Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley and Shawn Biggs
Throughout the winter, there was a series of cryptic and playful e-mails coming from Ray Raposa pertaining to the state of his affairs as they stood. While the snow was piling up to the bottom bellies of the windowsills here and in his permanent/temporary home in Brooklyn, Raposa - the man behind Castanets - was in Arizona, living the good life like all of the leathery and wrinkly senior citizen golf nuts and spring training watchers. He was, as the notes told in short and sweet sentences, in love and going through every day without putting a pair of shoes on. He made every aspect of his existence seem enviable and without match. The love part of it, while blissfully numb to the goodness of all that was unfolding, had him worried, though it was worrisome only through a reddened, sunny and toothy grin - the kind that you wear when you've gone just beyond the tipping point into the buzzing fields of alcoholic intake.
He was living in the space that's considered as good as it gets - when everything fits in its appropriate place, none of the corners are bent over or ripped and when the sky is utterly without a single enemy or cloud. The love thing bore some menace as it was the only thing that he was experiencing that couldn't so much as continue on and on indefinitely, untouched or unscathed. Just the recognition of being able to utter the word or speak to the acknowledgement of it affecting him, shook him, even if it was off-handed and wistfully. He knew and remarked that it could only end badly. Those were his words and for the most part, he's always sided with the impermanence of it all, though a case could be made that he's also been as bipartisan as they come, entertaining the idea that one can be pessimistic (a realist as he might prefer to call it) and cautiously optimistic as a rounded dome of emotions, bumping elbows and picking up the other's drink by mistake. Most of the time the discernment, the agonizing computation of what's right in front of you and what could be lurking just below the surface, ready to spring out like snakes from a tin can of peanuts, is painful. It's also a guilty pleasure that makes some giddy before the credits roll at the end of the production, when they know it's time to stand up and walk out of the theater and back into that regular, non-cinematic air. But more than anything, it's slow. The unveiling of what's really behind the curtains that Raposa stands before is slow, a methodical, yet unpredictably deliberating process that will feel itself out in due time, rather than be rushed. He brings all of these needs - of conservation of energy, conservation of spirit and sanity - to his glimmering songs of sociology as it applies to one and another of close and closest bonds.
One of the greater parts about how Raposa frames himself and the mysteriously slinky and thoughtful characters that he cooks up in his songs is that he fittingly presents all of them as the animals and beasts - gentle, meek and carnivorous - that we all know ourselves to be if we were to be without restraint. There's always something very dangerous about any of us in the wild, left to our own decisions and aspirations. There's always something dangerous in a mother lion, but there's still captured footage of many of them tending to their young so warmly, lapping them with those tennis shoe-thick tongues and yet they could, just as quickly snap and rip a throat out with a swipe. There's no need for or instance of any kind of violence like that in Raposa's music, but there's the assertion that not knowing how anything is going to turn out is enough to snap those wilder instincts right into place. He takes himself to that place of abandonment, when the first words that come to mind are the ones for the occasion and when raising a voice is never better than finding a word with a good, sharpened blade on it. Good love is hard to find because we're all skeptical of it finding us, he seems to remind. It's why we keep our claws, why we are on edge and reticent. He grows his reddened beard to look like lines of fountain penned scripture, blurred down, as if raindrops and tears got to them in a quiet rage, just to show us the way.
Castanets MySpace Page
Order the stunning new Castanets DVD documentary that features Raposa swimming in a big lake, numerous great musicians performing cover versions of his songs all over the place and a joke at the Asthmatic Kitty Records Web Site before you can find it in stores on May 20th
It is also streaming, in its entirety, this week on Pitchfork TV