Sometimes, for whatever reason, great art slips past audiences and remains woefully underappreciated. Which is why we’ve created an essay series called Fossil Records, devoted to helping people discover lost and obscure work that never got its due.
In the beginning there was nothing. But it was kinda fun to watch nothing grow.
In the end there was nothing. But believe me: It was no fun waiting for nothing to end.
These are the lyrics that begin and end Requiem For an Almost Lady, Lee Hazlewood’s loose concept album about a man leaving prison only to find he still hasn’t moved on from his ex-lover. At 26 minutes, featuring only an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, a stand-up bass and Hazlewood’s own voice, Requiem is as spare and intimate as they come, a humbling meditation on loss and heartbreak that will devastate anyone who has ever come within spitting distance of either circumstance.
Hazlewood is up there with Townes Van Zandt and Emmylou Harris as one of the finest songwriters ever to work in country music, and it is tempting to discuss the record only by quoting lyrics from it. “Tell your dreams to leave my room alone;” “I know a man looks better than you/he’s been dead for a week or two;” “There’s a taste here in my mouth that tastes like Monday morning.” There are so many lines that stick, so many lines that make you laugh or wound you, or sometimes both at once. Hazlewood’s deadpan delivery, something between a sigh and a growl, feels like the only way in which these songs could ever be sung.
“I’ll Live Yesterdays” has to be the centerpiece, a song so teeming with grief that it passes by sadness and settles somewhere closer to horror. It’s not difficult to discern that this song is about an abortion, and almost every line is paralyzing: “Knives that have cut you where others have touched you have taken our children away,” “Was love the stranger that stood in the doorway and begged us to come in?” “Ride on the wing of a sterile cowboy, indifferent is what you will be/Lie on the floor and let two hands touch you, and two of those hands will be me.” It’s a song about ghosts, those of the child they never had as well as the relationship they couldn’t get right, and it is appropriately haunting.
As you may have surmised, Hazlewood’s wit and ability with words is not the only thing on display on Requiem: his bitterness and contempt is here for the world to see as well. Rarely if ever does he attempt to see his ex’s side of the story of why their relationship might have failed, and on “Stone Lost Child” he goes so far as to beg God to help see her through the world, so stupid and incompetent does he think her to be. He doesn’t always come off as the victim here, and his pain frequently insulates him from empathy.
Yet whether they’re fair emotions or not, these are the things we feel so often when a lover abandons us: anger, bitterness, mistrust, projection, shame. Requiem For an Almost Lady is a record that captures the broken heart in the throes of its most discomfiting convulsions. It’s the sound of drinking whiskey by yourself at 3PM on a weekday because you don’t know how else to cope. It may be one of the loneliest albums ever made, but to quote the man himself: “Probably the only comforting thing about losing someone you love is when you discover there are so many others, riding the same train as you.”
Christopher M. Jones is a comic book writer, pop culture essayist, and recovering addict and alcoholic living in Austin, TX. He currently writes for Loser City as well as Comics Bulletin and has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators for his minicomic Written in the Bones (illustrated by Carey Pietsch). Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.