A History of God's Bones: Scot Casey, Robert Lashley, Jess Manley – Honey Moon
November 10, 2011
Full house at the Honey Moon. There seems to be a fair amount of anticipation for this show. The possibility of something new, different, a bit more confrontational than the usual entertainment. Personally, I am somewhat skeptical. The ponderous title of the show, A History of God’s Bones, is not promising. Visions of street-corner preachers haranguing the masses, of god-intoxicated monks wandering lost in the desert, rantings of insane mystics echoing down the asylum halls. I figure to make it through the first set then cut out.
Opening is Lance Jordan. You have most likely seen Lance wailing Rusty Cage in front of the Shoe late at night. He comes out of the gate roaring, singing loud and working up a raw scream. Soundgarden and Alice in Chains get their due. His sound is much tighter than the last time I saw him.
Scot Casey, who is responsible for the evening then comes up and welcomes everyone, introduces the poet, Robert Lashley, who is set to read a few poems before and after each set. Lashley is well known around town and the state as an outstanding poet and performer of the Word. He does not disappoint. His first poem, “Burying brother sisters bones in the church lawn,” converts any unbelievers in the crowd. You can sense that he almost wants to sing his language as he speaks, something of the Rhapsode here, beautiful and strange. His third poem, "To the gang member who made me give him head in the Al Davies parking lot" brought on the shivering awareness of something genius.
Casey then turns on a film, which plays through the entire performance. It is called “Begotten.” Directed by E. Elias Merhige. It is a stark black and white film, almost abstract in its imagery. The first scene graphically shows a hooded god disemboweling himself with a straight razor. Over this Casey is playing a minor key instrumental piece. To the side is Jess Manley, who is creating sublimely beautiful ambient soundscapes as he sits at a table full of multi-effects processors, black boxes and a variety of pedals and mini-cassette players. As the film and music increase in intensity, a woman in the crowd shouts out that the film is disturbing her and demands that it be turned off. Casey replies that he cannot do that and keeps playing with a sort of demented and uncaring smile. Meanwhile, the manager of the Honey Moon informs the woman that this is a venue for artistic freedom and that the woman is free to leave anytime. The woman and her table depart. A song later, another table departs. I decide to stay until the end.
Casey’s songs, mostly roughly hewn blues based creatures punctuated with a strange slap technique, are difficult and odd. I keep wanting to enjoy them and then he throws in a line about how he wants to “step out of his skin and dance on top of his grave” or “sing with the devil to the song to god’s pain” and he loses me. With each new song my sense of frustration with him grows. Is it too much to ask for a simple and beautiful song? He is clearly capable. Instead, we are assaulted by increasingly bizarre and violent imagery: more bones, more skulls, the death of god, desert roads and honey caves, nails driven through hands, shotguns in mouths ( “blood on the tiles and some toothless smiles”). All of this with an extremely confrontational film behind him. Jesus! Is it too much to ask for a simple evening of entertainment anymore? Have we reached the point in the culture where all of the horror and terror of the “death of god” has to be violently pounded into our brains through, of all things, a poorly played acoustic guitar, a broken voiced singer and a violent theological film? I don’t know the answer. And I am not sure that Casey does either. Towards the end, he played a song with the sound of a troubled woman crying and screaming that she had lost her mind, over and over. Casey sang along with her and adding, “God won’t leave me alone.” Clearly. The problem here is to whether or not we need to be witness to this. A better artist would have found a way to create something of beauty and grace. Instead, what we have to endure are the god haunted rantings of an unhinged (arguably insane) mind put to raw and rough music that is best left for the darker corners of the Appalachian hill country. Perhaps all those who left were right. Maybe we all should have left with them.