Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Not many men have made me think about things the way that Richard Buckner has over the last couple of days. Not many men have made me feel the way he has over the last couple of days either and it's not easy to explain. He's pained me in the way that a goodbye kiss that you KNOW is a goodbye kiss - once and for all - pains you. It's something we can associate with the pain of finality, but there's still so much living happening in it. There's still something that's so alive, something that's going to sprout from it. It's as if there's disbelief stirring, a sense that this moment is going to find a way to light us up again someday. It is not going to end right here in front of us, with the drying of the lips, after the break. It will come back around when we least expect it and there it will be, illuminated as something good that we have kept. It wasn't like we originally thought it was at the time at all. It was better. The ways that Buckner observes and writes is the way a lonely traveler or drifter observes and writes, able to feel and respond to the prolonged bouts of solitary confinement - all while in a whirring, all while in movement. There's no out-running the fears of cold skin. There's no out-running the lapses in between feeling another's warm skin beside you. Listening to Buckner sing is scary, when the listening is done right. The scariness comes from feeling that he's going to get you coming face-to-face with so many of the worries and concerns that you never even knew you had, or the ones that you thought were always going to stay deep down there in the jellies of your insides, coating the bottom of the barrel. You've done your best to stick with the idea of biting off just what you can chew and not letting the bigger chunks overpower you, but the bigger chunks are what Buckner presents as the tiniest particles of minutiae and they find us at our most vulnerable times, when we're feeling at our blackest. He gives the blackest times their highlights - the lone bird chirping, the beauty in the charred remains, the burning. He feels like a consoling. He sounds like a friend that we believe to have had things pretty rough. If anyone can help us see things better, it's him. We turn to him. He is our winter blanket and a thick coat that we wear to keep us from the biting winds that are howling at us. He sings, "Shakin' in the coldest hours, kept just out of mind," on "Gang," from his brilliant new album, "Our Blood," and it feels like a note from the heart, something that's rarely said, but always thought. He does this a lot, this partial opening of the chest to let forth so much of his soul's inscriptions. "Willow," one of the best songs he's ever written, starts with him thinking about remembering and then ends in a perfect confliction, asking someone on the other end if they will remember. He sings, "I can still remember/My window let me through/I watched you wonder when the light came to your room/Let's go out riding/Autumn comes so soon/But it's just another/Willow bowing to the moon…/ I shouldn't be here/But what are we gonna do/Will you remember?/Will you remember?/Will you remember?" Tripling the final line, Buckner changes his inflection each time, with the final go-round being the loudest, followed by a sigh on this recording, a noticeable feeling of an expired hope, or a feeble hope. We aren't sure what needs to be remembered sometimes, but it seems that Buckner wishes we'd just remember it all, as challenging as that is. We should let it all get to us. We should drink it all. It will lead us to much more of that sweet pain than we're normally willing to accept. So be it.