In my interview with Sage last week for Altar Ego Radio, I asked him why Buck 65 had made reference to the fact that this was an album by an artist âpushing 40â. Sage gave a fulsome and enlightening reply, but I asked the question because Buck 65âs comment had posed all sorts of questions for me.
Iâm no longer âpushingâ 40, Iâm pulling it, and despite the clichÃ© of the attendant dread and self-examination not being an issue in the approach to The Birthday – in fact it was raucously ridiculed by me and my identically-aged friend – it hit afterwards. The most traumatic thing of my life occurred in the first year of my 40s, my last year of the 30s being the one in which I weighed the least, earned the most, ran the furthest, and triumphantly cut off all my hair. I was at my most confident, and I was precisely the reverse exactly one year later.
I thought âlifeâ had done that to teach me a lesson; perhaps Iâd been smug, too confident or ambitious, and needed smacking down. But âlifeâ isnât a force with a will of its own; itâs the thing that you create, and also the thing that, to quote another oft-quoted bloke, âhappens when youâre busy making other plansâ.
I never did understand why John Lennon was so revered, and still donât really, but itâs a stone cold diamond-hard fact that other peopleâs words are what trigger some of the most thoughtful and considered responses in me. I canât just draw things like other people, I have to have a trigger or jump-off – preferably a melancholic or dramatic one – and the over the last decade and a bit, the schoolgirl magnetism of Dickens, the BrontÃ«s and Nietzsche has given way to Sage Francis (and Ed Garland, but heâs for discussion later).
Sage will be 40 very soon (“My 40sâ¦Iâm not so sureâ- Sage). Unlike me, he writes constantly and without needing other peopleâs material. His entire time on earth provides this. But for the majestic new album released today, even he needed to pull on the recognition this year that he came to a point, as I did, of thinking there âwas nothing leftâ to give. (The album is named for a neighbourhood house stripped over time of its every asset, till someone thought to write on its side âcopper goneâ, to try to prevent further devastation through looting.) His songs have always been unashamedly biographical, thatâs well acknowledged. Itâs why human beings heâs never met think heâs read their minds, or are his best friend, or look to him as mentor and life coach, counsellor or muse. His words will be engraved on skin by people heâll never talk to, such is their resonance for individuals. Theyâll approach him after gigs and ask, âhow did you knowâ?
Well, he knows not because he has magical powers, or had particularly out of the ordinary experiences; heâs just never been afraid to talk about them, with crowbarâd open ribs and surgical word-precision. âPersonal Journalsâ was the album around which I clumsily but determinedly built a show of work which, via a series of events and opportunities I could never have foreseen, brought me to the place I found myself in at 39 – and also to where I am now. Because of, and irrespective of this, itâs still a deeply moving album for me despite the really, really great albums heâs made since. I still look up to it as an example of what someone with no filter between soul, brain and pen can produce, and as such I still revere it as aspirational. ‘Copper Goneâ came to us one track at a time, in the build-up to creating the cover art. Even without the village-burying avalanche effect of hearing all the tunes at once for the first time, which is how anyone buying the album today will experience it, it was immediately apparent that this, just like Personal Journals, was going to need a strong nervous system.
“A massive emotional outpouringâ (Alarm Magazine) seems too dramatic a description when set against the voice of the chuckling jovial gentleman of our interview, but thatâs just what this is. Heâs a DIY artist and writer (“DIY or Dieâ) whoâs built everything from scratch, but the price paid for that weighs on him no differently from that of the habitually all-nighting corporate financier; days, nights, sleep, leisure, friends, health, partnerships, children and opportunities sacrificed for the pursuit of âitâ – âhe was too caught up in work to sign for the nice deliveries that life bringsâ (Once Upon A Blood Moon). In that respect, this album is a staggering exposÃ© of the deals we can make without even realising, hoping âitâll all be worth itâ, and promising ourselves weâll reward, relax and be present when weâre done, when itâs enough, when weâre âthereâ.
Something of an alarm call, then, for those of us currently squirming in recognition at that scenario (âwe’ll burn it at both ends, it’s safe to assume what doesn’t consume the flame, the flame consumesâ – MAINT REQD).
The album is writhing with a thousand quotably poignant or funny lines, and yes some of those will bring fluid to the eyeballs. This is not to suggest however that the music isnât an equally potent partner to them – even if you didnât speak a word of Rhode Island, the magnificent beats keep this from being a maudlin sob story. Be careful – it isnât. (âI talk a lot of shit but I can back it all the fuck up!â – from the satisfyingly bleepy 8-bitty Cheat Code.) Iâm not going to break down every track, but some stick around long after the headphones are off.
‘MAINT REQ’ is a solid, one boot-in-front-of-the-other hip-hop banger that walks you roughly around the reasons This Guy Needs A Break. Reminiscent of the poignant Gunshot swansong âThe Long Goodbyeâ, itâs that thing that goodânâproper hip-hop does well – robust singalong hooks, classical jabs to the ribs and monster beats (which are by Kurtis SP.) Sore and tired, it encourages us to âpush through the painâ¦have you tried turning me off and back on again?’
âThe Set Upâ was the one that broke me – just as the still-unexplained âBridleâ from Sageâs âA Healthy Distrustâ did, and Human The Death Danceâs âBlack Out On White Nightâ. I met Alias, who fashioned the elegant softly-spoken tragedy that is the music to this one, at B.Dolanâs wedding, and I struggle to reconcile the memory of this chirpy good-natured bloke with the downright cruelty of those beats. Iâm not sure I know (like âBridleâ) what this one is âaboutâ, but when tracks are so peppered with acute observations and wordplay, and for all the cleverness and obtuseness, does it actually really matter?
I suppose thatâs it: although Sageâs creations can, if I invite them to, provide an unconditionally rich seam of ideas and content which I can plunder and exploit visually, they can also, if I choose, simply be the most awesomest hip-hop tracks Iâve ever listened to in that moment – even if I happen to be crying as I shuffle earnestly from hoof to hoof, empty notebook in hand.
See full post here: Inkymole2014-06-04.