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

Sunday, September 21, 2003
ELTON JOHN’S WAY OUT
When originally released, “Are You Ready For Love?” was the follow-up to “Song For Guy;” though not officially designed as such, there was a strange appropriateness to the choice. “Song For Guy” was Elton’s temporary resignation letter to pop; at the time of the road accident which claimed the life of the Rocket Records bike messenger to whom “Song For Guy” was dedicated, Elton was weary of work, tired of Taupin, pummelled by punk more than he cared to admit – for confirmation of this very real desperation, see his earlier 1978 single, the extraordinarily neurotic “Ego,” which pointedly has never appeared on any of his Greatest Hits compilations, even though it is the finest single of his career (if you want it, it’s included as an extra track on the CD version of A Single Man). So “Song For Guy” was a requiem for himself as much as for Guy. Such a quiet, unassertive tune, and almost entirely in the major key apart from half of the middle eight, Elton was alone here, with his piano, synths and a strange drum machine which sounds like a sampled tennis ball being struck. The whirls and hums from the synthesisers foresee the complete embrace that would be Joy Division’s “Atmosphere,” lay the ground for the blanket of snow which would obscure the cover of the latter.

Anyone still labouring under the delusion of jolly speccy showbizzy Elton should take a good listen to the 16 tunes which comprise CD1 of the recent 3-CD Greatest Hits 1970-2002 compilation; only Gilbert O’Sullivan rivalled Elton in the ‘70s charts for bleakness and darkness. “Your Song” is an apology for writing said song, “Rocket Man” might as well be about a drug trip, and on it goes – “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (and hear the album from which the latter comes – “Funeral For A Friend,” “Love Lies Bleeding,” and of course the original “Candle In The Wind”), the last-minute about-turn from suicide which is “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” the pre-Blue original of “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” the tip of the colossal iceberg that was the Blue Moves double album, a 1976 record as nihilistic as Station To Station. Even the uptempo rockers are resigned: “Crocodile Rock” is a eulogy to an age now spent (“Susie went off with another guy”); “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” is the precursor to Sham 69’s “Hersham Boys” with a dash of John Martyn’s necessary cynicism. The feeling “Nick Drake gone pop” applies very strongly to the ‘70s Elton – especially if you listen to his extremely Drake-ian first three or four albums.

“Song For Guy” is left until the end of the second CD, which indicates that he still regards this tune as a sort of last will and testament. As a method of grieving it’s as poignant and devastating as King of Woolworth’s “Delia Derbyshire.” The voice only enters in the final minute or so, and even then it is purposely mixed down, slightly off-mike: “Life isn’t everything…isn’t everything…isn’t everything” he repeats thrice (you might want to envisage the last “isn’t everything?” as a question), trying to persuade himself that he is singing the truth, before confessing defeat and intoning “Life…life…life…life…” lower and lower, as though his own life is draining out of him.

Thus “Are You Ready To Love?” A Thom Bell production and co-composition, on which Elton only appears as virtually the hired vocalist, originally recorded in 1977 but issued in 1979 in the absence of anything better to put out at the time, it did indifferent business saleswise. But in the context of “Song For Guy” – and particularly in the context of its recent reactivation and being added on at the last minute to the end of the third CD of the current compilation – it comes across as a way back into life. “Sing a song to yourself, think of someone listening,” advises Elton, singing more or less to himself, before the orchestra and percussion sweep him up into their current. “Are you ready for love? Yes I am! Oh yes!” he exclaims. The high-pitched flutes and slightly boxed-in production actually give the impression of a British studio production – early ‘70s British white soul-pop jewels like Junior Campbell’s “Hallulejah Freedom” spring to mind – and the climactic climbing semitone modulations seem to scream/plead: “Look! I’m still alive!” And although this climbed no further in the charts than #42 in 1979, it’s appropriate that the next Elton single to climb as high as “Song For Guy” was 1983’s great, if ever-so-slightly-smug “I’m Still Standing.”

