WOWEE ZOWEE (26)
June 27, 2018
One in a series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the subject of our favorite albums of the Nineties (1994–2003). A new installment in this series will appear each Wednesday during 2018.
I SEE A DARKNESS | WILL OLDHAM | 1999
Full disclosure: I know Will Oldham from having grown up in the hardcore scene in Louisville, Kentucky. We knew each other in highschool, have been on festival bills together, chatting backstage. I last saw him at my stepfather’s memorial. Despite being acquaintances, I admire his art from a guarded distance of spectatorial awe. My space here is short so, unfairly, I’ll stick to the anthem that has come to upstage the album.
Like “The Book of Love” for The Magnetic Fields, the song “I See A Darkness” distills a human emotion with such forceful compression that it threatens to swallow the project from which it emanates. The song has become a synecdoche for not just the album it names but the more complex and often self-ironizing career and oeuvre that surrounds it: having been covered by Johnny Cash, “I See A Darkness” has now entered the Valhalla of American songwriting. Grotesquely, even Neo-Nazis like it, perhaps because it tracks the death drive that simmers beneath homosocial camaraderie.
The song is not about suicide as punctual act. Rather, the song seems to me to be about the awkwardness of trying to talk about suicidal ideation, the intrusive thoughts that whisper of self-harm, as you hold onto life despite them. It does the dance of reassurance that you have to do as you disclose such struggles with people close to you whose very care for you is both a lifeline and, by virtue of your own reticence and their likely over-reaction, a kind of saving hindrance. It’s also about the life-chances of survival, estimating from the middle of one’s life whether or not one is likely to grow older, perhaps marry, and whether that endurance will feel like a heroic victory against tough odds or a numbed surrender to normative routine, and the fear that a lifetime of living with depressive illness instead of dying from it may savor of both, and an innermost hope that somehow it won’t.
Like other great songs by Will Oldham (“I Called You Back”, “Riding”, “The Curse”) the fact of its very extension and capacity to climb and modulate and continue over time belies the deep vein of fatigue and struggle in Will’s ragged, tender voice at any particular moment. It could collapse, and yet it doesn’t. Sometimes that’s enough.
WOWEE ZOWEE: Stephanie Burt on UNISEX | Anindita Basu Sempere on UNDER THE PINK | Mark Kingwell on DUMMY | Bill Nericcio on AMOR PROHIBIDO | Sherri Wasserman on HIPS AND MAKERS | Mimi Lipson on THANK YOU | John Overholt on BEN FOLDS FIVE | Jordan Ellenberg on GET LOST | Chelsey Johnson on PERSONAL BEST | Marilyn Snell on MAXINQUAYE | Dan Fox on DIFFERENT CLASS | Devin McKinney on IF YOU’RE FEELING SINISTER | Alice Boone on MTV UNPLUGGED (ALICE IN CHAINS) | Rob Wringham on SPICE | Joe Alterio on BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE | Jason Loeffler on SECOND TOUGHEST IN THE INFANTS | Rick Pinchera on EITHER/OR | Josh Glenn on THE LONESOME CROWDED WEST | Jennifer Krasinski on SUPA DUPA FLY | Sara Ryan on DIG ME OUT | Luc Sante on MEZZANINE | Molly Wright Steenson on I CAN HEAR THE HEART BEATING AS ONE | Franklin Bruno on ENGLAND MADE ME | Michael Campochiaro on IS THIS DESIRE? | Adrienne Crew on CALIFORNICATION | Drew Daniel on I SEE A DARKNESS | Veda Hille on THE SOFT BULLETIN | Vanessa Berry on TEENAGE SNUFF FILM | Tom Kipp on GET SKINTIGHT | David Hirmes on DOPETHRONE | John Hilgart on YORK BLVD. | Deborah Wassertzug on JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT | Adam McGovern on INVINCIBLE SUMMER | Brian Berger on TIRED SOUNDS OF… | Michael Grasso on MUSIC HAS THE RIGHT TO CHILDREN | Jen Collins on HURRAH | Flourish Klink on THE TEACHES OF PEACHES | Judith Zissman on TALLAHASSEE | Lauren Oliver on SOUND-DUST | Jason Cohen on IS THIS IT | Matthew De Abaitua on THE RAINBOW CHILDREN | Jenny Davidson on TIME (THE REVELATOR) | Crystal Durant on LIVE THROUGH THIS | Gordon Dahlquist on GARBAGE | Erin M. Routson on WASHING MACHINE | Carl Wilson on TEMPTING | Jessamyn West on ALL HAIL WEST TEXAS | Kaleb Horton on STREETCORE | Tom Nealon on BAZOOKA TOOTH | Erik Davis on DOPESMOKER | David Levine on FEVER TO TELL | Deb Chachra on MASS ROMANTIC.
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