April 8th, 1994.
Kurt Cobain’s lifeless body is found in his house in Seattle. One of the most famous deaths in Rock history, a suicide performed with a Remington M11 rifle.
A rifle originally purchased by Kurt’s friend, Dylan Carlson.
Dylan Carlson is a major artist in underground American music, yet he almost got cast as a footnote in History, forever in the shadow of this now-deified figure. “The guy who bought the shotgun”.
The kid wakes up in the middle of his living room floor. He slowly turns his head to look at the worn-out Sunn amp. Unused in six months. The jack plug rusted almost entirely.
Third time this week he’s passed out like this.
The guilt and trauma accelerated Carlson’s heroin addiction to a point where, by his own admission, he was no longer in shape to play anything. Earth went de facto on hiatus after the release of Pentastar and it would take him several years to be able to hold a guitar again.
.Land Of Some Other Order.
The kid gets up and heads to the bathroom. The shower head spits out barely warm water.
I was too busy surviving and getting my shit together. I wasn’t even listening to music.Dylan Carlson in Self-Titled Magazine
The air bends along the curves of hot asphalt vapours under the scorching Los Angeles sun. The kid crosses the empty street. « Donna’s Diner, 24/7 service ». He pushes the door open.
So what kind of spark ignited Carlson out of the darkness ? What was the wake-up call ?
Arbuckle – 45 Mi. Willows – 82 Mi. Redding – 160 Mi.
The kid has just passed Sacramento ; would be another hour and a half until he reaches the motel. The radio host plays music from Neil Young’s ‘Dead Man.’
We the audience easily indulge in an appetite for poignant stories and romantic clichés. One might expect a miraculous redemption story for Carlson. A Deus Ex Machina. But real life works differently.
.The Dire And Ever Circling Wolves.
The motel owner is a balding man in his mid-forties wearing a slightly out-of-fashion flannel shirt. Carefully ironed and stretched over an overreaching belly. Undersized, probably an XL. Clean cut, weary eyes, smell of after-shave and cold cigarettes.
« I called from L.A., » I tell him.
« Yep, I got your room ready. You have to pay in advance. You can put your trailer in the garage, I’ll keep the keys. »
The human mind can be torn down and scarred by an abrupt and rapid shock. Healing, on the other hand, is a slow process. Powerful, but slow and without guarantees. It takes time, work, human interaction, and luck. Earth’s music from Hex onwards is a fitting allegory for this ; the slow reconstruction of humanity through a sequence of small things.
Welcome to Seattle
The rattling transmission noise is only covered by the heavy drumming of rain on the windshield. That fucking camshaft must be corroded. Just hold on a little longer.
.Lens Of The Unrectified Night.
Returning to Seattle for a family visit in 2000, Dylan Carlson is arrested and imprisoned for a burglary he had committed three years earlier.
Three of a kind.
The kid goes all in. Doesn’t really matter, I’m getting the shoe repair chore this week with so many rags in hand anyway. Hip-hop plays on the radio.
« We’re not that important, » the kid thinks to himself. « What’s important, really important, is what’s missing now. When I get out, we’ll see. Come here once and you’re marked : it’s too easy to come back. They got their eyes on you forever. It’s not worth it. I’ll have to focus on what’s important. »
.An Inquest Concerning Teeth.
The kid opens the letter from the Washington State criminal court. Six months of community service in exchange for a reduced sentence. He goes back to the counter and makes coffee. You’ll be here for a while, won’t you ? Maybe, I reply as I serve him. I’ll have to keep myself busy after work. Stay out of trouble.
My buddy still has a ‘72 Telecaster for sale, if you’re interested.
You have some copper cleaner, by any chance ?
After getting out Dylan Carlson eventually started to play again, without any specific plan in mind ; just a few riffs, reconnecting with the feeling. It was at this point that he met Adrienne Davies, a talented local drummer and longtime Earth fan.
.Raiford (The Felon Wind).
Together they worked out a more restraint and paradoxically much wider sound. The guitars are vibrant and loose, stretching over long bends of desert bottleneck blues. Every sparse beat acts as punctuation, retaining and releasing the breath of soil and dust, channeling an energy old as the world itself.
For me, music is a cosmic principle that exists independently of any of us. As musicians, we get the chance to establish a link between all of it. But we’re only channeling, we only add our perception… I mean, who owns the blues, who owns country and rock ? It’s much bigger and broader than any individual story.Dylan Carlson, interviewed on Postgraduate Sonic Massacre
Strongly influenced by Cormac McCarthy’s novels, especially Blood Meridian, Carlson regards the American continent as a whole living entity, an immanent will more than a mere piece of land. An organic ensemble of places, sensations, people, forces and flux.
Adrienne and Dylan started composing and playing with the continuum of influences and energies around them. As vectors of something larger, that precedes them.
And then, luck.
.The Dry Lake.
The photo framing shop on 9th was small but well-stocked, with neatly arranged shelves. It was the third job since he got out. He’d had worse. The 1930’s-sounding bell announces two customers entering the door.
« Are you Dylan Carlson? »
« Who’s asking ? »
« We read your interview on Doomrock.com. What would you say about making another Earth concert? »
« That wasn’t exactly in my plans. I’ve started playing again, but differently. »
« We’ll just plug in an amp for you and see how it goes. You can call it whatever you want. »
Several people contacted him. Earth’s reputation had remained alive all those years.
« Hey, it’s Mike. How’s it going? »
« Making do. it’s not always easy. »
« Listen, I have a shot at reissuing ‘Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars’. 500 copies, more if it sells well. Maybe one or two promotion gigs. What do you think? »
That’s the demo he played with Kurt.
.Tethered to the Polestar.
The fact that Carlson accepted Mike Quinn’s (owner of the No Quarter label) proposal probably came down to a number of contingent factors. Several years had passed since Kurt died, and he had started playing in a new setup – which probably weighed favorably on his self-confidence. As he matured a new expression of slow, imperfect and wide riffs together with Davies, Carlson naturally started to label his work under the “Earth” moniker.
This is how Hex : Or Printing in the Infernal Method came to the world ; an ode to the immanent America, to the infinite flow of cultural influences, to Neil Young’s Dead Man, to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.
« It just sort of happened. »
Earth did not « come back to life » at a specific moment. Earth had never ceased to exist all these years. Earth existed before Adrienne Davies, before Sub Pop, before Dylan Carlson, before America.
Earth is continuity.