“The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.” Friedrich Nietzsche
The Caretaker is an artistic persona of James Leyland Kirby. And the persona, not Kirby, has early onset dementia. What the fuck? I know. I know! But, hold up. Stay with me here and let me finish. Kirby has already released the first 3 stages of his 6-stage project. The last three are planned to be released April 5, 2018, September 2018, and March 2019.
Stage one (A+B) was released in 2016 and in Kirby’s own words, “Here we experience the first signs of memory loss. This stage is most like a beautiful daydream. The glory of old age and recollection. The last of the great days.”
Stage two was released in April 2017 (C+D), and it’s “the self-realization and awareness that something is wrong with a refusal to accept that. More effort is made to remember so memories can be more long form with a little more deterioration in quality. The overall personal mood is generally lower than the first stage and at a point before confusion starts setting in.”
Stage three was released in September 2017 (E+F) and here “we are presented with some of the last coherent memories before confusion fully rolls in and the grey mists form and fade away. Finest moments have been remembered, the musical flow in places is more confused and tangled. As we progress some singular memories become more disturbed, isolated, broken and distant. These are the last embers of awareness before we enter the post awareness stages.”
So, what does this sound like practically? Kirby takes some old ass songs, slow dancing big band stuff, and puts them through a process so the sound is all fucked up. At first I listened and thought that this guy was just a lazy piece of shit. “Take some old fucking songs and make them sound all fucky?” I thought, “That’s not music. That’s not art.” But, as these things do, I listened at first with anger. Then, as time passed, I craved more and kept listening. And, eventually, it unfolded itself in front of me. And here’s what I found.
Making a series of albums based entirely upon entropy is fucking interesting. Dedicating a series of albums to some of the least understood people in the world is fucking noble. Studying dementia through sound, being able to feel what it may be like for someone experiencing this terrible thing, well shit, that’s what art is for.
Listening to these albums fucked my shit up. I stayed quiet as I listened to these songs and meditated on what they were about. It was both a beautiful and sad experience. The passing of time began to feel rude, mean, precious, and delicate all at once. And when it finally finished, I wanted to go out and cherish each living moment with the clear memory and faculties I have. Somehow, by taking these old big band songs and making them all fucky, Kirby opened my eyes a little to what was happening in the lives of people I don’t know, and helped me understand how lucky I am.
I feel like everyone has gone through the experience of watching someone they care for go through dementia. It’s an odd experience because it’s impossible to fully understand. All moments in their life seem to happen at once. They are at the same time a child, an adult, and a senior. People who passed away years ago are suddenly there but you just can’t find them anymore. At moments it seems like some sort of bliss and in the next an absolute torture. This album goes through all of this in its own way.
In the end, this art is effective because it’s simple. And I can’t get mad at that. Look at abstract expressionism, the roots of rock and roll, punk music, and so many other arts that work the same way. Sometimes, it’s through simplicity of art that the most dramatic effects can take place.