And it's something so good, just can't function no more

A cèilidh (pronounced "kay-lee") is a party with music and dancing.  The word is Scottish Gaelic, and the "set dancing" at a cèilidh is the ancestor of American square dancing.  You swing your partner, you do-si-do.  A caller shouts out the steps.  There's a band with a fiddle, and people clapping their hands in unison.

While the dances stretch back to time out of mind, their presence at a cèilidh is relatively new.  As late as 1900 the term didn't imply any music:  it was a gathering where people got together to eat, drink, tell stories, and recite poems.  Sometime in the early twentieth century the traditions merged, and now pretty much wherever you find Scottish people, you find the cèilidh - in Northern Ireland (the Irish word is céilí), Nova Scotia, New Zealand, and, of course, the US.

Where there are cèilidhean, there must be musicians, and in the UK a great many musicians make their living playing at them.  Like weddings, cèilidhean are a staple of the working musician's existence. 

One such group, once called the Oyster Cèilidh Band, formed in Whitstable in 1976.  (East Kent is known for its oysters.)  Apart from a couple of departures over the years, they've been together ever since.  They're exactly this famous: the band has a Wikipedia page but the individuals in the band, who have been performing together for the better part of a lifetime, do not.  (After watching this, you may want to know more about John Jones, and you will be disappointed.)  Their biggest popular exposure is probably that they played on song that's on the B-side of Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping."  If you're not really into English and Scottish folk music, in short, you will not have heard of them until today.

Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," of course, not written for cèilidh.  But it was written for dancing.  Joy Division's music was written to be performed in Manchester's dance clubs at the end of the 70s.  Sure, the music was desperate and haunted, but even while Ian Curtis seemed to be in a state of frantic despair in "Transmission" when he sang, "dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio," he was also literally calling for his audience to get up on their feet and move, and they did.

What made "Love Will Tear Us Apart" cut across the firmament in 1980 was that same crushing-together of hopelessness and urgency, the end of it all put to a propulsive beat.  The sweet melody defies the sadness of the lyrics.  The audience comes to its feet and moves, and they leave the end of it all behind them even as its words are ringing in their ears.

All relationships end in heartbreak.  Endings are never really happy.  The thing that sustains us most is also the source of our greatest grief.

By the time "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was pressed onto vinyl and shipped to record stores, Ian Curtis was already dead by his own hand.  It was the band's first hit.  (If you haven't seen Michael Winterbottom's excellent movie Twenty-Four Hour Party People, I cannot recommend it enough.)

30 years past June of 1980, in 2012, the Oysterband came together with the singer June Tabor to interpret this song.  These musicians wouldn't be on the stage together were it not for all yesterday's parties, but on this day, for this song, they chose a different stance.  

In this interpretation, the sweetness still defies the sadness, but now you have to confront it head on.  There's no escaping it into dance.  A day comes where there is no forgetting the end of it all and it is upon us.  This version is for standing up and facing it.

Ram Dass tells a story of a barbarian army coming to sack a monastery.  The abbot goes to the gate to meet their leader.  "Do you know who I am?" asks the general.  "I could run you through with my sword, and I wouldn't blink an eye."

"Do you know who I am?" responds the abbot.  "You could run me through with your sword, and I wouldn't blink an eye." 


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