By John Ruberry

Synesthesia: “A sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color,” so says Dictionary.com.

If there is a void in your musical life and you are a fan of the Kinks and the Beatles, or perhaps Oasis, then I suggest you explore the career of XTC, the most unappreciated band of its time.

And what a time it was. XTC was part of the Class of 1977, rock and roll’s last great year in my opinon, when the Clash, Blondie, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and many more burst onto the musical scene. By 1999, after a seven year strike against its British label, when they released their penultimate album, Apple Venus Volume 1, only Costello and XTC remained as active acts.

Like the Beatles, XTC evolved musically into a much different group when it was all over.

Late last year in Great Britain and early this year in the United States, the documentary, yes, rockumentarty, XTC: This Is Pop was released. It’s available where I live on Showtime and Xfinity OnDemand.

What became XTC began in the southwestern English city of Swindon, the onetime home of the Swindon Works of the Great Western Railway, with a band started by its de facto leader, Andy Partridge. Bassist Colin Moulding and drummer Terry Chambers rounded out the nucleus of the group. London keyboardist Barry Andrews, the only XTCer who is not interviewed for This Is Pop, later joined; he appears on the band’s first two albums, White Music and GO2, which comprise the band’s punk period. After Andrews’ departure he was replaced by another Swindonian, guitarist Dave Gregory.

“I actually think we started pretty damn good and then got a lot better. And there’s not too many bands can say that’s their arc,” Partridge immodestly but correctly boasts about XTC.

Yet there is some humor in This Is Pop that offsets the braggadocio.

“Don’t you dare have-into this documentary,” Partridge waves off “that lugubrious keyboard player from that prog-rock group,” Rick Wakeman of Yes, who makes a hilarious cameo.

Partridge says of his troubled childhood, “I never thought I was good at anything until I got more and more into drawing and painting.”

Imagine if legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who early in his life aspired to be a painter, formed a rock group instead. It just might have sounded like XTC.

The band’s breakthrough in 1979 came not from a Partridge-penned tune but one by Moulding, “We’re Only Making Plans For Nigel” from their third album, Drums and Wires, which Little Marathon Pundit said of the other day, “That’s one song I like.” If its sonorous drum patterns seem familiar, that’s because engineer Hugh Padham discovered that effect while recoding “Nigel” before bringing the technique to Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” Many other 1980s acts swiped that sound.

The next two albums, Black Sea and English Settlement, brought more–albeit modest–success and momentum to XTC as it rounded out its New Wave period. But as the Kinks often bungled their career, XTC’ sabotaged things too, although not intentionally as I’ve always suspected the Kinks did. The effects of Partridge’s Valium addiction, which went back to when he was 12, and the withdrawal effects, led to a nervous breakdown during a Paris concert–which is shown in This Is Pop. The lads from Swindon still traveled to the United States for their first tour as a headliner. But what should have been an American victory lap lasted just one show. Outside of a smattering of radio and television appearances, they never performed live again.

XTC’s pastoral era brought three albums, Mummer, The Big Express, and Skylarking. But within that period XTC’s psychedelic alter ego, the Dukes of Stratosphear, released two collections that outsold those last two in the UK.

Before recording Skylarking, Partridge tells us, their record label issued an ultimatum: You need to grow your American audience and hire an American producer. Presented with a list of unfamiliar names, Partridge chose the only one he had heard of: Todd Rundgren. The result was the band’s masterpiece, Skylarking. On it you find the conceptual orchestral greatness of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But because Partridge and “Runt” butted heads–they probably had too much in common–the studio atmosphere mirrored the angst of the Beatles’ White Album recording sessions. XTC came close to blowing this moment too as the original pressings of Skylarking omitted the best song from the Rundgren sessions, the controversial atheist anthem “Dear God.” It was the B-side of the “Grass” single. American deejays elevated “Dear God” to prominence. Their record company was right, XTC needed a jump start from America.

Earlier I mentioned synesthesia. “How I write a lot of the songs, I will find a chord or a chord change on a guitar or on a keyboard,” Partridge describes his songwriting technique, “and I’m playing those but not I’m not hearing music–I’m seeing pictures. That’s how I write songs, it comes usually from the synesthesic level.”

And I wager you thought I was overreaching with the Akira Kurosawa comparison.

“Synesthesia is where you get stuff mixed up,” Partridge expands on his thoughts, “someone will say a number and you’ll hear a noise, or someone will show you a color and you’ll think of a number, or you’ll hear a peace of music or a chord and to me it makes a picture.”

And that is why XTC’s music is different.

The follow-up to Skylarking was 1989’s Oranges and Lemons, another success as XTC entered its proto-Britpop era.

Chambers left during the pastoral period and Gregory departed shortly after XTC’s recording strike ended. Their band’s final album, Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2), was released in 2000.

An eclectic group of commentators contribute context to This Is Pop, including Stewart Copeland of the Police, Blondie’s Clem Burke, and a veteran mockumentary performer, Harry Shearer, who, unlike Wakeman, plays it straight here.

Woven into This Is Pop is the countryside of southwestern England and a model train set winding through an intricately-reconstructed Swindon, because it doesn’t seem possible to separate XTC from their hometown.

XTC: This Is Pop is an essential film about an essential band, a group that belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The documentary can be streamed on Amazon.

