Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kevin Gilbert - Nuts and Bolts liner notes from Cintra Wilson

I transcribed them, and feel they are worth more people seeing just to understand why his music is so significant.

It has been twelve-odd years since Kevin Gilbert's untimely death at the tender age of twenty-nine. Those of us who knew and loved him best still miss him a lot and think about him all the time.- and when we think about him (I think I speak for most of us) we think: "Damn, I wish Kev could drop back in for a day, so he could whup out a few of his casually brilliant, hilarious musical comments on our current state of affairs, and also that we might have the opportunity to dummy-slap the tar out of him for depriving the rest of our lives of his peerless talent and exquisite company."

It's hard to say what direction Kevin might have gone in as a songwriter in the last decade. His evolution always happened in leaps, fits and spurts. His personal, professional and creative selves were always wadded up in the same sock drawer - damp, tangled and bleeding colors all over each other. He was already profoundly jaded by Hollywood: his eventual compromise with those Powers That Be would surely have been painful - either for him, for them, or for us. He was already so ferociously appalled by American life that it is hard to imagine him lasting even the first four years of the Bush administration without either moving to Amsterdam or stripping down to a red, white and blue vinyl G-string and immolating himself on the White House lawn. But then again, he never really cared much about what happened in Washington. He had enough political difficulties in his own job. It was a juggling act; he was a showman, in the Bob Fosse sense of the word ("All That Jazz" was, incidentally one of his favorite films), always walking that razor-sharp, piano-wire line between the razzle-dazzle of 'entertaining,' and digging deep, telling the truth, and revealing himself. He encountered the most opposition from his professional world when he felt he was being most courageous: exposing parts of himself that even he didn't particularly want to see hanging around his own living room... let alone singing. He had a profound sense of justice, a nearly pathological need to be honest about tendencies most people would protect themselves by concealing, and a burning sense that he was, in a way, speaking up for underdogs everywhere - he had nearly boundless compassion for people victimized by their own demons.

That was the paradoxical power of Kevin's songs: they are funny, catchy, sometimes too sweet, occasionally too maudlin, always virtuosic, always excruciatingly truthful journalistic dispatches by a reporter at war with himself.

Like Mendelssohn or Jell-O tequila shooters, Kev was always a strong acquired taste...but in a proper mood of submission and indulgence, you might be deeply surprised by what you'd find in your ear.

This collection shows off many facets of the 18-sided die that was Kevin - the twee, sentimental prog-rock troubadour; the emotionally stark naked guy, standing in the dark night of the soul without shoes, shame or raincoat; the caring brother who wrote "Shannon Elizabeth" for his newborn niece; the petulant jerk lashing out a poison pen letter to his ex disguised as a love song to his dog, and most of all: the disappointed, embittered poet who nonetheless tried to redeem his own life, and yours, through piercingly beautiful music...and often succeeded.

What becomes really obvious listening to these tracks is that Kevin Gilbert, as existentially depressing, romantically bereft, and morally liminal as he could be, was a totally blinding, white-hot genius. History may have its share of talented songwriters, and some may have been more well-known or more widely appreciated, but none, really, were any better than Kevin. He truly was, ladies and gentleman, an artist at the apex of human ability in his chosen medium - and those don't come around every day. It's the kind of genius that you're a little more awestruck by each passing year, because even in the midst of certain tangy synthesizer sounds endemic to the year he wrote them, you realize that fundamentally, Kevin's songs are as potent today as they were ten years ago. They're real art: they're timeless.

Of course, what was really interesting about Kevin Gilbert - what Kevin found most interesting, anyway - was his love-life, and the trials he suffered, bedding numerous beautiful women - blondes, primarily - during his short reign on earth (it must be remembered that he began his professional life while still a teen, touring as a keyboardist for rock legend Eddie Money.)What I can tell you from personal experience is that ten inches is a conservative estimate...(to be continued in liner notes of "Bolts.")

Cintra Wilson, 2009 I was saying, to pick up where I left off in the previous liner-notes for "Nuts," ten inches is a conservative estimate of how thick Kevin Gilbert's little black book was, and the angsty feelings resulting from these romantic entanglements certainly weren't his alone, but we can safely say he wrote better songs about them than any of his girlfriends.

Anyway, in the legendary graphic novel "Transmetropolitan" by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson, there is a religious movement in which one voluntarily discards the earthly body and "downloads" one's entire consciousness into a cloud of nanobots, and becomes a vapor-state known as a "foglet." the star of the series, future journalist Spider Jerusalem, rhetorically asks:

"If a guy has a prosthetic leg, is he still still human?... How about if he had two artificial legs? Artificial arms? A plastic heart? Carbon fibre bones? Artificial neurons? Where do you stop being human?"

You don't is the conclusion these drawings draw; a foglet is the ultimate, sentient, "postbiological man."

"You could download a mind out of its - let's face it - eminently crappy, badly designed human body and into a seriously useful and functionally immortal artificial form,"

said Spider Jerusalem.

Which leads me to further discussion of the Kevin Gilbert codex.

It's not the wit and sophistication of Kevin's lyrics. It's not the torturously thoughtful production values. It's not even his virtuosic musicianship or that sailing voice - it's the fact that twelve years after his death with a pair of headphones, he still is urgently, throbbingly real, ridiculous, vindictive, whiny, sarcastic, stunningly smart and painfully earnest all at the same time. He is still so beautiful, infuriating and immediate you still want to reach out and hug him and/or cry uncontrollably and/or hurl your coffee mug at him. His ability to press any number of out emotional buttons, for good or ill, is as strong now as it ever was when he was a living, breathing tortured genius-cum-lover-cum-brother-cum-collaborator-cum-friend.

Whatever form Kevin's soul is currently inhabiting in the space-time continuum, it is a safe bet that he still can't find his car keys; it is also safe to say that some eternal part of him is still waiting to feel that enough other people ultimately got him... that his music resounded, was understood, was loved, as listened to, and was necessary.

The songs in this collection have an impact more forceful than Kevin or anyone else ever gave him enough credit for. If you had the good fortune to know Kevin Gilbert while he slouched around earth, you were lucky, especially if you had a piano for him to fool around with. If you didn't know Kev, you're probably better off - he could be a really infectious downer sometimes, especially after he finished your bourbon; and it was inevitable that he'd say something unbelievably rude to several of your guests. But then again, that special charmlessness was half of his enduring charm.

If you still want to meet Kevin Mathew Gilbert - the "Canvas Mattress" himself (his infant brother somehow couldn't pronounce his name any other way) - you have the opportunity to meet Kevin now. He's like a Transmetropolitan foglet. He's still all in there. All of him. Right inside the music. he spared no molecule of himself to make it, and this is why these discs make him immortal. They were, very consciously, imbued by Kevin with the sum total of his own soul.

Cintra Wilson, 2009

"The Best of Everything" may be my newest favorite KG track. Such a perfect piano ballad. I should write something more extensive about these 2, and the Welcome to Joytown DVD soon.

I also should try and find that graphic novel Cintra Wilson referenced "Transmetropolitan" as it sounds intriguing, I've been kind of into graphic novels of late reading "David Boring" recently, "Ex Machina" and "Y: The Last Man" earlier this year. It sounds up my alley, even beyond the fact she referenced it with Kevin.

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