Nobody ever gave him a good turn. What do you expect?
He was always let down.
They never wanted to let his action down.
But also they wanted it sublime...
Sheffieldism and equality equally. (2)
He was always in the middle for him.
On the fields. Brooklands. They said tone it down. (3)
We all understood him. But he is hostile.
For years they have believed we were inspired by the Holy Spirit
and the work of God.
They still recognize that many prominent NC members are wonderful people.
They're warm, intelligent, but terribly misguided.
Slowly, painfully, he become disillusioned. (6)
They call us "shadowy." Anti-hostile. (7)
They demand to know, with a touching, naive faith of the individual.
Many times, brothers, have they tried to discredit our gangsterism.
And now we're old, the elite of the damned. (8)
1. A foreboding and perhaps underrated weave of weary yet insistent words and sounds, this song is quite unique. As Dan has discovered, in perhaps the single greatest feat of sourcing in the history of the Annotated Fall, the lyrics refer to the Roman Catholic Neocatechumenal Way (NCW), otherwise known as the Neocatechumenate or the "NC." In the early Church, the catechumenate was the practice of preparing a student--called a catechumen--for baptism into the faith (the teacher was called a catechist; catechism means 'teaching,' and a catechism is a summary of doctrine). The catechumen was mainly concerned with the instruction and preparation for baptism of pagans who were converting to Christianity. The NC, on the other hand, is a group formed in Madrid in 1964, the main function of which is to instruct adults who are already baptized. The song's proximate inspiration--and the direct source of some of its lyrics--is an article from the March 2, 1996 Guardian by Madeleine Bunting called "An Elite of the Damned," a line which itself appears in the song. The article details the controversy that surrounds the group, both inside and outside of the Church. According to Bunting, the movement has been accused of "secrecy, elitism, destruction of the individual, and the development of a group dependency." It is remarkable to see how MES has taken this prosaic source material and molded it into a powerful work that is far more than the sum of its parts.
2. Sheffield is in South Yorkshire. It is a large industrial town, but is nevertheless sometimes called "the largest village in England" due to its isolation, lack of tall buildings or grand architecture, and largely working class poplulace, among which socialist and left agitation has a rich history. "The Elite of the Damned" draws an analogy between the NC and Sheffield's "9 O'Clock Service," a Church service aimed at youth that was started by Christian artists and musicians at St. Thomas' Church (an ecumenical church that combines Anglican and Baptist traditions, thus not a Roman Catholic institution). The Service, which was accused of insular cult-like tendencies and doctrinal deviations, was shut down in 1995 after its leader, an ordained Anglican priest named Chris Brain, was accused by several young women in the group of sexual abuse and admitted to having sexual relations with several of them.
Dan's yeoman's work on this number has earned him, if not free meals in the Prytaneum, the right to have anything he wants published in these notes:
"Having dined out on the Neocatechumenate for years, I thought I'd return to this song and see if I could add to my pension by working out sources for the first half of the song - which also feels like it comes from somewhere other than just MES's head. Here are some thoughts on possible links so far. As I think I've noted before, the first bit of the text reads a bit like interviews by people who knew a criminal of some kind. First of all, mention of Brooklands took me to the case of the murder of Carol Wardell. She was killed by her husband, Gordon, who concocted an elaborate story which fell apart in the end. He was convicted on 21 December 1995, just a few months before "Hostile" was recorded. Gordon Wardell claimed to have visited a pub called "The Brooklands". The forensic psychologist on that case was Paul Britton (who has written a couple of books on his career). Britton is controversial because of his role in the persecution of Colin Stagg (who was eventually acquitted following an extraordinary honey trap designed to try and prove that he matched the 'profile' of the killer - another man was eventually convicted of the murder) in the case of the murder of Rachel Nickell. Britton is also sometimes called "the real Cracker", a reference to the TV forensic psychologist "Fitz" (Dr Edward Fitzgerald, played by Robbie Coltrane), from the brilliant ITV series Cracker, which ran from 1993-1995. Whether Fitz is actually based on Britton is unclear to me, but certainly the link is often made. Again, perhaps the text is taken from dialogue in that show? Only one way to find out, of course. Anyway, these seem like good lines of enquiry."
I just wanted to note that while "An elite of the damned" here is plainly taken from Bunting's article, it seems to have literary antecedents. For example, see R.D. Laing's review of Jean Genet's Miracle of the Rose in New Society, vol 7, 13 January 1966, p.25, which is entitled "An Elite of the Damned". A quotation from the review: "It is made very clear that it takes years of training, plus discipline before one can have any pretensions towards joining the Genetian elite of the damned."
5. The NC reportedly emphasizes obedience and submission among its members. From Bunting's article: "Gradually, they introduced the idea that quiescence was a mark of holiness." The catechumens allegedly were taught to consider their primary duty to be to the NC itself: "the teaching on obedience and submission (a constant theme) subtly changed over time. First it was cast in the context of obedience to God. Then, because the Church is the body of Christ, members were told to obey the Church - standard Catholic doctrine. But then, they extended the idea to claim that the NC was the Church, so members had to obey the NC." In the article it is claimed that this resulted in a situation where each catechumen was told to rely on their catechist to make personal decisions for them.
6. These lines are almost a word for word quote of the following passage from "An Elite of the Damned": "For years they believed the NC was inspired by the Holy Spirit and was the work of God. They still recognise that many prominent NC members are wonderful people - warm, intelligent, devout - if terribly misguided. But slowly, painfully they became disillusioned." In the article the passage is a concession that many members of the NC are well-intentioned. By putting these words in the mouth of the song's narrator, however, MES has made them into a cynical and manipulative admission of a kind of resigned nihilism elevated to a principle and, thus, rendered active.
7. Again from Bunting: "The NC is a shadowy movement. Its headquarters in Rome are unmarked and, it seems, the phone is rarely answered. There is no literature available: all [founder Kiki] Arguello's teachings are transmitted orally. In England, my inquiries were passed around a bizarre circle of English, Spanish and Italian priests and eventually ran into the sand when it became clear my article might detail criticisms of the movement.
8. These lines (the last of which is of course the title of Bunting's article) derive from the following quote from an anti-NC campaigner named Ron Haynes: "They promulgate a view that the individual is a source of evil and sin and that salvation lies in the group. It is the elitism of the damned."