The Dark Road Diary, Part 28: 60 Seconds to Come Undone


As it happens from time to time, we head down a path towards something we are certain of only to arrive uncertain of who we are, where we landed, and why we left our locked-down inevitability in the first place. This is the 60 Second Answers to me. 

The whole thing was my idea, meant to be quick, artful, honest, and immediate— just SJ and I in the stale air of Dead Starling studio. On the cusp of releasing two new recordings, it was a creative response making peace with the internet’s demand for content (a reality if you set up shop on the thing). It was part potshot at the short attention span of internet culture and part experiment to see what would happen if we clamped a ridiculous time limit on addressing big questions of a personal nature. And privately, it was going to be a place I could flex a new-found/hard-won conviction that I “knew a thing or two”, the byproduct of a truce with my otherwise unmoored mind while I was mixing DARK ROADS and ROUGH GODS in the late summer.

It backfired. It became painfully obvious—even as the first round of questions were being shot— that I was not who I thought I was, not capable of what I thought I was, didn’t know what I thought I knew. I wasn’t prepared for the storm in the eye of the question, and the videos are a record of a man slowly coming to terms with a panic that obliterates. The other man in the videos –SJ– has the unenviable task of repeatedly watching that sun come up on the man, the dawning of understanding “there are a lot of things we are not going to get to be”.

At 56 years old, I’m coming to recognize the consequence of knowing and the despair of not knowing. This is a weighty thing in a time where that despair can easily become a wildfire. The fuel is uninhibited access to that kind of ‘information’ that is mostly opinion, parading as fact. Neither of those is a story. And that’s what we’re yearning for, I think: stories. Not certainties. And they’re in short supply. Right now the story includes me developing the skill of being gracefully uncertain of things, making friends with NOT knowing.

There’s the storm in the eye of the question. And it might be that NOT knowing is the calm in the eye of that storm.

gh


The Dark Road Diary, Part 27: A Few Of My Favourite (Coveted) Things


Welcome to that plea for all your unsuspected kin,
Travelling that lost nation road even now.
We are modern, we are homeless, and we are confused by freedom.
And so we’ve left them to themselves, or to each other, or to their god,
As we ourselves seem now to have been left.*

*From Invocation, by Stephen Jenkinson, from ROUGH GODS

Lisa Hodgson and Stephen Jenkinson, Dead Starling Studio, August, 2020.

You know the cliche: the songwriter hears a great line and mutters to no one, “Damn…wish I’d written that.”  It’s a private moment, not a proud one. There aren’t many words or lyrics that I’ve wished I’ve written, not because there haven’t been a great many lines I wish I’d written (there have!), but because I understood early on that it was a waste of a good wish. Instead, I figured out how to get inspired….try to locate something in my own learning that gave me the same response as the thing I coveted…or at least aim at it.

We are modern, we are homeless, and we are confused by freedom is one of those coveted lines. I wish it was mine. I really do. It’s perceptive, elegant, simple, dead true, heartbreaking and comforting all at the same time. It’s a keen summation of the current world. The line explains a lot about why things are the way they are but doesn’t have to explain itself. It promises no change, offers no hope, is not yet another call to yet another toothless revolution. It’s a scathing indictment and as gentle and non-judgmental as a thing could be. On stage, making things up as we went along, I came to always wrap that line in something different from the rest of the Invocation. It became something we aimed at, that line did. A gathering point, and a turning point.

I’ve been absolutely wary of trying to turn any of SJ’s stuff into a song. The alchemy of “prose into song” is dangerous and there isn’t a word that has been written that can withstand any mishandling. When we decided to make an “echo” version of the Invocation for ROUGH GODS, we began with the idea of having it read by another voice. We tried me reading it, and I was awful. Then came the notion of having it intoned, and then, finally, sung. We first settled on Lisa reading and then the question: what if she sang it? I was resistant to the whole notion, but applied myself to the situation.

Wariness aside, I’d long privately thought that were I to try turn some of SJ’s text into song, I would aim at My Favourite Coveted Line so, naturally, it was the first thing to emerge as promising. Through twists and turns in different arrangements, it became what you hear …an R&B inflected lament to the way things are. All the other melodies that came to be for the other sections of The Exegesis owe their existence to the fact that this section made itself known to be worthy of the rest of the effort. Recording is rarely easy, in my experience, and Lisa and I had to try a few different approaches to the singing of all the sections in The Exegesis over the months, with Stephen chiming in from afar. When she sang this verse, though, we all knew it had found itself and no tinkering was needed, and the challenge became having everything else sound as at home with itself. I think we found our way through pretty well.

