Who knew that a song inspired by Peter Murphy’s heart attack would accidentally herald the oeuvre of COVID-19 quarantine?
Brooklyn’s London Plane, a six-piece juggernaut often seen skulking about in underground clubs on the Lower East Side, is bursting with the earnest romance of Gothic poetry tinged with the ennui of 21st-century dystopia. Named for the ubiquitous, resilient trees planted in the streets of NYC, London Plane’s songwriter David Mosey and vocalist Cici Cole frantically bounce back and forth onstage, inciting a dance frenzy at every show with their infectious, raw energy.
The band’s back story is straight out of a novel:
“If you die in New York City and no one remains to collect your things, the cleaners cart the contents of your apartment down to the street for the garbage collectors. There, the objects that made up your life are left to the whims of New York City dwellers before they are carted off to a dump somewhere on Staten Island. You know the scene when you see it: a chest of drawers ravished by curious passersby. File cabinets rifled through without the least shame. Who knows? There could be something in there. This time it was a suitcase that sang the siren’s song…Inside, amongst books and broken records, David found the diary. Her name, inscribed on the front cover, was Francis, spelled the masculine way. Her first entry was dated June 12, 1975, and began, So I made it to New York. The entries continued daily, then monthly, then every year or two…Then, in 1982 after a flurry of successive entries, the words came to an abrupt end. Her last words: I hope he gets it.
It. What was it? Considering the era of paranoia in 1982 from another dreadful viral plague, her final words seem foreboding – and familiar.
The diary, since buried in a park to put the ghost to rest, proved inspirationally auspicious. The long-gone ghost of “Francis” provided the band with a bounty of thematic inspiration: isolation, emanation, fear, bravery, regret, and redemption…both acknowledging and halting imminent danger. The resulting album, Bright Black, is a darkwave masterpiece with its finger firmly on the modern zeitgeist.
“When stepping back and looking at a near-complete group of songs, we saw that Bright Black tended toward the subjects of political villains, cultural isolation and ecological devastation,” says songwriter/guitarist David Mosey.
One of the outstanding tracks on Bright Black is Francesco, written last August after Peter Murphy’s heart attack silenced his residency at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC, which the band had been planning to catch.
“We feared that it might be all for Peter,” says Mosey, “so our response was to go back to the studio that night and write our own shadowy, Bauhaus-esque dance anthem.”
The tune, which spins the tale of the Catholic Saint, stigmatist and mystic Padre Pio as a young man, is very Bauhaus-inspired – down to Mosey’s uncanny Murphy-like intonations and the jolly Ash guitar motif at the beginning of the song, but Francesco has a much more frenetic speed, with a dark disco bass and whirling chorus.
“Supposedly, the scent of roses trailed him everywhere he went…Francesco imagines him as a young man, known through Italy as a miracle worker with the wounds of Christ, yet tortured, isolated, and lonely because of this affliction. Levitating and bleeding all the time I imagine has a way of making sure you’re never alone, but you can probably forget a night at the disco, so we bring the disco to him. Francesco juxtaposes the story of this rather horrific “miracle” with a pulsing, relentless, hook-filled, haunted-house-dance-party of a song.”
The lyrics, however, proved eerily prescient.
Francesco’s asleep in Rome / and Francesco’s asleep at home / He bi-located on his own / That’s why Francesco’s all alone You see through Francesco’s hands / when Francesco’s not wearing gloves / Now Francesco always wears gloves / That’s why Francesco’s all alone
The fact the song was also recorded in Italian seems almost prophetic…perhaps miraculous? now. As COVID-19 ravages Italy and makes its wretched way through New York, the imagery of gloves and solitary confinement read less Holy Figure, more Everyman For Himself. As far as martyrs go, at least the Francesco of song, of spirit, and of concept has a bitchin’ slap bass to lift us up to glory. Play this one loud and often during your period of self-isolation. If it doesn’t get you closer to a God, it will at least move your spirit to dance.