Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
When we're listening to Half-Handed Cloud records - and this is a rollicking question for all of us to think about - doesn't it make you wish that you'd gotten the calling too, sort of? Don't you kind of wish that you'd been summoned to His table and His feast and all of that? It sounds like it's a helluva lot of work. It sounds like there's a helluva lot of surveillance and it sounds like it's completely consuming, in the way that being a farmer or a professional fisherman is consuming, but then to get the full effect you have to add in gleamingly bright righteousness, more spiritual responsibility than anyone would know what to do with and guilt that could make a person break out into drenching cold sweats without any sort of warning.
Other than all of that, it seems like a good gig. It seems like there's a real love that falls over a person, like a curtain of massage beads and cool fabric that feels like it's solely for the lucky and the privileged. It's a different headspace that you get to live in, one that is about embracing all of the little things and looking at the peaks and valleys all as blessings of one form or another. John Ringhofer, the leader and sometimes sole man running the Half-Handed Cloud show, lives in a church in California, an almost Quasimodo-like story but with a less reclusive and vilified back dialogue, where he works as a janitor when the praying stops for the day and night. He pays for his quarters and sustenance by taking a broom to the dust and dirt left behind by the various worshippers who wander in to be in that house and closing to that fellow upstairs wearing all the white and the sandals.
Was it the calling that led Ringhofer to that church in the first place? Was he already a believer before? Odds are that he was, but it's fascinating to imagine him as a man who was just looking for work and a cheap room for let when and then he suddenly was struck by that glow once he was surrounded by all of the symbols and crosses, the stagnant and quietly waiting holy waters. What happened to him in that place when the lights were flicked off for the evening and there he was alone with the possible mice shuffling under the floorboards, the bell in the belfry and the echoes of all of the desperate, as well as preventative prayers that were transmitted in that room during "business" hours. Ringhofer's songs are convergences of faith and pop, the likes of which just aren't out there.
It's hard to tell whom he loves more - the Lord or Brian Wilson - and in all honesty, it just may be a dead heat. He doesn't defer his beliefs or his religion - whatever denomination it may be. It's just flaunted as subtly as possible, while still remaining completely transparent and obvious. He is a messenger and he sings songs about cars and that strongest of loves the same way. It's all having to do with the path and with the LIFE and it's all leading us to that one day when our wrinkles have wrinkles and we've forgotten all of our children's faces and names to years, blindness and Alzheimer's. So much of religious faith seems to be about carpe diem that there can't be much wrong with that and Ringhofer's music - in its enthusiastic tempo, its chipper tone and its gorgeous melodies - is about seizing all of the days he can and reminding us to be mindful that all of this can be ours, whether we want it or not.
Half-Handed Cloud Official Site
Asthmatic Kitty Records