John Ruberry, who has been an XTC fan since 1979 after hearing “We’re Only Making Plans for Nigel” on WXRT-FM in Chicago, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

No matter how “woke” you think you are, you are tolerating things right now that will make you cringe in 25 years. – Bill Maher

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. – inigo Montoya, “The Princess Bride”

While I disagree with some of the specific examples Bill Maher cited in the linked video above, I agree with his two main points. The first is that it is silly to judge people or actions out of the context of their time, and the second is that years from now we will be appalled at the things that are being done in our society today. I shudder to think that twenty-five years from now our society could possibly be more “woke” than it is today, mostly because I have to believe that we have reached peak silliness in the perceived intersectional injustices that are supposedly perpetrated by us normal Americans. When Starbucks can be accused of being racist simply because a store manager did not want to allow non-paying non-customers to squat in a store, thus keeping paying customers from using the space, then you know that the Left has truly crossed the Rubicon of Wokeness, and no one is safe.

Of course, the biggest problem is that real damage is being done right now, not only to our society, but to individuals who are caught up in all this intersectionality and wokeness.

When my son was going to college a few years ago, he filled out a survey and his college provided him with several other incoming freshmen to contact to see if they might be suitable roommates. He contacted one individual, but upon learning that this student was militantly homosexual, sexually active and expected his roommate to be OK with this, my son politely declined to room with this individual and selected another roommate. I wonder how long it will be until some student like my son is brought up on charges by the school for being “intolerant” of such a potential roommate – even though my son would have chosen not to room with a sexually active heterosexual as well – and perhaps being forced to live in this situation as a way to “expand his views” or some other such “woke” nonsense.

We are in the process of visiting schools with my daughter, and encountered a surprising trend among several “elite” colleges that we’ve visited. Gone are the days when dorms were segregated by male and female floors, or even wings, and the idea of male and female bathrooms has gone the way of the dodo. At several of these schools, males and females share the bathroom, including shower facilities. Apparently the showers are individual locked stalls, but that still means that my freshman daughter could step out of the shower in her robe, and be faced with a male senior who may only be wrapped in a towel shaving at the sink next to her. Now, given the #MeToo environment we are currently living in, I am fairly confident that any male in such a situation would be scrupulously careful not to give his female neighbors any pretext by which to accuse him of harassment, but that doesn’t really make the situation a good one. And if it were my son in this situation, I would tell him to shower at 2am and make sure there were no women in the bathroom to avoid just such a possibility. How is that possibly a good environment for either sex?

The only possible “solution” to this quandary at any of the non-Catholic schools we visited was the traditionally all-female dorm at one school. Of course, given the times we’re in, this has now been expanded to the all-female-and-gender-non-binary dorm. This means that my daughter could be sharing the bathroom with a man who claims to be a woman. I wonder if such a person would be nearly as scrupulous as the male in the co-ed bathroom about covering himself in the presence of my daughter. After all, if he’s a “woman” what’s the big deal? And I’m sure that my daughter – or your daughter – would be the one brought up on disciplinary charges for complaining about the situation.

It is my sincere hope that, when we look back on these times twenty-five years hence, our society is in a place where “wokeness” is the what-were-you-thinking absurdity. It has to be, because if it’s not, then that means that we’ve gone even further ‘round the bend and I can’t even imagine what that might be like.

I have said on more than one occasion that I think Pope Francis is a mixed bag.  He talks a lot about mercy and the reality of the Devil which is very good but tends to act like a local pastor ignoring that he is the head of the entire church which is very bad.  I think he, like most Popes, has been mediocre.

Since we had a canonized saint as Pope (John Paul II) for over a quarter of a century it’s natural that Francis would pale in comparison but there are real reasons to critique the way this Pope has handled things from China and the underground church to the Dubia which has still remained unanswered after over 550 days.  It is entirely proper to critique these failures, nevertheless he is still the Pope the head of the church until God wills that he is not.

There is always the danger that such a critique progresses to the point of considering the Holy Father our enemy ( which ironically would require us per the non-optional doctrine of the church, to love him and to pray for him) and causes us to embrace that first of the deadly sins, pride which Christ warned us of.

Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:10-14

And we can we can be sure that if our zeal takes us there our foe the Devil will be at our shoulder trying to tempt us in just that direction.

So what are we to do if we want to do something yet want to avoid crossing the line that our true enemy wants us to?  Fortunately as Catholics there is simple answer.

Prayer and Fasting.

I propose a three-day period of Prayer for the Pope, the Church and ourselves, where we implore God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit to bless, the entire Universal Church on earth.

For these three days I propose the following prayers:

Starting the day with an Our Father in the morning asking God the father to provide for the basic needs of the Church.

At midday A Divine Mercy Chaplet in the Afternoon to implore God mercy for the church through the sacrifice of God the Son.

Ending the Day with the Come Holy Spirit asking the God the Holy Spirit to envelop the entire church with the Spirit of discipleship.

For these three days I further propose a fast of varying degrees depending on one’s circumstances.

Abstaining from meat (full disclosure I already abstain on Wednesdays)

An Ash Wednesday like fast

A complete fast.

One could choose any of these or to progress from one to the next each day.

I further propose to begin this on May 8th the Feast of Apparition of St. Michael the defender of the church and end May 10th a feast day for Martyrs (Saints Gordian and Epimachus) High Churchmen ( St. Comgall, Abbot St. Cataldus Bishop, St. Antoninus, Archbishop) and ordinary people (St. Isidore) thus representing both the heavenly nature of such a prayer and the earthly span of the church from high to low.

If we want to banish the demons that plague the church and ourselves this is the way to do it, after all this is exactly what Christ suggested :

Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting“.

That’s good enough for me.