Windswept Visions with Brokeback and the Black Rock

Few things are as pleasing as a wide untrammeled expanse. Perhaps, this is the “city kid”, urban-discontent talking with his longing for the uncharted spaces on the map, for the stillness and the starkness of another less cluttered plane. Or, it could be something deeper, in those of us who find the thought of “nothingness” appealing.  I know I’m not alone. If you have ever seen the film Lawrence of Arabia, there is a scene where Prince Faisal says to Lawrence “I think you are another of these desert loving English…”

Although not an Englishman I share Lawrence’s fascination with the tan windswept dunes that appears to exist to eternity, an infinite space of barrenness, life sustained on the most minimal of sustenance. Strange, given my upbringing in the polar opposite of climates — coastal, humid, and filled with precipitation and moisture that eludes the deserts. And, yet, I dream of caravans . . . this is why I’m drawn to music that evokes the sands, it is life at its most essential.

Brokeback isn’t necessarily making music for the urban discontents like myself. Yet, their music with its sprawling, cavernous roaming and legato flow evokes the arid plains and journeying. Drawing to mind Ennio Morricone’s classic spaghetti Western soundtracks, Calexico’s hybrid Mariachi/Cowboy Southwestern hybrid, and Angelo Badalamenti’s Lost Highway or The Straight Story scores, all musically re-imagining and conjuring the Western reaches of American scheming and the manifest destiny impulse of conquests and desire practiced by America’s forefathers, Brokeback’s Brokeback and the Black Rock is a window into the infinite, or the seemingly endless sprawling of our searching. Glance at the cover and at once you are struck by the inherent juxtaposition of “nothingness” for there is no nothing at the end of American empire building, we create way stations, modern oasis to perpetuate our goings and coming. And yet to where?


I struggle to explain my obsession with this record (and certainly the foregoing is more inspiration than explication), in the same way I struggle to explain my fascination with other purveyors of instrumental rock such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Tortoise (the similarity to the latter owing to Brokeback being an side project of the band’s bassist Doug McCombs). The explanation is akin to the effect of abstract-expressionist art – a sensation, a feeling, an intuition, an immediacy of thought.

But, not just that, often it is connections that listening without distraction, when words fade away, gives rise to. And, it dawned on me, while walking across the Chicago River the other day, starting at the sky pregnant with anticipation of acting, poised to unleash or just tease. The snake charmer guitar, the laconic hum of the organ, the ominous percussion in the wings, it all brought me back to adolescence, to a/the memory of the death rattle shaman songs of Mr. Mojo Risin, “The End” and “Riders on the Storm”, on his exploration of American hypocrisy in in search of transcendence.  At once celebration and encomium, those songs whose extended play and amalgamation into popular culture strips them of their (to this day) naked, raw lyrical power: euphoric dirges to an imagined purity – virgin earth and living in the moment. Real or romanticized?  You be the judge. Despite the crushing blow to my adolescent self it’s far more complicated than that. Or is it. Admittedly I don’t know. Situated in the space between ultra-conscious liberals and “woo” conscious believers. I often wonder whether thought explains feeling or feeling engenders life to think. The scientific method explains but depresses. The “woo” expands but evokes skepticism. Where is one to come down? No answer yet. Not sure there will be one.

So, listen to this record: BrokebackBrokeback and the Black Rock

the album is work of utter beauty and serenity.  (as you can see above) it gives rise to countless inspiration or visions of . . . well it all depends on where you want to go.

See you on the b-side,


2 thoughts on “Windswept Visions with Brokeback and the Black Rock

  1. This was a really neat discovery. The first track really pulled me in, and was reminiscent of Kate Bush and Pink Floyd at times, which I thought was really cool.

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