Your Words Are Lost on the Dead
257 · 30 December 99
Big Country: Driving to Damascus
Farewell, century. I was alive for just less than a third of your length, arguably only aware for more like a quarter. But farewell, all the same; I have known no other.
Farewell, millennium. I arrived barely in time to know you at all. Of your first five hundred years, my store of readily-accessible information is limited to a sketchy narrative about the "discovery" of America in 1492, and the vague sense that in 1066 there was something called the Battle of Hastings, which I think involved either William the Conqueror or Oliver Cromwell, although I have no idea, without looking it up, who they were fighting (unless it was each other), or where, or why, nor who won or what that accomplished. The 1500s? Mona Lisa. 1600s? Harvard was founded. The final third I know a little more about, but it's a poor, abstract sort of knowledge, plainly inadequate to merit remorse. But farewell, all the same.
Some of you are older than I am, some younger, but our relationships with the millennium, at least, are basically the same. Like every other new year, we will feel this one, personally, when we write the date on checks (a doomed ritual; and after its death, will the calendar will finally become the exclusive demesne of machines?), and rarely otherwise. This is why insisting that the millennium begins on 1 January 2001 is pedantry of the most inane and petulant sort. When we say "this decade", we mean the Nineties, this century the 1900s, this millennium the 1000s, and obviously 2000 is no part of those. Tomorrow isn't a celebration of elapsed time, it's a celebration of the narrative power of numbers, of an arbitrary point on an invented calendar. I'm pretty confident that the denizens of the first century, which wasn't the first century until a Roman abbot, more than five hundred years later, announced (with what must have been a mesmerizing waving of hands) his retroactive calculations of Jesus' birthday, will not begrudge us the year they didn't know they missed. Later historians would be more impressed that we've finally reached something like consensus on the start of the year being January 1, a Roman idea that the British, for example, didn't adopt until 1752. And what derision the ten or eleven days that were decreed out of existence in the switchover from Julian to Gregorian would earn us, I hesitate to conjecture. Dates are what we make of them.
Eras are what we make of them, too, clearly. Here, then, is my hope for the one we are about to enter. Let it be the Age, not of Information, but of Ideas. I mean, let it be the era in which humanity's operational problems (famine, poverty, overpopulation, vulnerability to natural disasters, war, disease, etc.) are close enough to being solved that most people can live their lives oblivious to them. Let this be the age in which our primary collective pursuits are philosophical and aesthetic in nature, debates and Art and entertainment. These are the things we are best at. Let this age finally fulfill the Industrial Revolution's mocking promise to free people from mechanical existences. Let all the tasks that express nothing human, that gain nothing from human involvement, be done without us.
I am raising the stakes, I know. "If there's one great thing to happen in my life", Stuart Adamson appealed in 1986's "One Great Thing", "Let it be the time for peace, / Let it be the time of right", and we're a long way from either goal. But those goals are not only not ends, they are insufficient even as means. Peace, by itself, is an unstable state. The energies that constantly undermine it cannot be discharged, they can only be redirected. Children must be converted from guns to guitars, knives to brushes, epithets to choruses, before we'll have any chance. Maybe this won't be the Decade of Ideas, or even the Century, but if it isn't the Millennium of Ideas, at least, I fear it will be the millennium no historians survive to argue about. 2000 is only an excuse, but a fine one; our calendar is one of our great gifts to ourselves, a constant ticking suggestion that maybe now would be a good time to draw a line between the past and the future, and resolve to carry over it only the good things. Our howls, as the last seconds of the year drain away, are a hymn to everything great we've done already, and a wake for everything we're determined to leave behind.
