This Is Far From Over
While I was crossing the Pacific, I received a satellite email from my friend Will Oldham aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. He sent me lyrics to the song “This Is Far From Over” and asked if I could create a music video for it. I wasn’t able to receive images or audio or videos at sea, so I had to wait until I got to shore to hear a recording of the song. And when I heard it, I was filled with tears and waves and slow, but shimmering motions.
The song is covered in salt and floats optimistically through a post-apocalyptic world. It is the story of a flooded future and the subsequent seafaring life one must lead in order to survive the rising tides of that realm. It is featured on his latest album I Made A Place.
Along with the lyrics, Will sent me memories of laughter we had once shared. And those memories helped to ease the immensity of my loneliness at sea. Out there, memories and voices and faces felt like a faded dream that my mind kept trying to caress, but never could. All my mind could touch was the tail or the toe or one little tone from my life on land, but nothing more, and never for long.
Will is a true artist- songwriter, actor, storyteller, poet. We met back in 2011, while acting opposite of each other in a Rick Alverson film that never saw the light of day. The film was called Rabbit. Will and I were a rambling couple who lived life on the edge of the law and were thick in the woods of transience. We weren’t devils, but we weren’t angels either. We just did what we had to in order to get by. I can’t remember our first names, but our last name was Wild.
Everything that was scripted in the film, we did in reality. In one of the scenes, I was to give Will a stick and poke tattoo of an anchor near his left knee. Will let me give him a real tattoo. It was the first and only tattoo I had ever given and it was crooked and there was ink and blood everywhere. I kept a napkin with blobs of his blood and ink for a long time after. I kept it in a box next to the heart of a rabbit that was cast in silver and was also a piece of that movie. The napkin resembled a Rorschach test and I don’t know why I kept it. Probably because I am strange and because blood represents the divine life within the human body and does not deserve to be thrown away. And probably because for me, it was a physical reminder of that moment in time that I found far more unique than any photograph. For a photograph merely captures the essence of one’s life, while blood is the life itself. But it’s been years and I don’t know where that napkin is now. It got lost long ago in the floods and shuffles of my nomadic existence.
There was another scene where we were supposed to get high. Will and I got so stoned that we turned into clouds and then we floated above the grass and blew bubbles and sang songs to the accompaniment of his ukulele. We made up one song that started like this, “Why of why am I so high…”
During one of our down days on the shoot, he and I drove all over tarnation looking for some church called “The Church of Fire and Ice.” It was a wild goose chase that lead us to an empty house at the end of a dirt road. We gave up and instead found a river that had rocks covered with Native American petroglyphs. I remember the rocks as having space-like scenes with spirals and alien-like figures; some holding hands in a ring, some with arms lifted towards the sun, some with antennas, some with smiles, some with faces completely undone.
Anyways, my friendship with Will crystalized right then and there on the set of that movie. He is a dear friend and collaborator and I am grateful to have him in my life. Several years after the filming of Rabbit, Will became the Executive Producer of my film “Sailing A Sinking Sea” and not too long after that, I introduced Will to his wife Elsa over a hot game of Balderdash in Louisville, Kentucky. Now they have a baby named Poppy, who was the muse for the song that he sent to me at sea.
Below are the lyrics and an interview with Will about the creation of this song.
I love the whole album I MADE A PLACE, from “Squid Eye” to “Dream Awhile” and everything above and between, but I wanna dive deep into “This Is Far From Over”! Can you tell me about it’s genesis?
All of the songs on I MADE A PLACE were begun in Hawaii. All but two…”In Good Faith” started in Kentucky a year or so before and “This is Far From Over” was created in Kentucky after all of the other songs, and our daughter Poppy, were born. The specific inspiration for the song came from my friend Sam Calagione, who is head honcho at the Dogfish Head brewery. He and I communicated about a film he was going to be working on that traced some of the impact climate change appears to be having on individuals, communities, businesses and environments up and down the eastern US coast. He wanted me to come up with some sea shanties, but the first thing that came to mind was this: a feel-good anthem about the natural apocalypse.
How did Hawaii and the music of Hawaii influence this song?
All of these songs are intended to function in the way that I see some of the music of the Hawaiian renaissance functioning: as entries into a lineage that celebrate that lineage while also bringing a fresh lyric and a joy in singing to the table.
Hawaiian folk music was traditionally used to communicate genealogy and mythology? This song feels like a mythological tale of the future, but then again all of your songs are mythological in some way to me…. your concerts transport me to a fireside with all my ancestors. Were you influenced by mythology when you wrote it? If so, which myths were inspiration for you when writing this song? And what is the ultimate lesson of the songs myth?
I’ve been so saturated by mythology since I was a child, it’s hard to pull one from the other. In which myths do we find a woman liberated by innocence and pluck?
What is your favorite mythology about the sea?
They are all one, the sea mythologies. Today I’m enthralled by the Flying Dutchman.
What is your earliest and most vibrant memory of the sea?
My earliest memory of the sea is of being in the waves with my parents, probably in South Carolina. I was in the arms of my father and/or my mother, we were on a sandbar and they jumped with each wave. Those two ‘opposing’ forces, my parents embrace and the force of the waves, came to define a kind of happiness for me that remains huge.
Did you do any sea rituals while you were writing this song?
Creating salt tears.
I just read one theory that the “normal” black eye on the cockeyed squid is always scanning below for bioluminescence, while it’s bulging eye is looking up for predators. “This Is Far From Over” reminds me of the little eye that the squid is using to look for bioluminescence because its feels really optimistic, like your eyes can only see the glowing light that exists among the darkness of a flooded future apocalypse. Was your intention to illuminate that brightness and extend a hand of hope to help us float above the rising sea levels?
Yes. Rightly or wrongly, the intention of the song is to make light of these monstrous issues that folks are so urgently upset about. While everybody fights and screams and points fingers, there ought to be folks smiling and getting busy preparing for the world to come.
You mentioned that “This Is Far From Over” was a message for your daughter Poppy, and all future generations, is that correct? What was running through your head while you were writing this song for Poppy?
Just that I feel optimistic for her generation. Whatever ills they have, we can say with confidence that Mitch McConnell will be dead by the time Poppy is doing her big stuff. Small victories.
Why do you think it is so important, at this juncture in time, that we revive and impart ancient wisdom, like that of ancient mariners, on to our children?
One myth about the internet that is among the most dangerous aspects is the false profession that ‘everything’ is up there and available. I’d trade the wisdom contained in any one of my friends for that supposedly offered by the web. That said, my friends and I are pretty darn ignorant about some fairly basic and crucial things. Ancient wisdoms were hard won and for the most part do not carry expiration dates.
Do you feel like the past technology is perhaps the only thing that can save us in the future? I kind of do, like forget your iphone, memorize the way the stars evolve throughout the night...
The grid is pretty fragile. I’m not thinking that realistically it has to fail, just that it very probably can and will fail. It’s more rewarding to have truths at hand regardless, isn’t it? Than to need a log-in to source dubious factoids and diluted methodologies.
Is the sea metaphorical in this song?
It works, hopefully, as metaphor and explicit signifier.
What else are you going to teach Poppy to do for future survival?
We’re going to prioritize direct communication in her.
What is the overall message and feeling that you want listeners to walk away after hearing “This Is Far From Over?”
That there are other feelings available to us about the future than fear, anger and resentment.
*In case you fancy reading more, Will interviewed me in 2015 for BOMB Magazine.
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