In many ways, you need to understand this music to understand the Secret Sun. Even though I was immersed in comics and mythology at a very early age, it wasn't until I discovered Post-Punk that it all began to click for me. I spent my childhood not only reading comics and the like, but I also kept my radio all the time, even when I slept. I developed an extremely intimate relationship to music. But it wasn't until when bands like Public Image Ltd (aka PiL) rolled into town that I began to truly appreciate the power of music to create landscapes in the mind. Which is a kind of magical power, isn't it? The point of this is that I spent quite a lot of time 28 summers ago imprinting- hell, engraving- PiL's Second Edition into my unconscious, and it was a literally life-changing experience.
One of the great lessons it offered was that anything can be taken apart piece by piece and reconstructed in ways not only more to your liking, but in ways that activate sectors of your psyche you never knew that you had.
PiL was formed in the wake of the Sex Pistols split. John Lydon was always frustrated with the Pistols' musical conservatism (their music was at its core a stripped-down version of the Rolling Stones) and enlisted a Dub Reggae bassist (Jah Wobble) and a Prog Rock guitarist (Keith Levene) to really tear things up. They began creating a weird version of Punk, then a weird kind of Dub Funk with Metal Box, and after firing Jah Wobble made an album based entirely around aggressive tribal drum patterns (Flowers of Romance). These albums are magical totems for me. They exist in a very deep and primal unconscious space, essentially of their own volition. It's interesting to note that PiL were all toying with the occult at the time they made this music. And unfortunately, they were also toying with heroin and other hard drugs.
"Poptones" is sung from the point of a view of a murder victim whose body has been left in the English countryside. I had never heard anything even remotely like this at the time, and I'm not sure I've heard anything quite like it since. There is something very deep and strange about this song, something that still gets under my skin. This lyric may not mention Ian Brady and Myra Hindley by name (though "hindsight" may certainly be an unconscious slip) , but the theme of a body left in "foliage and peat" might very well have been unconsciously inspired by them. And I certainly hear strange echoes of "Poptones" in the Smiths' ode to Brady and Hindley's victims, "Suffer Little Children."
It's not obvious at first, but the delicate guitar arpeggios in both songs make beauty out of terror. Both songs take their time wandering around a single chord and both feature a deep, heavy, modal bassline and mournful vocal. It's almost as if the crimes Morrissey is singing of are so much more real and profoundly horrible that they have to add that much more beauty to compensate. It's interesting to note that both Lydon and Morrissey are from Irish Catholic families yet both are so completely English.
The Moors Murders story has a very Catholic flavor to it- at least the child-hating, Jansenist variety that took root in Britain and Ireland and came to Boston in the 19th Century - as I saw last night in HBO's docudrama, Longford. It was a very strange synchronicity for me- I had been out walking at night listening to PiL and that movie awaited me later. Something was triggered deep in my subconscious, and a connection that some admittedly may not sense was made.
The poisonous climate of child hate and sexual psychosis that is the true legacy of religious extremism has created more monsters than you can name. But Hindley is certainly near the top of the list. The title "Longford" refers to Francis Pakenham, the deeply religious Anglo-Irish Lord who spent his time volunteering as an advocate for prisoners. A profoundly gullible and delusional (though well-intentioned) man, Longford may well be the "bleeding heart, looking for bodies" that Lydon was processing in "Poptones."
As brilliantly portrayed by Jim Broadbent, Longford was used to dealing with ordinary criminals, and his traditionalist Catholicism was no match at all for the elemental evil of Hindley and Brady. Samantha Morton does a wonderful job as Hindley, but has no trace of her subject's ice-cold hate in her soft, delicate features. But we see the decidedly erotic pull that Hindley had over both Lord and Lady Longford, and we see the destruction she wreaked on their lives from her maximum security prison cell. The wooly-headed idealism of the idle rich is also nicely contrasted with the instinctual revulsion of the poor when dealing with the killer.
The Moors Murders struck a very deep chord in a generation, as witnessed by "Suffer Little Children." Some processed the trauma in a different way. Throbbing Gristle dispassionately recounted the details of the crimes in "Very Friendly" and the punk band Crass attacked the tabloid obsession with Hindley in their song "Mother Earth." But for many English artists, the shattering of the innocent certainties of childhood meant that all bets were off. Everything would need to be called into question.
One question investigators have today is if Hindley committed 17 more murders than she had admitted to.