Wednesday, February 21, 2007

There's a smudge on your forehead

Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris
Remember, man, that you are dust
And unto dust you shall return.
I imagine Elvis Perkins heard this a few times back when he was an altar boy.

While this is probably the least interesting thing about his background (even though it's one of the very few similarities in our life stories,) I just thought I'd lead with that because today is Ash Wednesday, and Perkins' album of the same name was finally released yesterday, marking nearly seven years since he began writing the songs contained on it.

Album: Elvis Perkins - Ash Wednesday

What everyone else will lead with (and understandably so,) is Elvis' parents, specifically their famously tragic deaths. Elvis is the son of Psycho actor Anthony Perkins, who died of AIDS on September 12, 1992. Almost exactly eleven years later, Elvis' mother Berry Berenson was on American Airlines Flight 11, which flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. It was just prior to this that Perkins had his first momentum build-up to record some songs he'd written, only to have his life turned upside down.

Ash Wednesday is a collection of these songs along with more written following and since his mother's death. They're ordered chronologically which helps follow the trajectory of Perkins' story. Opening song "While You Were Sleeping" sets the bar pretty high. The song starts like a standard acoustic folk song, but then slowly builds, adding bass, then drums, then a Beer Bottle Organ, then all at once we get the full Neutral Milk Hotel treatment, complete with singing saw and trumpets. It's quite a moment, and the first of many to come.

Take for instance the soul-crushing title track, which deals with the aftermath of losing his mother on 9/11:
No one will survive Ash Wednesday alive,
No soldier, no lover, no father, no mother, not a lonely child.
...All the doors are shut and the windows barely opened up,
The fire's all around, it's the ending of the drought.
And we are ready now, for tear gas clouds,
On my mind, come on and fill the house.
Finally it'll weep for its king and queen asleep,
Both now in the arms of Ash Wednesday.
Ultimately, these songs are of personal grief and loss, something which everyone has experienced, not simply 'songs inspired by 9/11.' If it seems the album is awfully bleak (hard to take "It's a Sad World" any other way,) he answers with some reassurance by the closing track "Good Friday":
Come lay here beside me, and I'll fear no death
I'll give you my body, and I'll breathe your breath
Here's hoping it won't take seven years (or any more tragedy) for the next Elvis Perkins release.

UPDATE: Elvis Perkins drops in for a Daytrotter session. Free live downloads.

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drake leLane said...

Elvis Perkins - Ash Wednesday

1. While You Were Sleeping
2. All The Night Without Love
3. May Day !
4. Moon Woman 2
5. It's Only Me
6. Emile's Vietnam In The Sky
7. Ash Wednesday
8. The Night And The Liquor
9. It's A Sad World
10. Sleep Sandwich
11. Good Friday

Anonymous said...

How appropriate for today! Very cool.
Who plays saw on this album?
I wonder if it's the 'Saw Lady' ( )? She's on a lot of movie soundtracks and such.

drake leLane said...

It's probably Ethan Gold playing it, seeing how he seems to be playing just about every other odd instrument on the album (harmonium, glockenspiel, etc.)