“You’ve got to sing and dance for years…”
– Charles Nichols
This is a quick entry to crow about Austin-based musician Nick Hennies’ release Lineal.
My title heading refers to a memoir of Carl Jung I read 30 years ago, and have since revisited. It came to mind when I read Hennies’ liner notes for Lineal, at first blush reading simply as an account of how the project came about and the like. After listening to Lineal several more times, then returning to reread the notes, several dimensions of this lovely piece become clearer.
As in Jung’s recollections [which he agreed to with great ambivalence and nearly abandoned], there is the dimension of how all memories are really dream-like, as their particulars as often as not vary according to the storyteller, divergences that can lead to heated, even generational, disputes. Upon Jung’s passing, his estate [his surviving and mortified survivors] sought to excise the unflattering aspects of Jung’s childhood recollections.
Hennies’ memory of his grandfather Charles Nichols, who’s stentorian recitation of three verses he memorized and recited at family gatherings form the spine of Lineal, is of a grim, detached and marginal family member. But the verses are sentimental and religious, invoking family fealty and bearing witness to loved ones as they die. Juxtaposed to these clearly heartfelt recitations is Hennies’ memory of family members laughing and whispering as Nichols held forth. Hennies was asked to record grandpa Nichols for posterity. What Hennies’ did with these digitalized recitations is weave together his memories, dreams and reflections.
Listen to Lineal informed by Hennies’ memories of these elements, and of the gap between how we preserve a familial myth, and the reality [whatever that is]; it becomes the more sobering and powerful. As expressed in this relatively concise work, Hennies’ binds these elements together with nuanced musical framing.
So, a few words on the music; Hennies’ integrates the poems into essentially three acts that cohere despite dramatically abrupt segues and strikingly different musical fields in each act.
The first section consists mainly of the resonances of struck glasses and/or bells, spacious tolling that, upon repeat listens, seems entirely incantatory, setting the stage for Charles Nichols first recitation. The contrast between his deep southern pipes and the preceding ritual tolling is startling at first. The second act sounds windswept and desolate, leading to Nichols’ reading of a versifed dialogue between man and god. The third section, involving a gauzy sense of distant choirs, is stunning, the ethereal “chorale” continuing into/around the last recitation- not Rilke, nor Eliot, but the plodding rhymes of the 20th century poet of the sentimental masses, Edgar Guest. And somehow, framed by Hennies’ choral white noise ascending, and juxtaposed with the young Hennies’ recollection of an aloof and unloving figure, it is a brilliant, heartbreaking moment. The old man dedicates the Guest verse to his deceased wife of 60+ years, then recites lines about a family [a family myth] being made by watching someone you love die, as wisps of ghost music segue to a final, unreverberant tolling.