Praise for my pal Rick Moody
I’m going to do students and fans of Rick Moody’s writing a disservice, so that I can do Moody himself a service.
The disservice is as follows: I’m not going to try to establish a connection between Moody’s prose – he is, after all, the author of such contemporary classic novels as Garden State, The Ice Storm, and Purple America and the award-winning memoir The Black Veil – and the lyrics that he writes for his folk trio, The Wingdale Community Singers.
After all, as Moody himself told me in an interview for Caught in the Carousel a few months ago, one of the keys to understanding The Wingdales is to realize that the band is most definitely “not a vehicle for [his] lyric writing.” Rather, it’s the collaborative effort of Moody and his two incredibly talented partners: Hannah Marcus and David Grubbs.
This isn’t to say that The Wingdales’ most recent album – Night, Sleep, Death – isn’t literary. Indeed, it’s best to hear the record as the work of a highly intelligent, very literate, and tremendously gifted team of songwriters and musicians.
While drawing their primary inspiration from Walt Whitman (more on Uncle Walt later), The Wingdales delve into the work of other writers and artists throughout Night, Sleep, Death as well, breathing new life into their work.
The lyrics of the opening cut – the Marcus-led “So What (Andy’s Lament)” – see the world through Andy Warhol’s eyes. The music, which relies on strummed acoustic instruments and Moody’s off-kilter harmonies, is incredibly disconcerting in the way in which it harkens back to traditional folk music. In other words, by not matching the postmodern sheen of Warhol’s “reproduced” Brillo Box sculptures and repeated silk-screen images of Jackie Kennedy, The Wingdales create an unexpected and unsettling soundscape that hints at his tumultuous psyche.
“No Rest,” which features Moody on lead vocals, lyrically draws upon Augustine’s Confessions and the quest for God that takes up most of that text. Traditional instruments and Marcus’ harmonies combine to suggest Augustine’s restless mental state before his conversion. But this time Grubbs features prominently, adding more unrest to the experience through some brilliantly performed guitar feedback. Unlike Augustine in the Confessions, The Wingdales reach no point of contentment. Grubbs’ guitar work, which takes the song to its conclusion, says as much.