Take Me Out

“That sound coming from those holes.

A voice that soars

and takes my wounds with it”

From “Take Me Out” by Red House Painters

 

One of my all-time favourite singer songwriters is Mark Kozelek.  He’s the only artist I’ve travelled all the way to London for to see play live.  Actually, I’ve done that twice when he played with Red House Painters. 

 

He is graced with the most beautiful male singing voice I know.  After seeing him play a solo gig in Glasgow last Halloween, my friend, Craig B, commented, “It wouldn’t matter if he just sang his way through the phone directory – I’d still turn up”.

 

I had the joy of seeing Mark Kozelek again in Glasgow on Monday night playing under his latest band moniker, Sun Kil Moon.  The line up was essentially Red House Painters minus Anthony Koutsos on drums with Eric Pollard of The Retribution Gospel Choir (another band that I’m listening to a lot at present given that the other two members are Alan Sparhawk and Matt Livingstone from Low) on the drums instead.  They played a captivating two hour set including songs from throughout Mark’s career. 

 

It was one of those rare gigs where you can tell that everyone is there because the really love the music and the songs actually hold meaning for them.  There was hushed silence as we soaked up every word, anticipated each detuned minor chord and inhaled the emotion that seeped through the holes in the speakers of the PA system. 

 

It’s a long time since I’ve been in a small dingy venue where everyone’s t-shirts are moist with the heat despite the crowd standing perfectly still.  My long suffering gig-going buddy, Keith and I were duly rewarded with one of the best gigs I’ve seen in a long time and we enjoyed great conversation in the car journey there and back.

 

I’ve mused in the past about the fact that we read the Psalms as a book without recognising they were originally songs.  I’ve commented on the content of the words we sing in church and the lyrics we hold onto outside of church.  Interestingly I picked up a book on Monday night called “Nights of Passed Over”.  It’s a collection of Mark Kozelek’s lyrics and he notes some of the inspiration to his song writing in the preface.  The following quote on the back cover caught my attention;

 

 “The agony of our lives is that we cannot understand our experience while we live it.  Mark Kozelek provides the antidote to that agony, with a lyrical take on life that says even at its simplest and dullest, our lives are truly profound.  His words paint a picture of both the bleakest and the most beautiful moments of the human condition.  He can turn the most mundane events into vivid coming-of-age stories and the simple thoughts of a narrator into the words of a sage” – Kaki King.

 

Now, those are the sorts of songs I will chose to own.  That is the sort of creativity I yearn to discover more of to help me know what it sounds and feels like to be alive even in my darkest moments.

 

Much of this blog is inspired by music and books.  I was a late developer in forming an appreciation of the latter.  One of the first novels to really resonate with me was Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity“.  It tells the story of a guy called Rob who owns a record store and is trying to make sense of why all his relationships with the opposite sex failed.  That brief description probably doesn’t sell it, but it’s a tragic, insightful and witty read and the author clearly understands the way music feels to many of us.  On first reading it back in ’96, the following excerpt really struck me;

 

“Some of my favourite songs: “Only Love Can Break your Heart” by Neil Young; “Last Night I Dreamed That Somebody Loved Me” by the Smiths; “Call Me” by Aretha Franklin”; “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” by anybody.  And then there’s “Love Hurts” and “When Love Breaks Down” and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” and “The Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness” and “She’s Gone” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” and…some of these songs I have listened to around once a week, on average (three hundred times in the first month, every now and again thereafter), since I was sixteen or nineteen or twenty-one.  How can that not leave you bruised somewhere?  How can that not turn you into the sort of person liable to break into little bits when your first love goes all wrong?  What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable?  Or was I miserable because I listened to the music?  Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?

 

People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over.  Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.  The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives.”

 

Do I feel miserable and melancholy right now?  No.  Did I feel all mopey listening to Mark Kozelek’s songs on Monday night?  No – I actually took great pleasure from the experience.  Do these songs resonate with some of my own experiences of the human condition?  More so than you could ever know.

 

 

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