I bet you thought I’d write you about how good Spirit of Eden is. Or maybe about that masterpiece that was The Colour of Spring. Like everyone else does. Or even if that story about your A&R man being asked if he’d heard Laughing Stock by his boss and was it named after him was true?
I could have written to you about any of those really, or to ask you how a punk rocker who says he started “not able to play anything” could create such beautifully crafted music. Or to ask when you realised that having hits in Germany wouldn’t fulfil you anymore and that it was time to stretch your wings. Was it about the time you did you did Montreux with the jazz band…
…and stretched out “It’s My Life” into a 12-minute jam? (The video to that is blocked where I am but other people might be able to see it and dig what you were up to.)
But it isn’t that I’m writing to you about actually. I’m writing to you about the amazing and beautiful album that is Mark Hollis.
Titled as simply as that. It doesn’t need more.
It’s sometime been called “the quietest album ever made” but it screams at me when I hear it.
Somebody said that Miles Davis was once advising another musician (I forget who) and said its not hard to know when to play, just hard to know when not to. I think your record understands this perfectly.
Silence and space are assets.
Especially if you decorate them perfectly.
But with wild musical invention.
Forever I was in love with the song called “A New Jerusalem”…
A New Jerusalem
…and I don’t mind telling you it spoke to me. It had something very English about it. Now I live away from home and thrive on that.
“Reserved” might be the world, but not “shy.”
Certainty and strength are features but it’s so thin it almost crumbles.
Like the magic of Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops put into a manageable chunk and with a song attached.
And you sing it so well. With soul.
Like Vicar’s Son soul.
But this year I have been unfaithful to that masterpiece.
And been reading up on the Great War.
And this year, Mark, I have rediscovered “A Life (1895-1915)” which is dedicated to Charles Sorley.
A Life (1895-1915)
This song is a bit like “A New Jerusalem” in that it almost disappears before it starts, and is full of pastoral regret and melancholy.
All that in itself is true of Sorley, a brilliant poet who died too young. He wrote several poems that challenged the myths of Empire and duty, and dared to suggest Germans were human too. He wrote these words, which ironically seem to apply to him as if he knew his fate:
“Such, such is Death: no triumph: no defeat:
Only an empty pail, a slate rubbed clean,
A merciful putting away of what has been.
And this we know: Death is not Life, effete,
Life crushed, the broken pail. We who have seen
So marvellous things know well the end not yet.
Victor and vanquished are a-one in death:
Coward and brave: friend, foe. Ghosts do not say,
“Come, what was your record when you drew breath?”
But a big blot has hid each yesterday
So poor, so manifestly incomplete.
And your bright Promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.”
These are words for the ages.
Words of wisdom.
And words that fit with your soundscape.
Even though you chose not to use them.
They are words of wonderful poignancy especially when read as this plays, which is music used in a totally different way – but just as heart wrenching.
So thank you Mark Hollis, your album is something I return to again and again.
It conjures up a different age. And its wonderfully musical.
And thank you for making me search out Charles Sorley. I recommend him to others.
I hope people remember your work in 100 years.
PS: I suppose I could have written to you asking if there will be more. But I am sure you are retired and happy. Its just we’d all like it please.