Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Thoughts from listening to John Foxx’s “My Lost City” this morning

My copy of “My Lost City” arrived from Townsend Records yesterday, and I was anxious to listen to it this morning. I don’t make a habit of writing about my experiences with music. I feel that most reviews are pretentious, and I don’t really consider this a review per se—more my own mental ramblings after listening to the album. I think that music serves a religious function. When I say “religious”, I am referring to the Latin word “religare”—to link back or tie back. I find myself talking about this album because I think it serves that function very well.

I would say that many of the songs on this album have a hymn-like quality to them, if not somewhat fragmented. Reading Foxx’s liner notes on this does help put the album in context. It’s actually meant to be an album of fragments. Pictures made from the bones of old experiences. A tapestry of ghosts.

Why ghosts, though? What is the need of going back over the past, over things that are done and gone, and rehashing them? But that is how one makes sense of life. All of us ponder our ghosts at some point, no matter where they come from—places, people, events. The ones that haunt us are often the ones that reflect what we consider to be a failure—a memory of something wonderful lost, a sense of regret over the handling of a situation, something we wish we could go back to and do again, or fix. There is a sense of wanting “perficere”—to finish, to complete the situation as wished.

There is also the sense of “lost-ness”. The sense of being lost is ghostly in itself, because it is always a past or future thing—one is either experiencing a void where something was before, or they don’t know where they’re headed. Neither is “real”.

Regardless of where I am—I could be in my own neighborhood, in New York City, in Los Angeles, in London—people always seek me out to ask me things. And they’re not selling anything. They are lost. I commented aloud once after my input had been solicited by strangers for the third time in a 2 hour period. The person I was speaking to said, “Well, of course people ask you. You look like you know where you’re going.” He was right. I do know where I’m going. Nowhere. There isn’t anywhere to go. Life isn’t about rushing from one milestone to the next. As to past lost-ness, I’ve never believed in that. Everything is borrowed, and if it’s really yours, then it will find its way back to you, even if you appear to have lost it. Most of the time the only thing we lose are illusions. Clarity is a starkly beautiful bitch.

Fundamentally, we are fragmented. Our external experiences are only reflections of that, reminders that we are split in some fashion. Religion is supposed to provide a tool for integration, for linking those fragments back together in a way that is whole and harmonious. Sadly, religion today often fails at this—the tool is broken. Art and music are the only tools we have in this day and age for providing that link.

What I love about this album is how you really get the sense of harmonizing chaotic fragments, the bits that don’t seem to go together, the always imperfect attempts to bring some unity or order to those fragments. One gets the sense of going through the attic, finding things, dusting them off, deciding what to do with them, where they fit in. And like any good allegory—it’s not just a sense of old buildings, old memories. It also disturbs the deeper sense of separation.

If I take a step back and look at a lot of Foxx’s work, this is a continuation of a similar theme—the Quiet Man, Cathedral Oceans—the sense of looking back, putting fragments together, the sense of being lost, invisible, somehow all mashed up together in a collage, either visual or audio (or both). I consider it great art because it reflects something larger than the artist, a fact about the culture that we live in.

What fact? People are lost and they are broken, and haven’t a clue as to how to put their shattered selves together again—does anyone remember what it’s like to be whole? Brokenness is everywhere. People do different things with it. Some people collapse, some move through life ignoring the pain of brokenness, others try to build new structures out of the broken ones—or leave them behind for new structures entirely.

But brokenness is not something to despair; rather, it is to be celebrated. One should not be broken by their brokenness. To be broken is to be alive, to have been shaped in some way, not simply left untouched. What challenge is there in never being broken? I think one of the things I really like about this album is that it presents the pieces without judgment. They are simply there, for you to make what you will of the fragments. There is no aura of victimization here.

Enough said. I think this album is tremendous. In the sense of “tremendum”.

1 comment:

Lilla said...

You do have a way with words...:) It makes me want to go buy the album and listen for myself.