Now for the hideously depressed friend in your life, might I recommend some drab fabrics, an Atom Egoyan film marathon, a full library of Edith Wharton novels, a glass of RC Cola and Johnny Dowd’s LP Cemetery Shoes blaring in the background.
OK, perhaps Cemetery Shoes won’t drive you to suicide or have you shovelling down Paxil tablets, but only those with a true appreciation for all things macabre need apply. It’s not that Dowd is being particularly serious about the subject matter, which ranges from death to mortality to transience to err… not being alive anymore. In reality the album does cover some different topics, such as family and prison in the bluesy “Brother Jim”, and the futility of one’s life in “Christmas is Just Another Day.” But when listening to Dowd’s jangling guitar playing and his complete lack of singing ability, when looking at the dreary LP cover of him and his guitar at the graveyard, or listening to such cheerful lyrics such as, “One day, I looked into the mirror, and I had a vision of myself standing at the edge of an abyss, and I wondered, should I jump, or wait until I was pushed,” it becomes apparent that the album lacks deviation, most likely by design.
Musically, the first and most obvious comparison is another severely grisly soul, Nick Cave, but at least Cave can rock thoroughly when necessary, and can churn out the odd duet with PJ Harvey to prove that he can communicate with other humans. Other comparisons can be given to classic American songsters such as Johnny Cash and Steve Earle, although Dowd lacks the engaging wiseman demeanour of the former and the invariable cynicism of the latter. His music is steeped in American culture, from the Southern guitar playing style that has made the Drive-By Truckers such media darlings, to the road-weary vocals that signify a life of country music, heartbreak, smoking two packs a day and many a night driving under the stars in the American heartland.
From Kill Bill 2, to Six Feet Under, to Tsunamis, to Sept. 11, death is inescapable. Cemetery Shoes is by no means the perfect eulogy, and Johnny Dowd has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek the entire time, but sometimes laughing at death is perhaps all that can be done during these times.
And as do his brethren before him, such as Evel Knieval and Gerry Trudeau, Dowd knows how to put a humorous spin on even the most depressing of situations. Only the most sinister of souls can take a song such as “Rest in Peace” and give it a tango flavour. During “Dylan’s Coat”, Dowd gives a uniquely defiant “fuck you” to those who deride his way of life and fashion sense, but rest assured that at age 56, he has similar words for the Grim Reaper and his eventual visit.
Beyond the Sea
Beyond the Sea is the soundtrack to the upcoming Kevin Spacey movie about Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bobby Darin. Not only does Spacey star, direct and produce this movie, he is also singing all the songs himself.
Spacey is not an inexperienced singer. He has a great voice and has done some musical theatre in the past. Apparently the actor spent years developing his voice and studying Darin’s nightclub act before the cameras rolled.
It is weird to write about Bobby Darin in a university paper because most students don’t know who this American musical icon is. Darin arrived on the scene in the late 1950s and was a teen idol, appearing on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand with songs like “Splish Splash” and “Dreamlover”. In 1959, he made a standards album (kind of like Rod Stewart only better) which became a huge success with songs like “Hello Dolly” and “Mack the Knife” which actually won him the Grammy Award for Best New Artist and Record of the Year in ’59. He later did some folk songs too.
Spacey recorded 20 tracks and was backed by a 16-piece orchestra, however only 18 songs appear on the soundtrack. Standout tracks include the title song “Beyond the Sea” (a cover of the Charles Trenet song “La Mer”), “Mack the Knife”, “Dreamlover” and “Charade”. I was disappointed that two of my favourite Darin tunes, “Hello Dolly” and “More”, are not found on the CD.
The Academy Award winning actor will be touring, singing Bobby Darin songs and doing some standup acts like impersonations. During his appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien last month he gave us a preview, doing his famous Christopher Walken impersonations. Let’s see if the tour will reach Montreal.
Beyond the Sea hits theatres Friday Jan. 14