’s turned upside down,” Hollis laments at three and one-half minutes into part one of side one of SPIRIT OF EDEN.  We find ourselves in a trial, but there seems to be no real justice here and now.  Then, in part two, Hollis recognizes, as he had on previous albums, that nothing is possible without grace.  Just as Eden could only be redeemed through the sacrifice of the Creator of His creation, the same exists—always and everywhere in time.  We all need someone to live by.  “Rage on, omnipotent.”  In the final part of side one, Hollis admits—however painfully—he has no excuses for himself. Alone, he’s without hope.

As noted above, side two of SPIRIT OF EDEN has three distinct tracks: Inheritance; I Believe in You; and Wealth.  In Inheritance, Hollis notes that we foolishly chase after the things of this earth, rather than after things everlasting.

Nature’s son
Don’t you know how life goes on
Desperately befriending the crowd
To incessantly drive on
Dress in gold’s
Surrendering gown
Heaven bless you in your calm
My gentle friend
Heaven bless you

Again, as noted above and in the previous article, it’s more than possible to interpret Hollis’s lyrics as “ironic.”  But, given the intensity of the music, it’s a hard case to make.  Of all of Hollis’s writing up to this point, there’s nothing more Christian than the lyrics of the final track, Wealth.

Here are Hollis’s lyrics:

Create upon my flesh
Create approach upon my breath
Bring me salvation if I fear
Take my freedom

Create upon my breath
Create reflection on my flesh
The wealth of love
Bear me a witness to the years
Take my freedom

Light my freedom up
Light my freedom up
Take my freedom for giving me
A secret breath

Create upon my flesh
Create a home within my head
Take my freedom for giving me a sacred love

Now, compare these words to these, written by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the sixteenth-century founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits):

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Who writes: “Take my freedom for giving me a sacred love” ironically?  Hollis might not be a Jesuit, but he most certainly has touched the sacred music of the spheres.  His words and his music ache for grace.

 

3 thoughts on “Mark Hollis, Part II: Aching for Grace

  1. Self publish through Amazon? CreateSpace allows you to upload manuscript and format the publication, then it becomes available on Amazon as a “print on demand” publication. I have one of our CDs up there and it sells some even with little to no promotion from me. With more promotion and much better terms given the degree of investment in physical inventory (nil) from Amazon, it’s a very good deal for most authors having problems finding a dedicated publisher.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Spirit of Eden is one of my favorite albums! Much more than a bunch of songs, it really creates this magical space and unlike so many other 80’s records, it does not sound dated. Laughing Stock is great too, though for some reason it doesn’t quite have the same pull to me as Spirit. Nice lyrical analysis!

    Liked by 2 people

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