BIG BOI OUTKLASSED BY ANDRE SHOCK HORROR
There’s a new double album by OutKast – or at least under the “OutKast” imprimatur – which is clearly the most reluctant double album in the history of double albums. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below does not constitute a one-album-too-many diarrhoea of a double album, like Use Your Illusion, nor a collection of songs made in isolation under a convenient banner by a group whose members detested each other, like The White Album, but two entirely separate and distinct albums which nestle next to each other most uncomfortably by the two separate halves of OutKast, who seem to have come to a mutual agreement not to bother each other, for whatever resentful reasons. Speakerboxxx is, therefore, a Big Boi album, and The Love Below an Andre 3000 album, and the CD booklet emphasises the division, with separate sections, upside down from each other, and separate credits. The difference in the two approaches can be summarised in the fact that Big Boi advertises pit bulls in his section, while Andre 3000 advertises rather lurid paintings, or perhaps they are just posters (“Lady Lava,” 21” x 39”, limited edition, $65.00).

In any case, Speakerboxxx, Big Boi’s half of the package, need not detain us long. The fact that the opening “Ghetto Musick,” the only instance on either album when the two actually collaborate on a song, stands so conspicuously above the rest of this album is embarrassing. Nonetheless its electroclash/d&b collision/collusion is superb, even if the new Basement Jaxx record makes it sound a little cumbersome, and the schizophrenic split between the speed rush (“Turn me up! Don’t turn me down!/Cut me up! Don’t let me down!/Climbing out this hole/With a frown on my face!”) and the Patti Labelle ballad sample (Andre 3000’s deeply sardonic exclamations of “Feeling good! Feeling great!”) is pleasantly disorientating. “Unhappy” isn’t too bad either; almost a hip hop follow-up to Heaven 17’s “We’re Going To Live For A Very Long Time” with its refrain of “Might as well have fun ‘cause your happiness is done and your goose is cooked!” Thereafter, however, we are effectively presented with a George Clinton album, and an indifferent George Clinton album (The Pinocchio Theory?) at that. “The Way You Move” is quite affecting in its hip hop salsa mode, but both Lemon Jelly and Girls Aloud have long since outdone this sort of thing. “War” is perhaps the least effective post-9/11 song since whatever that Paul McCartney one was called (its platitudinal ineptitude made to seem even more inept when I followed it with Phil Ochs’ unparalleled 1969 meditation on the JFK assassination “Crucifixion” – possibly Van Dyke Parks’ greatest arrangement and production: Elliott Carter strings methodically eating away at the song’s vanquished idealism). “Church” ponders the metaphysics of Why Am I Here (“What about you eating dinner in the devil’s kitchen?”) to no remotely eerie or profound effect. Worse is “Bamboo (Interlude)” wherein Big Boi takes great pleasure in provoking his infant son to say “motherfucker.” That’s the way to bring kids up, eh? By the time we get to “Knowing” Big Boi has been reduced to copping the “Unfinished Sympathy” rhythm. Things pick up a little with “Hip Hop Rock” which, with its plaintive piano intro/outro and irritatingly familiar surf guitar lick, cruises a wobbly bridge between Buggles and Dick Dale, though guest Jay-Z sounds like the Barron Knights doing Jay-Z. “Reset” works better than any of these tracks because the volume and braggadocio are turned down in order to make uncertainty and fragility audible; the kind of pause for thought at which OutKast, at their best, are untouchable (see the closing 15 minutes or so of AqueMini) and “Last Call” is musically sufficiently ghostly and askew to override its tired pimp fantasy lyric. Overall, however, Speakerboxxx is a disappointingly flat and restrictive listening experience. It’s as if Big Boi had not listened to any Def Jux or Anticon, hadn’t realised how high they have raised the bar these last three years; nor indeed the effortless hypnotism which Clinton at his best (the 15 absurdly ecstatic minutes of “Not Just Knee Deep”) can induce.

But on the other hand…
…you need to purchase this record, even if to consider Speakerboxxx the bonus free CD (like that absolutely unnecessary hour of The Coup “live” tacked onto the reissue of Steal This Album). Oh yes you do. Because Andre 3000’s half of the bargain, The Love Below, is a ridiculous and profound work of genius which comprises the most sublime pop-and-beyond music to be heard on record this year, which not only out-stanks Stankonia (compare any five seconds of this record with Big Boi’s cynical “Beginning to feel like Ms Jackson got cloned!” on Speakerboxxx’s “The Rooster”) but puts, say, someone like Cody ChesnuTT into proper perspective – much as I love The Headphone Masterpiece, even I am compelled to admit that, great as he is, and greater as he will be, Cody C offers us a book of rough sketches when set next to the assured mastery and mischief of The Love Below. D’Angelo spiked by Spike Jones, Dalek brought closer to everything via Peter Wyngarde.

