and are you mammal, do you eat and drink the same as we do?
i had decided some time ago that day two hundred and fifty would mark a moment of importance. hey, it’s arbitrary, especially since it ceased to be dedication to 500 consecutive days of listening and writing. it’s like any other day or piece of plastic i can put on the player, right?
well, no. while i can make a random choice for such purposes as the one at hand, this album is anything but capricious and requires considerable thought in approach. when i finally bought it a couple years after it was released in 1995 – having vacillated because of the outrageous cost, being a $38 import in the mid-1990s – i somehow finally knew the music i would forever love. it was like absolutely nothing else; then, before or since. i could tell instantaneously.
i had started with will and his kin on the sampler, the previously covered compilation lost blues and other songs. that was my introduction. i sheepishly liked it at the time, but still had anxieties about whether i had accidentally stepped into the foyer of the commercial country music world. should i like it? but when i first listened to viva last blues, i not only discovered this was far from the truth, but that i could open my heart and mind to such exquisite music and know a completely different universe, fully realised.
it rocks, it does inflect the blues as implied (ironically or otherwise), and it contains gorgeously quiet moments that provide for reflection. i could write at length about the individual songs and noticing the large and small characters; such as the stellar slow burn of viva ultra, the less-than-subtle sex scene of mountain low, and the most commonly cited best-ever-oldham-song, new partner. instead, i write below on other qualities of the album.
i found myself at the time wanting these songs to mean real things in my life every time i listened – by experiencing them somehow. i knew they were love songs unlike any others – ones that exposed all the glory, filth and complexity. this was a challenge for a rather shy young woman to put into practice. the music itself allowed me to live somewhat vicariously, but it was not quite enough. as warm as every single song is – giving a sense of being embraced and loved – it still was not the same as having someone to hold.
the way i used the album throughout my late teens and early twenties was, well, as a remarkable soundtrack for reading tintin books. you read correctly. it really does seem counterintuitive, or just plain weird. but the sense i gained from the sounds and arrangements, and the depth of each song, was of a kind of cinematic quality that allowed me to tune into this parallel universe and give it alternative life – something grittier than what it otherwise was (such as, perhaps, tintin having a romantic and philosophical edge). it’s very hard to explain why it worked so well, so all i could suggest is that you try it – have a go with king ottokar’s sceptre.
will himself has been given to reflect on the nature of this album, and the critical place it holds in the canon as well as individuals’ psyches (this reflection notes his own unusual approach to his persona and those to whom his music means so much – a kind of awkward acceptance). the pure and simple beauty of the album became plainly obvious when he wrote about new partner when he performed it for a daytrotter session back in 2006. he said, i realised, somewhat disturbingly, it was about not not loving someone who you are not with. it’s one of those statements that requires much ponderance and logic to work out its meaning; but once there, makes perfect sense. it’s how i will always feel about the one whom i most regret losing.
i also realise now in hindsight that i have never shared this album with anyone i’ve been with, intimately, in spite of how central it is to my identity. it is clear to me that this is because i didn’t love them enough to literally open my heart in such a way, in spite of the fact that they are other people’s sounds, words and sentiments. i have, many times, thought that if a couple of the blokes knew new partner, that’s what they might sing of me. one likes to think they are still on others’ minds.
and this is the power of music as good as viva last blues; yet i nebulously wonder every day whether my chance to share such beautiful things as this music, and all it embodies, slips ever further away from me. love remains an academic and vicarious exercise. will life have been sufficient to have lived it that way?
well i would not have moved if i knew you were here