Most of us can recall, with alarming clarity, the moment when we first
heard the lyrical magic of Roddy Frame. Whether that watershed moment occurred
back with High Land, Hard Rain, or much later, with Frestonia, we each can recall
the particular song that catapulted us into forever fans. Often, I have asked myself
what exactly is it about this artist which so sets him apart from other favorite
musicians. To try to do this requires an immense expenditure of energy, as one can
hardly pinpoint the elusive soulful-ness which hallmarks Roddy's unique ability to
test drive different musical styles, and yet still remain fundamentally true to the
pursuit of the same song. Through his departure from one album to the next, Roddy
only draws us in deeper. We wait with bated breath for a glimpse at each new song.
We savor those poignant moments when, after rushing headlong to the local record
store, we purchase that newest album, and anxiously play that first song in the car,
even before leaving the parking lot.
There are very few artists who affect us in this way. Very few who inspire a kind of
giddy, can't-wait-to-hear-it smile on our faces. The music is excellent - true,
precise, and melodic to the point where you simply must listen to the album over and
over again. The songs get lodged in the brain, as many of us find ourselves humming
the tunes at work, at play, and most assuredly, on long drives to vacation spots.
Roddy is fundamentally an album musician: one song is simply not enough to get you
through the day.
So what is it about this music? About this artist? I find myself bored with the
proclamations of Roddy as the prodigal youth, as this label masquerading as explanation
is far too limiting to provide insight. We all can appreciate that he was born with a
gift, and that he recognized it early enough to pursue it in his teen years. But being
a natural is only half of it; the rest remains, for the most part, unexplored. There is
more to Roddy and his music than a mere mastering of a craft. We can't exactly put our
fingers on it, but we know it exists. For those of us who recognize the brilliance of
his work, we question the awareness of those who do not. We see Roddy not as existing
in potentiality, but as delivering the goods. He is timeless to us, as fluid and as
unlimited as the sea of which he often sings.
To hear Roddy's music is to hear the growth of an artist in perpetual motion. It is
this growth which, I suspect, captivates us the most. Not only does his music zigzag
back and forth between various styles of musical expression, but it also parallels the
experimentation in our own lives. Whether he intended to announce it or not, Roddy sums
up this symbiosis when he penned The North Star lyric, "I'm gonna be your mirror / And
you can mirror me." As each year goes by, and we wait for the next album to come out,
we hang on -- soap-opera like -- to hear where we are now in our lives. Are we
disillusioned yet? No, but we do have our moments. Have we amassed a lot of regrets?
Not really, but upon reflection, we did make some dumb decisions. And where will we be
next year? Well, that is to be continued... so stay tuned.
When we focus on the lyrics, our departures from youth to adulthood are captured in
Roddy's songs; from the flushed, didactic idealism of songs like We Could Send Letters
and Birth of the True, to the soul-felt acceptance of glory days gone by captured in
Bigger, Better, Brighter. It is as if Roddy is reflecting the essence of his fan base -
youthful hopefuls who, faced with the challenges of maintaining that optimism in the
onslaught of adulthood and all its perils, return again and again to an ageless smile.
An understanding that life is exactly what you make of it, and can continue to make it,
if only we are true to ourselves. The message is clear: getting off that path is
inevitable, but to return to it is a rebirth and a rediscovery of the most satisfying
Roddy's music embodies a type of romantic realism -- or an idealistic coping-- that we
as his audience struggle against and yet long to preserve. Roddy first hit us hard,
rousing our na´ve sensibilities with statements like, "Stupidity and suffering are on
that ticket too/ But I'm going down the dip with you," and "In you I see the irony/
Of anyone who has no faith." A few years later, a little more road weary and battle-worn,
we glimpse at our growing amazement with a world that disappoints: "But love has left me
standing still/ With no directions and no clues/ No speech to let my feelings loose."
Yet we are not long to despair. In disbelief of all that was thought in moments of regress,
Roddy reminds us to "Stand straight/ In what kills you and confounds you/ And break its
chains/ And still believe."
But as the novelty of adulthood wears off, and life continues to toy with our sense of
right and wrong, we lapse into periods of urgent escapism ("I caught the fastest train/
That my feet could find/ Rode the wind of change/ Couldn't change my mind"). Exasperated,
we throw our hands up in the air ("Well baby I never said/I was gonna be Jesus/ Though
you're searching/ For a saviour in your mind"). And we question the very truths which
we fought so hard to conclude in youth ("Love's a bird in the human hand/ Feel it breathe
as your fingers open/ Would it stay here and sing/ If its wings were broken?").
Subconsciously, we know we ride a roller coaster. Patiently we wait, holding our
collective breath until the tempest can pass, until we return, rebirthed and renewed,
with the settling acceptance of sleeping on that mattress of wire, where all struggling
idealists lay their heads. We bathe ourselves in the comfort delivered in Roddy's latest
work, The North Star. We eagerly listen as he reminds us of the path back to the one
redeeming truth of life's journey: "Because it's hidden from view/ Don't mean it isn't
for you/ You know we're gonna make it/ We only have to take it." He reflects on tough
times passed by, and the fears that hindered us from pushing the envelope of who we are.
And through these very powerful lines, Roddy reminds us that it is better to be yourself,
than to live a life with false meaning: "If I should drown in the light of your eyes/
Well I'd rather die giving/ Walk the line with some grace/ And say it wasn't a race/ Ain't
that a reason for living?"
As Roddy reflects the lives of those to whom he sings, we are inexorably held spellbound
by his mastered soft-spokenness. He becomes then, a study in loyalty. One only has to visit
other web sites dedicated to musicians to fully comprehend this statement. Many of these
sites provide information and a place of worship, but few capture the gentle reverence
present here. Much of this is the accomplishment of Michael Gallagher, Stuart Matthews,
and their faithful contributors, but the success of the site is also a result of the
musician who it honors. For in order to create such an atmosphere, the inspiration must
set the tone. And Roddy's music has always spoken to a group of listeners who, as
individuals, reflect the values of the artist. These values are simple, yet complex - go
ahead and struggle, but be gracious, kind, and imperfectly human, all at the same time.
Recall the line from Oblivious, which ransacked hearts all over the world: "It's like a
mystery that never ends/ I see you crying and I want to kill your friends." He champions
the underdog, the misunderstood, and the under-appreciated. Roddy reminds us of the value
in everyone, and he has won our loyalty and friendship by being so willing to stick up for
We, in return, shall always stand by him, stunned at the world at large which has not
attached the label of mass commercial success to his music. We ask ourselves, how could
they have missed the exquisitely heart-searing perfection of Hymn to Grace? Of Stray? Of
Black Lucia? But as Hymn to Grace itself does suggest, perhaps not everyone is born with
an eye for what is rare.
Yet it is true that we secretly enjoy the ownership of Roddy. How many of us have gotten
enormous pleasure from introducing his music to people whom have never heard of him
before? How many of us have considered our favorite of his songs as a sort of 'test'
which must be passed before we allow a person into our lives? He is our little secret,
one which we wish to share with the world, but we are often disquieted to find the world
not listening. This sometimes depresses us, but we soothe our outrage by surrounding
ourselves with like-minded enthusiasts. This, I believe, is at the heart of the success
of the Aztec Camera/Roddy Frame Home Page - it provides a forum for individuals to
celebrate the music that binds us together. And the link that binds is a loyalty to the
man and his work that has grown up with us and chronicles our own unique journeys
But while we all have loyalty to this artist in common, there is incredible diversity
present in Roddy's fan base. We find ourselves engaged in various trades, but our outlooks
on life remain surprisingly similar. One only needs to visit the chat room to discover
this for one's self. Often, one can find people typing the same thought at the same time,
even when the conversation has turned away from Roddy directly. And the reason, I think,
for this communion lies in Roddy's ability to transcend the boundaries between art forms.
His music is not only genre-less for the most part, but it is the type of music which
speaks to people no matter their chosen creative expression. He satisfies the most
persnickety of guitar fanatics, as well as the most poetically inclined. The union of
his words and his melodies creates a synthesis of mood, feeling, and inherent grace that
all forms of expression yearn to achieve. We then apply the meaning found there to
ourselves and to our lives. It matters not if Roddy actually intended for this synthesis
to occur. It exists because we listened, and we heard, the voice of him, which boils
down to the sound of what we would have liked to say, had we only written a song. And
many of us take that inspiration and apply it to the work that we do daily, to recreate
something special, something totally new.
I have annoyed the List to no end with my constant referrals to the poet, E.E. Cummings.
I am sure the majority of the List is baffled by my obsession with this particular poet,
whom many only know of as "the guy who is adverse to capitalized letters." But like
Cummings, Roddy is a secret joy. I cannot, for the life of me, ignore the similarities
between these two artists. But the real reason why I so love Cummings is that he has said
it better than I ever could, just as Roddy has created music more lovely to me than any
other music I have heard. And when I sit down to try to capture what Roddy's music means
to me, I keep finding Cummings at my fingertips. Like Cummings, Roddy writes and rewrites
the same themes over and over again, in pursuit of the perfect expression of that which
exists in his heart. And just like me with this essay, Cummings has struggled to capture
the intangible essence of an individual who has affected his life. So what is it exactly
about this artist that we love so dearly? Rather than fumble my way through any more
prose, I leave with you the words which I think best express how Roddy Frame is a little
bit more than everything to be bothered with just seeming like anything:
somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which I cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands
- e.e. cummings