How to start? Well, let me not bore you even deeper with the standard spiel about orchestral utopia and unresolved feelings about the Other and is it real of course it’s not real except it is because the rhetorical repetition of such devices have long since climaxed so actually I could dive right to the other end and just say for fuck’s sake buy the thing and it starts with an orchestra and it starts with the family picnic pictured on the inner sleeve of Andre’s half of the booklet and my goodness is that a sunrise or a sunset well it could be either OF COURSE. Andre croons tremulously over lush/lusting strings and then this guitar straight out of Dalek just comes slashing in (even with the same 6/8 grind of “Forever Close My Eyes”) before slashing straight out again, and then suddenly we’re at the cabaret with “Love Hater,” Andre serenading us over a steady swing like Al Jarreau trying not to morph back into Leon Thomas. “Everybody needs a glass of water today to chase the hate away/You know you’ve got company coming over (Wyngarde parallel again – “Come In”)/…Everybody needs someone to rub their shoulders, scratch their dandruff.” The Sharrock guitar briefly bursts back in after Andre’s first “too late” but otherwise he is left to croon to our better selves.

Already this is so much more fun than boring old Speakerboxxx and also much more profound. And the skits are actually funny. Over a plaintive acoustic guitar, Andre talks to “God”…”Damn, you’re a girl!” before pleading for the Perfect Other, not forgetting to stipulate that she should not have a “fat ol’ ass.” He strolls off, happy, praying “Amen…sorry, A-lady!”

And it’s straight into the fabulous-yes-it’s-Prince-like-yet-again “Happy Valentine’s Day” wherein Andre cheerfully lays into the spuriousness of said commercial event (“I don’t get myself caught in the Jello gelatin and pudding pops/That others opt to call falling in love”), fantasising about meeting his ideal in a club, then realising the futility of such an exercise (“And if you don’t know me then how could you be my friend?”) before fading out with whoops of “Fuck Valentine’s Day!”

But then “Spread” begins cautiously to demolish Andre’s cynicism; he can’t help it, he’s falling for her. And beautifully it is expressed, too – lo-fi drum ‘n’ bass patterns meet elegiac Robert Wyatt keyboards and chord changes, though watch out for that elephant blast at 1:34. A trumpet bop chart emerges from the studied calm, and towards the end Kevin Kendricks’ piano starts to creep into Paul Bley-ish polytonality.

The skit “Where Are My Panties?” starts out like a standard morning-after scenario. “What time is it? 7:48? Oh my God!” the woman exclaims, though in fact nothing is articulated; the two of them are thinking their separate thoughts. Yes it was fun (“I wanna lay in her hair”) - “but what if she is the one?”

This segues straight into the most starkly beautiful track on the album, the desperately gorgeous “Prototype.” Guitars shimmer in a pool peopled variously by Johnny Marr and Style Council era Weller. It’s like Bedingfield’s “If You’re Not The One” taken to unthinkable spiritual peaks; hear how the supplementary “come here” vocals near the end recall a gentler, less worried Justin Timberlake. The words “I wanna say stank you very much/For picking me up/And bringing me back to this world” might sound banal in print. When listening to them sung, it’s as if these are the only words I want to hear, to express, because someone has brought me back to the world…the good-humoured ad libs at the song’s fadeout are almost tear-jerking, insofar as we already know that this state of bliss is not going to be permanent – the gradually detuning synth which emerges out of the “At Last I Am Free” ambience at the end, giving way to an unexpected blast of Ayler-ish free tenor blowing from Andre (“play baby play”).

And indeed doubts are already being forcibly expressed in “She Lives In My Lap” and the woman (Rosario Dawson) is already feeling exasperated. This is made more tangible in “Hey Ya!” which is, of all unlikely things, Jason Falkner-style power pop. Buried deep within the song’s superficial exuberance are the words: “But got it, just don’t get it until there’s nothing at all.” He’s already looking for a way out.

In “Roses” Andre seems to have decided in his mind that he’s dealing with a golddigger (“I said, ‘Darling, you sound like a prostitute pursing’”) but is it all still in his mind? The lovely little bass earthquake at 4:09 would seem to indicate that it might be. Following the bizarre skit “Good Day, Good Sir” in which Andre plays at being Jeeves (“The fiddler on the fuckin’ roof,” however) we move into “Behold A Lady” which starts as blank electro but proceeds into something more fluid. “You’re the anchor that holds me down,” he sings, but adds sadly at the end, “…but one day our kids will have to visit museums to see what a lady looks like. So if you find one, good sir, hold her tight. If you spot one, treat her right.” Current biological theory holds that the opposite may come true – that ultimately there will be no further need for men – but nevertheless it’s a coded warning to live and love.

