Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sage Run--- The Beginning and End of War

The Beginning:  A gramophone plays a recording of a popular song of the Civil War period as bombs and sounds of battle slowly envelop, transform and then replace all sounds except an odd aural reference to sonar and a spoken voice until all fades to silence.  There is no music, not in the normal sense, and yet it is music in its every form, striking deep into the heart and the soul of anyone within range--- not just the range of hearing but the range of feeling.  It is fear and doom and everything you might expect had you not already been trained to ignore the sounds.  Movies, television and video games have taken the horror of war out of our minds--- the sounds of the horror, anyway.  We do not die with a Bruce Willis quip on our tongues.  We die alone--- dreadfully alone.  David Stace-James, who records under the name Sage Run, makes sure it comes across that way with the ominous droning sound of music over both the physical and the mental.  The Voice is ghostly and regretful.  "Sixteen and a half years old," it starts.  "I joined the cavalry company."

This album is not about a war.  It is about War.  This is what War does to some of us.  Bringing fear.  Bringing dread.  Forecasting doom, all while life goes on.  This is, for Stace-James,the real music of War--- not Over There or I'll Be Home For Christmas or even Der Fuehrer's Face.  These songs are black clouds over humanity.  It is, after all, War.

I hesitate to call them vignettes.  Vignette connotes more of a light-heartedness and sometimes even vaudevillian attitude.  These are hardly that.  They are compositions, as rooted in drama and reality as they are in music and fantasy.  The Voice was once a person--- someone's son, maybe someone's brother or sister.  He is a ghost, a spokesman from the past, though then barely a man.  "Sixteen and a half years old..."

While the tracks all together tell a story, the individual tracks are stories within themselves.  On this one, a soldier--- a mere boy--- leaves for War, leaving a pregnant wife behind.  The further away from her he is, the less he is able to control his destiny.  The machinations of War.....  On that one, a man argues with God.  How can you not, in the face of War?  I hear the strain in my own head, "if God, as you say, was truly gracious....."  On another, a woman recollects her husband, taken by War.  It is a Simon & Garfunkel moment, a scene before...  Before his death.  Before her heartbreak.

Stace-James can write songs, yes.  His last album, self-titled, proved that, but this album is not just about songs.  It is about War.  The last song is a song, a very pretty folk ballad of sorts, but a prelude to end.  When the bugle blows taps and the ambient sounds of birds take over, War is over.  But not really.  As Stace-James writes in the booklet which accompanies the album, "How do I write about the end of war?  Does war ever really end?"

This is one of those albums which words will never quite be able to describe.  I have listened to it numerous times and still have the same reverence and confusion.  It is magnificent.  It is whole.  Yet it leaves so many questions unanswered.  I keep hoping that maybe, at the end of one of those hearings, the answer will appear.  I know it won't, but I hope anyway.

And, no, this is not just about The Civil War, though Stace-James drew much of his inspiration from it.  It is about War.  Something we all need to know more about if only to prevent the next one.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog, his own website and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini, out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)

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