Sunday, 20 March 2011

Last of the Country Gentlemen

After Sunday Mass, I was given Last of the Country Gentlemen by a visitor who works for Mute Records. I had never heard of it or Josh T. Pearson. His photo – half cowboy, half Old Testament prophet – didn’t make me want to run to the c.d. player. But, a couple of days later, I did slip the disc into the machine and sat back with minimal expectations. The slow realisation flushed over me like some sort of ecstasy that I was listening to music with an absolutely unique aesthetic. By the time, I had finished listening to the seven love songs my eyes were moist, my heart was racing. These are songs that take an x-ray of all the fissures, shadows and splits in the fragile heart as it attempts to love. I am certain Last of the Country Gentlemen is one of the all time great albums about love.

There are two states that require a heightened artistic response. The language of the quotidian – the language of cleaning the cooker, going to the office – won’t do. The music of the shopping mall and pop charts won’t suffice. Love and death need a language and music that rises to the occasion, that speaks in a biblical fashion. Josh T. Pearson has found both the language and music to diagnose the cause of his love sickness.

The immediate cause was a failed relationship with a girl in Berlin - although it could be almost any failed relationship. Pearson captures the distinctive way that men grieve a lost love: masculine emotion tightened to a thick knot. This grief is spare, picked clean to the white of its bones. Loss is expressed with no taint of hysteria but with just a few guitar parts and the occasional addition of mournful strings. The language is measured, weighed in the scales of sadness. I ain’t your saviour or your Christ or your goddam sacrifice/And when I said I’d give my life, I weren’t talking suicide/ And I’m so tired of trying to make it right, for a girl who just won’t come to the light/night after night after night after Christ haunted night.

Josh T. Pearson’s voice could make desert stones cry. It’s as if he is placing his finger in the maggot infested decay of this relationship. He crawls with a sense of his own complicity in its death. Woman when I’ve raised hell, heaven knows you’re gonna know it/ Don’t make me rule this home with the back of my hand. At the same time his autopsy, eats him up from the inside out. He’s brought to his knees as he performs his own improvised funeral rites over the relationship’s carcass. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Last of the Country Gentlemen is a little work of art.


  1. Dear Fr Martin,
    Do you think that this is appropriate Sunday Lenten fare from a priest?
    I am particularly concerned by the casual use of the picture of a semi naked woman and I'm also concerned by the lyrics that you recommend.
    The priesthood has such dignity and although it is good to engage with our surrounding culture, we rightly expect our priests to bring us the perspectives of Christ. All the more so when a priest is speaking publicly.
    Christ would never expose me in a picture like this, nor would he expose any other woman in this way.
    If this is the picture on the cover of the CD I would also be a little concerned that straight after Mass a worshipper felt that it might be appropriate to give this to you - and that you accepted it.
    I'm sure that you are very well intentioned in all of this and I'm sorry that I must sound very discouraging. With my prayers, God bless

  2. Your whole blog requires a heightened artistic response. I Love it, from Hemingway to Barnes to Nicholal Hytner to Chris Ofili, keep up the wonderful work.

  3. Anna, thank you for your comments and I take your concerns seriously. In fact, the c.d. I was given had a different cover - a photo of Josh T. Pearson. For some reason this cover was changed by Mute.