Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Not absolutely sure what our cruising altitude is at this precise moment. We must have one, but they're not telling us - the pronoun I'm using to refer to the woman sharing the left-hand side of the aisle with me who made a few frantic cell phone calls in Spanish when it became evident that we'd be reaching our next destination an hour and a half later than expected and the business man across the aisle from me, with the bulky Boss headphones he uses only to keep the chaotic air chatter out of his head, just getting to page 35 of a James Patterson novel - the riveting parts.
Whenever taking to the air, there's an inclination to think and or write about the clouds and their appearances, being that they're more expressive and shapely from up above. Right now, their formlessness works in a diabolical way, kind of like it does on the ground, but with more insistent in-your-face pluck, making you think they're one thing and a million other things, when in effect, they're just a stretchy blanket. The clouds are just one, white, replication of a gravel fabric road, gentle enough to snorkel in. The illusion of what they lay out in their covering is that they're a stopping point, that you could hover or linger with them. They're a firm standing area, making you think - deceptively - that the bottom's not all that far below. We could fall out the hatch of the plane and we'd bounce upon that whiteness like trapeze artists and trampoline hoppers. There would be no crash, no free-falling plummet to a head and bones-splattering landing. We're just up here. We're just looking down at that cotton garden and as unnatural as it feels, most of the same feeling is reciprocated in a feeling of belonging to these friendly, or more so impartial and passive skies, that every day, at a certain height are blue and lit up just like they are on all of the sunny days found on the ground.
The long path of set-up brings us to the work of Boston-living Marissa Nadler, a songstress who exhibits many of the attributes of the delicate balance of soaring thousands of feet above the dirt and the wars, not to mention the wireless networks and the rest of the grand scheme, and yet hasn't the slightest control over any of it. Her songs are not about having any hands tied or being incapable of action, but they illuminate the idea of boundless lift necking with an effervescence of unknowable space. The reverb-happy songs climb like kites in unpredictable and jerky streams of breezing. She climbs with them and coyly observes, it seems, rather than direct or instruct them. She's there, alongside, eying them in awe and yet understanding that they're coming out from within her small frame, which is prone to folding protectively and holding onto itself the unspectacular dresses of a maiden that in some way become much more spectacular because of her ways.
She finds ways to become magnetic and weightless, drawn obsessively to the fountain of release and then seconds after the refreshing sip, propels herself back up into the stratosphere, like a spooked and satisfied doe deer scatting back into the forest from the pond's edges. The agility of her patient and delicate vocals recall the smell of sweat breads cooking and laundry hung out to dry on lines of rope - bed sheets clapping hard as the wind kicks up. Sometimes, when she sings about meeting people in the belly of a whale, she makes you believe that she's the one kicking it up, unloading a moving slope of air right into your locks and causing a light hiss across your ears.
*Essay originally published October, 2007