Nothing to say here. Just that this was a fantastic record and unexpectedly so. In 1994, I’d been in San Francisco making a pilgrimage to AMC sites and ignoring RHP sites like Grace Cathedral Park. Didn’t care, but this record nearly ten years later tranformed my relationship with Kozelek. Seventeen years ago, my wife’s near-twin sister Colette and her wonderful husband Alan got married, in Nerja, Spain. A memorable wedding for all kinds of reasons, not least that the song they opened their wedding dance with was ‘Gentle Moon’ off Ghosts. You never hear a song quite the same way, do you?
Sun Kil Moon: Ghosts of The Great Highway (2003).
Mark Kozelek has never made it easy on his audience, and he’s not about to start now. In the days of Red House Painters, the difficulty lay in remaining conscious through double albums of dirge. They went on for weeks!
Ghosts Of The Great Highway, however, is taxing in a good way.
With Sun Kil Moon, the great leap forward is in the change of lyrical focus. I was glad recently to hear a rabid Red House Painters fan say what I was already thinking about these songs: “He’s not only singing about himself”. In fact, Ghosts Of The Great Highway fulfils the promise made by its title and its cover, a faded ochre photo of a five-year-old girl wearing angel wings.
Both strongly evoke the Dust Bowl and you can detect the spirit of Steinbeck, of empathy, admiration and sorrow for the things people do to keep going, in songs like ‘Carry Me Ohio’, or the trilogy-of-sorts of ‘Salvador Sanchez’, ‘Duk Koo Kim’ and ‘Pancho Villa’.
All three (like, indeed, the almost titular Sung-kil Moon) were boxers who fought their way out of the slums only to barely survive into adulthood. A South Korean, Duk Koo Kim died in the ring at 23 and here, amidst a vast noise redolent of Crazy Horse or Toiling Midgets, Kozelek (a huge boxing fan) pays tribute and then wonders what it says when such youth and strength and grace exists only to be pounded into nothing: “You never know what day could pick you baby/Out of the air, out of nowhere”.
It might seem hard to take a positive from this, but in the string-steeped ‘Last Tide’, Kozelek asks a question that suggests arrival at a hard-won conclusion and sums up this generous, rich record. “Will you be here with me my love / When the warm sun turns to ash / And the last tides disappear?”
To put it another way: love is stronger than death.