Saturday, September 10, 2016
I've long thought that if ever I actually got into music, I'd end up a lot like Damien Jurado. His recordings reflect his mood, which, like most of us, bounces around like a bumpy road. Some songs are really upbeat, most are downtrodden. I can't tell if his tunes are confessional, as a release, or more about trying to put a face to a feeling. Tales of suicide, cheating, running away all suggest he's trying to evince some storied pain from his life, but perhaps it's more that his dark feelings make sense as a song about suicide, relationship issues come out as stories of cheating, feelings of entrapment create stories about running away (or toward.) It's hard to tell, but whatever it is, it's heartfelt.
Damien Jurado's made up the soundtrack to much of my adult life. I caught him opening for someone maybe around 2002 or 2003? He opened either for Songs: Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co. or Baptist Generals? Or maybe it was two separate shows or some combination? My memory's not so good anymore. Either way, it wasn't particularly captivating or memorable, likely because I was a dumb kid who hadn't actually experienced anything in life. I nevertheless was compelled to get a copy of his rock album "Gathered in Song." On a lark, I put it on one day while driving and it just fit. Upbeat, rocking, catchy. I listened to it dozens of times over the next couple of weeks. I found his other albums and listened to them while I worked.
His voice isn't fabulous. Although from the northwest, there's a steel-belt rustiness to his work. Typically, he employs only a folk-singer's tools with little embellishment. Simple, classic, but aiming right for the heart. His first album, 'Waters Ave S.' starts off with a failed engagement. Damien's voice struggles to maintain tonality; this is clearly a guy who HAS to sing this song. To say it's a catchy song about "heartbreak" misses the point. This is really a catchy song about the aftermath. The emotionality and changing of tones, the lost future and the struggle with finality. It's a painful, simple song that I've both listened to, and experienced, a thousand times. Fast forward to a light-hearted, almost joke song about a "space age mom." Bouncing down the bumpy road.
Next album starts off with an abandoned girl traveling to see her mother ("Ohio," perhaps Jurado's best known early song.) Fast forward to "Honey Baby," a jangly ode to love, if nothing else. These songs are experiences, tales of life. They go to dark places, they tell of inescapable contrasts and tragedy, they're frantic, they're fraught; they're catchy, upbeat; they beat you over the head and pick you up. Then 'Ghost of David' comes out and is the essential soundtrack to sadness.
It's hard to retell a long career and its meaning to me at each step. Damien's latest work has been far more complex, all apparently related to a complex, rough dream he had. Can't say we all haven't been there - but he's spent a couple albums now telling the tale and working through the meaning, to wonderfully colorful, vast results. It's tough to do that with a guitar and simple band, so these have been nearly psychedelic albums. I'd say that's a departure, but really, it's life. Some things in life have to be dealt with at their level, not from the place where we're most comfortable, which is pretty much the only analogy I can come up with for Damien's music. Gotta work through some shit? Spend an evening writing and rambling and listening to Damien Jurado.
Oh, yes, this is on my mind because Damien's coming back to the St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle later this fall. Tickets are probably cheap. There's no better place to hear, well, anyone. Last time, his son played piano and it was quite moving.