By the time you read this, Jeremy Quentin - the Michigan man behind Small Houses - and I will have had a sit-down. We will have discussed Richard Buckner for however long it takes and he will have satisfied his curious needs to know what that guy was and is like. And I'll have lied to him, made things up, built Mr. Buckner up into an even more mythological being than he already is, having made permanent and nearly indescribable imprints on the memories of many who have seen him in his many states. Mostly though, I think that Quentin wants to know more about this one particular fella because he thinks that it just may make him understand himself a little better. Really, who the hell knows why he's so interested, but he is, in that one person and in that one session that came out of Buckner as one slab of heartbreaking glory. It's music that somehow reminds us of two competing experiences - the one of being utterly insignificant and the other of being more valuable than we could ever have imagined. Buckner is an amazing creator of this delicate dilemma, where we can feel like we want to live and we want to die, all rolled up into one simple feeling. And it's likely that we don't want to die, we just haven't found the right way to live yet and it often feels like a sentence, like a month that lasts for years and years. We get buried in it - in that feeling of drifting toward some unpleasant horizon.
Quentin, who used to live modestly but heartily just outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, but now lives even more so that way in Philadelphia, brings to his songs this same sense, though there's less of a dire nature to it, but more of an awakening sort of thing going on, as if he was somehow getting the full effect of the burning sun (the tanned legs, arms and faces) and the far-off stars and moon for the first time, or really putting them all into a perspective that matches with what's out there that he feels is important to him. Small Houses songs are folk songs that seem to carry a sleepiness to them that allows them to be inconspicuous, but we're not to be fooled, as they're searching, searching, searching - the deliverers of these soliloquies are - for all of the things that aren't derivatives. They're out there looking for those things that are going to make us feel as if all of these heartaches and hardships aren't all just being flung at us in vain.
We're supposed to find that there is life in death and death in life and all of it is a brilliantly blended fucking mess that's tough to sort out, but it's thrilling all the same. Quentin scours the floors around him for any sort of loveliness that he can find, something that he can come back to and remark upon as being memorable. There seems to be a spiritual beast that he wrestles with, that he sups, smiles and fights with on his songs, not knowing what to make of the ways that things turn out. It's a lot like the way the rest of us tend to deal with our intangibles - with a flummoxed sense of disbelief. We deal with so much half-awake that we get so used to it that we call it our norm. Quentin refuses to sleep sometimes, unable to rest on any complacency when it comes to what we find value in. he knows beauty and he knows sadness and it puts them into the same vase.
*Essay originally published November, 2011