CD: The Handsome Family, Honey Moon
Release date: April 14, 2009
Label: Carrot Top Records
To Love is to Burn
?Love is like the hole torn right through the roof
When that old sugar pine came crashing down last night
And above the broken beams and the shattered ceiling tiles
You can see starlight for the very first time?
Words by Rennie Sparks, from ?Love is Like,? Honey Moon
In the documentary film Searching for the Wrong-eyed Jesus, Brett and Rennie Sparks, the core and substance of The Handsome Family, are sitting within a cubic island of light. It is night. They are parked in an empty lot, Somewhere in The Deep South, arguing quietly about music.
This is how I imagine Brett and Rennie nearly every time I think about them: the lone couple in their car in the middle of an American nowhere.
The car in the parking lot is their temple, their argument one of the mythic underpinnings of a remarkable (and puzzling) creative partnership.
This album came out in the year of Rennie and Brett Sparks? twentieth wedding anniversary and it effectively imparts a brutally honest view of romantic love, a love that looks especially precious against the rich emptiness of the modern landscape.
There are so many musical and lyrical allusions here that they can overwhelm the essential originality of these songs, vivid and pure in their own right, threaded together with an amazing level of thematic integrity.
Brett and Rennie are both insatiable musical listeners, and they listen to be inspired and filled with that oceanic joy that transforms the listener. It’s for this reason, perhaps, that their stylistically eclectic music never sounds derivative.
Brett sings Rennie’s words as if he means every one of them with all his heart, adding radically fitting musical accompaniment. The tinge of dark drollery is not simply a product of the sometimes incongruous musical influences; it emerges from the lyrics, but the music is what turns the lyrics into a Lynchesque world, making the songs blossom in a rural theatre-of-the absurd.
As reflected in her own folk-art paintings that grace the CD, Rennie has a keen eye for her natural surroundings, zeroing in on details that escape the jaded eye and finding their simple charm:
Oh, you little sparrows on a swaying branch . . .
These vivid organic images are elegantly juxtaposed against industrial bulwarks:
. . . Singing to the cars up on the overpass
Modern poets are split into separate camps based on affiliation with either the natural or the urban environment, but Rennie has managed to blend the two in a way that honours the reality of mundane experience and draws out its inner splendour.
It’s tempting to speculate about Rennie and Brett’s relationship; there is an intense love-longing in these songs, and this from two people who, as far as I can tell, are with each other night and day, who collaborate artistically, who communicate openly, frequently, and vehemently, and who engage in highly stressful activities like touring, the doom of so many bandmates and couples.
Do the themes of their songs in some way reflect their own dynamic coupledom? Are their songs of love in despair and despair in love brought on by some exhilarating tension between the two of them? Do we really want to know? In a way the mystery is sweeter than any certainty.
These songs unearth the forbidden truth that love is not all hearts and flowers, that it cuts into you like barbed wire, chains you to train tracks, fills you with murder-lust, and sucks away your will to live. Pulled into love like moths to a porch light, we are released and transfigured by it.
Love transforms the wild wood as all things bow down in acknowledgement of the immensity of personal experience. Sexuality burgeons and becomes one with nature herself:
Even the wind leaned in to listen . . .
When you whispered what you whispered in my ear
Honey Moon manifests eight of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it inspires my art; 3) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 4) it creates an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 5) it is about attainment of the true self; 6) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; 7) it stimulates my mind; and 8) it poses and admirably responds to questions which have a direct bearing on my view of existence.
The Bard could use some help scouting out new material. If you discover any books, compact disks, or movies which came out in the last twelve months and which you think fit the Bard’s criteria, please drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. For a list of criteria, go here. If I agree with your recommendation, I’ll thank you online.