Thursday, August 27, 2009

The fragile tenderness of Antony and the Johnsons

I had neither heard, nor heard of, Antony Hegarty until his version of Leonard Cohen's "If it be your will" was played at the funeral of my dear friend, Rohini, earlier this year. It was music of heart-breaking vulnerability and beauty and seemed to belong so totally with that sad and tragic day. Antony's voice is one that hurts and soothes in the one breath, aching with a soul that is broken and resilient all at once.

Since then, I have bought all his recordings and I have been listening today to Antony and the Johnsons' latest album The Crying Light. It is an utterly beautiful album, its songs full of a tenderness, a sort of comfort for anyone who, like Antony himself, knows what it's like to be on the margins, to be vulnerable, to be alone, to be sad. And that's pretty well all of us, really. To me, this music is rather like being held in someone's arms - but in arms that are themselves trembling and vulnerable.

There are songs like "Epilepsy is dancing", which seems to be a celebration of difference, a refusal to be turned into a pathology. There are songs like "One dove", which finds solace and comfort in its own fragility. There are songs like "Another World", with its sparse, empty accompaniment, bidding a sad farewell to the earth itself. Listen to that song's haunting, otherworldly flute at the words "I'm gonna miss the wind"! There are songs like "Daylight and the Sun", with its passionate yearning for light and warmth, somehow taking us to the place where agony and ecstasy intersect. And then there is "Everglade", the album's final song, fading into a sort of gentle, sunlit, eternity which, for me at least, brought to mind the breathlessly beautiful ending of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde.

The songs are full of imagery about childhood, about connection to the earth, about yearning for the light, and about the comfort and healing that comes from a something as simple as a kiss. Despite their sadness and vulnerability, though, they are songs that give you hope, and leave you feeling better than when you started. This music always, always makes me want to cry, but also to smile ... reminding us, I guess, that happiness and sadness are only a step apart.

Antony's voice, like his music, is just incredibly beautiful, but always hanging on the most fragile of threads - this music, and this voice, have certainly known their share of pain. Part of you feels afraid to touch it, in case it will break - but another part of you knows that it never will.


  1. Hi Ian
    I posted a comment yesterday (27/8), but it appears under your post, 'Nothing as it seems' (ah, the irony!), so I thought that I'd just alert you to that.
    You write very fine reviews of albums, several of which I've never heard. So it's off to iTunes to sample some.

  2. Thank you Patrick, and thanks for your earlier comments and suggestions too - no idea why it ended up under there!! Gillian did mention you to me, too - so it's nice to touch base. We're almost neighbours, I gather, so we must connect sometime soon. Cheers,