Written by: Paul Gleason
1. Ride Mark Kozelek’s picked acoustic chords and melody to the Ohio of “Clarissa.” Ohio is Mark’s home state and the melancholy state of mind to which he always returns when he writes. In “Clarissa,” Mark’s returned to Ohio, grief-stricken and torn up, to mourn the death of his second cousin, who burned to death at the age of 35. And he doesn’t pull any punches in revealing his feelings and Clarissa’s story. Hear Benji, which fearlessly embraces disturbing existential events that lead to melancholia.
2. Ache with love for your mother, as Mark on “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” makes you realize how one day she “she won’t be there to hear [you] cry”—that is, if she isn’t dead already. When you hear the fragility of the lyrics and instruments (they sound like they’re on the verge of cracking), you’ll understand your own fragility, your mortality, and how much you need your loved ones to survive.
3. Remember how much you’ve traveled to attend the funerals of loved ones—see the trip home to Ohio for Clarissa’s funeral and think about how it relates to the song “Truck Driver.”
4. Know that life is a fire that consumes us all.
5. Face the “complicated mess of sex and loss” when “you lose control and how good it feels to come.” When you listen to the self-lacerating “Dogs,” think about how many people you’ve damaged with or without knowing it.
6. Feel how loss pervades our lives. Hear Mark lament the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Hear “Pray for Newton.” When you’re enjoying Christmas, your birthday, your wedding, and, basically, spending the kind of money that others don’t have “enjoying” your life, remember the kids who lost their lives and the parents who continue to grieve for them.
7. Empathize with Jim Wise, a friend of the narrator’s father, who killed his dying wife “out of love for her,” failed to kill himself, and is now on house arrest. Hear “Jim Wise”—a song about a fan of The Doors and Stevie Nicks—and dare to spend a day loving a man bound for prison.
8. Admit to yourself how much you love your father. Listen to “I Love My Dad,” Mark’s open letter to his dad, who taught him “you’ve got to love all people” and introduced him to Edgar Winter and taught him to “shoot the shit” and how “to pay gossip no mind.” After hearing “I Love My Dad,” join Mark in singing, “I love you, Dad.”
9. Recall the music of your youth and how it made you who you are. Hear “I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same,” and learn how Mark found a sound to which he could relate in Led Zeppelin’s acoustic, soft side of “Rain Song” and “Bron-Yr-Aur” and in the melancholy Fender Rhodes tones of “No Quarter.” Memories of Zeppelin lead to an exploration of Mark’s melancholy nature, ability to empathize, his endless hurting, his endless apologizing… Were you the endless outsider, too, playing your guitar while the popular kids play football? Will you “shake your melancholy”? Or will it be with you for all eternity? Will you transform your melancholy into a world as beautiful as “I Watched the Film…”? Will you thank the people who made your life possible?
10. Be overwhelmed by death as Mark—sometimes simultaneously singing two sets of lyrics, just like Patti Smith on “Land”—overloads you with appalling facts from the headlines, connecting them to his personal life and aging, seemingly endless aging, and “having to pee 50 times a day.” Be overwhelmed by “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes.”
11. Love the handicapped kids with whom you went to school. Feel as one with the outsiders who “want love just like anyone else.” Did you make fun of the kids whose “brain[s] worked a little slower than the others’”? Can you walk in the shoes of Micheline, the titular heroine of the song? Or Mark’s friend Brett, who died the other day, many years after suffering an aneurism while playing guitar? Or Mark’s dead grandma, who had a “pretty hard life”? Or her kids, who “stepped up to the plate” for her after she was “diagnosed”?
12. Hear “Ben’s My Friend” and wonder with Mark if it’s worth it to “worry to death”and if it’s okay to laugh at it all and have it be all right—because meltdowns tend to pass…