There can be no better way for my own personal millennium to end, then, than with new albums by the bands that have carried me through, in one case, the Nineties, and in the other all of what I think of, circularly, as my fully-conscious musical life. It had been my plan, before I heard these records, and before Tori Amos' to venus and back forced me to advance my timetable by a few months, to either retire my previous set of favorite artists, or promote them to emeritus status, depending on your point of view, here at the end of the year. Big Country, Marillion, Kate Bush and Game Theory/The Loud Family have served me well, but I need space in my heart. I am phrasing my desire for the new era to be different in the most emphatic way my internal value system provides, symbolically opening part of how I define myself to new influences. Tori gets the first new slot, but there's room for three or four others. I don't know who will fill them. The Loud Family could well reacquire their seat on current merits, if Scott Miller keeps recording, but Kate only made one record in the Nineties, and although Big Country and Marillion made several, it's clear that as of the end of 1999, they're no longer as representative of my musical tastes as they once were (not, of course, that that has to be the criteria). Del Amitri, Manic Street Preachers and Runrig were my last set of heirs apparent, but in all three cases they've made two or three albums without unseating my favorite ones, so they'll need to convince me they have surprises left, not just life. Alanis Morissette probably needs only a third album to qualify, but I can't add her to the list without adding somebody else for balance. Low, maybe. Mecca Normal if they'd ever learn to make whole albums as good as their best moments. Mark Hollis if he keeps working. Everclear if they can continue to find directions in which to expand. Magnetic Fields if Stephin Merritt has any more songs left in him. Any one of a dozen promising new bands, if their bright early albums turn out to have displayed only a fraction of their genius. It may take time. I might have wondered if it were impossible, if my passionate identification with Steeltown and "Wonderland" was partly a product of my own youth and emotional willingness and thus something that cannot be replicated now that I'm older, except Tori suggests that it can be. So there is hope; I will find new bands to take the old ones' places. This is the only millennium I've known, but it's been amazing, and I almost don't have the strength to leave it. But that's the great challenge of progress, relinquishing your grip on the past without giving up your love for it. This must be why so many people eventually give up on new music, and on new experiences in general. The gravity of their accumulated loves gradually becomes irresistible. You either stop, or you learn to let go. I am letting go.
At least, that was the plan. And I'm still going to do it, because I believe it's necessary, but I expected these albums to make it easier. I expected to listen to Driving to Damascus and hear all the ways in which Big Country are no longer the band I became obsessed with sixteen years ago, half my life ago. I expected this album to be a fond reminder of our time together, but also a reaffirmation of my decision, proof that our paths have separated. And sure enough, Driving to Damascus isn't The Crossing or Steeltown. Those were dark, fervid records, equal parts anthemic and terrifying. Stuart is older now, less critical and more empathic. Mark Brzezicki's drumming on those first two records is breathtaking, maniacally syncopated and meticulous, and in the intervening years he's learned the virtues of restraint. The new production, by the band and Rafe McKenna, is airy and open, a world away from the ominous, claustrophobic crush in which Steve Lillywhite cast the early records. Stuart and Bruce Watson's guitar duels only ever abandoned their rock intensity temporarily (there's little of it on the glittering Peace in Our Time and the comparatively countrified No Place Like Home, but no shortage on The Buffalo Skinners and Why the Long Face), but they long ago shed their mining-town insularity. Stuart's lyrics are far less cryptic, these days, about the world around him instead of a lost realm of apocalyptic storms and battered ships. In 1983, Big Country was part of a movement, part of the definition of The Big Music, which lives on as an influence even as it's fallen into disfavor as a coherent style. In 1999 they're just another rock band everybody has mostly forgotten about, neither slick nor coarse enough for any current trend.
But if I've agreed to stop saying they're the best band in the world, know that it's for my personal reasons, and has nothing to do with this album. I came to it expecting disappointment, wanting disappointment, eagerly looking forward to embracing this album all the more tightly for everything about it that no longer thrilled me they way Big Country used to. I've done the story outline already, and their part in it is graceful retreat. I wanted exit music for an era. I wanted wistful, nostalgic good-byes. Instead, it's all coming back. I meant to remember why I loved Big Country, but be shielded from it by distance, and yet I'm sitting here helplessly immersed. I've memorized these songs already, without noticing it. I can tell, intellectually, how they're different from "Porrohman" and "Broken Heart", but neither my ears nor my heart has had any difficulty interpreting them as the seamless continuation of the history of my devotion. The brief popularity of "In a Big Country" and "Fields of Fire" had little to do with the band's stubborn sense of purpose, and their declining commercial fortunes have had even less. Becoming known as a gimmick band for having guitars that sort of sounded like bagpipes is an excruciating twist of irony, as you will not find a less gimmicky band anywhere on the planet. The bits of Celtic heritage in their music aren't opportunistic sampling, they're actual heritage from an actual country, exactly as contrived as alternating between kick drum and snare, or tuning a guitar in fourths, or Dylan's harmonica. I acknowledge subjectivity, but I won't pretend I don't also have beliefs: not only do I believe that Big Country are better than your favorite band, but I believe the whole world would be a better, stronger, kinder, grander, nobler, truer place if everybody loved them the way I do. Rock has stood for a thousand ghastly, unconscionable things, enough to poison every year of the millennium we've almost escaped, but all it takes is one album this conscious and resolute out of every thousand, and the entire enterprise is redeemed. Sell some of the insincere, superficial crap you already have, if necessary, and buy this. It hasn't been released in the US yet, and I don't know if it ever will, but we are all on the web now, so borders are no excuse. You might like it, you might not, I don't really care. Think of it as medicine, if you have to; with this music dissolved in your bloodstream, fewer things can hurt you. And as with any other vaccine, if we can get everybody to take it, we might eradicate the disease completely.
