I talk a lot about my love of The Gracious Few. I tell everyone, all the time, or so I'm sure it seems. I won't go into all of the reasons I love them--you can check the archives for previous posts--but suffice it to say that I adore them.
I've been looping the debut CD again for the last several days, with the occasional non-TGF track thrown in for good measure. Listening for what must be the thousandth time, seriously, I was struck by something about this album: it's very masculine. That sounds kind of silly considering it's a band of five manly men. (Well, four manly men and Kevin Martin....) It's heavy on guitars (thank you, Chad Taylor and Sean Hennesy), and the drums and bass are ever-present (Chad Gracey and Patrick Dahlheimer, respectively). Everything about it is in a guy's tone, though, even on the most melodic, ballady tracks, like "Crying Time" and "Sing". Even on "Guilty Fever", when Kevin's voice approaches his full falsetto, there's never any doubt that this music comes from the deeply personal places of a man.
Amongst the many, many theories of psychology developed by Carl Jung, there are the archetypes of anima and animus, which are basically the female and male sides of men and women, respectively. In other words, anima is the female psychic energy of the man, and animus is the male psychic energy of the female. They represent the unconscious psychological qualities of the opposite gender that each person possesses.
The idea (in a Stephanie-sized nutshell) is that we all originate from a zygotic state and therefore possess the traits of each gender in some capacity, the two parts equaling the whole. For various reasons ranging from societal to genetic, we suppress one side more than the other, but the psyche has to find a way to let the other side speak. Anything that taps into and expresses the subconscious can be an outlet for this psychic energy. Dreams are commonly used by the psyche to work out its issues. So are the arts, including music.
And as I listen to The Gracious Few (2010) yet again, it hits me: there's no anima.
Not once do I hear the music or the lyrics trying to tap into the female anything. I remember Chad Taylor tweeting during the writing and recording process that they were writing a slow song so "your girl can cum too". (Several female fans all said to Hell with that--the rock is what gets them off. Very animus.) I can only imagine that he was referring to "The Rest of You" or "What's Wrong", both of which are beautiful and powerful odes to the difficulties of love. But those songs are decidedly male, and it's from the man's perspective that we hear the questioning of the viability of those song-specific relationships.
"Appetite" and "Honest Man" are screaming rock tracks, definitely, but "Tredecim" (that's a free download link, btw) is the one that really oozes testosterone for me. According to an interview with Kevin Martin, the lyrics originated from a comment by Chad Taylor that he felt like he was in the Harvest Moon of his life, with the fullness and strength he was feeding on with the new material with the new band:
"It made me think of the calendars life that we follow each and every year in regards to how it would celebrate its life through story or song. Beginning with the Harvest Moon and ending with the rebirth of life as in the birth of the Harvest, a year's cycle actually being thirteen in regards to the birth month not ending at twelve with death. The lyrics represent that full heart, the tired Autumn, the sleep of Winter awakening with Spring and the birth of life. Ending with the statement 'my life has made me flatland" as in unending, no obstacles just plains running as far as the eyes can see, our 'calendar'."
FYI, the word tredecim is Latin for thirteen. So it's about the thirteen-month life cycle, a year in life from beginning to end and beginning again, though it starts with the adult male, not the newborn.
Tredecim is also the name of a fictional beast described by Hugh Chandler in Indeterminate People (1985). It's the physical form of a symbiotic cluster of thirteen different species. Chandler's creature is more than the sum of its parts; it is capable of language and thought in ways far superior to any single species of its make-up, and its intellectual abilities exceed the expected composite of the thirteen entities. When the tredecim is broken back down into its parts, each species seems to remember what it did, though none has any understanding of why it performed or how its own actions contributed to the whole.
As I ponder these greater things, it strikes me that this is much like the months-in-a-year comparison. To take one month out of a full year doesn't really show much about the year itself. Its impact and import may not be fully known until the annal as a whole can be seen in reflection. The Harvest Moon may be stunning, but it's still only a beautiful full moon until you see its impact on growth and harvest cycles, whether literal or figurative, and understand how it originally came to be so big and bright.
All of this to say, what a manly way of looking at it.
Women would never compartmentalize a piece of something as separate from its whole. To separate a bit from the original makes an entirely different thing. To take the snakes from Medusa would just make her a crazy, evil bitch, not a mythological villain, even if her gaze can still turn men to stone. (What woman doesn't possess that Evil Eye?) Her true, menacing beauty comes from the slithering hatred and the story that led her to that form.
I started to think of some very feminine records. Sarah MacLachlan's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (1994) was the first one that came to mind. Even with driving guitars and bass, it's still a total chick album. Which is why, of course, Lilith Fair was started in 1997. Poe's Haunted (2000) is another girl record.
So then I started to think about my long and varied love of music. The first song I remember singing was Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets". The first band I really loved was Duran Duran, and Seven and the Ragged Tiger was my favorite album. Later would come the Babys, the Kinks, INXS, David Bowie, the Doors, and Live, among many, many others. I'm also really partial to glam and glitter, androgeny and cross-dressing, hence my love of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Liquid Sky, Velvet Goldmine (but only the Ewan MacGregor parts and the soundtrack), Scissor Sisters, T. Rex, and Eddie Izzard.
I've always had a fascination for the heteroflexible, I guess. What I know of almost all of the singers of the bands I mentioned--whether rumored or confirmed-- just feeds my fetish for manscara. Even the most masculine of those singers, arguably Jim Morrison, was deeply in touch with his girly side in his writing and music. Personally, I don't care if he was bisexual or not, though I'm not inclined to think so. But songs like "Love Street" and "The Spy" and even "My Eyes Have Seen You" have a certain anima about them.
Then here's The Gracious Few without a female bone in its body. I have openly admitted that my long-time love of Live is what led me to listen to TGF originally, but the quality of the music is what made me listen again. And again. And again. No glitz, no glam: just honest-to-badness Rock and fuckin' Roll.
Would I pay good money to see Kevin Martin in manscara and red glitter lipstick? Probably. Will he like that I said that? Probably not. But I feel confident that he, and the rest of the Gracious Few, are secure enough in their individual and collective manhood to take the compliment at the heart of this: it's a guy record.
For me, the biggest surprise wasn't the realization of the masculinity of the album. It was that I found I liked it even more.
And I think that's the truest hallmark of a great album, that you can listen to it over and over (and over and over and over) and still find something new in it every single time.
On a side note, I want to wish the Gracious Few and their cast and crew a wonderful, fantastic European mini-tour. They just spent a few days in Pennsylvania for rehearsals before heading to Europe for their first dates there as TGF. (They'd all been there before, certainly, as Live or Candlebox, but this is the first time the Gracious men went together as a band.) We're all breathlessly awaiting updates and footage. And U.S. tour dates. Don't forget the U.S. tour dates!
Enjoy your man time while you're on the road, gentlemen!
[DISCLAIMER: I, Stephanie Quinn Jackson, am fully and completely aware that Kevin Martin of the Gracious Few is, completely and totally, a manly man with a fantastic sense of humor. Really. No need to fill my comments with admonishments otherwise. Unless you're Kevin and feel the need to defend your personal masculinity. In which case, put your manscara on first, then we'll talk.]