Deeply stupid day at work — I have an editor and an art director circling one another like angry cats, and the art guy is going to win, which is just going to make the other one a joy to work with for a while. The duel between editorial and design probably goes back the earliest days of publishing (“Why do I have to make room in my text for another illuminated letter?” “What do you mean, we’re changing the woodcuts again?”) But I suppose it’s not the end of the world.
This, however, is:
“Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” for the e-mail people.
So as you can see, the Gates of Edam are still open around here. Apocalyptic scenarios are ever fertile ground for angst-loving rock ‘n’ rollers, and this time we dip into the ’80 with the elegant Ultravox and their purely New Wave take on the end of the world, or at least one corner of it.
“Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” is a bit more serious, or perhaps mature, than some of the other songs we’ve looked at on this theme (though hardly anybody takes an apocalypse all that lightly). It’s not a masterpiece lyrically, but it isn’t lazy or a simple “woe is me” tale either.
The tappy-tappy intro was heard on about half the singles that came out in 1984, but there’s nothing generic about Scotsman Midge Ure’s vocal when he comes in, selling the first chorus, with the intensity already dialed all the way up.
Dancing with tears in my eyes
Weeping for the memory of a life gone by
Dancing with tears in my eyes
Living out a memory of a love that died
That could be the opening of a sad love song, but Midge is already too distraught for that. And soon we know why:
It’s five, and I’m driving home again
It’s hard to believe that it’s my last time
The man on the wireless cries again
“It’s over, it’s over!”
He and his beloved listen to music and drink to help take their minds of what’s to come, but soon:
And we’re in each other’s arms
But I don’t think we really care
And that’s about all there is to it, lyrically.
The song isn’t specific about the nature of the disaster, but the video — made five years after Three Mile Island but two years before Chernobyl — specifies an accident at a nuclear power plant. We don’t usually get into videos too much here at WMMCM, but I’m certain that this one, featuring the handsome Ure, was a good part of why this song was a top 10 hit — good record though it is.
First we see bored technicians at the power plant, paying no attention to their dials and gauges. Then red lights begin to flash and there’s panic as something goes terribly wrong. The computer monitors, not bothering with anything so vague as, say, “Catastrophic system failure,” go directly to “Explosion imminent.”
Ure is the family man who’s driving home, but he’s soon stopped by panicking crowds in the street. He races home on foot to spend his last moments with his wife and young son. And he and his wife dance, then go to make love one last time (nothing NSFW on the video at all). And then … well.
The next thing that happens is not graphic, but it’s definitely disturbing — indeed, more unsettling than I had remembered. (It’s followed by a coda that is too long and adds little.) I am not at all sure, nearly 30 years later, that this good record wouldn’t have been better served by a video that is less literal-minded. But it is undeniably powerful.