It’s no surprise that current world events are seeping into the songwriting of the London Plane guitarist (and his diary)
London Plane are a gothic punk-pop band who will delight fans of The Damned, Iggy Pop, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Echo and the Bunnymen. At the centre of their sound is the songwriting of guitarist David Mosey and fervent vocals of Jessica Cole. Based in NYC, they well soon be releasing their second album Bright Black. The follow up to 2018’s New York Howl, the record is packed with references to cultural, social, political, and ecological devastation, confirming that they have the substance to back up their stylishness.
Here, away from his New York home, Mosey contemplates the current social, cultural and political climate. You can also treat yourselves to a first play of the band’s new song Watch That Madman Go here.
When I miss New York, I often listen to Berlin by Lou Reed. I know, it doesn’t really make much sense, but that album and the town I call home – from which I’m currently estranged, by choice – are intertwined. Berlin just sounds like my New York – bold, brittle, beautiful, with the potential to devastate.
From Astoria, Oregon, where I wait to return to the city, Berlin makes no sense in this fragrant, lush, calm village, far from the protests, the suffering back in the city. But I have to keep one foot in – or maybe one eye on – New York. So I want the hard stuff. I want to hear New York at its toughest, the most contradictory juxtaposition. Lou sings, “Men of good fortune often cause empires to fall, while men of poor beginnings often can’t do anything at all.” I’ll never write anything this good. But it doesn’t matter, I don’t have to because it’s already been written.
Just a word can spark a song. This morning I was thinking about another protester, another poet like Lou. It keeps popping into my head, these lyrics. Linton Kwesi Johnson sings, “terrifier, terrifier, reach me…”, then something about burning. It’s fuckin’ dark, and moving as hell, this song. It’s called Down The Road, except it’s not spelled that way. Doun De Road, perhaps. Yep, I looked it up. And it’s not “terrifier”, it’s “terror-fire”. Uff. That’s even more of a punch to the gut.
The orange man in The White House comes to mind when I think of the word “terrifier” (is it a word?). I’ve written more than one song rebuking him, the government, admonishing the way things are going, but nothing like what Linton writes. I have no idea how to because I’ve never had to suffer, not really. And I don’t have to – someone else has already written it better.
The song of another New Yorker, Anohni (formerly Antony) is repeating in my head this morning. When this happens and it “plays” over and over again, there’s nothing I can do to exorcise the tune except listen to it (someone told me that saying Hail Marys helps but those seem like they’re better saved up for another time).
“Punch her ghost,” she sings in Salt Silver Oxygen [by Anthony and the Johnsons]. “Elect the Salt Mother / For she’s a selective Christ”. Is she saying that Christ comes back as a woman? She calls her the Salt Mother – I notice in the liner notes that the words are capitalized, like Jesus is in the Bible. Will she be a desert dweller like Jesus was? And the word “elect”, maybe Anohni suggests that we have a choice of saviours? Ha! That’s why my subconscious is spitting this out today. I’m sure I’m over-distilling, misinterpreting this brilliant song, but we do have an election coming up, and a minority woman in The White House, perhaps with Pakistani heritage like my wife, could be more than a correction or a return to “normal”, she could be a saviour, a liberator, a protector. But I don’t have to suggest this – Anohni already did and it’s a masterpiece.
The military finally apologized for their tear-gassing and firing of rubber-bullet grenades which enabled the staging of that outrageous photo op the other day at St John’s Church in DC, saying that they should have no involvement in domestic politics. It’s a little late for that, boyos.
I think of The Electrician by Scott Walker, and put it on (vinyl, of course); a perfect soundtrack for this shrouded, silvery, monochromatic day. Good songwriting weather, actually. In this, Walker sings of a CIA torturer getting off on his interrogation. Lines like, “there’s no help, no”, “he’s drilling through the spiritus sanctus tonight”, and “if I jerk the handle, you’ll die”. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. Walker, an ex-pat, knew what his homeland was capable of some 25 years before Abu Ghraib. I remember when I first heard The Electrician – I think I thought about selling my guitar over it. I read that Bowie and Eno were just as floored by it, and I think Bowie spent decades trying to produce something as meaningful, lush, and terrifying. I don’t think he managed it, until Blackstar.
To me, the voice of New York is Ronnie Spector. Feeling a bit homesick, I put on Try Some, Buy Some, written by George Harrison. The meaning of the song – George’s spiritual awakening – was evidently lost on Ronnie. I couldn’t tell. It’s sung brilliantly, with more feeling in a single word than most singers can muster over a career.
I remember when I went to meet Ronnie backstage at one of her Christmas Shows at BB King’s in Times Square. I’m friends with Joe McGinty (from The Psychedelic Furs) who was playing keys with her that night. So I’m backstage, having a beer on a couch in the green room. Joe is standing at the doorway, keeping an eye on the hallway that Ronnie might eventually walk down. She doesn’t like to socialize after shows, I’m told, so if I’m going to say hi it’s got to be quick if we can catch her at all.
After a few minutes, Joe says, “David, come here, quick!”. I run to the door, expecting to see a little woman in a big beehive. Instead, here comes Ian Hunter, cigarette in hand, dark sunglasses, looking exactly like he always does on album covers and in videos. We meet, and Joe tells him that just the previous night I had covered one of his songs – Life After Death. “Oh, yeah, you can get that one if you try it, learn the chords”, he says. “Yeah…” I say, as if that’s all it takes to “get” that one. No, the most brilliant songwriters and performers have something else. There’s a spirit there. Maybe that’s why covers are so hard (I don’t know if I’ve done one since the Hunter tune, maybe ten years ago). They know it can never be put on. If it’s going to be meaningful it has to be courageous, something honest, fearless.
Are my songs fearless? Did we take risks? Yeah, for the most part, I think we did. At least, I didn’t hold back lyrically. My band’s album – London Plane’s album – Bright Black is spirited, barbed, and lush, and if it’s the last music I ever write, I can say that at least once we’ve done it right.