Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #29

New Order – “True Faith”

In the mid 1980s, the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night in St. Catharines, Ontario (should fate have marooned you there) was Club Henley. It was a dark cavernous space completely without any artistically meritorious design elements, but it was easily accessible, could hold a lot of people, and never, to my knowledge, turned anyone away at the door for lack of space.

It was also where I found myself in March 1985 at the end of a labour dispute that had stopped beer distribution in Ontario. Club Henley’s owners had crossed the U.S.-Canada border and stocked up on Genesee, which was pretty awful but (marginally) better than nothing at all. Late in the evening, word came that the strike was at an end, and good ol’ Canadian beer would be flowing again in a few days. Knowing they would never be able to sell the Genesee once a better option was available, the bar announced at around 11:00 p.m. that it was now going for half price, and then, at last call at 12:45 a.m., took the bold step of violating a few laws by telling us that “no one goes home until the Genny is gone!” The roar of approval was overstated, since it only took another hour to finish off what was left, but it was still a pretty awesome night.

Club Henley had a large dance floor, which was its biggest selling point for me and my friends, and they played a pretty decent mix of indie and alternative music that was mostly familiar from CFNY in Toronto, with bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys, plus pop hits like Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)”. I remember in particular Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” and Ministry’s “(Every Day Is) Halloween” getting lots of play, and the bar was still popular when Paul Lekakis’ “Boom Boom (Let’s Go Back to My Room)” (what was with all the brackets?) got to number 4 in Canada in June 1987. And, of course, they played a lot of New Order.

Most people weren’t taking New Order too seriously at that time: a guitar rock-loving friend renamed their 1987 double album “Substance” (which I owned on vinyl) by sticking “Lack of” at the beginning. They were a dance band, and generally seen as the lame descendant of the great Joy Division. It wasn’t the fault of New Order’s founding members that Ian Curtis had killed himself, and you certainly couldn’t blame them for pursuing a far less gloomy sound that would distinguish their new band from their old one. But dance music has always been treated as a lesser art by “serious” musicians, which is idiotic, because pretty much everyone loves to dance and helping people do that – while perhaps not as difficult to achieve as moving them to tears – is damned important, and brings a lot of joy into the world. And New Order were masters of that art.

Club Henley, over the 1984 to 1987 period when I was going there, had many New Order songs on its playlist: “Everything’s Gone Green”, “Temptation”, “Blue Monday” (easily the most acclaimed of their tunes), “ The Perfect Kiss”, “Shellshock”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”. I could be wrong about a few of these, but if Club Henley wasn’t playing them, they were definitely turning up at other bars I frequented in my early 20s. The band was at the top of a particular style of music aimed at a particular demographic at a particular moment in history, which I think is pretty impressive.

But none of those songs were my favourite. My top pick was “True Faith”, and it’s this New Order tune that is on my favourite songs of all-time playlist. Why is that? Well, it makes me want to dance, but then so do the other songs listed above. But, unlike those other songs, the lyrics grabbed hold of me and expressed something I was struggling to make sense of in my own life. I was trying to live in two worlds at the time. On one side were my friends and the life we had, going to bars and generally being fun-seeking young adults. On the other was a spiritual need that was being satisfied in a rather extreme way and in which I was beginning to question the choices I had made that got me there. The title alone made me feel subversive when I played it, given my tenuous footing in a religion that liked to believe it alone possessed the Truth about God and all things faith-related. There’s a pull between a sort of despair in the verses (“Now I fear you’ve left me standing / In a world that’s so demanding”) and a slightly hopeful turn in the chorus (“My morning sun is the drug that brings me near / To the childhood I lost, replaced by fear”). I think the title settles the argument: the narrator is choosing to believe, choosing a hopeful path. I was less confident about my path, and by the time I walked away from the religion, most of my Club Henley era friends had already moved on, tired of waiting for me to decide who I was. I didn’t blame them: I was self aware enough to know I was not always an easy person to be around back then.

So the song is both a declaration of my liberation from (self-imposed) religious tyranny, but also a reminder of what I lost. That I almost always forget the sad part and just start bouncing around is a measure of its power. All music can take us back through time, and as I write this, the sad part is what I’m feeling, but I’m remembering the happy part, too, the part where I’m sweaty and singing along at the top of my lungs and carrying way too much alcohol in my veins and just being 21 or 22 and feeling like the night is never going to end and that the friends who I love (and, of course, never said that to) are the best friends anyone could ever have. And I was right. And so were you at your own Club Henley dancing to your own version of “True Faith”. I hope you managed it better than I did.

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