Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Lovesong: Jackson Browne: Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate

“Get up and do it again, Amen.” 
Another day in isolation. I'm intrigued by the music that I am reaching for. It seems that comfort is paramount. It suggests that the 'middle ground' isn't a bad place to be in such times: perhaps the excitement of 'the edges' are a currently a little unreliable...

So, today I'll be trying to work out just why I love Jackson Browne's words (mainly) and music so much. To many he represents everything bland, smug and staid about the singer/songwriter tradition. Not for me: there is a poetic vision rooted in his 'everyman' akin to Springsteen's. But while Bruce often walks the streets head down, Browne's view is loftier, although his brow remains mainly furrowed, always 'one day way from where I want to be'. His was always an old soul in an ever youthful skin. Maybe that's the nub of my attraction: in his naivety he's a kind of kindred spirit. His sagely confused, yet almost adolescently formless gaze remains heaven bound, 'in search of truth and bound for glory' and yet... his lofty philosophy is grounded daily: 'nothing survives but the way we live our lives'. I'm unsure whether this duality is deliberate, but Browne’s daily struggle with that contradiction is what makes him so compelling: he’s fuelled by a false dichotomy: and I recognise that familiar struggle with the heavenly and the homily. Although the demons are an uncomfortable distraction, perhaps you can have too many angels?

'Late for the Sky' remains my favourite of his albums: the title track my favourite of his songs. However, this morning I reached for 'The Pretender' and it transported me back to the summer of 78, when I left school, working a dreary factory job, living in a crappy caravan that smelt of rotting apples. I can smell them apples as this plays. I remember being particularly miserable, besides my limited cassette collection in the caravan, the only refuge was sleep: hence the resonance of the song 'Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate'.

The whole album is a prayer for 'The Pretender', all of us “who started out so young and strong, only to surrender.” It is a prayer to mundanity, for every man and woman who get up every morning to face the exact same challenges, 'while the ships bearing their dreams sail out of sight'. Repeating this cycle, which defines and defies humanity, we are left with very little but the reliability of routine. And yet, particularly in these extraordinary days when the importance of a 'locked in' daily cycle is vivid, is there not something a little heroic in that daily dance, however familiar the steps? And I am, once again, finding refuge in sleep, actually sleeping better than ever: my prelude to... all of this.

Can I suggest that you listen to the title track of 'The Pretender' this morning but, before you do that, why not try and get through the album version of 'Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate' dry eyed. It's only 2:35 and well worth your attention.
Dare I say that only the blind would see it as bland?
Meanwhile, here is a live performance of the song.









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