Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
It's been a full year since Will Oldham was in Rock Island for this encore taping. It was St. Patrick's Day circa 2009. There was a parade happening nearby, with all kinds of non-Irish folk wearing green hats covered with sparkly glitter and shamrocks. It was relatively warm, under a sunny sky and we had burritos and specially ordered coffees and teas waiting for the Bonnie Prince Billy and his band. Oldham had been here about three years prior to this visit and to this day, we are still eternally grateful for his generosity and the kind words he's spoken to others about what Daytrotter is. He was here and gave us a shot when we were nothing and we couldn't be more honored than to have had this modern master as a repeat offender. His is a majestic version of folk music, all his own, and his enigmatic prowess is unsurpassed. On this early afternoon, after a short drive over from Chicago on an off day that was later to be spent at the Cineplex and the hotel/riverboat casino on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River, Oldham was dressed, head-to-toe in different variations of emerald green. There were the painter's trousers, the shirt, the socks and the green Crocs finishing the ensemble. And yet, it didn't seem all that odd or as an out of place idea to dress such a way for a man who doesn't give two shits what you think about him or anything he does. He seems as if he could care less, but maybe that's an overstatement. It's something that will never be known as it will never be addressed. But Oldham's made it a point to make his prolific works, his minor acting roles and his charismatic and sad-sacked songs of quivering, back-breaking love stories the most important consideration for anyone.
He takes us into these bare and pink shivers of stories, letting us feel the awkwardness of intimacy. It's the awkwardness of intimacy that Oldham craves in all of his lyrics, feeling them out and allowing them to cannibalize other intimacies, turning all of the sensations into the most spooky and sensitive notions. Every Bonnie Prince Billy album is another lesson in the extent of how much more distorted and tedious two people can become toward one another. Even with the relationships that may not be on the outs or in the throes of decomposition, Oldham still gives to them the qualities of decomposition, stripping them of the ability to be anything other than brutally raw. The aches are bigger than mountains and the hurt that comes next is hurt that's remembered all the way to the grave, played over again and again, but never taped over. It's like getting wine stains out of carpeting.
Oldham inspects the intricacies of human nature the way a patient jackal does, hunting and hunting on a hungry stomach, just watching and waiting, but never moving in before the time is most right. It's then that he writes, picking apart the bones from the meat with his teeth and savoring every morsel. The dramatics of interaction and the silent play of expression are his icing and his cake - all he could ever want and he digests it all with a tendency to decipher by furthering the set properties of nature's way: seedling, life, final gasps and an non-ceremonial ending. He sings on "81," "Hidden in the heart of things, you make seeds into sprouts/Hidden in the heart of things you make buds into flowers/Hidden in the heart of things you make flowers into edible things." But that's just when things are good. Not all seeds produce positive results and those are the ones Oldham holds close, magnifying their profundity.
Bonnie Prince Billy's Debut Daytrotter Session