Old Age Traveller - The Problem of the Third Act

Impending old age presents a number of problems: not the least of which is reconciling one’s self to oncoming oblivion. Pondering elimination is a bore. More interesting is the puzzle of a way forward. Given the inevitability of the hopefully ‘eventual’ outcome, how does one motivate one’s self? What versions of life are there to be enjoyed given that you will never again bare toned shoulders in shirtless dungarees in a bar delighting the womenfolk of Stoke Newington? What romance and profit is to be found in work as your capabilities descend to dribbling in a bucket? What new method is required to ensure we battle termination in as virile a manner as one might? Where is the release before the release?

My search for role models has generally been found outside of the office. I learnt spirit and poetry from Leonard Cohen, integrity and resilience from Cathal Coughlan, softness and soul from the words of Mark Eitzel. The fact that the latter two are less well known than the former has not diminished their impact on my life. Nowadays, I work in the realm of song as often as I do in the realm of children, and the enjoyment of the lyric (in construction or reception) has not in any way diminished since realizing at thirteen that Bernie Taupin had partially interesting things to say. And there is, for me, a nonpareil in terms of dealing with the problems of the third act. One Scott Walker. Anyone entering the late period of a creative life and seeking a new aesthetic could do worse than looking in the direction of Walker’s later work. A pop idol in the Sixties, he has spent his years since turning forty making increasingly difficult and elliptical records that reach towards expressing the impossible. And while his achievements as a pop idol were substantial – Montague Terrace in Blue, (Brel’s) ‘Jackie’, ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ – it is his later work that will still be influential in a hundred years’ time. The beauty of it is that is does not care if you like it or not; it makes no attempt to meet you halfway; you either take things on Scott’s terms and enter a completely uncompromising landscape of near tunelessness, extended abstract unpunctuated lyrics about the death of dictators (many ‘songs’ seem to be about this), arseholes as musical instruments, slabs of meat being punched as percussion, or you return to the land of sensible knitwear and beige kids. Scott cares little for your opinion. The work has substance, but it escapes definition: it is cussed, cantankerous and, while disciplined, is also quite disgraceful. His album ‘Soused’ recorded with drone metal group Sunn O))) has steel-eyed seriousness of intent. The first track revels in painting a portrait of Brando’s masochism and lack of satisfaction. Walker’s formerly exquisite tenor cracking at its upper limits as it rings out the line ‘A beating would do me the world of good’ as a bullwhip cracks. ‘Bull//’ with its refrain of ‘bump for beaky’, the willed nonsense of ‘The leaping like a river dancer’s nuts. The stuttering like a tapir noshers phut’ and the immortal line ‘Woke nailed to cross. Could not give toss’ is the wildest piece of music I have hear outside of Penderecki, and seems to be Walker, at the age of 71 when it was released, thumbing death’s inconsequence.

There is inspiration to be found in his existence. And so, this morning I take my scrawny fifty-one year old arse to a basement Hackney recording studio complete the audiobook of ‘Rules for Mavericks’. Its approach is inspired by Walker: it is deliberately unlistenable. I have placed racks of effects pedals on the voice so that it is unintelligible at points, recorded walls of jarring feedback underneath it, used looped samples of music my friend Jeremy Goodman recorded twenty five years ago that I always regarded as the most uncompromising music any colleague of mine had ever recorded, and generally had fun. The solution to the problem of the third act is to misbehave, to test the limits. I intend to spend my last years in as left field and subversive a manner as possible committing all manner commercial suicides before the corporeal version of the same reveals itself as the sole option.

Added Sat, 25 Feb 2017 08:45

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