Big Country's entrances are never overdone, and Driving to Damascus begins as simply as ever, a searing guitar riff, half sped-up Celtic dirge and half blues wail, leading into the stomp and squall of the title track. "Love them all", the chorus breathes. "All that you need when your heart is small." "I'm going to the city / To meet the high and proud / And let them know that anger / Is the nature of the crowd", Stuart's traveler explains. "Love them all", repeats the figure he encounters in a sandstorm, or imagines. Anger is the nature of the crowd, which is exactly why the crowd's victories are so often hollow and fleeting. "We save no souls, / We break no promises", went "Lost Patrol", all those years ago, Big Country's version of "First, do no harm", but the point of a first rule is that there are others. There is plenty of music for tearing down, plenty for dancing in the ruins; less for building anew, less still for fixing what you already have.
Stuart is hardly the only lyricist to write spiritual epiphanies that could also be love songs, either, but he's one of the ones, to me, who pulls it off with the least sense of condescension or evasion. "Put your life in my hands and take a chance", in "Dive Into Me", sounds a lot like a religious surrender, but "So we loaded up the car", earlier in the song, implies that there's a human relationship developing, perhaps in parallel, and if your human relationships don't feel like they are also spiritual journeys, you're probably doing them wrong. There was a wan demo of this song on the preview EP the band sold on their web site, months ago, and the structure of this version is the same, but since the demo they figured out where the song's missing energy was, pushing the vocals back a bit and turning up the guitar roar, providing a noise you could actually imagine diving into. Looping, programmed percussion mutters in the background in the quiet parts, but Brzezicki's trademark galloping drums reassert themselves in the choruses. He's a forceful drummer, so it's easy to just focus on the groove, but I'm convinced that he's also the best hi-hat player I've ever heard, and if I hadn't seen him play live I'm not sure I'd believe that he doesn't do that line in a separate take. There are two more soaring guitar solos (the second one among the most delicate, exquisite things I've ever heard constructed entirely out of feedback), another lithe bass dance from Tony Butler, a clanking vibraphone, I think, playing what normally would be the piano's part, and Stuart voice, which has warmed and mellowed considerably since "Angle Park" and "Flame of the West", but is still one of the dialects in which my conscience addresses me.
Although there are only a couple Big Country songs I don't much care for ("Republican Party Reptile" and "Post Nuclear Talking Blues"; I can't think of any others), the band does also suffer from one puzzling recurrent failure, which is an inability to take advantage of marquee female backing vocalists. By rights The Seer's title track, with Kate Bush, the only time two of my favorite artists have ever collaborated on anything, ought to be my favorite song in all of music, but Kate's part is peripheral almost to the point of inaudibility. Driving to Damascus has backing vocals, on several songs, from ex-Fairground Attraction singer Eddi Reader (who isn't quite Kate in my pantheon, but whose voice I do love), and if you didn't know in advance that she was there, I doubt you'd guess. The first, "See You", is a resigned lovers' dialog (a companion, of sorts, to Savage Garden's "Hold Me"), which would lend itself to a duet à la "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" or "Don't You Want Me?", and although I hardly expect that kind of theatricality from Big Country, Eddi's faint gloss on the choruses seems like a missed opportunity. The new touches on this song turn out to be spare piano and a swooning string ensemble, and the guitar solo is played as if the guitar is one of the orchestral instruments, an adroit gesture that, at least to me, makes similar efforts by Slash and Metallica sound brutish and forced.