“Pink & Blue” has nothing to do with the similarly-titled Dollar song, but is pretty transfixing; starting with a mangled sample of Aaliyah’s “Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number,” the song moves into a bleak electronic procession which briefly threatens to become Throbbing Gristle’s “United” before Andre starts to sing the praises of “Miss Lady.” Eventually, and with the greatest of stealth and subtlety, the song is taken to its successful conclusion by a full string section. Bewitched by love as art. “Love In War” acts as a kind of codicil to the song (“Cliché the end is near…Why can’t the story end like fairy tales often do?”), Andre still dazzled into believing that his newly found love is so fantastical as to be beyond belief.

But none of this is any preparation for the jaw-dropping damaged beauty of “She’s Alive,” which, readers, is, frankly, Radiohead. Observe Andre’s Yorke-esque falsetto set against carefully funereal, minimalist piano, but then observe what and who he’s singing about – his mother, who, deserted by his father, goes ahead and raises him anyway; soundtracked by taped speech from both. Moving in its intangible non-timidity is this song. As far as either album is concerned, this is its (their) heart.

But, having found love, he still can’t quite commit, partly out of continuing disbelief but mostly out of self-engendered fear. “Dracula’s Wedding” has him fretting the seat out of his trousers – “I wait my whole life to bite the right one/Then you come along and that freaks me out.” Standing beneath Andre’s window, with her bugle and her drum, is Kelis, who contributes hilarious asides (“And I can count, plus I make great peanut butter…and jelly sandwiches”) which only make one’s mouth water even more slavishly for her own imminent new album (“Milkshake” – everything that “Work It” should have been. “Their lives are better than yours!” Ha ha!).

We can skip over the next (unlisted on the sleeve) track, a drum ‘n’ bass crack at “My Favourite Things” in the Coltrane manner which is efficient enough but doesn’t even begin to approach the besotted mania of Big Brovaz’ berserk reworking of same (the catastrophic horror of the final verse – “shop ‘til you vomit” – which turns the entire performance onto and against itself). On the short and quietly acoustic “Take Off Your Cool” Andre bills and coos at an almost absent, near-ghostly Norah Jones, with some warning soprano sax squalls indistinctly in the background.

Andre now begins to sign off with the purring, stabbing “Vibrate” which sets maniacal drum tracks against a quiescent Fender Rhodes as Andre ponders on what may well have been an extended dream. Now left alone again (as he may always have been) he has to satisfy “the love below” by alternative means (“The circumcision has already begun…Muthafuck the wagon, come join the band!”). Towards fadeout he expands the picture (“Because Mother Earth is dying and we continue to fuck her to death”) before quickly constricting it back into the palm of his own hand (“Play with your own score sheet…and yes, God is watching you, but no need to be embarrassed”). Think not that he owns his shame – it is ours, his listeners, underlined by the song’s terrible assurance.

With the concluding “A Life In The Day Of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete),” he sends the whole thing into a backwards loop, starting from his meeting in the bar, and retreating back through his life as far as record company deadlines would allow. Backward drum tracks swamp him, light up the life now flashing before his eyes, while a queasy Thomas Leer synth line blinks incautiously in the middleground. It is not finished you have to finish it and you have to buy it…if only for Lady Lava’s sake.

INTERMISSION: PUBLIC INFORMATION ANNOUNCEMENT
Following queries from several Churchgoers, and as the information is not yet posted anywhere on the Internet, here for your dissemination is the full tracklisting for the forthcoming 5-CD Scott Walker box set, which is currently set for November release. As you will note, each CD has been compiled in terms of separate themes which run through Walker’s work. And even with 93 tracks to spare, I am obliged to point out the ones which the compiler inexplicably missed out (Scott 4 in particular seems to have been given a raw deal).

