Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
A fondness for taking himself to the ugliness that is too often affiliated with many of the aspects of a life half-awake is where Jeffrey Lewis has put his heart. He's actually just drawn a big, shakily-lined heart around all of the many uncomfortable details that he's forced to live with, comply with, or be surrounded by. He finds the drab and the mundane to be almost fascinating in their inherited boredom. It's something to think about as the days grow into their numbness. It's something that gets him thinking crazy thoughts, working manically through the piles of catastrophes that seem to find him to be delectable to their itchy stingers, like a sweet meat for mosquitoes with grumbling stomachs and garbage on their minds.
All of the details that Lewis lets infest his mind - and all the New Yorker thinks in are details - form a snarled mash-up of "fast food" culture and the deeper tips that could be considered the unspoken conversations of a richer, finer cuisine. He has such an active grasp on his surroundings and what they're going to do to him. He knows that they're scheming and he knows that they're already kneading him, softening him into some confused beast. It tires him and yet it inspires him to deal with all of the vexing and exciting foibles that bear down on him whether he likes it or not.
He puts all of these illustrious riddles into his ragtag music that has earned him more than a cult status in the United Kingdom and surprising anonymity through much of the United States. And they sound as if they might be making him lose it, at least figuratively, getting to him often and with stronger force. He takes a broad focus of life and death and all that filler and fills it with those troublesome, minute details that burn and enhance. He takes the trash and makes it into a collage that is helped by his brother Jack and an assortment of characters, who make sense of all the spinning, all the vomiting and all of the paranoia that is ever-present when Lewis gets moving in the mornings. He sings about its overwhelming nature on "Couldn't Take It Anymore," where he muses about taking a walk down to the grocery store to buy a bottle of rat poison that he'd like to pour wholeheartedly down his "gullet," in a lethal dosage. It all gets to him. He cannot stop it.
*Essay originally published July, 2009
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