Review Summary: Mary Anne got cold and abruptly broke it off for a guy with sweatpants and a pick-up truck.
One of my favorite films of all-time is Tommy Wiseau's The Room
. Yes, The Room
. And you want to know why? Everything in that film is expounded to the point where any idiot without the least bit of common sense should be able to understand the story. But it also tries to investigate the ugliness of society. Cancer, drugs, infidelity, football. Nothing is sacred in The Room
's menacing glare. Yet while it reveals these unsettling images, it never goes deeper than the surface. Because to do so would be to distract from the awe-inspiring, raw, animal magnetism of writer/director/producer/actor Tommy Wiseau. No, the entire film is but a glamour shot for it's mastermind. Although the film exposes and takes a surface glance at many themes, it all ultimately comes back to exactly how Tommy himself is able to solve these problems with the simple snap of a finger.
In this, it's revealed the true meta-nature of The Room
. This isn't a film about love/life/infidelity/death. It's a film about how Tommy Wiseau is the greatest man that's ever walked the earth, and if you cross him you will be forsaken by God himself. Look at how the characters react to Johnny's death. Lisa is awe-struck. She had no clue her actions could lead to such tragedy. Mark is disgusted. He was merely a foil in Lisa's sinister plot and she's nothing more than a common whore left to rot in her own filth. Denny is devastated. His benefactor and saviour is lost in a pile of blood and betrayal and he'll probably have to turn back to Chris R. In the end, everything revolves around Tommy Wiseau's vision. No character escapes his judgement.
And yet, while Wiseau's direction is such a powerful authority watching over the entire narrative, he's utterly incompetent in supplying the story with the necessary production values to make any of it worthwile. Greenscreens are used for city backdrops. Stock footage makes up a significant portion of the film. Re-hashed sex scenes take up more precious screen time. Bad R&B wafts through the air. Explicit storytelling and terrible production values plague The Room
into its current status as "Worst Film of All-time"
Sun Kil Moon's sixth release Benji
(and the umpteenth under any kind of Mark Kozelek moniker) is the polar opposite of Tommy Wiseau's The Room
. Where Wiseau is explicit and manages to underline every piece of major dialogue with wrought and temperament, Kozelek remains vague and lets the listener conjure up their own interpretations between the details he chooses to reveal. In the mundane, Kozelek is miraculously blunt. He'll tell you the setting of where a story is told, what the storyteller is wearing, and the demeanor in which they tell it, but never reveal the underlying meaning. It should be self-evident. It should provide itself to you if you were listening.
And the stories on Benji
seem to relate to a stronger narrative. Perhaps the album itself doesn't hold a narrative, but all the songs seem to be connected in some way. The album begins with "Carissa" which tells the story of Kozelek's second cousin who dies in a freak fire accident. Kozelek recalls his first memory of her as a child and his final memory of her as a pregnant teenager. It seems she puts her life together in between that last memory and Kozelek's learning of her fate, yet she still falls into the fate of the many characters Kozelek has depicted in the past. However, this time it's someone he knows. And it's in that personal connection that this album truly elevates itself beyond anything Kozelek has released in recent memory. While some poetic license and romanticism may have accentuated lyrics in the past, he's now spent so many years writing and working that his blunt, inhibited prose is as meaningful as ever.
"Truck Driver" is a story much like "Carissa". Another relative of Kozelek's dies in a freak fire accident although this time, it seems by their own ignorance. And while "Carissa" examines how such an accident could happen to just about anybody with bad luck and how it could affect everyone that person's ever known, "Truck Driver" examines the affect Kozelek's uncle death had on Kozelek, and shaped him into the man he is, which builds into the album's interesting theme of how women form and shape men, until men come along and bash it into a state of being. I don't think the theme is at all meant, but it seems to occur throughout.
Between "I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love" and "I Love My Dad" this theme becomes evident. The two work together in such a beautiful way to depict the difference between motherly/fatherly love. The guitar in "I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love" is so beautifully picked and the lyrics so wonderfully sad it's the perfect compliment to a mother, while "I Love My Dad" is so exceptionally dad rock, Wilco-lite and lyrically explains the relationship of a father who can't say "I love you" but tries to do it through actions, which might just mean watching all the big fights together. I can only hope that when I try to explain Nomar Garciaparria to my son, that he realizes this is the most sacred thing I can share with him.
But perhaps the most important theme throughout the album is the different contexts of death. "Prayer for Newton" deals with the recent phenomenon of mass shootings and how tragic it is that innocent people must die early. Following the track is "Jim Wise", which deals with a friend of Kozelek's father who mercy-killed his wife, but failed to kill himself and now stands trial for murder. The juxtaposition is sad, as men who killed hundreds of innocents are placed against a man who tried to end a suffering loved one's pain and Kozelek's symbolism accentuates it by describing how Wise's wife loved their backyard and how he now can't tend to it because his house arrest prevents him from leaving the house. And to close out the death trilogy, "Richard Ramirez Died of Natural Causes" laments the story of a serial killer that died in prison while waiting on Death Row. In the end, the innocent die horrifically, the guilty die peacefully, and the merciful end up in purgatory.
The album is perhaps punctuated by "I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same". The ten-minute opus tells the story of Kozelek watching the Led Zeppelin concert film as a child and being mesmerized by the mythical standing of the band. The song then transitions into Kozelek's saddest memories of old friends, acquaintances, and relatives that have died and it's effect on him. He sums it up in perhaps the albums most poignant lyric "And I will go to the grave with my melancholy/and my ghost will echo my sentiments for all eternity". In the end, Kozelek rewatches "The Song Remains the Same" and it causes him to re-understand life and realize there are no gods. Even the guys from Led Zeppelin become human sometime.