Kyle Craft is a local guy who’s made it out there in the world; he put out a record on Sub Pop a couple of years back, which I found myself enjoying, not quite against my will, but more than I imagined I would: he’s just put out another one, which I guess is why he’s on my mind. I wrote before that his music couldn’t by any stretch be called original: it combines the theatrics of Bowie with Elton John’s almost showtune-ish take on the Band’s sepiatone Americana; his singing recalls Dan Bejar via Bob Dylan, and the way he careens headlong though the songs suggests that In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was no doubt a formative influence (and a quick listen to Craft’s old band absolutely bears this out).
I remember thinking at the time that Dolls of Highland, the debut, was a young man’s album, and I hope that doesn’t sound too condescending: as I drift ever closer to genuine Oldness I find I have a tendency to want to play the Wise Old Sage, but I’ll do my best to avoid falling into that trap. All that I mean by “young man’s album” is that young men tend to think their experience of the world is the only one and they therefore have a unique outlook on things: Dolls of Highland was billed as a “breakup album”, which is appropriate: for most young people breaking up with someone is the only thing of any consequence that’s ever happened to them so of course it’s something they’d address.
Hopefully as they get a little older they realize not everybody wants to hear about how you split up with your girlfriend, or you at least manage to find a way to universalize that pain so that the experience moves beyond your own narrow confines.
Regardless: it is a young person’s album, and I suspect that’s why I liked it: I admired how well it exemplified the way, even in our youth–perhaps especially in our youth–we mythologize the past: no one is more afflicted by nostalgia than someone three or four years out of high school and beginning to get hit with some of the slings and arrows of incipient adulthood. So you mythologize–parties become legendary, every private joke gets its own obelisk. Everything becomes fodder, and you can find yourself playing and endless game of Remember When.
I don’t know if Kyle Craft gets this, at leat not entirely. But I know he caught it if only for a moment on Dolls of Highland’s bri
ef title track–a song about remembering the goods times that was written by a guy who might have been all of 24 years old. The song, both here and on the album, segues into “Jane Beat The Reaper”, which is one of my favorite tracks on the album. One of the complaints I had about Dolls of Highland was that there were far too many Sad Eyed Ladies and Gypsy Women and Madonnas and whatnot: women who weren’t women at all but ciphers (something Pitchfork correctly takes him to task for on his new album). But the girl in “Jane Beat The Reaper”, even though she “paces Purgatory” a
nd pleads “who can take this hurt out of me” comes off as a real person, someone you might like to hang out with, who literally chases death out of the yard with a broom for interrupting her party. The girl in the song, in this song at least, is actually alive, and owns herself. She’s no one’s doll.
A couple of weeks ago on Facebook, one of my aunts posted a picture of her and some other relatives hanging out somewhere, and I was shocked, looking over it, how much my uncle, the oldest male of my grandparents’ five children, has come to look like my grandfather. It was a spooky kind of feeling, as during my entire growing-up he never looked all that much like his father: he was taller, and thinner, and while there might have been some resemblance, it was a faint one.
So who was this looking out from the photo? My uncle,
certainly, but grown seemingly so much older than when last I saw him, and heavier, so much closer to how my grandfather looked when I was fifteen or so: a stocky man with a growth of beard and hair gone white. It’s strange how this hasn’t happened to my own father yet: you can see my grandfather in his face, but he’s still recognizably himself. Or I’m too close to notice the transformation, the same way I’m undoubtedly too close to notice my own, how closely I’m becoming to resemble my own father, until the day I look and see with a shock how his features have swum up from the depths of the mirror.
My grandfather’s been dead now sixteen years; my grandmother slightly less, and the both of them are still weirdly fresh in my mind. It’s so strange how we’re so daisychained to the dead, how daisychained we’ll one day be to the living.