10 December 2009
Actor, musician & my mustache style icon, you may know Oldham as Bonnie “Prince” Billy aka Palace Music aka Palace Brothers aka Palace Songs, et. cetera. At the risk of overstatement, his songwriting, his flexible method of reinterpreting his own work, and the complicated system of ethics & belief which play out in his lyrics could have made him a Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen for our age.
But he’s not that, and we live in a different kind of age.
Is he established? Yes. Johnny Cash covered his song “I See A Darkness” and earlier this year, Oldham subject himself to a profile in The New Yorker. (His reluctance at cooperating with said piece acts as co-star.)
Johnny Cash (featuring Will Oldham): “I See A Darkness”
Oldham, though, is a different sort of personality than the songwriters whose legacy he upholds. He conveys an intimacy, a solipsism, an independence, and a demand for purity that tests extremes never even available to the Cohen/Dylan lineage. In the 20th century, an artist had to engage in a careful dance with the mass media to make themselves known. By contrast, The New Yorker profile described Oldham’s funny relationship with even the niche focused “indie-rock industry” that sustains him:
A bit more about the show mentioned in that excerpt. Oldham has always made music friends and family members connected to his Louisville, Kentucky home. His recent work with the local bluegrass group The Picket Line brings this tendency to the fore. Last year, they staged a number of impromptu concerts around Louisville, including this one:
Next week it’s being released as an LP on Drag City. (Until December 15th, they’re giving away an MP3 not otherwise available on the record.)
Does it rate with his best work? No, but Oldham’s such a prolific artist, it allows for creative acts that satisfy his ethics more than his audience. And when he indulges, it makes his commitment to “smaller things; things smaller in scope and more specific to our tangible and imagined communities” ring all the more true.
May we all continue to imagine our communities into being.
(Photo via My Old Kentucky Blog)
Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis