Scott Walker - Angels of Ashes
To prepare for a special Scott Walker performance at the Barbican in London some weeks ago, I made my way through Scott's back catalog, with the help of my Londoner host, an aficionado. Those currently reading Roberto Bolano's 2666 might recognize how my own state of affairs mirrors that of Pelletier, at least up until page 30 or so. Among a host of Scott's sixties productions, all Jacques Brel baritone laments with gorgeous strings, sits Angels of Ashes, a poem of such brilliant crystalline abstraction, it could have been written by Mallarme.
Take this couplet, a gem:
"You've been following patterns and fleeting sensations too long / The fullness that fills the pulse of durations is gone."
A stunner, equal parts sensual and intellectual. Could be a line from Wallace Stevens as well. The whole song seemingly from an artist to himself, a guide through the gnomic depths of the creative process, full of urgency and searching, epiphanic insight, melancholic doubt, passion and reflection. It's a haunting song, one that strikes one of those innermost points in yourself, the kind you may have forgotten was there, or have forgotten that when struck, it emits a resonant hum that shudders through your being.
Oh, and in case you were wondering which image the title 'Angels of Ashes' immediately conjures to mind, maybe you'd be quite surprised to learn it's Klee's Angelus Novus, the famous painting whose reference sits at the heart of Walter Benjamin's "Theses on History"
"There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees on single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm."