There is no better revelation than realizing the value of something previously detested. We privilege redemption stories over all others because they give us hope of being better and of bad things becoming good.
One might have never liked the taste of olives until mistakenly eating tapenade. One might have grudgingly slogged through Jane Austin in High School only find it on a rainy day bookshelf raid years later and become transfixed. A girl who has never made an impression might become the object of desire after being heard singing.
The world becomes a very extraordinary place when we find that our prejudice has been wrong. In fact, being won over by taste of olives, the language of Austin, or the visage of the singer are all the more beguiling than if they had been loved from the get go.
In February the new album by Damien Jurado was released. His prior album was full of unabashed cheer and sorrow with carefully laid lyrics and compelling stories. That album, Saint Bartlett came out in May of 2010 and provided a summer of listens that inspired me and kept me company in studio and car. Jurado’s new album, Maraqopa, left me flat. I cast it aside in disappointment, saving only a few tracks that felt tolerable but leaving the rest of the album to the vultures.
Good songs, as with good artwork or movies, become places in one’s head—rooms that we decorate with our own associations and to which we can return again and again. But after a while, that room—too well loved, becomes musty and laden with the weight of associations. When such a metaphysical place becomes outlived we look for a replacement that has the same charms as the first. A good artist can create subsequent works that find that feeling once more with a fresh variant. A great artist, however, risks to deliver a work that at first feels nothing like the previous, but holds its ground and guides the patient into love.
Jurado’s Maraqopa album took that long way around for me. I just couldn’t hear it at first. The sounds felt muddled and incomplete, incomprehensible and selfish. I constructed the opinion that he’d gone off a-wandering, chasing some invisible muse that could not be translated for an audience. I suspected he was burnt out and fooling himself; what to a painter looks like just pushing the paint around.
But I had salvaged those three songs from the album that I deemed listenable. I tossed them into a mix with other orphaned tunes and tried to construct an album that could hold it’s own. It was a pretty good mix and listened to it repeatedly for a few weeks. One cold and drizzly night I took a drive around Upper Bucks, as I like to do for reflection on a day’s painting. It was a very broody night that served as a placeholder for the winter we never really had. In that setting I finally began to hear the songs that I had separated from their album. I didn’t just hear the likeability that had led me to keep them around, but like a Trojan horse, they introduced the artist’s original intent.
Appreciating art is a negotiation. There is the argument that the artwork brings and the argument that the audience brings. One may like a piece based on their own interpretation or based on the artist’s own interpretation. When the two perspectives converge is when a piece finds real importance.
On that wonderfully dismal February evening, my mind was ruminating over studio thoughts and was fertile ground in which the music could set root. Once I had heard Jurado’s argument by way of those songs I understood where he was coming from and could give the album another chance. This time I had the key to unlock the door to the album and the songs worked as a beautiful whole. A love that comes easy does not need to be scrutinized, but a difficult love must be figured out. Maraqopa was not the album I was expecting and had it been I would not have cherished it so much.
Art appreciation is full of redemption stories. As we grow and change, different artwork will become relevant to our experience. While I loathe admitting it to myself, there may come a time when a Renoir doesn’t churn my stomach, but it will be a welcome revelation. These small redemptions are what extend the limits of the map and restore faith that there is still artistic ground to be discovered and a purpose for it’s search.
Alex Cohen is a Bucks County painter. To view more essays and paintings visitwww.themagpie.org