The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, December 10, 2002
DO YOU SEE?

I see a darkness, right enough. I see what this longest of all weekends has signified. I see a confirmatory if dim glimmer of light, a vague speck of orientation, within the enveloped embrace of the darkest of darknesses. I see what has to be done.

I see in the meantime, on my shelves, a dozen or so records by Will Oldham under various nomenclatures. I see sundry Palaces, two Bonnie Prince Billies and a brace of own name brands. I see that, would you believe, I See A Darkness is the only one of these which I have played repeatedly. I see in my mailbox a copy of a third Bonnie Prince Billy album, Master & Everyone. I see how the second BPB record, Ease Down The Road, was a walk towards us. I see now that’s that what Oldham wanted us to think. I see that Master & Everyone is more approachable yet also more alienating than his other work. I see its compact running time of 34 minutes.

I see in track one, “The Way,” a potential hit single – at least until you listen to what he’s singing. I see the more pronounced than ever vocal resemblance to Nick Drake. I see the anti-embrace of the opening lines, “Winter comes and snow/I can’t marry you, you know.” I see the steamroller irony of the ‘cello-underlined chorus “Love me the way that I love you.” I see that he is intent on moving away from himself and imagining himself as an ideal “third party.” I see the selfish faux-selflessness of the lines “Take a year in your life/You can find another man/Let your unloved parts get loved/And I will be your man.” I see that this is only for his benefit. I see that this can never be a hit.

I see the duet with an irritatingly unnamed female, “Ain’t You Wealthy, Ain’t You Wise?” I see that it’s not even remotely a love song. I see the reference/warning “now you’ve seen the Evil Eye/so hold on to me while I cry.”

I see in the title track a plea, or perhaps a demand, not to be loved by anyone other than himself – “Tell me you don’t love me….another gathers roses for me/On this we will agree…(I am) servant of all and servant to none.” I see this apparent certainly curdle to doubt in “Wolf Among Wolves.” I see his complaint that “she loves a soul that I have never been…every day when I come home to her/She holds a phantom/She kisses and she hugs him/And I am not averse to how she loves him….Why can’t I be loved as what I am?/A wolf among wolves/And not as a man among men?” I see the distant Aphex-like electro-microtones which quietly mock his mock self-deprecation.

I see how the sentiment and music are refracted into the poignant chord sequence of “Joy And Jubilee.” I see the Frippertronic guitar chiming and chafing at his celebration of himself which no one else could ever match. I see the return of “evil eyes” albeit “just passing through” in the funereal jauntiness of “Maundering” (another duet) wherein Oldham declares “I’m going to glorify everything good and put right what is wrong.” I see the bass guitar solo recalling “Wichita Lineman.” I see the intro of “Lessons From What’s Poor” trying hard not to be “Nashville Cats” before going into a hymn of self-glorification as Oldham sings, “He’s got the blood of father and mother…and he has a spirit that’s even mightier.” I see how he holes his own submarine with the payoff “Wealth is death/Of that I’m sure…Farewell.”

I see the remarkable opening line of “Even If Love” – “Once again in the world of 1200 feelings.” I see the music becoming ever quieter, fusing more with the artist. I see love becoming death. I see again how Hitchcock always filmed his love scenes as murder scenes and his murder scenes as love scenes: “From the roof I can see tombs pass the houses of the city.” I see Oldham sees love as useless protection – “love will protect you to the edge of the wood/and a monster will get you/and love does no good.” I see that it didn’t. I see more electro effects speaking “the truth.”

I see that the next song asks “Three Questions.” I see that the third of these is the only one he really wants to ask – “When everyone has called me out and said I am the worst/And asked for witnesses on my side/My love, would you sing first?/Would you say he’s OK?/He’s better than the rest/He’s innocent in God’s eyes/And in mine he is the best.” I see again how thin the line is between humility and arrogance.

I see that Oldham left out three songs from this album because his friends “liked them too much.” I see that perhaps these ten songs were enough. I see in particular how the last of these ten songs, “Hard Life” turns in on itself. I see it begins as a singalong. I see it narrowly avoids turning into Frankie Miller’s “Darlin’.” I see how he sings “It’s a hard life/For a man with no wife.” I see how this is a fate he has wished upon his own self-regarding worthlessness. I see how he strives, how he strains, to need and justify the Other.

I see how the song abruptly changes gear halfway through and turns into a plea for life – “But I ain’t breathing/Let me breathe/Let me go….let me drown/Let me go to where you don’t know.” I see how he can refract none of his self-love onto any Other. I see how he is the author of his own self-destructive orgasm of pleasure.

I see how strangely the “plotline” of this album parallels that of Rob’s Satyred Love – ostensibly Oldham’s antithesis, but really singing the same thing. I see how Jasper Milvain could conceivably be viewed as a better human being than Edwin Reardon, Gabriel Oak over Sergeant Troy, Adrians over visionaries. I see that he’ll never excite you but that he’ll never starve you either. I see the necessity for roots. I see how this record spends 34 minutes dwindling away into a cocoon of silence. I see that he is drowning in his self-built flotation tank. I see that I will need to re-absorb chapter 35 of Gissing’s New Grub Street – “Fever And Rest” – the ideal reading accompaniment to this album. I see you are becoming impatient. I see through you.


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