Perfect Sound Forever

Feel So Good Inside Myself
Donít Want To Move

Greg Dulli, Gentlemen, and Beyond The Infinite
By Mike Wood
(October 2007)

For its raw exploration of alienation, loss, and rage, Sly Stoneís Thereís A Riot Goin' On can be seen as a companion to John Lennonís Plastic Ono Band. The Afghan Whigsí 1991 album Gentleman dared to bond with those two frazzled, gut-wrenching masterpieces to make up a trilogy, and began a creative odyssey that expanded on that raging wrestling match with appetite. With Gentleman, front-man Greg Dulliís writing took on a more personal, brutally honest look at sin and salvation than he had prior. The Whigs, on their early Sub Pop releases, more than explored the dark side, but there was a kind of grunge hangover to them, like they were just another jaded band trying to cash in on Seattle. Far from it.

Continuing with 1965, the next Whigsí release, Dulli further extended the musical possibilities of his quest for healing as he used white soul music to explore a love/hate relationship with his own lack of will power. The competing war between sex and salvation, enlightenment and a reluctance to let go of the darkness has made Dulliís post-Whigs work with Twilight Singers and his recent solo record one of the most consistently powerful and genuine struggles for peace of mind since Van Morrison and the above classic benchmarks. That his is a naked art is clear, and the double meaning of that assessment is deliberate. Musically, he is a Henry Miller, creating a kind of secular spirituality out of lust, one that is fearless in looking at both the dark and the light.

That demand to find the light in spite of continuing weakness in the face of lust and addiction was most explicitly revealed on Gentlemen, though Dulli alluded to that inner war right from the get-go with Afghan Whigs and has continued that war in his subsequent career.

Charles Bukowski, riffing off of Dostoevsky, said that it is far worse to know right from wrong and to do it anyway than to be ignorant. The attraction/shame cycle cuts a hard, direct line from the Whigs to Dulli's more recent work with Twilight Singers, in which, using a more moody, ambient sound, Dulli inches closer to fully embracing the light. From the beginning of his recording career, Dulli expressed himself as someone who knows better but canít help himself. It was with Gentlemen that Dulli first reached a harrowing artistic maturity. From the buzzing flies on the opening track, "If I Were Going," it is clear that this record is to be an autopsy of love betrayed and abused; the cover itself, a child couple looking like they are frozen in the silence of an argument, suggests that this is an old an eternal battle.

Lines jump out of these songs and resonate for years after:

"Ladies let me tell you about myself/I got a dick for a brain/and my brain/is gonna sell my ass to you" ("Be Sweet")

"Every night in that bed/with you facing the wall/if I only I could once heard you scream/to feel you were alive instead of watching you abandon me"("When We Two Parted")

"If I ignore it, it gets uncomfortable/sheíll want to argue about the past" ("If I Were Going")

"I stayed in too long/but it was a prefect fit" ("Gentlemen")

"Feel it now and donít resist, this time/the angerís better than the kiss" ("Debonair")

"You think Iím scared of girls/well maybe/but Iím not afraid of you"
"I will crawl my way out of this pit/and fall back into it again" ("What Jail is Like")

The last track, "Brother Woodrow/Closing Prayer," is an instrumental but as a grizzled preacherís call to prayer, it is also one of the most heartbreaking of his career. A dirge as well as a plea for healing, the track speaks to the infinite in a wordless way- a cry for some kind of order in the midst of self-created chaos.

Two bootleg/B-side tracks from this period add to the record, and make the violence implicit in the end of love explicit. "Mr. Superlove" equates domestic violence with proof of sincerity, while "Rot" adds up the crimes and theft of a relationship. On both tracks, the line between love and hate is crossed, and in both cases that line is the true line of feeling.

Disturbing as it may seem, Dulli seems to suggest that passion, for good or ill, is the only truth.

Where Dulli steps up to the plate with Lennon and Sly is in the baring of the definitive struggle. While todayís audience may relate to Gentlemen viscerally since the struggle is one of sin vs. salvation, the resonance is also there with the other records. Hard as it might be to relate to Lennonsí need to be seen as a person rather than an icon and to Stoneís analogy of being a racial and musical icon to a bad angry buzz, Dulliís link to them on Gentlemen is as a human willing to bare the hard truth behind the myth (in his case, of a man in and out of love, but risking notions of love and self with every kiss).

Key to Dulliís growth, despite the wavering love/hate with his own instincts, is another line from "Be Sweet": "and this was no place for you and me/to walk alone." The sense that salvation is only going to come through friends, or at least a perspective beyond the self, is what fuels his post-Whigs work, and brings hope both to him and to the listener, who, after the despair of Black Love and the wallowing in the funky soul of lust of 1965, the last two Whigs records, have had more than enough reason to worry about our boy.

The overall theme of his subsequent releases is "Everything is Gonna Be Alright," and that faith seems to have come through, allowing others inside his creative life, through friendship. Though he has continued to brutally explore his own worst enemy in Twilight Singers, whose most recent release was recorded in New Orleans with an erratic power source due to post-Katrina misery; an eerie but fitting setting for redemptions songs, Dulli, like the greats within whose company he certainly belongs, is now using chaos to create an attempt at order.

Occasional collaborators like Mark Lanegan and Jeff Klein, whose work both have wallowed in self-destruction and a wish for relief from it, have become central to the Singers. Now, Dulli at least hints at a willingness to listen to more than just the usual trinity of drugs, dick and genius. Like George Jones, he is still ragged, but trying to be right. His one overt connection now, to Sly at least, is that he is still alive, meaning that redemption, or at least fatigue with ways that he knows by now will not lead to holiness, is an on-going war. As a listener, one can only be so lucky to be allowed to follow his continuing battle.

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