Fly Into The Mystery
It's always been easy for me to daydream about Felt. For Lawrence, I think quite deliberately, left plenty of room for mystery. Even today with the easy access to information provided by the Internet, doing a search on Lawrence/Felt brings up next to nothing; one forlorn web site with mostly outdated links. Its both frustrating and enticing, I'd like to know more, but the dearth of facts ends up fuelling my imagination, forcing it to fill in the blanks from the scraps accumulated only through extensive searching and collecting. And these small bits of information seem all the more precious for the effort expended in their collection and all the questions they leave unanswered.
It was so strange coming across these records in my teens in Houston, Texas and having absolutely no idea what the hell this was or where it fit in with anything. Who made these records, what other bands were these guys associated with and maybe most importantly who else listened to these records? I didn't really know anybody else who listened to Felt and certainly no one that knew anything about who they were. But I was immediately intrigued, the covers alone captured my imagination completely even before I had heard the music.
Those sparse photographs, the artful moody graphics of their albums and singles. The summer hat, Spanish afternoon of the 'Ballad of the Band' sleeve; the pretty boy half portrait of Forever Breathes the Lonely Word; the attic room with felt spray painted in black and the band in front of a Clockwork Orange poster; the cardigan, droogish black gloves and snake like belt of Let the snakes crinkle their heads to death: All wonderfully evocative and mysterious images. Images that seemed to point to another world. Narcissistic, somewhat threatening. A little creepy even, but alluring like the imagination of a child.
The music evoked staring in the mirror for hours, not so much out of admiration of your appearance but in anticipation or in hope of your features beginning to morph or a landscape slowly revealing itself, another world inside the mirror. Waiting for a vision to unfold, but its always just up to the edge of almost, just an inkling of something maybe about to happen, Felt's music and packaging implies so much. It captures the excitement and confusion of the first moments of implications just forming. Or those moments awaking from dreams when you know something important was revealed but can not be completely or coherently recalled, and so you're left with the aftertaste of paradise lost.
The early albums sound of far away pounding drums, slow melodic guitar lines, and whispered vocals. Cobweb of sounds; smoke filled mirrors, mythic and ancient. A little later the buried pop elements came more to the fore, the picture gaining more focus, with records like Strange Idol Patterns and singles like 'Penelope Tree' and 'Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow'. A little more light was let in the room, just a little, still soft as through lace curtains. This, I think, is my favourite period of Felt, before Martin Duffy's at times overbearing organ entered the picture. But not always, depends on the day and how I feel. I love them all really and at times Forever Breathes The Lonely Word and Pictorial Jackson Review are my favourites. Though the two Duffy era records where the balance feels just right are the instrumental Let the Snakes and the Mayo Thompson produced Poem of the River.
Felt's music soothes me like no other. The sound is like wrapping myself in a warm blanket, the feeling of falling asleep in the afternoon and sensing others on the outside, voices audible yet unintelligible, going about their day. It's that twilight space between consciousness and the first stages of sleep when you're brain waves are switching from alpha to theta. Strange thoughts and mixed up memories fade in and out, leaps of associations, the strangeness of commonplace words suddenly sounding foreign and immaculate: that's the space Felt's music occupies. Like the aural equivalent of old black and white still photos of people long dead and places that no longer exist, there's a haunted quality there, of empty dusty rooms abandoned or shut off from the world by their occupant. Satie's broken piano plays in an empty room. It's a hermetic quality.
Daydreams of Lawrence constructing his musical missives in his own bedroom surrounded by first editions of Kerouac and Corso. Symbolist and Surrealist poetry on the bookshelf, perfect pictures of the Velvets and the Factory crowd, the best records of Patti Smith, Television, and Richard Hell on the hi fi and fantasies in his head of the streets of New York in the mid 1960's and Paris in the 1920's. Everything idealized, posed for perfection yet tempered by the melancholy foreknowledge that the root is flawed, but that there's beauty there too, beauty in decay and imperfection.
Lawrence envisioned an idealized America, the rarefied essence, the mystique of America, exotic and enticing, as can only be dreamed by one outside its borders. Filtering out all that's garish, leaving only the beatific. Most of his idealized American heroes in turn created themselves out of images plundered from the literature and cinema of Europe: Cocteau, Genet, the French New Wave, the Symbolists, the tortured poetry of Rimbaud and Baudelaire, or perhaps more importantly their perceived style. Picasso's sketch of Rimbaud, pristine and powerful, young and beautiful, hair astray, eyes on fire. So a feedback loop is created between continents, roping back round and continuing to refuel itself, as surely Felt's universe continues to influence the best bands of today.
I can stare at those covers and listen to those records all day long and well into the wee small hours. They create a universe all of their own. The product of the mind of one bedroom obsessive sent forth for all the other bedroom obsessives of the world, a point of entry into a streamlined snapshot world, soft as lace. The outline is all there, with just a few brushstrokes, simple, subtle and perfect.
© 2002 William Crain