The Seventh Seal - Scott Walker
Back to the amazing Scott Walker. He has a voice to die for and that would have been enough for most people: he could have searched for good songs by commercial writers to get into the charts, put together a few albums of covers, then had a couple of comeback hits when everyone thought he'd disappeared for ever, maybe sunk into obscurity again after hosting a Saturday evening family tv show. Then suddenly in the mid eighties one of his old songs would have been used for an ad for bluejeans or aftershave and he'd be back in vogue then that would be it except for the chance sampling of a sixties album track by a multi millionaire rapper that he himself has never heard of, which stops him from having to leave his villa on Majorca for a year or two, before obscurity and death and a couple of lines in the Times.
But he has had none of that, except for the obscurity. Right from the start, he made albums that were imaginative, steeped in themes that explored art, philosophy, film and literature. Both his early LPs and particularly the more recent studio albums, which came after an 11 year gap in recordings, are pushing the margins of what modern rock music can be, and are a challenging joy to listen to.
In the days of film in the sixties and seventies, young men like myself, in search of images to satisfy teenage urges and curiosities, went to the cinemas and watched late night telly on BBC 2 and Channel 4 and fell in love with the arthouse and generally foreign movie directors that we initially watched in the hope of seeing some nudity. It's sad for this generation that they can slake their urges so easily on digital takeaway porn, because they don't similarly have to seek out the likes of Bunuel, Godard, Fellini, Pasolini, the late lamented Bertolucci, and so on, or their modern equivalents, even us oldies originally discovered them for the wrong reasons. And top of these great European directors was Ingmar Bergman, with his film "The Seventh Seal".
Apart from Scott Walker, no-one else, as far as I'm aware, has ever written a song about Bergman until just just 9 years ago, when the US group Sparks, never to do things by halves, released a whole rock opera about him containing 24 songs. But what Scott Walker did in 1969 was tell the whole story of Bergman's arguably greatest film "The Seventh Seal" as a song. Besides being an audacious thing to do, this is a terrific track that sets the tone for what Walker has consistently done ever since and continues to do today: he writes and performs songs that take you to a place of primaeval grandeur, a place where you find yourself face to face with your soul, as though you are the lead character in a Joseph Conrad novel, in a boat off some distant far Eastern island, or up a river in an African or South American jungle. But, unlike Kurtz, instead of "the horror" you are uttering with the same astonished awe: "the beauty, the beauty".
Okay, okay, I eulogise too much. Put simply, his lush, beautiful music is great to listen to, and one of modern music's best kept secrets, and unforgettable.
As is the game of chess on the beach between the knight and Death, and the dance of death at the end of the movie.