Why am I writing this? I don’t want anything from Cooper, not from you (or only just everything), and publishing anything like a statement about art has come to have a chiefly negative value for me, evoking cosmic shame in relation to the gods of my own life-work. But I’ve courted so much embarrassment already, what’s a little more.
It’s not just that public exegesis is a probably wrongheaded diversion from experience of the work, confusing means with ends and pretending at a reductive objectivity, à la the Rinzai monk Ejo Takata’s admonishment of Jodorowsky after he explicated the first “Gateless Gate” kōan in a Mexico City newspaper. But also because constitutively opposed as I am to valuations of artistic “importance” / related paeans to implicit hierarchy or coterie-justification and even to the entire love-belying mode of “the critical” in relation to art’s fruits of heaven: rendering any statement about all that is to strike a kind of discursive pose with one’s back to the nutritive void, to enter the dreaded “conversation,” of which any notion of definitive inclusivity or democracy is always a heady lie. (Or: differentiation is just likening’s negative, the obverse of a claimed affiliation; differentiation always establishes a relation.) As I age into my work I feel more and more it’s generally best-advised to say nothing about art on any “public” platform, to whisper of it only to other afflicted initiates, to just gracefully allow the innumerable mysteries to bend your doings and puzzle your addled mind. And meanwhile to allow those whose work strikes a different balance their own relation to said inscrutable horizon, or the apparent absence of such a relation: if we’re dealing with numen in our work, with the unconscious or supraconscious, with the fundamentally unknowable and unaccountable, our most educated guesses about where we’re at are also anyway merely our worst alibis, so I don’t necessarily think a dumber, more cosseted ex post facto art-conceptual framework worse than the subtlest, most hysterical faith. Anyway, it’s all in the mix!
Damn, off to a bad start as usual, explaining all the ways I won’t dance instead of just hitting the floor. So why am I here? To write a little love letter to the music of Cooper B. Handy, “Lucy,” who I don’t really know, am barely starting to. Because every second of Cooper’s music keys me back in to the necessity of my own work — because when I hear it, I feel so his mind that in my listening I start to remind me of him…
Cooper’s music is full of girls, boys, mother, father, the house, the school, and barely-garnished everyday idioms. No “narrative,” not “confessional,” but (or rather so) personal in unassuming reference: finally it makes sense to me to invoke human collectivity, an unapologetic “we,” since the Lucy music really registers deep, common experience. So clear in his songs, our eternally sticking origins from which we’re painfully separated in unfree liberation! You gotta return again and again to these images for new food, chase those lost impressions of clarities never originally felt. But though temporally complex, Lucy is definitely music about, for now. The dayjob reveries hit me in my stomach, that pull of love from the food-job (Cooper works) and its transposition to musical dreaming: these songs are sublime symptoms, they escape in bubble form like gas from the pond of mind-hours as he “whistle[s] while [he] work[s].” And so much quick movement between such accurately hewn psychological scenes, I mean: that’s what experience is like, yeah? Some sediment on the bottom but mostly all a whirl — this begs into that, this accedes whatever transit that refuses, and so on.
Melodies fulcrum on the 5th, 7th, 9th, like in Morrissey-Marr, like in rap hooks. This charismatic Robert Smith feeling inflects Cooper’s vocal presence, and he plays certifiably Cure-mean keyboard: not evocations in affect or mannerism so much as in a twisty energy refusing the exact box it so nicely erects. Cooper is a pianist, and mentioned physical playing as his practical touchstone in writing, bless him. But bless him too for orienting himself above all to writing and recording as vehicles for the heavy lessons of disarmingly simple words accreted in the omni-shadow’s fecund unknowability: as a poet-in-exile who’s made music his medium, this is all I can personally appreciate, an artist’s orientation to said, that tragic hunt for unverifiable, instinctively identified, fickle truths. (Lucy’s Dark World origins make it especially ridiculous not to follow the trap beat yellow brick road to whatever he’s learning from rap but I don’t know what to say about that — anyway, as far as contemporary music goes, everyone knows rap’s the empyrean from whence all the freshest melodic rhythms and intricate syllabic opportunities descend, even if you can, you know, find everything you need everywhere [Carole King for me lately].)
