Blue Monday – New Order (1983) – sleeve design by Peter Saville
If you are not familiar with the word synaesthesia, wikipedia defines it thus:
“Synesthesia (also spelled synæsthesia or synaesthesia, from the ancient Greek σύν [syn], “together”, and αἴσθησις [aisthēsis], “sensation”) is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes.”
Well, I am a synesthete, and in me it manifests itself as associating colours with words and concepts, and also strongly associating visual images with music and sound. It’s no accident I ended up making music videos.
Anyway, according to some rather laboured logic, January 20th is officially “Blue Monday”, again defined by wikepedia:
“Blue Monday is a name given to a date in January stated, as part of a publicity campaign by Sky Travel, to be the most depressing day of the year. However, the whole concept is considered pseudoscience, with its formula derided by scientists as nonsense.
I have only just become aware there is an actual mathematical formula to calculate which is blue monday, although it never occurred to me that this concept was even considered pseudoscience, never mind anything more. I just thought it was a media-invented conceit on which to hang some “and finally” story.
However, speaking as a synesthete, monday really is blue, tuesday is a kind of nondescript, transparent grey, wednesday is grass green, thursday is terracotta brown, friday is black (really), saturday is red and sunday is orange. Maybe this explains why I never really got the hang of tuesdays.
Anyway, I remember the first time New Order’s “Blue Monday” was played on John Peel’s radio show and it spoke to me in a way that I have experienced only rarely. There is something about that track that is so strangely and perfectly realised that it still occupies a truly seminal and nostalgic place in my musical education. I never get bored of it.
Even now it sounds fresh.
Having already been somehow fundamentally changed by the experience of listening to this record, it never occurred to me that the sleeve would also be an experience. I could hardly believe it. To me, the sleeve looked exactly how the music sounded, a deep, oily black punctuated sparsely by hard and warm, primary and secondary colours. OMFG. It’s a synesthete’s wet dream.
I may have written about this before, I know I’ve talked about it a lot, but I’m not a nostalgic person. I hated the 1970s and I remember late childhood and early adolescence as a time of endless frustration. Not because my sister or I were denied anything reasonable (our parents were very liberal with us), but because youth itself was a frustration to me. Having no money and having to go to school were major obstacles to my ambitions.
These days I am not so frustrated, and I am beginning to appreciate my state education more, although the most valuable lessons for me were later on, out in the real world. But that’s another story.
One thing I do miss about the days before the internet, or I should say the days before the world-wide-web, is the enigma of music and musicians. The Human League were only a few years older than me and lived no more than 15 miles away from where I grew up, but they might as well have been on Mars. They were entirely unavailable to me, except through their recordings.
Back in the day, I was a bit of a nerd when it came to electronic music, and a lot of bands used to publish a list of instruments used on the record sleeve. New Order provided no information whatsoever, which was simultaneously frustrating and fascinating.
I don’t miss vinyl but I do miss the mystery and fetish of record buying. By the time I bought it, “Blue Monday” no longer had a perforated sleeve, but this was only a disappointment at the time. In the end even less is even more.
“You look like I feel” Richard Bolam, 199x
For a synesthete (or at least this synesthete), in those days electronic music was like taking drugs. That phased clicking sound on Sparks’ “Number 1 Song in Heaven”, or that vast, lazy hand-clap on the Human League’s “Zero as a Limit”, or that vocal ah sound on “Blue Monday”. These never fail to satisfy and I can still hear them and see them in my mind’s eye.
In my later years, although I have learned to live with it, my greatest disappointment is that I am not a musician, although I do make music. I am able to make music thanks to various technology corporations including Korg, Behringer and Yamaha, but not so much thanks to Bösendorfer, Stradivarius or Fender.
Even so I can’t complain. I have many blessings, including synesthesia. Despite the fact that I can’t sing like David Bowie, and I can’t compose like Arvo Part, and I can’t perform that beautifully discordant virtuosity of Three Trapped Tigers, at least I can hear it, feel it and sometimes even see it.
I never liked Happy Mondays. My mondays will always be blue. But in the good way.