Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Out in the middle of some woods and on a column of rock near Spring Green, Wisconsin, there rests a Japanese-styled house that an architect named Alex Jordan Jr. built to spite Frank Lloyd Wright, who told him he was a shitty architect and he wouldn't hire him to design a cheese grater. It's the oddest house - this House on the Rock - with rooms filled with pack rat dreams, oddities and collectibles, some real and some fake, that are meant to intrigue. There are the streets of yesterday and all kinds of antiquated pieces of furniture, trinkets, stuffed animals, armor, swords, clocks and you-name-it - all of it covered in the dust of a revered time. Everything inside this relative monstrosity is amazing in one way or another, to one person or another, but more so to those certain people who can find themselves scattered in these ages, unsure if now is where they might belong.
It's a structure, filled with all kinds of old crap that can be addictive to the minds of people who are fascinated by the thought of living in a big old, run down Addams Family mansion filled with curiosities, a manor for the collections of the whimsical and eccentric. It's a place for living unashamed, for living a life fashioned out of all your weirdnesses and, when we face it, we're all loaded with such things.
Austin's Agent Ribbons is made up of three women - lead singer Natalie Ribbons, drummer Lauren Ribbons and violinist Naomi Ribbons - who would have been cheering on the completion of Jordan Jr's big fuck you to one of the world's most respected architects and they would have helped him furnish the place with all of its strange accouterments, reveling in the overall grandness of it all. As the band's music shows, these three can appreciate a residence that offers non-traditional scenery and a slight hint of the macabre - a place where you might find them keeping ravens as pets and snipping off the bulbs of black roses in their spare time. They've written songs that aren't so much homage to dark light and its play, but more so to a fragmented feeling of normal existence and one that is shared by ghosts and creepy breezes that could make the hair stand up on your arms.
"Gray Gardens" is a song of eerie insinuations that we're not entirely sure how to interpret, but they seem to take us to hidden rooms of this sprawling home that's housed centuries of families and lost children. It features and overcast mood and as Natalie sings, "I hear your music through the walls/Songs of long ago/Sweetly play those records as you have always known/A carrousel of memories spinning in the dark/Take a turn around once more before it falls apart," we feel an overwhelming urge to bolt for the closest door, not knowing if we're currently being haunted or not. It's certainly not the first or only time that we have that feeling of being haunted, but we've found that we prefer the feeling of being haunted when it feels like the conversation around the dinner table, of a meal that already happened a hundred years ago and we and our Agent Ribbons hosts are the only living guests.
*Essay originally published September, 2010
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