CD 1: In My Room
“The complete bedsit dramas”
1. Prologue/Little Things
2. I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore
3. In My Room
4. After The Lights Go Out
5. Archangel
6. Orpheus
7. Mrs Murphy
8. Montague Terrace (In Blue)
9. Such A Small Love
10. The Amorous Humphrey Plugg
11. It’s Raining Today
12. Rosemary
13. Big Louise
14. Angels Of Ashes
15. Hero Of The War
16. Time Operator
17. Joe
18. The War Is Over
(Track which should have been there: Two Ragged Soldiers)

CD 2: Where’s The Girl?
“Songs for, about or by females”
1. Where’s The Girl?
2. You’re All Around Me
3. Just Say Goodbye
4. Hurting Each Other
5. Genevieve
6. Once Upon A Summertime
7. When Johanna Loved Me
8. Joanna
9. Angelica
10. Always Coming Back To You
11. The Bridge
12. Best Of Both Worlds
13. Two Weeks Since You’ve Gone
14. On Your Own Again
15. Someone Who Cared
16. Long About Now (with Esther Ofarim)
17. Scope (Ute Lemper sings Scott)
18. Lullaby (ditto: nice, but leaves no space for crucial tracks such as:
Get Behind Me, Duchess, Winter Night, The Lady Came From Baltimore)

CD 3: An American In London
Scott sings Europe (i.e. Brel), Scott sings about America
1. Jackie
2. Mathilde
3. The Girls And The Dogs
4. Amsterdam
5. Next
6. The Girls From The Streets
7. My Death
8. Sons Of
9. If You Go Away
10. Copenhagen
11. We Came Through
12. Thirtieth Century Man
13. Rhymes Of Goodbye
14. Thanks For Chicago
15. Cowbells Shakin’
16. My Way Home
17. Lines
18. Rawhide
19. Blanket Roll Blues
20. Tilt
21. Patriot
(Completely inexplicable omissions: The Old Man’s Back Again, Funeral Tango, “lemon…bloody cola”)

CD 4: This Is How You Disappear
An alternative “greatest hits;” 15 shots of the hard(core) Scott.
1. The Plague
2. Plastic Palace People
3. Boy Child
4. The Shut Out
5. Fat Mama Kick
6. Nite Flights
7. The Electrician
8. Dealer
9. Track 3 (Delayed)
10. Sleepwalker’s Woman
11. Track 5 (It’s A Starving)
12. Farmer In The City
13. The Cockfighter
14. Bouncer See Bouncer
15. Face On Breast
(but no “Track 6” so Climate Of Hunter still requires a proper reissue)

CD 5: Scott On Screen
Compilation of film-related songs/film scores, rounding up stuff from The Moviegoer, Any Day Now, and pretty well all of Pola X
1. Light
2. Deadlier Than The Male
3. The Rope And The Coil
4. Meadow
5. The Seventh Seal
6. The Darkest Forest
7. The Ballad Of Sacco And Vanzetti
8. The Summer Knows
9. Glory Road
10. Isabel
11. Man From Reno (prototype of “Farmer In The City”)
12. The Church Of The Apostles
13. Indecent Sacrifice
14. Bombupper
15. I Threw It All Away
16. River Of Blood
17. Only Myself To Blame (from The World Is Not Enough!)
18. Running
19. The Time Is Out Of Joint
20. Never Again
21. Closing
(would have been nice to have included “This Way Mary”)

Now then…

”My arms are too short to box with God”
“The only thing I know is everything you love will die. The first time you meet that someone special you can count on them one day being dead and in the ground”
(Chuck Palahniuk, Survivor)

“The whole point about the suicide speech is to sustain a vocal note right up to the choosing of the gun, pointing to the temple, and then it has to change with a total vocal volte face, on the line ‘No! I haven’t got the energy.’”
(Kenneth Williams on Chekhov’s Platonov)

The original version of the Trent Reznor song “Hurt” appeared as the finale, or more accurately the coda, to Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, one of the key records of the ‘90s. On the record it follows straight on from the beyond-claustrophobic title track, where the music appears to want to cram itself into the smallest box in existence and suffocate (“The deepest shade of mushroom blue/All fuzzy/Spilling out of my head”) as Reznor fantasises about shooting himself. As the track ends there is an uncertain electronic hum, out of which Reznor quietly re-emerges to analyse his inbuilt failings as a human being. In his reading, “Hurt” steadily builds in sustained intensity until the catharsis can no longer be contained; at the song’s conclusion drums suddenly detonate as Reznor howls “If I could start again/A million miles away/I would keep myself/I would find a way” as a guitar screams its unqualified assertion. It is of course a great big enormous YES to life, a turning away from the NOness of death. It demonstrates that the entire point of The Downward Spiral is that the spiral can turn upwards as well as down. It doesn’t really resolve anything, but it’s better than the irreversible finality of the alternative.

