While fighting for my life recently, I had music playing twenty-four hours a day, every day, shutting off all other forms of media. It gave me hope, focus, inspiration and calmness.
I’m not the same as I was prior to getting sick last December. I have tremendous fatigue, which requires a daily nap. Respiratory failure, which continues to make breathing a challenge, and the cognitive issues make it tough on my short-term memory and on focusing and learning new information.
But music continues to inspire, motivate, and calm me every single day. I relish in the opportunity to see my favorite bands live. In my new life, I pace myself and get plenty of rest in the days prior to, and after a concert. At first thought, it seemed impossible that I could see four shows within a seven-night period last week. But as I tried to decide which shows to pass on, it became obvious to me that I didn’t want to miss any of these four shows of Echo and The Bunnymen, She Wants Revenge, The Killers (with Johnny Marr) and Peter Hook and The Light (legendary bassist of Joy Division and New Order).
I made it with my oldest son Dylan to our 11th Coachella this past April. I would pace myself and make all these shows too.
As the week started, I was completely exhausted. I couldn’t quite imagine making it through the upcoming week, but I was sure looking forward to giving it a try. The week consisted of some nights with very little sleep, as I automatically wake up by 5:30 AM every day. But the afternoons consisted of some of the longest naps I’ve ever taken.
My mood going into the week of shows was different compared to my normal self, as it’s taking some adjustment to handle the fatigue and cognitive complications of my new reality.
But now, after four recent nights of live music, I again feel the positivity to conquer my situation.
When cassette tapes gave way to compact discs, the first CD I bought in 1987 was Substance by New Order. It’s what’s called a compilation album, meaning it consists of the band’s greatest hits up to that date.
The first song on that CD was Ceremony. It’s been one of the most important songs to me ever since. A mid-tempo haunting song that for me somehow bridges the gap between both hope and despair. I’ll never forget seeing New Order perform it live in September of 1987 at the Forum in Los Angeles, only a month after I had bought the CD.
Ever since, I’ve used this song as the song to change the tone and get my mind right, to pull me out of darkness.
In 2011 I played it in a snowstorm as I drove myself into the town limits of Jackson, Wyoming, to begin a life-changing adventure in a foreign part of the country to me. A few months later, it was the first song I played on the air in my new hobby as an on-air disc jockey at 89.1FM KHOL Jackson Hole Community Radio.
A simple and symbolic choice as my first song on the air, for what would become The Hole Enchilada, the radio show I did each Saturday with Dylan for the next five years.
When I was hospitalized near death last December, I quickly leaned heavily into music to pull me through. It was only natural that the first song I played from the emergency room that fateful afternoon was Ceremony. My focus and positivity toward survival was set from that point forward.
Whenever my positivity started to wane in those 53 days hospitalized, I’d play Ceremony and get myself back on track.
Over the years I learned a lot about this song. I learned it was originally a Joy Division song. Joy Division was a band that became tremendously important to me later in my life. They had recorded two incredible albums and were on the eve of traveling for the first time from their home of Manchester, UK to the United States for a much-celebrated North American tour. But this was not to be, as lead singer, Ian Curtis, hung himself on May 18, 1980, at only 23 years old.
In the days leading up to his suicide, Ceremony was the last song he ever wrote. There are 3 recordings of it, two live recordings and one studio recording where his vocals were only partially audible in each version.
Ceremony is a symbol of his attempts at positivity and goodness yet mired in the darkness that took his life.
The surviving, grief-stricken members of Joy Division took some time to eventually regroup as New Order. New Order’s groundbreaking integration of post-punk with electronic dance music made them one of the most acclaimed and groundbreaking bands of the 80’s.
The first thing they did as New Order in 1981 was record Ceremony as their debut single. The lyrics were not written anywhere, so they had to run the recording through a graphic equalizer to approximate Ian Curtis’s lyrics. The song was recorded to pay respect to their fallen friend and lead singer and to signify where they had come from. Ceremony ultimately was the moment that bridged the gap between the lost dreams of Joy Division and the new hope of New Order.
For me, Ceremony has also bridged the gap for me between lost dreams and future hope for over thirty years now. This began with the death of my fiancée (a huge New Order fan) in 1990 and has been the song I have leaned on for hopeful transition through each subsequent challenge with adversity.
Peter Hook is the bassist and co-founder of Joy Division and New Order. On my radio show I would play Joy Division more than any other band and I would often say that in my opinion, Peter Hook is modern music’s greatest bass player. He’s unique in the way that he plays the bass like a lead guitar. I cannot think of any other act where the bass is the center point of the sound in the way that it is to both Joy Division and New Order.
He now tours the world with his own band, Peter Hook and the Light, performing Joy Division and New Order songs.
His current tour is called Joy Division: A Celebration. It consists of an opening set of New Order material, followed by in their entirety Joy Division’s two albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer (which was released two months after Curtis’s death), then closing with and encore of some Joy Division songs not on albums, ending with the wildly popular, Love Will Tear Us Apart. I saw him once before at this same venue he played last week, The Van Buren in downtown Phoenix in 2018, and I was blown away, so I vowed to always see him again whenever I had the opportunity.
With Monday night being my fourth show in a seven-night span, and with my current health issues, I was fatigued to a point where I couldn’t imagine standing for three hours. I asked where ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) seating was. In my New Order Substance 1987 t-shirt, I was quickly escorted through the standing crowd to in front of the stage barrier. I had goosebumps as I was seated on a barstool so close to the stage that I was literally two steps away from touching it.
The show started exactly at 8 o’clock (he played for nearly 3 hours) with a passioned performance of the New Order radio hit, True Faith, with Hook’s signature basslines leading the way.
Next came my song, Ceremony. Sitting next to the stage, with Peter Hook right in front of me, the song that always tells me that everything will be alright, told that to me in its most powerful way yet.
Here’s video I captured of that surreal moment.
Yes indeed, everything will be alright.
I thank you Peter for reminding me of that.