More drum loops introduce the album's most unapologetic rock song, the brief, keening, clattering "Perfect World", which has one particular unison-guitar-and-bass riff that I swear they got from Black Sabbath's "Trashed". Guitars blast through all of this one, as close as Big Country is ever likely to come to Rage Against the Machine, but it also has a persistent little triangle pinging cheerfully amidst the percussion clamor, like a glimmer of the paradise we seek. The narrator can't decide whether he's looking for a perfect girl to share the perfect world with, or vice versa, a bit of confused idealism that I take as a romantic variation on Heisenberg. "Somebody Else" sounds calmer, but is a bitter breakup itemization in the tradition of the Psychedelic Furs' "All of This & Nothing", the dB's' "Amplifier", the Nails' "Things You Left Behind" and Richard Shindell's "Are You Happy Now?". The measured verses echo Steeltown's "Just a Shadow", but the chiming choruses lift into overdriven country-rock twang. This is one of the rare Big Country songs I can imagine other people covering; "Chance" is another one, though, and nobody's tried it yet. "I walk through the debris of cardboard and clothes / Trying to work out where everything goes. / I'm short of you and a book or ten / And I'd love to hear those Leonard Cohen songs again". Shindell's character was lucky to get the camera; he's the only one whose departed didn't take with them the instrument for articulating grief.
Eddi's eloquent sighs are more central to "Fragile Thing", the album's first single, but only slightly. If it were my job to try to reestablish Big Country with a skeptical audience, this isn't the song I would have picked, just as I wouldn't have passed over "Rain Dance" and "Great Divide" in favor of "Just a Shadow", when picking singles for Steeltown, but perhaps I underestimate people. It's the slowest, saddest thing on the album, Mark's quick, crisp drumming notwithstanding, one side of a plaintive conversation (again, a duet call unanswered) between a lonely traveler and a woman who sits down at his restaurant table. I'm not sure she has ulterior motives, but "And all I ever wanted / Was to be that hero, too. / Then I might still be with her / Instead of here with you" will test her self-esteem, either way. Invert the vocal shares and the pronouns and it wouldn't be hard to imagine this as Stuart's guest appearance on one of Eddi's albums. As a single it worried me, but here in the middle of the album it forms a lovely, welcome intermission before the blaring, stentorian "The President Slipped and Fell", a litany of meaningless media babble which, unusually, reserves its rejoinder ("The more I hear, the less I care") for the bridge, instead of belaboring it in every choruses. Tony's bass and Mark's battering kick drums drive the song, Stuart slips back into his loud, tense voice, and Tony, behind him, adds the high, gauzy harmony that is the other component of their unmistakable vocal sound. (Backing vocals are underappreciated; I remain convinced that REM would be nowhere without Mike Mills' singing.) I was disappointed to realize that it's "A weeping sports star told us all about pot", not "A weeping sports star told us all about Bach", but I'm pleased that I can construe "Four goals, two cautions and a half-time report", in the chorus, as a criticism of how soccer is reported, not how it's played.
"Devil in the Eye", next, is the only song less fit to be isolated than "Fragile Thing", its jarring and uneven verses (faintly reminiscent of either Primus or King Crimson, although I concede that my confusion is suspicious) giving way with evident reluctance to the dense, surging choruses. The mood changes abruptly and repeatedly, one moment the choruses bolstered by angelic, wordless backing vocals worthy of the Titanic soundtrack, the next moment Stuart's voice shredded by processors, the next implacable organ flutter drifting in out of some astray old Deep Purple song. Although the text starts out as a warning about a predatory woman, by the end the moral culpability has been transferred. You are responsible for what you court.
Stuart seems to avoid politics if at all possible. Sometimes it isn't: he let apartheid drag him into "Song of the South" and went after Ronald Reagan (albeit obliquely) in "Flame of the West", and the one concession here is "Trouble the Waters", which takes the deaths of James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard, and the Jonesboro, Arkansas middle-school shootings, and instead of proposing a scapegoat, argues, sensibly, that we're missing the point by looking for one. I don't know if the reedy mandolin part is supposed to invoke "Dueling Banjos", but it's a sly touch regardless. More strings, keyboards and a mournful synthetic flute help the song also serve as an elegy for the victims. I oscillate, in fact, each time through, between thinking the song is mostly a requiem and thinking it's mostly about the way the survivors react, but telling either story without the other is misleading and probably irresponsible.
