Today you are getting two posts in one! The first part of this post will be standard fare regarding an underrated song called “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” from a superb album called Turn On The Bright Lights by post-punk revival darlings Interpol. The second half of this post will be a trip down the rabbit hole that came about as a result of this song and a warning about being a critical consumer of the information we view on the Interweb. All in all, there is lots to talk about so let’s get down to business. Here is the story of a girl called Stella and a band called Interpol and why sometimes things aren’t always what they appear to be.
Like all music genres, punk music has gone through its share of evolutionary phases. The first phase is generally called pre-punk or proto-punk and involves those bands who introduced punk music to the world. These bands include Iggy and the Stooges, along with MC5. They generally played in the late 1960s and early 70s. The period that most casual fans think of as being the time of punk rock occurred throughout the rest of the 1970s. That is when we saw the emergence of The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees and many more. As the 1970s ended and the 80s began, we entered what is known as the post-punk period. This era saw the birth of The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division and a whole lot more than that. Post-punk branched off into Synth Pop, New Wave and Alternative music, as the bands began branching out by becoming more melodic. Fast forward past Grunge in the 90s (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Bikini Kill) and you have Y2K and the birth of a new generation of bands that were called post-punk revival. These bands included The Strokes, Yeah, Yeah Yeahs, The White Stripes and today’s featured band, Interpol. Many of the post-punk revival bands started playing in and around New York City. They featured fresh and innovative songwriting and a style of musicianship that harkened back to the days of the post-punk bands of the early 1980s, hence the term post-punk revival.
In August of 2002. Interpol decided to release their debut album entitled Turn on the Bright Lights. This album was very well received by fans and critics alike. It was hailed as one of the Top Ten albums of the year on many year-end lists. Influential music magazine Pitchfork actually named it as Album of the Year for 2002. The biggest hit single that came from Bring on the Bright Lights was called “PDA”. *(I wrote about that song in a previous post that you can read here). One of the things that pleased people the most about the songs on this album was how literate and cinematic they seemed to be. Lead singer and principal songwriter Paul Banks was a graduate of NYU, where he earned a degree in Comparative Literature. Banks also grew up in a family that moved all over the world because of his father’s work. Consequently, Banks approached the songs on Turn on the Bright Lights with a worldly, literary sense that many young writers are unable to draw upon. As a result, many of the song lyrics feature evocative, almost poetic words and phrases that paint intimate portraits of scenes and dramatic scenarios that read like plays or novels. Furthermore, Banks and his bandmates made the deliberate decision to create songs that were open to interpretation. One such perfect example of this is a song called “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down”.
There are several things that I like about this song but the first thing is that, stylistically, it is an obvious homage to Joy Division. Those post-punk bands such as Joy Division all came from a time period where I was discovering the music that became the foundation of my collection. I always consider The Cure and Dépêche Mode, early Simple Minds, Ultravox and others to be the bands that introduced me to the music that has gone on to become an important part of my life. So, when Paul Banks of Interpol channels his best Ian Curtis and the boys from Interpol jangle their way through this song in down stroke unison, I was immediately drawn to the music. The other thing about “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” that I like is the story being told. First of all, I like story songs, as a general rule. In the case of this song, in particular, I like that Banks paints a portrait of Stella that reads like a character in a good book. Because ambiguity is such a feature of his songwriting, Banks never says exactly who Stella is or what she is going through but I am invested, just the same. There tend to be three categories of thought as to what this song is actually about. First of all, there are those who think Stella is a prostitute and that “diving” and “always being down” mean the obvious sexual innuendos that one would think they do. Secondly, there is a school of thought that suggests that this song is about addiction and that it is about having a dear friend named Stella fall into addiction and being unable to help her climb out of it. A final theory about the meaning of “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” relies on the educational background of Paul Banks. This theory states that Banks was influenced by a series of books known as the Illuminatus Trilogy. *(If you want to learn more about these books, click here). For our purposes, all we need to know is that in these books, one of the main characters has a relationship with a girl named Stella aboard a submarine named the Leif Erikson. On Bring On The Bright Lights, there is a song called “Leif Erikson”, too, which adds fuel to the theory that today’s song is based on those books. Whatever the case, “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” is a modern, dramatic, literate song that plays like a classic throwback tune. I liked it when I first heard it years ago and I still like it today.
This brings us to our rabbit hole.
YouTube, being what it is, uses its algorithm-based formula to throw music videos at me based on my previous choices. I must have spent much of this past spring time listening to/watching The Cure, Dépêche Mode and others because one day when I clicked on YouTube, there was “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” sitting there waiting for me. I hadn’t listened to the song in a while, so seeing it there was like reconnecting with a long lost friend. The video’s thumbnail was that of a teenage/twenty-something girl who looked like she was high. I clicked on the link and was taken to a video that starts off with the band playing live for a few moments and then launches into a story that plays out like a movie. The story was gritty and harsh. But the action on screen meshed perfectly with the lyrics. As a work of creative Art, I was captivated and thought it was excellent. In order to go down the rabbit hole with me and learn the lesson that I took out of it, I need you to stop reading and watch this video now. Doing so will put the rest of this post into context and will make it a more enjoyable and easier to understand piece for you. However, having said that, this video depicts drug use, prostitution and addiction. The depictions in the video appear to be very real. Viewer discretion is advised. To watch the video of “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” click here.
