6 July 2009

Rowland S Howard

Teenage Snuff Film
Cooking Vinyl, 1999

It reminds me of a song called 'Lay Me Low', five minutes of melodrama that I know like the back of my hand, from the album Let Love In by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. On that track, Cave sings about the impact his death will have on the world. It is ridiculously self-indulgent and, eventually, just plain ridiculous. It starts off with his friends and family mourning and then journalists writing their obituaries: "They'll try telephoning my mother/ But they'll end up getting my brother/ Who'll spill the story of some long gone lover/ That I hardly know." Then it moves into fantasy – motorcades ten miles long at his funeral, the sky storming and the sea raging to mark his passing. Oh, what nerve! To believe that the fucking Earth itself would shake at his loss!

The song that reminds me of 'Lay Me Low', and that I have been listening to all week, is 'Sleep Alone', from Rowland S Howard's solo album Teenage Snuff Film. Perhaps it's no coincidence they remind me of each other. Howard was the other main songwriter in The Birthday Party, the group that launched Cave's career. I have written before of how the two met, and how they parted over creative differences, leading to the end of the band. After The Birthday Party, as Cave's solo career took off, Howard remained comparatively underground, collaborating with arty punk artists like Lydia Lunch, joining Crime and the City Solution and later starting his own group These Immortal Souls. In '99, two decades after writing the famous track 'Shivers', he released his own solo album.

'Sleep Alone' is the final song on the record. It opens with a crash – all wailing guitar and high-pitched squeals of feedback over a pummelling drumbeat – and Howard's posturing as some sort of intergalactic Dirty Harry taking aim at the universe. "First I shot down the stars/ Because you said they ruled us," he sings, matter-of-factly, as if he was just doing a job, before reloading and moving onto the next target. "Then I took out Mars/ Yeah, he was the cruellest/ His lover followed suit/ By way of suicide/ And the others stood there silent/ As I dealt out peace of mind." After taking down the planets, one by one, he finally rests: "The sky is empty, silent/ The Earth is still as stone/ So nothing stands above me/ Now I can sleep alone." It is ego unleashed.

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