Friday, September 18, 2009
Check out this glorious Absolut Vodka ad. Every time I'm sucked into the visual beauty of an ad, I feel a little sleazy. But when they're this good, what's a girl to do? Absolut contracted with artists from around the world to come up with the visuals. As for the soundtrack, it features a version of the Joy Division/New Order song "Ceremony." To learn more, I went to resident Joy Division/New Order superfan and KPBS colleague Keith York. Over vodka martinis, all "Mad Men" style in the office, he told me about "Ceremony." Ok, that last part isn't true, but he did have a lot of interesting things to say about the song.
What is the story behind the song "Ceremony"?
“Ceremony” is not simply a Joy Division or New Order song; it is the song that literally bridges the gap between these two Manchester-based, genre-defining bands. This track was originally written by Ian Curtis, when he was Joy Division’s frontman. Following his death, Joy Division reincarnated as New Order with the band’s guitarist Bernard Sumner serving on vocals and “Ceremony” was recorded and released for the first time – marking the recording debut of New Order. While we could debate the place in rock music history that these two bands occupy, few would deny their importance and impact on later generations of musicians. “Ceremony” was among the last Joy Division songs to be composed. It was only recorded once live, and once in the band's rehearsal space. When New Order decided to record it, they had to listen closely to those live-to-tape sessions in order to decipher Ian Curtis’s lyrics. The song symbolizes a tragic suicide, but also the rebirth of a band all of us thought would never return to the music scene. “Ceremony” symbolizes, for those of us fans, that important transition.
What does the song mean to you personally?
For many of us that were fans at the time, this song nearly defines the years 1980 and 1981. It marks a historic turning point in a band’s evolution, but for many of us, the death of Ian Curtis is our generation’s Darby Crash, John Lennon, or Jim Morrison. Beyond New Order’s “Blue Monday” which refers to Curtis’ death more directly in its lyrics, “Ceremony” was of the moment. It brings back a chill every time I listen to it and wonder how Curtis’s family, friends and bandmates were coping with such loss, especially considering how us fans were grieving.
What can you tell us about Fall on Your Sword, the band that recorded the version of "Ceremony" used in the Absolut Anthem ad?
Their covering “Ceremony” was my, and many others’ first introduction to this Brooklyn indie rock outfit. For Abslut Vodka’s “Anthem” spot, the creative team hired the band because they are “known for their unmistakable flair and attention to detail." The version of “Ceremony” used in “Anthem” is currently not available to the public, though the band has been performing it live, and from what I've read, audiences are loving it.
What do you think of their interpretation of "Ceremony"?
The chunk of the song used in the ad sounds spot on – folks in chat forums have even mistaken this version for a lost recording. Because there were two live recordings of "Ceremony" prior to New Order’s studio sessions, Fall on Your Sword’s near flawless cover could easily fool people. I'm hoping they release the song to fans so we can hear how the vocals work. As a fan of Joy Division and New Order, I carefully consider each new cover version of their catalog and I'm always grateful if a band "gets it" -and not assuming they will do a faithful re-versioning of a song. Artists should always add their own flair – as Fall on Your Sword does here.
What do you think of the ad in general – both visually and with the use of the song?
In a strange way I feel it's akin to Anton Corbijn’s music video for Joy Division’s “Atmosphere." Not in its tactics, but in its overall tempo. There’s something ethereal about the ad that is Corbijn-esque. Of course, the literal set dressings and materials are wonderful eye candy and full of visual wit. It looks like it was created by a bunch of graduates from MIT’s Media Lab. With each new viewing, I grow more interested and intoxicated (!) by the ad.
The flip side is to react to the commercialization of the sacred. As I clearly stated, “Ceremony” is an important song – quite possibly the last song I would think a director would incorporate into a Vodka ad (where Daft Punk may be more appropriate). There’s a story somewhere in who this director and creative team is, and how they chose “Ceremony” to define the “Anthem” spot.