Man in search of the wrong-eyed Jesus

Man in search of the wrong-eyed Jesus

Jim White goes to some pretty out there places,both in his mind and in the American Deep South. Lew Guthrie III walks the line between good and evil

Whisky & Culture | 21 Jul 2006 | Issue 57 | By Jim White

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American troubadour Jim White isn’t so much a new country singer as its beat poet. His landscape is the great American south, the forgotten parts of America made up of one pump gas station and two store towns. Places where white picket fence churches stand guard over an impoverished people who survive on the breadline clinging to pick and mix employment and petty crime to survive.Jim White feels at home here and when he travels his concerts are laden with anecdotes that are wry, humorous and underpinned with pride. His language can be as harsh as the places and people he is describing, but he is nonjudgmental and his work provides a graphic snapshot of a culture that is surviving through defiance and sheer guts.Jim White doesn’t sing about whiskey but his music is soaked in bourbon. His Leonard Cohen-like halfspoken languid vocal style and his earthy, ethereal and off-kilter music is tailormade for sipping a quality bourbon to.White made his name with the truly weird but quite wonderful Wrong Eyed Jesus, an album that comes accompanied by an essay on the sleeve of how a teenage Jim White was given a lift by a predatory homosexual. Trapped in his car all White could think about was a statue of Jesus he had seen at the local church, with entirely inappropriate eyes.So he started screaming ‘wrong-eyed Jesus’ at his assailant until the stoned driver could stand it no more and threw the hysterical child from his car.Strange stuff but a suitable metaphor for the many contradictions of the south and a fitting starting point to enter the strange and crazed world of our hero.He gets in to his stride by the time of his next release, the highly recommended No Such Place. Here he adds some almost rocky keyboards to backlight his poetry, sounding at times like an American Sisters of Mercy. This is no bad thing because his American Gothic lyrics deserve potent support: “Now downtown they got the prison of shame,” he sings on Hey! You Going My Way!!“See the castaways of the Hollywood game? Tricked out whores with invisible pains. Cardboard people, dancing in the rain…” And on Bound to Forget: “Fools wind blowing up brown bible verses. Dust storm of memory.Truck stop reverie. 3am in my home town, not a soul stirring around. Mr Trucker Man, don’t slow down in this little town.‘Cause I’m travelling faster than the speed of regret.” And on it goes, the weight of religion and Catholic guilt set alongside the need to survive by any means possible until on The Love That Never Fails he comes up with this conclusion about his place in life: Jesus and the fiery furnace. Devil and the deep blue sea. God was drunk when he made me but that’s okay because I forgive him.It’s harrowing stuff but because it’s delivered so well and the music’s exemplary, you come out feeling strangely cleansed. It’s as if White’s suffering so we don’t have to. And not without humour, either.“My buddy Phillip works as a gas station attendant,” he says on Corvai.“Strangers call his name a thousand times a day. They don’t know him, they’re justing asking Phillip for a ‘fill up’. Funny how fate plays tricks on us. The way – through the power of love.” Seriously deranged. But hey - Amen to that.
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