Songs have the ability to create evocative memories of particular people and places. There are songs that help me to recall towns and cities I’ve been to in the past and even ones I associate with locations I’ve yet to visit. Map Ref. 41°N 93°W is the rather unusual title of a 1979 single by British new wave band Wire. The place this song always reminds me of is a Midwestern American town in Iowa named Centerville. I’ve never actually been there, but I once went to the trouble of finding out where it was and it’s stuck in my head ever since
Graham Lewis, Wire’s bassist and vocalist, had studied Geography at school and continued his interest in cartography after that. He wrote the first half of the song after observing an aerial view of the Midwest while on a domestic flight during Wire’s first tour of the USA. The second part was inspired by a train journey through Holland a few months later. In Kevin Eden’s book about the band, Everybody Loves a History, Lewis reveals that map reference 41°N 93°W are the coordinates of a town in the centre of the American Midwest with the rather appropriate name of Centerville:
There’s actually a place called something like Centretown, Iowa. The song is about travelling. I flew from L.A. to New York in 1978 and crossed the mid-west, and it went on and on and on and on. It was just incredible that this grid system was imposed on an enormous stretch of land. The other verse refers to travelling through Holland, by road, seeing all the dykes which is another grid system. ‘Curtains undrawn’ — seeing these blocks of flats, like dolls houses with people sitting in them all day with curtains undrawn. It’s a travelogue.
Apart from oceans, there are over 10,000 points on the earth where degrees of longitude and latitude converge. There’s even a website called the Degree Confluence Project whose objective is to visit, photograph and chronicle as many of these locations as possible. Their website shows that they first visited map reference 41°N 93°W in 2001 and again eight years later. I can’t imagine that there are too many songs named after “lines of longitude and latitude”. Sadly, neither report contains even the slightest mention of this catchy little number with the unusual title. I mean, the place isn’t exactly the centre of the universe, is it?
An unseen ruler defines with geometry
An unrulable expanse of geography
An aerial photographer over-exposed
To the cartologist's 2D images knows
The areas where the water flowed
So petrified, the landscape grows
Straining eyes try to understand
The works, incessantly in hand
The carving and paring of the land
The quarter square, the graph divides
Beneath the rule a country hides
Interrupting my train of thought
Lines of longitude and latitude
Define and refine my altitude
The curtain's undrawn
Harness fitted, no escape
Common and peaceful, duck, flat, lowland
Landscape, canal, canard, water coloured
Crystal palaces for floral kings
A well-known waving span of wings
Witness the sinking of the sun
A deep breath of submission has begun
“Wire always seem to be ahead of their time, no matter what they choose to exist in.” Pitchfork
There aren’t many bands that can boast a discography as influential as UK post-punks Wire can. From their inception in 1976 and their seminal debut LP ‘Pink Flag’ in 1977, Wire have continued to challenge the rubrics and conventions of their genre, always creating, never stagnating.
With 13 albums spanning close to 40 years, Wire are a band that simply cannot settle for one single identity. Their ever-changing aesthetic is set upon the juxtaposition of the familiar and the unversed, the comfortable and unsettling, the melodic and the brutal, the rational and the absurd.
After a hugely successful national jaunt in 2011, we are ecstatic to announce Wire’s return to Australian shores this summer in support of their critically acclaimed 2013 release ‘Change Becomes Us’. The band’s latest album is mostly comprised of original blueprints of songs from 1979 and 1980 and was met with glowing reviews. Whilst the band will be showcasing their new material, much to the joy of their diehard fans, they will undoubtedly revisit songs from their early definitive releases.
Since their last visit to Australia, part-time guitarist Matthew Simms has been sworn in as a permanent member of the band, offering his unique sound-based approach as a mainstay to the Wire fold. He joins the original lineup of Colin Newman, Graham Lewis and Robert Grey.
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