Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Some of us get left behind. It's the truth of it all. Time isn't chosen, but designated by a wizard behind the curtains. There's no peeking and there's no way of knowing who is going next, or who's going to be around longer than they ever expected to be. You can see the truth in the wrinkles of older people and you wonder which way they're leaning. You find yourself wondering what they're thinking about at that very moment, when all of the expression on their unaware faces is blank and slightly confused, slightly squinting and a paler color than anyone would ever want. There's a photograph of Joan Didion in the newest issue of Vanity Fair, previewing her upcoming book about her daughter's untimely death, which follows her brilliant book about her husband's untimely death, and she looks exactly like someone who's experienced two untimely deaths in a short period of time would look. It looks as if the lines that run down her cheeks have started to fold more deeply and the sadness in her old eyes is palpable. She is the very picture of heartbreak. It seems that paraphrasing something that she says in her new book is appropriate here, when thinking about Chicago band Scattered Trees. When her husband had passed, her daughter - while grieving the hard loss of her father - told her mother that she had to let the pain go, that it was the only way. She told her that she had to move on and get on with a life that wasn't over yet. After her daughter's passing, Didion realized the errors in her daughter's thinking. She recognized that, for those left behind, for those with more people to grieve over, time doesn't do anything to make it easier. It's hard not to think that older folks become calloused to death when they start to see all of their friends go, all while they keep on living, but that unavoidable pain doesn't just linger, it commandeers a lot of the interiors. For Scattered Trees lead singer Nate Eiesland, the loss of his father got him writing again and the band's album, "Sympathy," is what came out of the veins of his horrible sadness. It's a beautiful requiem to a man that he obviously missed and misses a lot. It's an album that explores the depths of loss and the misappropriations that we give to the subject and the reality of dying. It's not supposed to be accepted and yet, we're told to cope. We're told that the hurt goes away, but all the time, most of us are ignoring the immensity of it. Sometimes death is portrayed as a dream, something that can be woken up from, something that we witness lying down. Eiesland sings about everyone appearing to be falling apart and it could be taken two ways - one as an observation of a collection of mourners or the thought that everyone's getting one day closer to their body finally giving out and bidding adieu. There is the symbolism of the ringing church bells and there are the aching hearts weaving through the songs on "Sympathy," and yet, with most of the subtlety and the calm demeanor, you get a sense that nothing's going to make this pain go away. Nothing's going to make any of this better. There have been lies spoken. People have been misled into thinking that the empty feeling can be overcome. It's simply not true. It can only be prettied up.