: Harmonies (song reviews)

October All Over vs. Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum

October 31st, 2005

When I was teaching English, I would occasionally bring in some music for my students to listen to and discuss.1 One time at the end of October, I was flipping through my CD collection, wondering what I had that was somewhat Halloween-ish. I am not really into gimmicky Halloween music, and a lot of music that could be appropriate is just not really very spooky. I had a little goth music (Type O Negative?), some metal (Tool?), some friggin’-weird indie music (Xiu Xiu?), but none of that stuff was really the vibe that says “Halloween” to me. I guess everybody probably has some sort of music that is appropriate for the year’s hippest holiday, but me, I ended up playing Unwound and Nick Cave songs. A couple years later, I still think that is a pretty good holiday choice.

“October All Over” · Unwound · Leaves Turn Inside You, 2001

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    Only in October
    Now it’s nearly over
    Maybe in November
    If you can remember
    When it rains it feels like shame
    Remind yourself after work
    To find a new city to blame
    Lock yourself in the house
    Sometimes you’ll laugh
    So hard you’ll cry
    Only in October
    Now it’s nearly over
    Maybe in November
    If you can remember
    Broken teeth for months it seems
    Like you like hell
    Weekend comes and now you feel
    Like your afterlife.
    Sometimes you’ll laugh
    So hard you’ll cry
  • Internet archived fansite

I don’t know what, if anything, Unwound were thinking of when they recorded Leaves Turn Inside You — the lyrics are hard to follow and mostly abstract. I think there is a musical message, though, and over the course of this phenomenal double-album swan song, the music swoops along with themes of loss, melancholy, fear, and trembling. Listening to the album is like dreaming of walking through a haunted house. Slow, elegiac melodies stumble into scarred feedback loops, as jumbled lyrics summon ghosts and demons, interspersed by the sudden unexpected playing of dusty old gramophone records. It is dusky, beautiful, and frighteningly familiar music.

On this perfect Halloween album, if you have to choose a standout track, you have to go with the one with “October” in the title. October is the most fascinating month of the year. Daylight vanishes, temperatures drop, leaves die. Even in our hypermodern era, harvest imagery is powerful and highly metaphoric; it is not hard to stand outside on an October evening and think of hundreds of generations of ancestors who feared the oncoming winters. Around October, the full moon gets a special name; reaping takes place; wheat is separated from chaff.

Unwound live photo
Unwound’s bassist Vern Rumsey / photo by Darren

It is mostly the production that brings out all these themes in what, othewise, would sound more like the rest of Unwound’s solidly good but less noteworthy catalog. On “October All Over” warbling Mellotrons provide depth and substance to the skeletal guitar-bass-drums structure while a freaky solo is produced by what sounds like backward guitar loops. Then towards the end, the vocals start to disintegrate like a black and white photo locked in a sunlit attic.

Sometimes music really can transport you somewhere, and “October All Over” takes me to a dreamscape of locked doors and terrible secrets, cobwebs, dust, and loneliness. Where else would you ever want to spend Halloween?

“Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum” · Nick Cave and the Dirty Three · B-Sides and Rarities, 2005

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    We were called to the forest
    and we went down.
    A wind blew warm and eloquent.
    We were searching for the secrets
    of the universe,
    And we rounded up demons, and
    forced them to tell us what it all meant.
    We tied ’em to trees
    and broke them down one by one.
    And on a scrap of paper,
    they wrote these words.
    And as we read them,
    the sun broke through the trees.
    “Dread the passage of Jesus,
    for he will not return.”
    Then we headed back to our world
    and left the forest behind,
    Our hearts singin’
    with all the knowledge of love.
    Then somewhere, somehow,
    we lost the message along the way.
    And when we got home,
    we bought ourselves a house,
    And we bought a car that we did not use,
    And we bought a cage
    and two singing birds.
    And at night we’d sit
    and listen to the canaries’ song
    For we’d both run right out of words.
    Now the stars, they are all angled wrong
    And the sun and the moon refuse to burn
    But I remember a message
    in a demon’s hand:
    Dread the passage of Jesus
    for he does not return
  • Fan site

Unwound were a great band, but not usually that creepy. Nick Cave, though, is about as creepy as anyone can come in the realm of sort-of popular music. I have been listening to this year’s b-sides and rarities compilation constantly for months, and almost any of them would work as Halloween music. In fact, almost anything Cave is involved with is at least a little frightening. On this sprawling compilation, which I cannot recommend highly enough, every song but one is an official “Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds” song, and I am singling out that sole exception because it is one of the creepiest songs I have ever heard.

“Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum” actually originated as a hidden track on the X-Files soundtrack from 1996, and features occasional Cave collaborators (and fellow Australians) the Dirty Three. I go back and forth about the Dirty Three — sometimes I think that their music is haunting and gorgeous, but other times it just seems boring. But there is no doubt that they came up with a stunner of a tune here for Nick Cave to darken with his fantastic imagery.

The first few times I listened to “Time Jesum”, I noticed the music more than the lyrics. The tune is simple and effective, but Warren Ellis’s violin performance is breathtaking to my untutored ears. The outro is simply transcendent. The vocals seemed at first to be merely attractive distractions, something to wait through until you hear more violin between the verses.

After enough listens, though, I began to follow the lyrics, and found them equally impressive. What a strange and beautiful tale! It is frightening and foreboding, pre-apocalyptic perhaps, but the scariest part of the song is not the “Dread the passing of Jesus for he does not return” part, but the loss of knowledge, the forgetting, the lapsing into ordinary life. That one could discover one of the dark mystical secrets of the universe, and then forget it. It is believable; it is human. Cave is combining a story of love with a story of fear, telling us that, like Jesus, we can’t go back again.2

Nick Cave live photo
Nick Cave / photo by Darren Wood

This is what Halloween and October are all about, and the basis of most all of our human fears: confronting mortality. It is good for our souls to turn off our lights and our computers for a few minutes and stare into the gathering darkness. Happy Halloween.


1. I eventually discovered it could be a pretty good listening exercise if I gave them partial lyrics and had them fill in the blanks.

2. Or, as Q. Lazzarus put it, “all things pass into the night.”

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