After watching this video several times over the course of the summer and mulling over in my mind whether or not I should launch a blog post series about Punk rock and then deciding to actually do so, I thought that this song would be one that I would include. Having made that call, I thought it prudent to learn as much as I could about the song and the music video so I could talk about both knowledgeably. When I began to focus on the background of the video itself, I did so reading some of the viewer comments that accompanied it. In the past I have often found viewer comments to be quite helpful in determining why others found the video/song important to them, as well as other technical aspects of the video that I may not have been privy to otherwise. In the case of this particular video, I noticed that people in the comments kept referring to an actual movie called Christianne F. I had never heard of this film so I looked it up, and then, this is where the rabbit hole began to swallow me whole.
Christianne F. is a German film that was based on a book called Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (We Children of Zoo Station) which is the true story of a young 13 year old girl who ran away from her middle-class home and found herself becoming addicted to heroin, acting as a teenage prostitute to support her habit and spending much time at one of Berlin’s main train stations most commonly known as Zoo Station. The people in the video comments raved about this movie, saying how important and influential it was in Germany in the early 1980s. From what I learned while doing my research into Christianne F., there was a thriving drug and teenage prostitution scene that revolved around Zoo Station back then. Berlin, in the late 70s/early 80s was also home to someone named David Bowie. You may recall that during his Berlin period, Bowie lived in Germany with Iggy Pop and ended up writing “China Girl” for Pop and “Heroes” for himself. Bowie plays an important role in the film Christianne F. because it was a nightclub concert of his that acts as the impetus for the teenage Christianne F. to sneak in and watch his show, which, in turn, is when she was introduced to heroin for the first time. Bowie appears as himself in the movie. He also supplied most of the songs for the movie soundtrack. On a different but related note, a decade later Irish band U2 would record an album in Germany called Achtung Baby! The first song on that album was called “Zoo Station”. I guess that station is a place that has more to do than simply catching a train ride.
After learning all of this background information, I suddenly found myself thinking that the timing of the film and the music from its soundtrack didn’t add up to being in sync with when Interpol became a band and released “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down”. Once I thought that thought, I immediately returned to the video I had watched of the song on YouTube to see what exactly I had been watching and how this video came to be. This is where the lesson about being a critical consumer of information comes into play. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the video for this song….a video that I thought was so well put together…was not an Interpol video at all! The band had nothing to do with any of it! To confirm this, I went to Interpol’s official website and checked to see what their “official” video of “Stella” was. There is none. Well, that is not completely true. There is an audio-only video. But there is no live video nor a dramatic recreation video by the band in existence on the planet. So then, what the heck was I watching all these months?!
As it turns out, the video I was watching was the creation of an Interpol fan who goes by the YouTube name of Lichtwerk3. I couldn’t find out anything about this person, but by examining the various other videos on their playlist, it seems like Lichtwerk3 is a fan of the band and focuses on creating videos based on Interpol songs. I am not sure if this is a form of fanzine *(homemade magazines created by fans of bands, sold and/or passed around to other fans), but whatever the case, the video that I had been watching (and that you watched above) was a fan-created video that paired “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” by Interpol with a German movie starring David Bowie called Christianne F.
Secondly, as I researched the film, I discovered that there is a veritable cottage industry online of people who pair clips from the movie with songs that they like. There are dozens of songs used in this manner. Just for the sake of interest, click here to watch a video for a song called “When the Sun Hits” by a band called Slowdive. This is just one example of the movie being used as the backdrop to a song. There are literally dozens and dozens of music videos available that all use Christianne F. movie clips. It just goes to illustrate how important it is to know exactly what it is you are watching and/or reading when online. I spent months thinking that I was watching the official Interpol video for their song “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down”, when no such video ever existed. Instead, I was unknowingly watching what was essentially a movie trailer for a foreign film. It makes me wonder how many other things that I see and/or read are actually one thing when I thought they were something else. Perhaps this is how Nazi soldiers from WWII turn into Ukrainian freedom fighters who then morph back into Nazi soldiers before our bewildered eyes in Canada’s parliament, too. Things aren’t always what they appear at first blush in politics or in music..
I will end this post with the simple declaration that I like Interpol’s music. I adore their album Turn on the Bright Lights. I have liked “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” from the very first time I heard it. I still like it today. I have learned a lot about being more careful with what I am watching on YouTube as well. You should, too. I want to give a shout-out to an online friend of mine who runs his own blog called Christian’s Music Musings. Like me, Christian writes about music. He grew up in Germany and was a big help in filling me in on the popularity and importance of the movie Christianne F. and of the goings on at Zoo Station. His blog can be reached by clicking here. Have a great rest of your day, everyone! Bye for now.
The link to a video of a live performance of “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” by Interpol…as filmed by a fan…can be found here. ***This is an excellent live recording and shows why the band is so highly respected and why the song is such a fan favourite.
The link to the official website for Interpol can be found here.
The link to the official website for Pitchfork Magazine can be found here.
The link to the video for the trailer for the movie Christianne F. can be found here.
The link to the video for the song “Station to Station” by David Bowie from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, Christianne F. can be found here.
***NOTE: The title for this series on punk rock is taken from the lyrics of a song called “Boxcar” by an amazing punk band out of San Francisco called Jawbreaker. Please show these guys some love and visit their website. While you are there, feel free to pick up some tickets to a show or to buy some cool merch. I thank the band for helping to inspire the writing of this post and for the creation of this series, as a whole. You can find their official website here.
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