Thursday, February 02, 2006

1963 (1987) – New Order

Tucked away as the B-side to “True Faith,” and as the last song on Disc 2 of Substance, “1963” is a beautiful convergence of elegant storytelling and bittersweet melancholy. Featuring some of Bernard Sumner’s most stirring vocal melodies, the verse conveys a fond reminiscence, the transition is filled with suspicion, and the chorus becomes a desperate plea for mercy. “1963” continues New Order’s flair for the memorable drum intro in the tradition of “Blue Monday,” “Thieves Like Us,” and “Confusion.” Throughout, majestic synthesizers flutter, stab and spring about in nimble dartles. In deference to these orchestral maneuvers, (yes, I know . . .) the guitar strikes an identical chord four times before retiring, and Peter Hook’s signature flanged bass makes a cameo only at the very end.

According to several internet sources, Sumner claims to have written this song based on a theory that John F. Kennedy had hired a hitman to kill Jackie so that he could be with Marilyn Monroe, but instead the bullet(s) hit him. If this theory is indeed floating out there, it suffers from a major logical flaw—Marilyn died on August 5, 1962; Kennedy was assassinated over a year later on November 22, 1963. Moreover, whether or not Sumner actually did write the lyrics based on a Marilyn/Kennedy/Jackie love triangle, it is difficult—indeed, ridiculous—to envision the President of the United States killing his wife at point-blank range.

Instead, here’s a suggested backstory:

At the age of 19, Johnny was sent to Vietnam in 1962, during the initial stages of the conflict. It is well-documented that the War ruined the lives of many soldiers, who either paid with their lives, their bodies and/or their minds. Johnny was no exception. While in Vietnam, the trauma of killing children strapped with explosives caused him to crack, losing the ability to discern wrong from right, reality from delusion. In the midst of his despair, he fell in love with a Vietnamese girl, married her, and intended to bring her to the States when the war was over. However, his tour of duty was relatively short and he soon returned back to the United States, where his waiting American wife needed to be disposed of. The song commemorates Johnny’s homecoming, told from the perspective of his wife as she realizes that he is not the same man he once was, especially once he points a pistol in her face. At the moment before her death, she exhorts her husband to spare her with a plea for mercy—words that become her epitaph.

  • Listen to "1963" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
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