Memento Mori

Alastair Meeks
4 min readFeb 25, 2024

If you’re not a fan of Depeche Mode, you’ve probably missed the fact that they’re reaching the end of a world tour. Depeche Mode are one of those bands who somehow don’t grab the headlines, but they are in fact stupendously successful, filling stadiums around the world. It’s fair to say that their time at Parnassus is well behind them; still, they have at least a dozen stone-cold classic songs to their name. They have many others that repay more attention. “Precious”, a song that skimmed through the top ten without leaving a mark on most of the public’s consciousness, is among the finest songs ever written about divorce. As with The Winner Takes It All, the simplicity of the lyrics speak from a personal experience that cannot be borrowed.

It’s at a live concert that their music is best enjoyed. Justly famous for their long association with Anton Corbijn, Depeche Mode provide visually stunning accompaniments to their songs. In turn, their songs come to life on stage in a way that few of them manage quite as well on record. For example, “Walking In My Shoes” on record sounds a little ponderous, plodding, predictable. Live, the direct lyrics as communicated through Dave Gahan’s sepulchral voice resonate over beats that are felt as much as heard.

Dave Gahan is utterly unconcerned about whether he looks cool, throwing himself into the music like a whirling dervish experimenting with dad dancing. His lack of concern somehow makes his coolness guaranteed.

“I’m not looking for absolution, forgiveness for the things I do. But before you come to any conclusions”, Dave Gahan sings. And the crowd, caught up in the moment, offers shamanic encouragement and roars: “Try walking in my shoes, try walking in my shoes”. It is a moment of ecstasy.

I’ve seen Depeche Mode twice on this tour. Last July I saw them in Zagreb indoors (I got to see the 1000th performance of Never Let Me Down Again, another song that really takes flight live). And at the end of June, on a shatteringly hot evening, I saw them in the Olympic Stadium in Munich.

Before the concert started, I took the opportunity to look around the rest of the audience. The average age was close to my own (I’m 56). It was very definitely male-dominated. While there were rainbow flags and coloured nail varnish, the general sense was of a gathering of German bourgeoisie, having a night off from their responsibilities as accounts managers and project supervisors.

My generation is coming to the end of its work life. It is in leadership roles now but soon Generation X will become Ex. It’s time to take stock of how we have done.

We entered the workforce in the late 80s and early 90s. It was a time of hope and fear, but more hope than fear. The economy was struggling but the Berlin Wall fell and with it the Soviet Union. The economy might be shifting eastward but the rising sun was Japan, another democracy. Our thought leaders talked of peace dividends and the end of history. The future looked bright.

As we rose through the ranks, we benefited from the great moderation. It’s funny, it didn’t seem easy at the time. How little we knew then. With rising salaries and rising house prices, we became an affluent generation without really trying. Of course, the generation above us scooped the pool with huge defined benefit pensions and opulent redundancy terms for early retirement, but that is the consequence of being on top of a Ponzi scheme. We did ok. We attributed it to our cleverness. Secretly, we still do.

A thunderstorm broke that night in Munich. The crowd got drenched and the heavens added their own son et lumieres to the stage show. I wondered nervously about the concept of Faraday cages. The show went on.

The great moderation fell apart in 2008, just as we were taking power. Oh, we weren’t particularly responsible for that. Still, we had the task of clearing up the mess.

We failed. 16 years on, we are still no closer to returning to the great moderation. We’re broke as a country and have no infrastructure projects to show for it. The younger generation are eating avocado on toast in exorbitantly priced rented accommodation.

That’s on us, Generation X. That was our generation’s task and we failed.

We failed at our other tasks too. In 2024 there is no peace dividend. We live in a more dangerous world and one we are ill-equipped to deal with.

Old and vicious ideologies are returning. Examples of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic language are now so plentiful in British politics that they are almost unremarkable. A national politician can talk of the Jewish lobby without any consequences for his career. Another can talk of the country being taken over by an Islamist mob and be defended by her party. We have failed to defend our values.

Worst of all, we have proven wholly unequal to the task of tackling global warming. Global temperatures continue to rise, at what appears to be an accelerating rate. The whole planet depends on getting that under control. We have made certain that the problem is going to be even worse than it needed to be. We may be beyond a point of no return now.

What can we say to the generations to come? The first thing we should say is sorry. Sorry, we were unequal to the challenges we faced. Sorry, we distracted ourselves with things that didn’t matter when we should have focused on the things that did. Sorry, we just didn’t care enough.

And to the Millennials and Generation Z, we should say: the show goes on. Find a new path. Ours has failed. Learn from us as a cautionary example. Don’t do what we did. Try not walking in our shoes.

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