Damien Jurado’s “Maraqopa”
“Damien Jurado’s “Maraqopa” is his most adventurous and diverse work to date in what is an already impressive musical catalog.” -CBCameron Barham
-Son Worshipers, Part 1 | Documentary Edited by Bob Cording and Weldon Hardenbrook
“The truth is, I don’t know, the truth is just a funny thing you know. You can hunt and hunt for it and like I thought I had found it in folk singing and even in folk singers and people like that seem to be real and of the earth. But people are always singing and they’re always talking about this and how things are going to be good on this earth but things just keep getting worse and no one talks about what’s going to happen after this life.”
Some dreams emerge slowly from the foggy mist of sleep only to grow more vivid over time, with various elements emerging like possible pieces to a profounder puzzle that pulls away leaving you with the feeling that you were close to some familiar but deeper truth causing you to return again and again. Damien Jurado’s “Maraqopa” haunts this same ethereal terrain. What upon first listen you may think this album to be about, it probably isn’t. Equally, who you think this album is mostly about, it probably isn’t either. Jurado’s 10th studio release and 2nd studio collaboration with singer/musician/producer Richard Swift is his most adventurous and diverse work to date in what is an already impressive musical catalog. The music is in fact so layered and nuanced that I will make little attempt to describe it with words so as not to take away from what should be reserved for the listening experience alone. The album was recorded in less than a week at Swift’s studio in Oregon with a wide open approach that sought to capture the performance of a dream becoming reality. “Maraqopa” is that performance and dream solidified, a completed work in which the whole is truly greater than the singles apart.
According to Jurado in his 5-part interview with Face Culture, Maraqopa is a fictional place that took shape in a dream he had over a year ago. In the dream, a famous musician who represents a generation chooses to shed the weight of fame and faux-reality in search of something tangible and truly transformative. The Musician chooses to disappear into the distant horizon of asphalt and night and finds himself in Maraqopa, possibly the only town where no one knows who he is and he is allowed to discover the true meaning of love and peace apart from the false idols of fame and show. The beauty of the utopiatic Maraqopa is that it allows the musician to be transformed into a new creation and walk in newness of life being open to possibilities that were impossible before and to share those possibilities with others. Many have speculated as to whether this is autobiographical, but Jurado has been insistent throughout his career that his work is minimally autobiographical with “Maraqopa” included.
There may be some clues to Maraqopa in the various pictures from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s Jesus Movement on Jurado’s blog with Larry Norman, the controversial musical spokesman for that generation, potentially serving as the template (or one of many) for the Musician. This is purely my speculation, however Jurado has confessed to listening to and being influenced by The End Is At Hand, Part 1 and 2 compilations of psychedelic-folk-rock music from Jesus Movement era as featured on the Aquarium Drunkard and !!Crescere!!.
“Maraqopa” opens with “Nothing is the News” which begins with what appears to be a recognizable strumming technique and distant vocal style for Jurado only to have the song escape into layers of sound and voice that signal this record represents something wholly different than what he has previously done. It is a clear expansion and progression from what was accomplished on Saint Bartlett. The lyrics are sparse but serve as a message to lionized musicians who sang about things that turned out to be a lie. The opening discovery is that all that was thought to be truly great is but dust and ashes:
“Turn it around you found that they were all wrong
All you had heard were ghosts of their words in a song
Nothing to have when all that you want is gone”
The journey of discovery continues in “Life Away From the Garden,” a longing for the idyllic confines of true child-like innocence and freedom with an aching call-response between Jurado and a children’s choir, followed by “Maraqopa” and “This Time Next Year,” which serve as proclamations that all was not lost in the Edenic tragedy.
The process of the deconstruction of the Musician’s influence and status is detailed over the next four movements of “Reel to Reel,” “Working Titles,” “Everyone’s A Star,” and “So On, Nevada.” These songs contain some of Jurado’s best lyrical puzzles like:
“Listen through your tin can
‘Has the rope cut circulation to your tune?’
I fashioned myself after you
From my suicide that left them puzzled” from Reel to Reel
“You could mess up my life in a poem.
Have me divorced by the time of the chorus.
And there’s no need change any sentence,
when you always decide where I go next.
Many nights you would hide from the audience,
When they were not in tune with your progress.
In the end you were a fool like the journalist,
who turns what you sing into business” from Working Titles
The album gently resolves with “Museum of Flight,” featuring Jurado beautifully sliding in and out of falsetto to reveal the Musician’s discovery concerning love not as he thought it was but as it should be, and “Mountains Still Asleep” in which he reflects:
“I heard an echo say-
‘We all are given away,
Never to come back.
And when we cross the line
We become defined.”
Take the trip to Maraqopa and remain open to the possibilities that the experience presents asking questions that may lead to more questions and the redefinition of much of what you have assumed.-Cameron Barham, May 23, 2012