Who is Cooper? I sense he’s kinda absent, love that. Is he shy?! So glowing, he has very little right to be, which makes the quality or its illusion very attractive. “Good luck tonight all my viewers” is his unironic, anodyne Instagram motto. This music does not seem “performative” to me, obvious vocal passion notwithstanding. What do I mean by that? I’ve been around for a minute, this could remind me of other “acts,” doesn’t. It’s not an act at all, right? I want to say: privative, but I say: necessity. “We are not a miracle, but necessitous beings, and what is necessitous somehow manages to take care of itself” — that’s Laura Riding. I won’t pretend at knowing what Cooper wants, what all this is to him: that would be violent, wrong. So I’m just going to respond to some words that keep grabbing me, twenty or thirty listens in…
My Song 10
“I wanna love you, I wanna love myself too, but: whose side am I on?” — Of course, something deep and reactive in me opposes loving myself to loving another (or refuses to acknowledge any difference). But I care more for the beautiful word “but,” a seeming artifact of intuitively necessary musical ‘sound’ (often the ear yields a syllabically unalterable fragment that requires fulfillment) that registers all the more strongly as ‘sense’, and which is maybe the most active word in the line, somehow saving the formulation from being a joke, and at the same time functionalizing it. It’s always these little words that for me count most, zap me with a bolt. Cooper tends to highlight them, backs the bridges with enunciation.
“I can go wherever I can’t believe” — That’s right, that’s writing talking! Robert Seydel: ‘half my moves are moves to cancel.’ In my experience, inverting a readymade line to the negative (or finding it that way) is the quickest correction to open truth the door.
“Now I’m talking with these girls and they all understand what I mean” — Pure naive (I mean that highly, yeah!) joy named…
“Some of them want to take, but I do things in a different way” — The unceasing play of differentiation in a varied/separated/and-so-
Touch the Pond
“I feel like John Doe is Don Juan” — So exactly what’s missing, denoted by this cop-show legal appellation, equals the powerhouse of eros. Or that’s the feeling, anyway. Maybe the dad in this song is real or maybe he stands for the same missingness or maybe both. If this writing ‘is’ sublimation then it makes sense the love-object would be the divine absent, too. But I’m not endorsing shit, perspective-wise! Help… That amazing moment when the a cappella breaks through and you can hear all those crispy enunciations of the hard Ts. The love of language (even, or especially, as it breaks us all) there. Pagan respect, elemental.
I Only Wana Love
“Too smart to argue or to judge — yeah you know me, I only want to love” — Amen, wish I was that smart, I only want to love, too. Grace Paley: ‘I never argue when there’s real disagreement.’
“These women hate the men but I swear I love them still” — Who can blame them, you; a strong moment, some uncensored ‘chivalrous’ mental pose, like the self-aware clownery of Erje Ayden, dissolving on contact into the usual soup of need.
Yes I Did
No commentary, first part reproduced in full:
“You look at me that way girl, it cuts me to the core
I came into this world a boy, it’s the way I was born
Don’t act like it’s a bad thing to fall in love with us, no no no
Playing games all day and set to self-destruct
Feel so clean but the blood’s not clean and the voice is familiar
I got something that’ll make you laugh, I got something that’ll make you cry
I heard you driving down my road, yes I did
Up in heaven, driving down my road…”
“And now I’m having fun in self-defense” — Is there any other way to have fun? Some audit (even if the audit for ‘enough fun’) is always active, laying pressure down (or all-the-more guaranteeing its release). Fun is always a fuck-you to some other need? To the demons, too. Or is that a personal problem…
Come to the House
“Passionate and raw, like what the fuck’s he on, as if I want to say a thing about my life” — Yes, misrecognition of the motive, when: is there one? I’m definitely committing the same error right now. You probably do it too when you write, Cooper? Anyway, whatever is “wanted,” there is not much choice involved in these things, thank god.
“And they like the way that I go when I come to the house, flipping the switch ’til the lights come out” — This bravado tastes sweet.
Can You Feel the Beat Tonight
“Shine light in the lover’s ears: the kind of music that’ll last forever” — Well, you named the only alibi sweet enough to be worth the denial of its falsity. And with the passion of every lover. God I love this song.
“I don’t wanna talk ‘cause there’s not a lot of things I wanna know” — Formulations of such extreme accuracy only accumulate in word-dreaming.
We Love Tomorrow
“Keys won’t lock and the birds won’t sing when the phone don’t knock and the door don’t ring
Yeah we love tomorrow, collecting up all of the things
Yeah we love tomorrow, don’t it make you wanna change?” — I first heard it as ‘we love to borrow’ until I read the title and that shocked me even more. Now I get both, thanks. Re: the first line, this is so not ‘juxtaposition.’ This is how things actually mix, present.
I almost wish I had more to say. I hope you’ll listen to the album. This music of Cooper’s would send me back to the drawing board if I weren’t permanently installed on my own autopilot cruise to wherever I’ve always been… There is exactly enough music to sail his loving words on my ears. So it’s fully econo in proportion, and: it’s nice (I mean both kind and cuttingly dangerous in its ability to flip scripts and do what’s necessary, as in the mafia sense of “nice guy”), giving. Lucy’s new to my ears and will always be: to me this music’s already lasted forever.