And while glee is rarely Big Country's mode, the album does attempt a more positive ending, at least musically. "Bella" is a classic distance love song, with a morbid turn at the end when he promises that if they never find a way to get back together he'll wait for her after they die, but it's set in such a rollicking arrangement, strings and a backing choir sweeping by brightly, that I take the lyrics as amiable hyperbole. The Peace in Our Time-ish "Your Spirit to Me" is becalmed and atmospheric, but inclines towards Runrig's awed reverence, not the tormented dignity of Peter Gabriel's "Biko", which it otherwise more closely resembles. And "Grace", the last song, is a decisive, sawing anthem in the spirit of "Steeltown", "Look Away", "The Selling of America" and "God's Great Mistake", the guitar hook and Tony Butler's bounding bass both throwbacks to the early days, but it isn't a protest song, it's a prayer of thanks. I invent my own meanings, plainly, but I take this to say that anger and love are expressions of the same energy, which means that your destructive tendencies might also represent your capacity for healing. A hopeful notion.
I don't think playing games with formats is the key to a commercial resurgence either, but there is a "limited" edition of this album, which the web site claims you can still order from the band directly. It adds two more songs, for which the band transforms, disconcertingly but appealingly, into a far more traditional Celtic folk-rock band than they ever actually were. "Shattered Cross", despite the ominous title, is a cycling, diaphanous treasure on the order of the b-side masterpiece "Winter Sky". "Too Many Ghosts" falls somewhere between Fairport Convention, the Chieftains and Jethro Tull. If albums were serials, these extra songs would be scenes from the next installment, a flashback episode in which Big Country imagines what their folk background would sound like, if they had one like Runrig's. That would be fine with me. Then again, if the next album sounds like Vangelis, that would be fine with me, too. I just want there to be a next album. I want to be reminded, every year or two for the rest of my life, what an insane leap of faith it is to think that I could ever love another band as helplessly as this. That I ever had the courage to love anything this much, to begin with, and that I will again.
Driving to Damascus is the first Big Country studio album since 1995, and I don't expect another soon; Marillion, conversely, must have been scarred by the three-year gap between 1991's Holidays in Eden and 1994's Brave, and resolved to never again let an album consume them the way Brave did, as Afraid of Sunlight (1995), the live album Made Again (1996), This Strange Engine (1997) and Radiation (1998) all followed with little apparent ado, and marillion.com is 1999's edition. This is a breakneck pace, by music-industry standards (and doesn't count all the live albums they've put out on their own private label), but I don't think these albums have started to blur together, for me, because the gaps between them are small, I think the blurring and the gaps are both a product of a different way of working. Brave was an album constructed like a novel; the four studio albums since are more like essay collections, thematically linked more by coincidence than premeditation, and also, in another sense, just documents of the band's year. This is what Marillion do: they write songs and they record them, and when they've got eight or nine they put them on an album, ship it out, and start on the next one. The records are a little less impressive this way, and indeed none of these has displaced Misplaced Childhood and Seasons End at the top of my Marillion list, but as sustained demonstrations of songwriting, and of how professionalism and creativity don't need to be mutually exclusive, their cumulative contents are astonishing. In the Eighties Marillion were fearsome solipsists, sculpting songs in an alien geometry that they refused to diagram, or else nobody dared to ask them; in the Nineties they sneakily became a clever hybrid of Rush and Crowded House, able to write a pop song that lasts three minutes or twenty, for one guitar or a hangar full of gear, without betraying any awareness that these aren't the ranges everybody uses. Instead of worrying about broadening their appeal, they've attempted to deepen it. They'll take flak for giving this album an internet name, on the grounds that the internet is hardly cutting edge any more, but I think that's actually part of the point. Marillion have embraced the internet not as new technology, which it isn't, but as new culture, which it still is. Running your own web site isn't yet a compulsory component of being a band, but it soon will be. So much air has been expended speculating that the net is going to revolutionize music distribution, and one day it might, but all the arguments about whether consumers will pay for MP3s they could easily pirate distract people from noticing that what the net is already revolutionizing isn't distribution at all (people grouse about the price of CDs, but not about how difficult they are to buy), it's communication. marillion.com is not about the girl holding the glowing laptop on the front cover, it's about the more than seven hundred photographs of themselves that fans sent in to line the booklet sleeve. Marillion have started to metamorphose into what could be the next stage of evolution of the rock band, into a group that can maintain an ongoing relationship with their fans that with the old approach, a lumbering annual tour and a few associated press appearances, was never possible. I haven't decided if I like this concept, exactly; I've started, several times, to sign up for the fan club and order all the homemade live albums, but every time I've balked before punching Submit, bothered somehow by the nature of the transaction. I like being able to get prompt and accurate band news, but I don't want Marillion to become a web site that also sometimes puts out CDs. I've got lots of bands to keep track of, I don't need any of them to engage me on a daily basis. Even an album a year is kind of overwhelming. I've started dropping Marillion albums off my top-ten lists out of self-defense, because otherwise I'll only have nine slots, each year, for the rest of the universe. marillion.com arrived before I had a chance to start anticipating it, and I left it on the corner of my desk for several days, letting it become painful that I hadn't heard it yet.
