because the personal is cultural
Has God Seen My Shadow? is the soundtrack to a road movie that doesn’t exist, whose protagonist (alternately played by Richard Hawley, Tom Waits, and Mark Oliver Everett from Eels) is a man with a story but without a destination. We can tell from his blasé attitude that he’s been hurt by life, though we will never know by what exactly. It’s in his music more than in his lyrics that we can hear it. Despite being a compilation that spans more than two decades, HGSMS? remains anchored in a perpetual present.
Our protagonist is a solitary man (of course) whose freedom comes from having given up on his own life, which allows him to be more in tune with life itself. He can usually be found walking by the side of the road, in a land that is otherwise sand. Every once in a while, he gets to rest in the passenger’s seat of a car. These are his favourite moments, especially when the driver is quiet and he can just take in the scenery blurred by travelling, the window rolled down.
When he reaches a town, it is usually the kind whose only way to not fade into the blackness of the night sky is to draw its contours with neon signs. It’s in these briefly sedentary moments that a certain sexiness can be detected; not that of nudity, but of suggestion: of tight jeans, of cleavage, of a necklace dangling in the right place. Even when we can guess at the seediness bubbling beneath the town, its surface has been smoothed out and dressed up so beautifully that we can’t feel any guilt about finding ourselves there. When sex does occur, it’s never without whiskey and cigarettes, but also never without some care. Everyone is always covered in a thin layer of sweat, but the warmth is never stifling.
HGSMS? is about a man who’s learned the hard way that the only possible peace comes from not holding on to anything. It is not without hope. In any moment, life could prove redeeming. Something beautiful might happen, especially if it isn’t expected. A gentle religiosity permeates the album, which could be read as a reverence to life, as faith in its mystery.
has an MA in Film Studies and works in contemporary dance. His fiction has appeared in Headlight Anthology, Cactus Heart, and Birkensnake.