Thursday, April 25, 2013

One Minute Forty One Seconds Of Infinity

The documentary that kicked my Scott Walker obsession into being is called Scott Walker: 30 Century Man which is the title of a song off of 1969's "Scott 3".

The song is an anomaly in the Walker catalog. The first side on the vinyl Scott 3 LP consists of seven lush orchestral impossibilities. Each seems to be more beautiful and sad than the last. Each is dense to an almost pathological level. They are hothouse rainforests of melody. They envelop you in such a complete sonic landscape that you almost feel as if you are suspended within them.

Now flip the LP over.

30 Century Man cuts everything away. A simple acoustic guitar strum. A song that is as basic as they come. When I learned it on acoustic guitar I was shocked at how basic it was. The chords in it could be learned in 20 minutes by someone who had never played guitar. Compared with the strings and horns and complexity of the first side, this song is like a flat rock on top of a flat rock.

The lyrics are equally gigantic and immutable. There is a philosophy at work here that cannot be denied. Walker deliberately strips all distraction away from the words. He sings them without inflection, without emotional resonance, another flat rock on top of the slab. Posting lyrics as a way to explain the ideas contained in a song usually seems like a perfectly acceptable way to convey an opinion but in this case there just is no way to approach the MEANING of this song without the whole package working together.

Here's what happened to me while listening to it.

I'd heard the song dozens of times and didn't pause to consider it much. It works on such an obvious level that it is easy to underestimate it. But after a while, it slowly turned in my heart like a key inside of a secret lock. It spun in my orbit like a satellite, catching varied imagery from some distant unimaginable place and filtering them so I could understand.

In short, I got religious about it.

To put this into context and perspective, I am not really religious about anything. Except my own pursuit of art. But this song pierced my atheism and brought me to my knees. Not in despair but in supplication.

Why? Who knows. I could try to describe my conversion to you. But I know how I respond to like descriptions from others. I respect that they experienced something but I cannot begin to climb inside of their response. When I hear this song I feel comforted in a way I imagine a parish to feel while fire and brimstone rains down on them from the pulpit. The content is terrifying to behold but the faith you contain is strengthened through the fear.

My father used to wonder whether Vincent Van Gogh actually saw the world the way his paintings look. A friend of an ex scoffed openly at this notion, claiming that it robbed Van Gogh of the credit he rightly deserved for his genius. I thought she missed the point which was that everyone has a specific vision of the world. But not everyone can articulate it so perfectly.

This song is Starry Starry Night or The Potato Eaters. It synthesizes the human experience into a microcosm. I don't mean to go even further out on a limb but 30 Century Man, to me, makes the most sense when you imagine that God is singing it to you. The trick that Walker somehow manages to pull off is to leave the song so open-ended that it can hold whatever that brings to mind. God will sound differently when speaking to different people.


But somehow, through this song, I achieve a kind of faith, I travel forward to the time Walker evokes so effortlessly with the simplest three chords in any writer's arsenal. If this song were an invention it would be the wheel. Just think what we could do with a wheel.

Listen to 30 Century Man and inch us towards infinity.


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