And if marillion.com is supposed to hasten my conversion, to make me eager to embrace a new mode of interaction, it's a dismal failure, because it actually strikes me as the best old-fashioned, stand-alone, non-interactive album they've made since Holidays in Eden. There's no concept, it's just nine more Marillion songs, but in my opinion at least seven or eight of them are magnificent. "A Legacy" starts out maudlin, but blooms into an impish march for a grown-up Pixar Willy Wonka sequel. "Deserve" is a jubilant romp, complete with slithering saxophone and cascading trumpets, the dizzy music kind of blunting, for me, the cynical thrust of the lyrics. "Go" is a gorgeous ballad, one of the ones in which Steve Hogarth has the sense to write appropriately elliptical lyrics to suit the music's mood (which he doesn't always; see "The Party"). "Wide awake on the edge of the world", goes the refrain the song builds to, and this is exactly what I want the edge of the world to sound like, the void beyond filled with crackling aurora borealis and the resonant hum of angels' wings. Parts of "Rich" sound like Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out With Him?", but the choruses, sparkling with guitars and hand-claps, are as rapturous as "Holidays in Eden" or "Cover My Eyes". "Enlightened" infuses the amniotic embrace of most of Afraid of Sunlight with the sentimental clarity of a Journey song. "Built-In Bastard Radar" is a horrible premise, but the lyrics (John Helmer's, not Hogarth's) aren't as garish as the title, and the music, despite some out-of-character rock-jam histrionics, has enough melody to support its bulk. The pealing "Tumble Down the Years", as uplifting an anthem of defiant romantic commitment as I can think of, could easily be Neil Finn. The fifteen-minute "Interior Lulu" is the token epic, but as with "This Strange Engine", it's structured like a pop song, or like a collage of them, not like a symphony, and I never notice my attention flagging. The "Splintering Heart"-like bits towards the middle are among my favorite noises on the album, the long, ebbing section around minutes ten and eleven is hypnotic (and contains the lyrics "In our racing stripes / We rejoice at being 'connected' / Without touching. / Thank god for the internet. / We stare at our screens / All our lives. / What a waste of eyes.", so maybe they don't plan to become cyborgs after all), and the end, instead of crescendoing predictably into catharsis, collapses into a haunting standing wave.
The one gratuitous anomaly, marillion.com's answer to Afraid of Sunlight's "Cannibal Surf Babe", is "House", the last track, less finale than cliffhanger. It's essentially a sultry ten-minute jazz/r&b vamp, and it grated on my nerves the first three times, but then I suddenly acclimated myself to it without knowing quite how. If Marillion made albums the old way, I'm pretty sure "House" would have gone on some other one. But they did it this year, so it goes on this album. Sometimes the years make sense of their own accord, and sometimes they don't. "What did I accomplish this year", you ask yourself on New Year's Eve. "What will I accomplish next year?" Not much, usually, in both directions, if you insist on forgetting that years only exist for our convenience. "What progress did I make?", you ought to ask instead. "What did I improve?" You'll make better use of tomorrow if you understand, beforehand, that it will resemble today in almost every detail. That is a day's nature. We demarcate years and decades, and especially centuries and millennia, which are larger than our real experience, because the pace of change, when you scrutinize it hour by hour, is maddening. We make so much noise about the end of the millennium, all of us who've lived through only its final throes, out of an ecstatic voluntary delusion that all millennia will go by as quickly as this one has seemed to. Within the remaining span of our lives, we want to believe, humanity will be transformed as radically, and radiantly, as it was between the Battle of Hastings and the inventions of the Human Genome Project and the Women's World Cup. The digits flip, with only our cursory encouragement, and surely everything else will put up as little resistance. For one night, we will pretend that our triumph is inexorable. And in the morning, when the world hasn't ended, and the weather hasn't even improved, we'll recall that triumph can be inexorable, only Fate is us. We have work to do. Farewell, all dead time. Welcome to the Aughts. We can fill our new age with anything or nothing. Tack a calendar to your wall, and let the zeros remind you, every day, to create something, no matter how small, so the future will be less empty.