Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Ron Sexsmith is an inexplicably sweet force of nature. The Canadian is a man who reminds us that the good in our lives always far outweighs the bad, even if it seems as if it couldn't possibly be true. The good also sometimes resembles the bad, and that's another misshaped pill to swallow, but he takes the matters of joy and applies the correct dosage of sobriety to all of them, transforming them into all that we recognize and yet forget to really appreciate as a could-be-worse situation.
He turns straw into gold with every touch of his pen and every chord progression, easily making some of the this generation's finest, slow-roasting, crackling by the fireplace songs - ones that decades from now will be so treasured that people will give themselves bloody lips and eyes full of shiner for not supporting him as much as they could have when he was a younger man.
He brings to mind a bit of between-song banter than 70s psychedelic folkster Rodriguez used here in Rock Island the other night, when he posed to the crowd, "You want to know what the secret to life it?" and he answered the enthusiasm by saying, "Breathe in and out. That's all there is to it, man. That's the secret to life." It's a set-up and a punchline, toothy and yet a touch of accumulated wisdom passed down over the years. Anyone could have said it and it would have been no less right and no less spot-on.
It seems to be how Sexsmith, the boyish-looking, baby-fat cheeked man, thinks and writes about the situations that he decides to concentrate on when it's time to write a song. He doesn't get -- or let himself get -- terrorized by love or love bugs or the labyrinthine detours and complexities of love. He just absorbs and uses time to digest all that happened, spitting out a cool-headed compendium of what he was able to pan out of that dirty stream of water, amongst the dirt and the fish and the gray rocks. He seems to come out the better for putting himself through the ringer time and time again and then again, it might not even be love that is forcing that upon him. It might just be the average strains of common existence, of looking upon the stars and blackness upstairs on a clear night and asking those existential questions that don't ever get finalized. You can round up or round down, present some kind of vague reasoning, but it will always get classified as a hunch or a wager. You wouldn't ever want to place any beloved savings on the findings, just some folding money or mad cash.
Everything changes though.Underneath all is an old coat of paint, some original plumage or down feather vest. Sexsmith, with his economical and slightly warbling crooner's voice, is able to mine many of the beautiful sights and sounds of a stroll through the park or a picnic by the lake for the kinds of universal dialogue that he's still able to process from pure cane into an edible sugar or salt from the veins into the table salt that goes on our mashed potatoes. He dresses these very tender, everyday moments into timeless thoughts that feel like wispy cloud systems emblazoned across an otherwise clear blue sky. They pass over us like a slow breeze that gets us to close our eyes and just freeze into the lightly flapping leaves and the sky that seems to move without out us, in spite of us.
*Essay originally published January, 2009