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Strangest Living Boy

In 1933 the music for the song ‘Vége a világnak’ was published by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezső Seress. It was a time of the Great Depression and the rise of fascisum throughout Europe including his home country Hungry. Translated, the title means ‘The World Is Ending’ and was about the despair caused by war and people’s sins. He had difficulty finding a publisher with one stating ‘It is not that the song is sad; there is a sort of terrible compelling despair about it. I don't think it would do anyone any good to hear a song like that.’

The song though became more popular after poet Laszlo Javor added his own lyrics to the work and retitled the work Szomorú Vasárnap (Sad Sunday). The lyrics are sung from the point of view of a person who wants to commit suicide following his lover’s death.

In 1936, the song was translated to English and recorded by Paul Robeson though became more popular throughout the English Speaking World when Billie Holiday produced her version. ‘Gloomy Sunday’ was the title it became famous for though many regarded it as the ‘Hungarian Suicide Song’ due to the urban legend that claimed many people were convinced to kill themselves after listening to the song.

Of course, there is no real proof that this is fact, hence being called an Urban Legend but the press of the time in 1930s, who liked to make a story, linked at least 19 suicides in both Hungry and the United States to ‘Gloomy Sunday’, though very few were verified. The BBC though banned Billie Holiday’s version of the song stating that it was detrimental to wartime morale, a ban that was only lifted in 2002.

Saying that, and helping to perpetuate the myth further, 35 years after penning the song, its composer took his own life in 1968.

This song originally came to my attention back in 1983 when it was included on a Marc & The Mambas, an offshoot project featuring Marc Almond of Soft Cell fame, album Torment & Toreros. The story of the song intrigued me back then and especially when discussing the influence that music can have over a person with my sister one day.

Are songs that powerful? I believe that they are and music can influence people to see differently. This is more than ‘Oh I like that’ though, this is something more - something that can exert a strong influence on a person and even their direction in life, however warped their translation of the lyrics are.

On 5th March 2001, 15 year old heavily bullied student Charles Andrew Williams walked into Santana High School and shot a fellow student. He then went on to open fire, shooting indiscriminately injuring a further 13 students before hiding in a toilet to reload. A teacher went in to talk him down but was fatally shot before the police stormed the place and captured him. He had tried to kill himself but couldn’t muster the strength to do it. In his note to his father he included the line from Linkin Park’s ‘In The End’: “I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter.” Where in that songs lyrics does it say “Go shoot your school mates?’

Unfortunately, the list of other such music related shooting goes on from Charles Manson citing The Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’ to Marilyn Manson whose music was named as influential on the youths who carried out the Columbine School Massacre in April 1999, killing 13 fellow pupils.

People always look for answers when such occurrences happen and of course lyrics of songs are easy targets in the blame game rather than more local influences. But does this mean that every song needs to be assessed on its meaning and how those words can be interpreted before it’s released to the wider world. Everyone can be influenced by music in different ways, the greatest example being the ‘Love Song’. How many weddings feature the happy couple’s first dance being carried out to ‘Their’ song. But this article is about that step further, that point where life and music becomes intertwined like an agenda of learning. The best way of highlighting this influence is talking about my own experience.

I first came across Tubeway Army listening to John Peel's Radio Show late one night in 1979. I instantly realised I had discovered something different and unique to the punk I had been listening to at the time. Tubeway Army and subsequently Gary Numan opened a doorway to music that I hadn't really explored at that time helping me discover Kraftwerk, early David Bowie & Ultravox (pre-Midge Ure).

The deep sounds that he created as he melded guitars and synthesisers together alongside his robotic sounding voice annoyed many but suited the feelings going around my head. I was 15 and I felt alienated, alone, unsure of myself in a society struggling to recognise a way forward with strikes and street violence commonplace. So the dystopian future that this album created seemed more prophetic than mere music normally allowed. ‘Replicas’, Tubeway Army's second album spoke to me as a young man hiding away in my bedroom. "The strangest living boy you could ever wish to see, that's me!" was a line that told me, I wasn't alone. Of course I wasn't that strange, just a teenager and my passion for his music waned after a few years but for a while Gary Numan ruled my life. I had run into town during one school lunch time returning for the afternoon session with ‘Replicas’ on the day it was released, to much sudden admiration from other class members as they saw what was under my arm. It sat on my turntable until I knew every line perfect.

This man’s musical influence continued to a point with his next/first solo album ‘The Pleasure Principle’ but more so with the singles ‘We Are Glass’, ‘I Die:You Die’ and the subsequent album ‘Telekon’ with tracks like ‘This Wreckage’, ‘Remind Me To Smile’ and ‘Please Push No More.’ Each song a signpost to how I was feeling or maybe I was just twisting the songs to fit my own story. It lasted until until the release of his ‘Dance’ album, when my interested started to dissipate and the songs no longer spoke to me. But in that time I had changed.

That day at school when I brought that copy of ‘Replicas’ back from the shop, I had unwittingly made a statement to my classmates. Rather than being the quiet, shy kid in the corner, I was musically advanced, different and ahead of the game, opening doors to friendships, some of which last to this day...

I had also discovered a doorway to a wider world. Kratftwerk singing about traveling on the ‘Trans Europa Express’ or David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ and ‘Low’ album being created in Berlin. I wanted to see more than the place I lived and wanted to record it using my camera giving me a direction of purpose. When I went to college I purposely chose one of the furthest points away from my hometown. Though I loved the place, it was time to move on and try somewhere new. I never lived there again. So music can have a profound effect in many different ways.

Of all the albums that have ever influenced my life, this comes number one on the list......and yes, I do still listen to it from time to time....


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