Register Tuesday | June 19 | 2018

Damien Rice and Good Music

This is what I love about music. The evolution. The dawning acceptance. The waking up. When something is just that good that it grows and earns a life of its own. You can forget that writing and editing for magazines, which is what I do to earn a living. You forget that music has a life of its own outside the charts, beyond the ADD releases, well out of reach of the video music channels and corporate bludgeoning machine. It’s never made sense that music, or any art for that matter, would be considered for commerce. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I, in a very slight sense, define myself as a lower case “a” artist. I know myself more by what I put down for myself on the page than by the paychecks I get from magazines. Money has never really made sense to me. I just don’t get it. And I’ve never understood how music fit into that realm either.

Of course it does, and of course I do. I’m simply saying it seems odd to me, that’s all.

Music was organic to me as a youth. It has been, in every sense, the soundtrack to my life. I walk constantly around with headphones glued to my ears. I always have. I was the one making mixes for friends and girlfriends, finding new songs and artists and hoping to inject them into the veins of those I knew. Sure, sure, I would scoff, everyone knows the Grateful Dead. So fucking what? But do you appreciate Siouxie Sioux?

As I said, working for a magazine can damn near kill the reason you fall in love with certain artists in the first place. You found them, they were playing on some stereo somewhere, the chords just froze you. And immediately you had to track them down, the person responsible, the one who made this noise. And everything else they ever put down. Every record of time spent in a studio recording; the record of their efforts and emotions; pressed and you bought it. This record. And that lead me to other artists. But you forget about that at pop culture magazines because the life of an album is not something you invest yourself in. You go to shows and try to judge, by instinct or taste, whether something is going to strike a nerve. You write about them or you don’t; accept or discard. It becomes as much a commodity to you as it fills your need to find new music.

Today at work I peered in on Sarah, another editor where I work. She had a video on her computer, Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter,” off his debut album O. The video includes snippets from the new Mike Nichols film Closer, and the song has been in heavy rotation in its previews, and I’m hoping is used in the film.

“You like Damien Rice?” I said.
“Yeah. You?”
“I fucking love him. You kidding? I’ve lived with this damn album. I’ve tried forever to get us to do a piece on him, but it always falls short.”
“Really? I see him every chance I can.”
“Yeah. Me too.”

The first time I saw Damien Rice was completely by accident. In 2003 I went to the Bowery Ballroom on the Lower East Side to see a band. I don’t even remember who I was supposed to watch that night, but he was opening for them, and I had barely heard of him. Something about an Irish folk singer, that was really all I knew. I got there early to meet a publicist friend for a few drinks, to catch up.

We stopped speaking when he took the stage, opening with the first track off his album. “We might kiss / When we are alone / Nobody’s watching / I might take you home” he begins on “Delicate” and if you don’t get the idea that this is introverted, open-veined, surgically precise, emotional music then you don’t love music.

I ordered the album the next day off Amazon international and have listened to it constantly since then.

There’s a story I’ve heard about how the album came to be, and I’ve never investigated its truth because the fable is just so damn good. Living in Dublin, Damien played in a band and was about to head into the recording studio to record their debut. But he had been in love with a woman, and things had gone wrong. It broke him, turned him on his head, and he just left. Fuck it all anyway, right? He took his guitar and a bag over to Europe, busking on corners in European cities. He started writing songs, recording them as he went along.

I guess he returned to Dublin, where he tapped the ethereal vocals of Lisa Hannigan and ghostly cello of Vyvienne Long and they put down the series of songs all centering on his broken, bruised and battered heart. It’s an imperfect album with Rice’s inhaled breath and fingers running the strings as much a part of the songs as the lyrics and chords themselves. It’s a cross between old man Van, Nick Drake, Ani DiFranco and Beck’s last, but really not, that’s just to give you an idea if you are interested. Put it on and you’ll think it sounds like just what it is. A beautiful album by Damien Rice.

He called these songs O and a record label put it out. There are a thousand reasons the title fits the songs. Mainly, because isn’t that the nature of love and relationships? They go around again and again, two people circling each other, neither learning from past mistakes, from past hurts, both with broken wings and blind the what might lay ahead. It’s an album meant to be played as a whole, the songs repeated on top of each other, just playing again and again, one after the other, in a circle as the CD spins round and round. I think these are the obvious answers, but damn if they don’t fit the songs perfectly.

To me the O is a simple thing. It’s the open mouth when a relationship ends. You walk around shattered and lost, glazed eyes, your mouth agape in shock. Stunned. On pause. It’s the silent internal wail that nobody but you hears, and it repeats in the echo chamber again and over.

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In the near two years that I’ve had the album I’ve flipped back and forth between which song is my actual favorite: “Cold Water,” “Eskimo,” “Amie,” “Cheers Darlin’,” “Older Chests” “The Blower’s Daughter,” or “Delicate” there is one song in particular that means the most to me.

After Mel and I ended I walked around for a long time with that look, that stupid self-gratifying and pitying internal wail. My mouth open. I remember when I claimed “I Remember” to be my own, mine, no longer his, but stuck in my skin. We had just had a horrible talk, the same one we always had, ending the same way, with me pissed and confused and without answers and wondering what the fuck her problem was. I grabbed my iPod and headed over to the Promenade. Sat there and smoked cigarettes and stared at the buildings. It’s a gross image.

At some point “I Remember” came on. It starts with Lisa Hannigan singing the tale of the first time this girl fell in love with this boy. “Want you here tonight / Want you here / Cause I can’t believe what I’ve found.” There’s lament to her tone, an over the shoulder glance of someone looking back. Midway through the song goes silent for a few seconds before Damien’s guitar comes tip-toeing back in. He starts off rather calm, but then unhinges, the song gathers steam and loses form and wails, his voice scratched and loud. He sings:

“I wanna hear what you have to say about me / Hear if you're gonna live without me / I wanna hear what you want / I remember December / And I wanna hear what you have to say about me / Hear if you're gonna live without me / I wanna hear what you want / What the hell do you want?”

That was when I took ownership. That was when I had the thought every music fan knows. “That was me. That was exactly what I’m feeling. That is what I am going through. Those were my words. Fuck.”

Normally I am overly protective about my music. I hate when artists I love become big, if only because I want to be the one to introduce them to the world. Bit by bit and over time. You hear the song on a show. You see a live performance from Austin City Limits on television. Normally I hate those moments, but for some reason I didn't when I watched the video for “The Blower’s Daughter” that goes along with Closer (you can watch it here), because there is something inherently cinematic to his tunes, something that demands you put yourself in a scene as you listen. And sometimes, too, you just don’t want to be the only one in on the secret. Especially now. We want great music. We need great music, and this is worn and young adult great music.

Sometimes music takes awhile. An artist goes about doing his thing until the right moment hits, and then everyone perks up an ear. That’s what’s happened with him this past year. So go buy the album. You should. You won’t regret it. Have I ever steered you wrong?

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[NOTE: I will be off Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving. Have a great holiday. And remember, we kicked the hell out of those Indians, so eat up! Safe holiday everyone. See you again on Monday. Peace.]