Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Chris Simpson, when he sounds like he's hanging onto his sanity or his serenity by a thin thread, is when he's heard in his best light. It makes you feel for the guy, but what is it that's actually being felt? It's an unfamiliar tincture of empathy. It's a stranger's empathy that isn't part of the catchy empathy that's done by those wanting to feel what another person's going through. It's more an empathy derived from a place that emphasizes that another person needs to give you such a personal flash of themselves that it allows you to empathize with yourself.
The Zookeeper front man - and former Mineral front man - drinks the pessimistic fire that, when it's recycled and channeled back out into the slinking fingers of airy waviness, is rousing and beautifully sad. It's as if you're watching flowers hitting the grave from below the dirt, or you're feeling them thumping down on your buried face - less morbidly, of course, but it's a striking way to experience things and somehow Simpson makes it seem like it's happening. He is rough and tumble with his emotional stability, feeling like there's doubt, suspicion, odds stacked out of his favor and driving rains pushing the water into his eyes as if they were icy needles and bullets, making everything a little more of a statistical hardship. It's a shame, a shame, a shame, he could go on, but it's not really the motive that he sinks his teeth into. The denial and the disgust are gone, worn down into chalky powder and debris - dusty bones and fiber - so that all that's left is some pleasant despair that's bound for a revival or some turn for the better, not the worse.
He makes you think about paying taxes - even the six cents on the dollar when you're buying Doritos or the New Yorker - as if it were surgery, or being attacked by the big, sucking leaches from "Stand By Me." They're cutting off your legs and hitting you over the head with them and yet, it has to happen. We're just those woodpeckers blasting our beaks into the trunk of a tree, not knowing any other way to get to those mealy worms and prosperity. What choices are left, but to live as the Dude would - maybe not necessarily fighting those unwinnable wars, but just going with the whatever.
A quote in the newest issue of Rolling Stone, from one of founders of Lebowski Fest, seems apt here when he's trying to explain why the movie and the Dude have become such cult phenomenons years on, after the movie tanked at the box office. He thinks that with there being less hope in the immediate future right now and with the standard of living being less than what it was for our parents (for the first time ever) that people are drawn to Jeff Bridges' character because even though his character is "by anyone's standards a failure, he's still an incredibly good-hearted person with a sense of loyalty to his friends. At the end of the movie, what you're left with is that it's OK if you are a loser so long as you're a good person." He says that people tear up at fests when he gives that assessment.
Simpson is probably one of those guys who thinks about the failure card and who thinks about the constant struggle that comes with having to put one foot in front of the other after a long day and night of nightmares or less savory occurrences and then just rubs some dirt on the sore muscles and finds the kinds of sparkling beauty in the soot like a Doveman does, like a martyr does. The tough times will stop. There will be a break in the clouds. Zookeeper's music is a reminder that you can throw a suit coat and some good shoes onto a problem, tuck a flower or a kerchief into a breast pocket and begin to make it a little more delightful. It's laughing through the fits of tears and feeling the cold play with the streaks on the cheeks.
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