Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
The Christopher Wright - the daredevil - that Eau Claire, Wisc., band The Daredevil Christopher Wright has pinned its identity to and sings about in a self-titled song is a prominent element, the most influential muse that these three men draw upon, although such blatant narrowing of focus is selling this three-piece of folkies with umph, significantly short. The fictional character, who drives cars over cliffs - likely amateurishly - and who courageously strolls into a lion's den with a whip, a huge pair of balls, a whistle to his lips and a desire to teach the beasts some manners and dance moves - also likely amateurishly - is a man who should be enshrined in some kind of hall of fame for actions frowned upon by anyone with the fear of death in them, with anything close to having an elevator that goes all the way to the top floor.
The daredevil, this Christopher Wright, is a man who doesn't need to fear death because, really, what's death to him? It's nothing more than another passage, something that gets written about at the end of books - typified by a grave and depressing sort of finality, the often exciting and quick conclusion to a life that most people choose to waste on a pedestrian-paced existence. So what if it the lights click off and something else happens, or nothing else happens. The proposed finality of death is seemingly only final to the people staying alive here (those friends and loved ones), according to the fictional daredevil with the helmet, goggles and the will to defy it and this group of Wisconsin friends, who believe in churning up all of the various ways that we could be looking at death wrongly. There are - they seem to suggest - more important things to worry about than the possibility of such a small thing like death ending all of this.
It's a minor, minor infraction and not really what counts at all. They go about convincing us of this through enthusiastic live shows that bring exemplified amounts of fire and experimental flair to these often harrowing stories of flirting with death's many masks, suggesting that there might not be anything to be afraid of. Death just counts for a minute, for a fleeting minute. What's going to count later on are those attempts - the successes and the failure(s) - not sure if many people get more than that one - at soaring that car over a cliff and onto the predetermined landing spot on the other side of the cavern, not to mention all of those big cats that could be getting nimbler and nimbler on their paws, thanks to a little discipline and tutelage. All through their songs, death is a guest. There are rare moments where it's seen as an uncomfortable or unfair circumstance and one is in the song "Stewardess," where a love, possibly a newlywed, perishes while doing her job aboard an airplane, "a million miles about the ocean." The sadness comes through the void that her partner feels in the loss - in the emptiness - but there is that bittersweet ending that comes in many of these songs, where the deceased is "home with Jesus."
A religious undercurrent is impossible to miss or ignore, though it's never off-putting or uncalled for. On the contrary, the Biblical, life-after-death reaffirmations are the essence of what makes a fictional character such as Christopher Wright such a powerful one - or at the least, strong enough to believe that there is a safety net always stretched out beneath him, even if it's not that, but really just jagged rocks, sure death or the claws and teeth of an unforgiving meat-eater.
*Essay originally published December, 2009