You could call it your life. You could. Life’s not answering to that, though. Life’s not even listening.
I’ve written a few books, but I’m no writer. Writers as I imagine them probably gather a life together that serves the writing, or tolerates it. Or they go without one, so they can write. That’s not me. I’m not going without a life so I can ‘create’. Whatever I’ve managed writing-wise, well, that’s where it comes from.
I’ve got a band, and I’m no singer, no crooner, nothing of the kind. Gregory Hoskins and I were touring in Australia a few years back. At a sound check the sound guy hollered for the ‘lead singer’ to get to the mic. Hoskins and I laughed, uneasily, because the sound guy meant me. Hoskins knew by then that I wasn’t a singer. He didn’t know if I knew it, though. Maybe I didn’t, still dreaming that the updraught of the music around me would make me a singer. Hasn’t happened. Won’t.
Through most of 2019 we toured as a seven piece outfit, and recorded a few of the shows we did, and just put the recordings away. We had a sense we were on to something. At the end of the year I rented a house in Oaxaca, Mexico, started to put some things together. When I had something going, Mr. Hoskins came down with a case full of neoprene keyboards and computers and I’ll never know what. He set the stuff up in the back room, and I half played/half recited what I had for him. Ten, then fourteen hours a day we went at it. And soon enough there was a shape to what we were doing, something urgent, adamant, and we knew it. There was me on the balcony in the middle of the night, crickets and village dogs close by, a click track in my ear, a microphone. Making a case for citizenship in a troubled time. No singing. There was Mr. Hoskins in the back room with a permanently out of tune Mexican flamenco guitar and orchestras at his fingertips, phrasing as we went.
Our tour manager was working on the 2020 schedule, we had what began to feel like a handful of exhortations and laments. We were readying ourselves for the road. We came up with a poster and name on our last day in Mexico: DARK ROADS/ROUGH GODS Tour. Then we turned on the radio for the first time in weeks, let the world in, and discovered that it was fevered and flayed and flailing for survival, a plague let loose.
So we may have been taking dictation from the great beyond, little summonses and pleas coming down. We may have been mistaking the gasping of the old and the afflicted for a mistral wafting up the valley where we dreaming and drawing down. The Gods of Chance had their way. The lines have been drawn again since, the plexiglass barricades thrown up. There’s no sign of them coming down. And there’s a terrible hankering to get back to normal. We are, it seems, on the Old Road going down into the mystery days.
In the idleness that’s been forced upon us we’ve made two records. I learned this: music is human scaled miracle.
They call it fishing, not catching. That’s because, though there may be fish galore in the places you can’t see, none of them are in the world to satisfy your hook, and mostly they don’t come. I don’t really know where these records came from, but I know they came to two men willing to sit quietly for hours upon days, keeping their faithless wits about them, paying attention, paying for it. We’ve been often quizzed at the border: what do you do? what kind of music? what’s with the Grief and Mystery thing? Palms up, shrugging: that’s an honest answer.
After sifting through the sound, music has become to me more like what Pythagorus might have meant: a murmuration of the world, the orbs, that the mind is granted temporary, blistering access to, that we oft mistake for our own thoughts.
Until we are granted leave by which to come to you again with Nights of Grief and Mystery, would that you overhear in these records something of what we overheard: the shuddering gyre of a world seeking after itself again, pleading for the attention and the hearts of its citizens.