A Good Man's Nightmare Journey
Roswell, New Mexico has gone from being a city named only in paranoid conspiracy ravings to an integral part of American culture because of what is said to have happened there. For those three or four who aren't familiar with it, a brief synopsis:
On the night of July 4, 1947 an object fell from the sky and crash-landed in Roswell. What remained of the crash was swiftly and secretly taken to a nearby Air Force base. For fifty years, the speculation has been that the object was a UFO and the remains of its alien inhabitants were spirited away for study. From this have come accusations, from all fringes – lunatic and otherwise – that the government has covered up the knowledge of the existence of UFOs. From this has also come the plots of several motion pictures and a near-weekly reminder of the incident on The X-Files.
Kentucky-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Paul K has used the incident as the catalyst for his latest release, A Wilderness of Mirrors, billed by Alias (his label) as the first and only rock opera of the 1990s. A follow-up to last year's acclaimed L©ve Is A Gas, the recording's 17 tracks tell the story of Al Brody, a farmer and National Guardsman, and his wife, Addie, and the afflictions they suffer following the Roswell incident. The story also tells of devotion and loss, of guilt and secrecy, of fear and persistence, and of timeless, undying love.
Keep in mind, though, that Wilderness does not add to or illuminate the Roswell mythology any further. Anyone expecting more truths or information about it will be disappointed. Anyone expecting a compassionate, intriguing story, told in assorted musical styles, will be astonished and delighted.
As Paul revealed in a story last August in the LMN, Wilderness is about Al Brody, a farmer in New Mexico, who describes himself as "never too terribly smart / Just clever and quick with a lie." On the night of July 4, 1947, his National Guard unit is activated to help clear wreckage from some kind of crash near Roswell. Shortly afterward, the livestock on his farm die, Al and Addie start to drink heavily and fight, bumps appear on Addie's skin and Al sinks slowly into alcoholism. They sell what they can and leave Roswell, staying in small motels across the country. Addie visits a doctor, who tells her she has cancer then rapes her while she's under anesthesia. She wanders away. Al spends the rest of the recording searching for her. To reveal more would spoil the story. However, a key to understanding it is how Al dwells on the lies he and Addie told each other. What those lies were is not clear. What is clear, though, is Al's feelings of guilt.
Paul sings all parts of the story, even the aliens who crash-land in the track called, properly, "Crash," where Paul reaches back to his previous punk-influenced work. Most of the other selections have a folky sound to reflect the characters Al and Addie. The other exceptions are "The Doctor Will See You Now," with a mean, psychedelic sound from wah-wah and fuzzed guitar effects, and the scat-rhythmed "Big Bad City." There's also the bright, tight, airplay-ready title track, and the climactic, rockin' "Bottle and Cork."
The entire production is burnished in an echo effect, a foggy wall of sound throughout that provides a dreamy framework, so that Al and Addie's stories are told in a long, misty flashback.
The body of Paul K's work contains themes of deception, anger, redemption, and a constant search for truth. A Wilderness of Mirrors is the perfect summary of an artist's work and of a simple man's quest for his lost love.