Someone I cared for greatly gave me this album, back when it was first released. I don’t think that it was meant as a goodbye gift, but events meant that it turned out that way. I haven’t seen them since. On most days there are a moments, however, when they hijack my thoughts.
The set opens with a Civil War stomp, a strummed jig and reel. Strings roughly hammered, rather than prettily picked and plucked. A song about soldiers that come, and soldiers that go. A song about fighting to be free. Its singer sounds like Steve Earle covering Townes Van Zandt. The voice drawing on, and dwelling in, the same dark southern gothic, that Nick Cave spent so long exploring. William Faulkner, Harry Crews, fire and brimstone, but the delivery, neither wrought nor theatrical. Instead, dead straight and honest. That of a reformed bad, hard, man, not begging for forgiveness, or reaching for redemption. The past is the past, ain`t no undoing it. To use the vernacular of addicts and addiction, it`s something that you’ve got to own.
Isobel Campbell`s simple but clever songs, I wonder, were they written with Mark Lanegan specifically in mind? Bruised and battered ballads of love, and its betrayal. Serenading a surrender to sorrow. Isobel`s intricate arrangements, and ethereal whispers, weaving in and out of Mark`s broken blues, washed in whiskey and drowning beer. Often offering a countering narrative. Hers the contrasting light to his considerable shade. Theirs the two sides to every story. The music, a mix of Cave`s Murder Ballads, and Lee Hazlewood. The rich baritone, somewhere between Earle and Tom Waits, spinning in a stumbling, faltering waltz with Some Velvet Morning`s Phaedra. Pieces, joints, that juxtapose fragile folk, and subtle chamber orchestration, with David Lynch / Angelo Badalamenti / Twin Peaks roadhouse tremolo twang. Resurrecting Johnny Cash on the brilliant Ramblin` Man.
As organ swells pay tribute to Fame Studios and Muscle Shoals, the lyrics take on a hell of lot more weight now that the party is over, that the circus has left town.
Isobel has scored, and Mark has sung,
“Life was an empty page, the world would write upon.”
“After all, don’t it feel like nothing.”
Just shadows, powder burns, from a smoking gun.
There’s such a sadness at Mark`s passing, because he seemed so fucking indestructible. In his memoir, Sing Backwards And Weep, Mark was incredibly candid, matter of fact even, about this habits and demons – demons being what other people call the things we do to dull pain and hurt.
“Still missing somethin`, you’ve never known what it was.”
There was no glamour in the unflinching manner in which he described drug use, and dealing.
“Unapologetic” seems the right and appropriate word.
It was the short-lived publication, Loose Lips Sink Ships, that introduced me to Mark Lanegan. Man, I loved that mag, it was beautiful. Edited by Steves Gullick and Chick, the layout, and Gullick`s photography, was stunning. This was over 18 years ago, when I was sending poetry and reviews, pieces, to Everett True. Along with Mark`s music they introduced me to marvels by Micha P. Hinson, The Icarus Line, Josh Pearson`s Lift To Experience, and Cass McCoombs.
Mark Lanegan Rest In Peace.
Portraits of Mark Lanegan by Steve Gullick.