Trent Reznor, of course, has the option. Johnny Cash, at the end, didn’t. So this year’s America IV: The Man Comes Around collection cannot now be viewed as anything other than a final reckoning. Although Cash planned more songs, and indeed had gone on to record some spirituals, accompanied only by his own guitar, which will be released at the end of this year, The Man Comes Around very consciously rounded everything up in his musical mind.

It’s a mixture of generally restrained readings of old standards, from the traditional “Danny Boy” and “Streets Of Laredo” through things like “In My Life,” “Desperado,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and even “Personal Jesus,” and a few of Cash’s own compositions. Cash is aware that his voice isn’t what it was, but still retains enough power to raise it to its former heights when absolutely necessary (hear the venom in his “Well, damn your eyes!” in his reading of the old gunslinger ballad “Sam Hall,” or the barely concealed vitriol of “Suddenly the music was gone, and this man and woman got cut off in the middle of our song” in “Tear Stained Letter”). The covers are usually simplified harmonically; nothing is allowed to embellish or obscure Cash’s delivery. There would be no point in his trying to emulate Art Garfunkel or Roberta Flack (or even Dave Gahan); he has the wisdom to bring himself into the environment of the song, so much so that the occasional guest co-vocalist (e.g. Nick Cave on Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”) seems completely unnecessary.

Much of the record can only now be viewed with the hindsight of knowledge that June Carter predeceased her husband; thus “I’m So Lonesome” and “Tear Stained Letter” take on especial poignancy, and the closing parlour piano singalong “We’ll Meet Again” (on which her voice is heard in the chorus) a particularly cruel irony.

So Cash is left to come to terms with his own myth, his own life, and the uncertain space where the two overlap. Thus he can even make a Sting song sound powerful and relevant, as he does with “I Hung My Head” which is the anti-“Folsom Prison Blues” insofar as he now grapples with the consequences of shooting a man just to watch him die.

But Cash’s reading of “Hurt” is the epicentre of the record, all the more powerful as it emerges out of the exuberant train-to-hell swing of the opening title track, which sees Cash’s cheerful precis of the Book of Revelations. It is now inseparable from Mark Romack’s video, which thankfully is included as a CD-ROM on the album. In the video Cash, looking old and ill, sits at the table in his front parlour, surrounded by pictures and mementoes of his life, weighing everything up and asking himself how true and worthwhile everything was. It is a cross between Krapp’s Last Tape and Major Amberson’s deathbed speech; it is of course the inadvertent deathbed speech for both Cash and June, who unforgettably and shatteringly appears on the staircase behind her husband as the performance nears its tremendous climax, looking at him with infinite worry and even more infinite love, willing him to repent while he still has a chance. The song’s chord structure is simplified, and pointedly Cash substitutes “I wear my crown of thorns” for Reznor’s original “I wear my crown of shit” – a relevant change too, as it links directly to the “thorn tree in a whirlwind” Biblical reference in “The Man Comes Around.” “Everyone I know goes away in the end” – and June will go away before he can. The piano continues to pound louder and louder, Cash tearing at the tent pegs which held his life together, threatening to overwhelm and drown the song just as Cash’s deliberately spilled wine will drown his sorrows. But when Cash gets to the same final two lines, he intones them (“sings” seems too small a verb to apply to him) with absolute intense certainty that I WILL NOT DIE YET.

Though no one can know how strong that thought lingered in his mind after June died. In an interview shortly before his death he asserted that religious faith had given him the strength to carry on for the four months by which he survived his wife (which he bore with a pain “so severe I don’t have the words to even start to describe it”) but that it was also important to him to continue devoting his remaining time to his music. So if we are looking for proof that “life isn’t everything” then the answer to the question “what’s the rest of everything” is not only what evidence of life we leave behind us when our lives are spent, but the things which make life, not just possible, not just desirable, but which might actually save someone’s life. As music appears to have saved mine.

“To think that I am not going
To think of you any more
Is still thinking of you.
Let me then try not to think
That I am not going to think of you.”
(Diane Arbus, from her 1959 notebook)


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