It's hard to tell if there's going to be happiness at the end of the line for the people in the songs of The Last Bison. While these folks that Ben Hardesty and the rest of this passionate crew from Chesapeake, Virginia, write are filled with ammunition, yearning and a vigorous fire, they seem as if they might be headed toward their dying days and it's not lost on them. They know very well where they came from and they're certain that they're going to meet the fates of their forebears. It's not difficult to believe such a thing. It's death. It's that final nail that gets pounded into the wooden box for everyone, no matter where they've come from, who their daddy or mommy are or what they think they've accomplished with their lives.
The people who play themselves into Last Bison songs are hearty, but they've been pummeled by a weariness that they have found they're just no match for. They cannot overcome the sulk that takes a perverse pleasure in stalking and harassing them daily and nightly. They get short reprieves from the malaise, but those are the exceptions to their lives. It's never enough, but what these reprieves do for these people is they give them the perspective that they need to persist, even when all is futile. They know that all men will eventually perish. Their spirits will fly off, like blackbirds spooked from a bare tree, and "all their songs grow faint," but such a doomed thought neglects what comes before that, even if it's fraught with one difficulty after another.
The Last Bison, with its people's glowing determination to persevere through all of their trying times and the beautiful willingness to admit that they can't do any of it alone - despite how hard they've tried, has a way of presenting tough times as mantras and these beaten people, these folks who have been thrown the scraps, as the ground down, but still kicking warriors. They are just reloading. They're playing coy, playing defeated, a way to bide their time to rise again. There's never the fear these folks won't try to take all of the heartbeats that they were supposed to have. They may need help, but they're likely to get it. They're likely to live more before they die. They'll be hoarse and thin at the end, but who really gives a damn?
*Essay originally published October, 2012