Listen to this track by Mark Kozelek-led folk-rock-slowcore musical concern Sun Kil Moon. It’s “Lost Verses”, the opening track to the stellar 2008 album April. This record was the second to be released under the Sun Kil Moon moniker. But, Kozelek had been in the game for a lot longer, initially as the prime mover behind Red House Painters, as well as in the release of albums under his own name.
This particular musical vehicle was named after a Korean boxer Sung Kil Moon with boxing being a sport to which Kozelek has made reference before in his other material. Boxers Ruben Olivares and Salvadore Sanchez also serve as references in song titles. Yet, the music is far from what you’d consider to be combative. As evidenced here, it is music that takes its time, delivering a contemplative, expansive, and emotive tone.
This is not to say that the music is one-dimensionally gentle and with no punch – pardon the pun. “Lost Verses” is imbued with folk-rock textures, including a crunchy Neil Young with Crazy Horse-style outro to underpin it. Further to that, this particular song deals with a theme that certainly requires a great deal of bravery, both as something to write about and get right, as well as something to actually face when the time comes.
Here in this song, we are brought to a deathbed, and taken through the final stages of dying from the point of view of the one in the middle of the process. First, it’s about fear and feeling helpless. Then, it becomes a tale of a wandering spirit, a loss of connection to those left behind, and transcending the world to attain a greater perspective on it. In this sense, this song is a sort of ghost story, and a story about the awareness that may be attained after death.
But, the idea of “lost verses” evoked here goes beyond all of the thoughts of whether or not there is an afterlife. I think “lost verses” here is concerned with all of the things that are left unsaid between those separated by death. It’s about the many things that are left to be understood about a person, yet are impossible to know or to come to terms with when that person is gone. It could be looked at as a song about tragedy, or regret. But, it’s also a love song.
That’s where the idea of bravery comes in, for Kozelek writing the song, and for all of us having to face the implications we find in it as listeners. Writing about death and loss is a well-traveled topic among songwriters. But, it’s hard to get right. It’s too easy to slip into the saccharine and simplistic on one side, and the superficially grim and po-faced on the other.
It’s hard to pull off a song about it, and make it both joyous and sad at the same time, which is very often how the experience itself plays out; glad to have known and loved a person, and feeling grief-stricken to have lost them all at the same time. Yet this is something we all have to face. Eventually, we have to face it from both points of view. Because the person dying is experiencing their own kind of loss as well. Saying goodbye is a two-way street.
Maybe it’s the loss experienced by the departed that represents these lost verses best; the thoughts, the experience, and the expression of what it is to leave the world behind. These are things that hold their own kind of dread, and their own kind of beauty, too, as the story ends and puts all of the moments in a life into perspective.
But, ultimately all of this still has to do with how much we’re connected to others, and all of the moments that make up the totality of that connection stands as a treasure to be cherished by those left behind, even if it can’t ever be fully defined when the time comes for curtain call. That’s why I think “Lost Verses” is ultimately a love song. Because love is mysterious and contains hidden depths and dimensions that the span of one lifetime cannot possibly contain.
Sun Kil Moon is an ongoing project undertaken by Mark Kozelek. The newest (to date) album under that name is Among The Leaves. You can buy it, and learn more about Mark Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon at Sunkilmoon.com.