[In September 2020, I began a series of blog entries discussing the themes and inspirations of my dark chamber-pop album Best Dead Masterpiece, scheduled for release on BandCamp in January 2021.]
(I strongly encourage you to pull up Lambchop’s Wilco cover, “Reservations”, and listen to it while reading this entry.)
I’ve always been intrigued by unconventional love songs. By which I mainly mean, “songs in which independent artists who are existential, even death-obsessed, write about or to people they are probably in love with, in anti-Hallmarkian and otherwise novel ways”. A great example is the song “I Love You Honeybear” by Father John Misty, as well as a good portion of his later album God’s Favorite Customer. There’s also the harrowing piece of work A Crow Looked at Me by Mount Eerie (which I will probably bring up a couple more times in the course of writing about my album), in which Phil Elverum chronicled different aspects of becoming and being a widower with a child (I think some fans may have tended to idealize his and his wife’s relationship because of this, when the reality was that she spent a large portion of her final days becoming someone he barely recognized).
You’ll probably gather that all of this interests me because of my own perspective. I may have been an idealist for all of a couple months somewhere around the age of five, but despite occasionally craving a certain sort of abstract intellectual romance, I am first and foremost a pragmatist. My experiences have never led me to feel that there is a “One”, but rather multiple Ones who teach a person different lessons at different times. To take it even further, I never really feel finished with the Ones (though they may cease to be front-of-mind), which is why a ledge in my apartment is decorated with four jars that have symbolic graphics and lights inside, each representing a One – including my domestic partner, who in part ended up with that title because he is fine with the jars.
My forthcoming album, Best Dead Masterpiece, talks about several relationships, not all romantic, but all with people who identify as male. Most of these were unhealthy for me in ways I couldn’t – or didn’t want to – recognize at the time (I’ll probably go into some of that further in a different entry). But my current relationship is definitely represented, and what those parts of the album share with something like Misty’s body of work is that you see not just the happy ending, but the aftermath of that happy ending. Yes, there’s a good relationship, but for an overanalytical, neurotic, existential person, a good relationship doesn’t wipe out the fact that you’re overanalytical, neurotic, and existential. The best it can do sometimes is not exacerbate the issue.
So there are longings you can’t put your finger on that maybe they can’t fulfill. Or you’ve got open wounds that have nothing to do with them that still need to be treated. Or they pose challenges to your creativity. Or, more often than not, you don’t share the same jams. That’s just real, and makes them no less of a great fit for you.
So yeah – I appreciate the honesty of a lot of unconventional love songs.
I’ll close with a few case studies, since I need sleep and barely know what I am hammering out at this point.
“You’re bent over the altar and the neighbors are complaining
That the misanthropes next door are probably conceiving a Damien
Don’t they see the darkness rising? Good luck fingering oblivion
We’re getting out now while we can
You’re welcome, boys, have the last of the smokes and chicken
Just one Cadillac will do to get us out to where we’re going
I’ve brought my mother’s depression
You’ve got your father’s scorn and a wayward aunt’s schizophrenia
But everything is fine
Don’t give into despair
‘Cause I love you, Honeybear”
“What would it sound like if you were the songwriter
And you did your living around me?
Would you undress me repeatedly in public
To show how very noble and naked you can be?”
“All these pointless benders
With reptilian strangers
‘Oh my god you’re so naive
You’ll leave this world in a drunken heave
Who’ll make the arrangements, Baby, them or me?'”
-Father John Misty
“Conceptual emptiness was cool to talk about back before I knew my way around these hospitals.
I would like to forget and go back into imagining that snow
shining permanently alone could say something to me true and comforting.”
“How can I convince you it’s me I don’t like
When I’ve always been distant
And I’ve always told lies for love
I’m bound by these choices so hard to make
I’m bound by the feeling so easy to fake
None of this is real enough to take me from you
Oh I’ve got reservations
About so many things
But not about you
I know this isn’t what you were wanting me to say
How can I get closer and be further away”