Here is a completely obscure piece of 70’s rock. And in this song is every feeling or memory of the late 60’s through the 80’s that everyone who lived this version of that era would like to quietly sweep under the rug. Or maybe anyone who lived through a period of their life in any time that was addled by drugs and/or alcohol. It’s fun to sit around and tell anecdotes about addiction and all of the crazy things that can happen. But the psychic reality of living through something like this is captured in this song. And that is precisely the reason the song is so obscure. Lowell George was a train wreck and a genius. The most painful kind of genius. A talent that could reach and touch those around him with every artistic breath. But his addiction must have wrecked everyone. I feel every ounce of that pain in Kiss It Off.
As in Heart of Darkness, we are Marlow’s audience at the mouth of the Thames waiting for the tide as dusk settles on us. There are shadows and fog, and Marlow’s features are obscured. The only thing that is clear is his voice. And somehow the faraway look in his eyes stays with us even as the light fails. I don’t necessarily want to hear what he is saying. He tells us about Kurtz in the jungle and how the jungle finally claimed him. George is both Marlow and Kurtz. I feel like he is telling us about how the jungle will claim him. It’s almost like he made some kind of peace with himself about this. He’s kind of speaking from purgatory. He is not himself. The Lowell George that is with us is on the rest of Dixie Chicken album telling us about the Fat Man in the Bathtub and reminiscing about a girl down south in Dixie Chicken. Kiss It Off is the man we don’t want to know.
The band is with him one way or another. I wonder how everyone felt about the song. Was it something that everyone was living? I don’t even know how far along Lowell George was at the point that the song was conceived. And Dixie Chicken is definitely the best Lowell Goerge era Little Feat album. But Paul Barrere and Bill Payne seem to be producing sounds so in line with where Lowell George is coming from that I wonder if they were having their own struggles with the Heart of Darkness. At least they survived. But I hear it in everyone’s performance.
“You were the child of some electric nightmare. You could move mountains, the swords of fire.”
And Marlow could tell you about sitting in abandoned houses for hours waiting to die. Lying in bed sweating and waiting for someone to come help you. Walking up and down a hallway while a soup of vague gestures to those around you gave no voice to the vague thoughts that dominated your obsession of the moment – to get through the next 8 hours. The next hour. The next five minutes. To make it to the end of the hallway without your heart exploding.
“They keep you around to watch the house of gold. Keep the hungry away from the sacred grove.”
And what of those vague thoughts. To write about a thought, you have to understand it first. And sometimes, the compulsion is about revisiting thoughts that you don’t understand. You think if you get to that state of mind again, you could actually bring back something insightful and damn near revolutionary. There’s something in the fog that’s just out of reach. You almost understand it. You can feel it. The distraction is the physical body. And that distraction will kill you and you won’t bring anything back. But you keep pushing it like this. And at some point you split. You are no longer the face you show the world. The face you show the world is real. It just offers no clues about who actually lives behind that face.
“You were holy and you made me wonder how. But you looked like a devil who would seize and shake you down.”
And even when you do want out, you realize that you have no idea how to do that. The jungle has you. Your entire existence is singular with that jungle. And the need has primacy. The thought about how to end that need is always so much further down the list. You can’t even pay attention to that thought. Taking action on it isn’t even a consideration.
“On the hopes of a tyrant, no one makes it over.”
But you never actually bring anything useful back. Sometimes you think you do, and you try to explain it to someone. But that person would be alarmed at best. Downright terrified for you and themselves at worst. You can’t even explain it to yourself in the cold light of day. And every now and then, you sit on a gently rocking boat at the mouth of a giant river in the twilight and you can be honest with the people just inside the ring of fog. But you still can’t really reach them. And twilight only lasts so long even when it feels like it will last forever. And that’s as close as you get to anyone. A brief embrace at the mouth of the yawning darkness where you can explain exactly what despair tastes like. And then the darkness has you.
“There is no peace. Is no love. Milk-toasted love. Ain’t no velvet glove.”