After releasing their sophomore album Great Barrier Grief complete with a Ken Done cover, Oh Mercy frontman Alexander Gow penned us a mini-essay on the connection between music and art…
“Art is the thrilling spark that beats death.” – Brett Whiteley
When I drop my bags and guitar cases at the Billabong Gardens Backpackers in Newtown, I stare at the Whiteley print hanging on the wall. (They always give me the same room). I’m thrilled. It makes me want to drink coffee. It makes me want to play the guitar. It makes me wish I could convince the gorgeous German woman staying next door to undress for me. I am thrilled.
(Listening to Leonard Cohen makes me want to do all of the above at the same time.)
Brett Whiteley liked to paint. Brett Whiteley liked Dylan. Dylan likes to paint. When Mr Whiteley refers to ‘art’ as thrilling and immortal, he’s surely got Dylan on his mind. Dylan thrills and Whiteley thrills. Dylan’s work will live longer than his body and mind, while Whiteley’s art has outlived him.
And if we ourselves lift the brush, the pencil, or the tape recorder, we are making a record. We are trapping a moment of intense beauty, passion, grief or everyday monotony – if we choose. This is the musician and artist’s greatest gift. He or she is given permission to sing that thing that was too stupid to be spoken. Or paint the German woman without her clothes on, despite never even meeting her.
Voltaire once said “Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung.”
Anything too bold to suggest, or too romantic to whisper, can be sung. Something too flawless or flawed to survive; something too relentlessly intoxicating, mercilessly exhilarating, can be painted. Or, at least we can try.
The musician, the writer, is given the privilege of naming a song, of naming an album, of choosing the cover art – What a gift! He or she has complete control over their perception. They have complete control. What luck!
I understand my luck. I am lucky that some people like my songs. I am lucky that Mitchell Froom worked with me. I am lucky to have a passionate and dedicated manager. I am lucky to have Ken’s painting represent my music.
I am lucky that I get to name songs and an album, lucky that those titles will be spoken be others – real life human beings. I am lucky that in 100 years my great grandson will know that his great grandfather adored woman as much as he might.
That is the gift that is my ‘immortality’ for artists and musicians alike. And I will not take it for granted.
Alexander Gow is a musician and songwriter from Melbourne. He likes to write sometimes.
Oh Mercy’s Great Barrier Grief hits shelves March 4.