Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 177
Thurs. July 5, 2012
Once again, the Music Gods have guided me back to my not so distant past—this time to 1985 and now I’m reliving the fictional inspired masterpiece that is New Order’s “Love Vigilantes.” “Vigilantes” was a turning point in the lifespan of a band that was deemed dead after the passing of their Joy Division band mate, lyricist and singer Ian Curtis.
“There was no great plan—[As New Order] really didn’t know what we were doing. We did a lot with a little. We played to our limitations because we couldn’t play that well. It made you use your brain more.” Bernard Sumner said regarding New Order’s creative resurgence after the demise of Joy Division.
This cerebral aspect to New Order’s lyrics impressed me as a young poetic apprentice. Sumner talked about his songwriting process when he said. “I get writer’s block all the time. The only way I can write what I consider to be good lyrics is to wait for inspired words rather than premeditated words. The words that I’m most happy with are the ones that come from my subconscious, rather than my conscious. They just feel right. One of the things I like about music is it’s an abstract art, totally abstract, where you can convey an emotion, which I find amazing.”
My favorite song is the opening cut from 1985’s Low-Life has a very literary quality that I adore because of this, drummer Stephen Morris claimed slyly— because of the harmonica intro— “Love Vigilantes” was the first “proper” song New Order had ever written. Bernard Sumner discussed with GQ “the country tinged tragedy” behind “Love Vigilantes” when he explained—
“I decided to write a redneck song. It was quite tongue-in-cheek. It was about Vietnam. It was about a soldier that came back and his wife was sent a telegram to say that he was dead. You can take the ending one way or another. He’s either dead and he’s come back as a ghost and he sees her or he’s not dead and the telegram was a mistake. But his wife’s got it and killed herself—which is a very country tragedy.”
That tragedy makes me think that Sumner was inspired by Ambrose Bierce’s most famous Civil War short story, making “Love Vigilantes” a lyrical reinterpretation of “An Occurrence as Owl Creek Bridge.” There are similarities between both “Vigilantes” and “Owl Creek Bridge.” Both stories are set during wars; Both main ‘characters’ have wives and children. In Bierce’s story, the protagonist dies but the main difference is— I like to think “Vigilantes” makes you conclude who died: the wife, husband or both. I do appreciate Bernard’s more literal—country ballad ending. I believe Sumner’s retelling of “Owl Creek Bridge” is what makes “Love Vigilantes” one of the most unique songs in New Order’s resilient history.
In 2009’s Around The Well, Sam Beam’s Iron & Wine covered New Order, with a lovely rendition of “Love Vigilantes.” Talking about “Love” Beam said. “We play the record in spirit instead of note by note […] The structures of blues, country and folk actually allow a lot of room to move.” Iron & Wine’s cover is an amazing tribute that Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Peter Hook and Gillian Gilbert would be overwhelmed by this delicately honest interpretation of “Love Vigilantes.”
“Love Vigilantes” is definitely one of the highlights of New Order’s electronic discography. Even in its stripped down acoustic state, beyond New Order’s trademark synth’s, lies a song about love, devotion, war and death. This heartbreaking combination lifts New Order’s tragic pop song into timeless territory. Relive the haunted beauty of “Love Vigilantes” legendary rhythms; listen as its ripples will reflect your cinematic imagination long after Bernard Sumner penned classic fades to black
P.S. I can’t forget one of my other choice covers of “Love Vigilantes,” recorded by my favorite multifaceted folk band, hailing from Austin Texas, via Hawaii, Poi Dog Pondering. Enjoy!