Having the coveted thing is rarely as satisfying as the coveting would promise. Be it a lyric, a haircut, a cool brown leather jacket from Germany that your producer was given by someone famous, or (and this is important) knowledge or wisdom from someone who maybe has seen more life than you: something earned is better. It will take you further and will be more valuable to those to whom you will eventually leave it. But the coveted thing might be something to aim at, a clue as to where to rummage around in your own life for something you’ve missed noticing. Careful, though: might not be what you expected. Or wanted. Or wished for. Another classic cliche.


Listen to an excerpt from Exegesis, a couple of the sections leading up to the Coveted Line.

The Dark Road Diary: Part 26


COME THE ROMANS, COME THE WEST.

Listen to Come The Romans now. Recorded live in Los Angeles, Nov 21, 2019.

We sat on the side of the road somewhere in a car, me making an ineloquent case for turning a massive chunk of writing into a morsel for NOGM, him politely listening.

My case was this: Part of my dismay at living in the modern world stems from not having a relationship to the story of how things got to be this way. We act like a people that knows something is wrong, but we can’t quite put our finger on it, and we’d rather not see what lurks behind the myth we’ve created of “us”, a myth created to ease the nagging discomfort of our homelessness. When the shit keeps hitting the fan, this dislocation cripples any chance of a graceful response to difficult times. In a free fall, every move is a flailing, desperate one and in daily life, that thrashing translates into cruelty, injustice, intolerance, entitlement…arguable hallmarks of western civilization.

My job in the NOGM enterprise can be described as creating a temporary container for SJ’s text. Initially, I set the words against a slow chord progression based on a song I’d been trying to write since 2014, What The Masters Have. I think we tried it a few times but found it to be a slog. So, I ditched the chord cycle in favour of a two-chord riff, traded the ballad tempo for a “slinky-assed” groove, and made room to be able to invent vocal parts on the fly depending on how the text was unfurling on any given Night. What The Masters Have was retooled and inserted as an interlude between Come The Romans and it’s conclusion, Come The West, and appears that way on DARK ROADS.

There is so much that is good and sane in this track. This excavation of the wreckage of cultural shame is, in its’ own way, comforting in that “Well, now I can at least see the monsters coming“ kind-of-way. Once you catch a glimpse the bigger picture, you can start living your end of things more responsibly. Anything else is just yelling at the storm.


The Dark Road Diary: Part 25


Implode. explode. unload. reload.

Most of the last 200 days or so, I’ve ridden the bike to this door and contended with making a record. Two records, actually.  Its a computer based thing these days, recording is, and the Mac says that so far there are 10,551 separate files that make up these records. I’m not sure if that is too many or too few, but each of those files was created by a keystroke that was in turn created by a decision that came from a kind of formula like this: Implode. Explode. Unload. Reload.

Implode
To begin, you set charges at the foundation of what is comforting and comfortable in your understanding of what you have built in the past. Lean on the detonator. The idea needs to come down so that something new can take its place. That is, if you want to make something you haven’t already made.

Explode
You take that rubble and apply an unearthly force to it so that all the pieces are suspended, and more importantly all the spaces between those pieces can be wholly accessed.

Unload
A kind of editing…convinced you are right, you go fully down one road, get lost for a time, refuse directions if they are offered, and finally return to start again.  You let go of more than  you keep, hoping that you’ve discovered what is useful.

Reload
Reassemble the pieces. This may be the hardest part: Agree to repeat the above steps until enough is burned away and what is left is something that is recognizable by you as the idea you didn’t know you had. 


Making something that isn’t being asked for is like looking for something that you don’t know you’ve lost yet. Its only when you find it that you know you didn’t have it.

Equally, it’s like waiting to be found by something that doesn’t know it is looking for you. Either way, it won’t feel like you have much say in the matter, so if power is your thing, this formula of mine won’t be for you. The work of it is making yourself available to find or be found.


To pre-order the recordings, go here:
https://orphanwisdom.com/dark-roads-rough-gods/