VanWyck – The Epic Story of the Stranded Man
Excelsior Recordings – April 8, 2022
For Van WyckThe fourth album of “The Epic Tale Of the Stranded Man” is inspired by The Rime of the Ancient Sailor and that of Dante divine comedy, as well as the homeless elderly men of its inner city. Influenced and battling imaginary demons, Amsterdam alt-folk singer-songwriter Christine Oele takes a conceptual route with songs that tell the story of a man haunted by a dark past, unable to remember where he is from or if he is the victim or the perpetrator (this was written before the tv drama The tourist), and a lonely woman who takes him to her cabin and tries to save him, but may have ulterior motives. Featuring Reyer Zwart on an assortment of guitars and keyboards, Rowin Tettero on drums as well as a string quartet, framed by two numbers from a woman’s perspective, it opens with The stranded man setting up the story, the man (the muse) injured and stranded on his island, while accompanied by a guitar and spare strings, she (the poetess) says in a low voice “You don’t have to fear / I’ll stay here and always watch over you / I can heal you if you let me / If you trust me then let your guard down / Let me undress you slowly / Let me find out what who troubles your heart”. His voice deepening, he replies “I laid down my weapon/In my lady’s room/There was a knock on the door/But she was there before/Shut it suddenly/And told me/Go get the king/We’ll be there soon /And the queen is waiting…. And that’s all I remember”.
His voice then takes over, starting with the slow, marching rhythm of I was innocentwhere, with JP Hoekstra on electric guitar, he proclaims his innocence but also acknowledges his misdeeds (“Blame my mother, blame my father, blame my cold hearted lover/But know I was innocent/I didn’t mean to fly/I didn’t mean to run away/Didn’t pull the trigger/Didn’t hide the ‘gun…you’re guilty too/You lied and you lusted, you abused and mistrusted…All I ever wanted was to save her/But I guess I lost myself/In the prison of our good intentions”).
She tells him stories about the strange inhabitants of the island, about the girls who sell seaweed and about the vagabonds who know the truth; these mingle with the feverish dreams of his past as he descends into madness. Then, with Hoekstra in acoustics, Maybe, maybe notis a lighter, hand-picked folk track about the inability to move on in life (“Same old city streets/Same old stones on the sidewalk/Same old cracks in between/Maybe if I keep walking/Maybe if I don’t look back/Maybe if I leave it all behind/Maybe, or maybe not”). This gives way to the relentless bassline groove of brooding PJ Harvey meets Suzanne Vega, The havoc makerthe spirit invading its dreams as the embodiment of the anguish or fear that gnaws at the soul or the addictions that can invade us (“She’ll huddle in your back room/And sink her teeth… She rides a silver chariot/Cracks an electric whip/Moves through your arteries/Tightens her icy grip”).
Keyboards form the basis of seaweed selleranother enigmatic character from the island, a blind seer whose seaweed, extending the drug metaphor, can bring happiness (“It glides on with velvety ease / Baby you swallow and you’ll be free”) but has dangerous drawbacks (“be warned ’cause she don’t sugarcoat / They say once you taste her products / You’ll never be the same / You’ll feel your past slipping from your shoulders / Leave only future sins”).
Beset by destructive forces and seductive addictions, man is now confronted with the underworld of his dark past hidden in the menacing breath of poisonous chant softly and gently. Pond floor dwellers (“We got our eyes on you now/ Did you think we were blind/ Did you think we didn’t mind/ Did you think we dug the dirt/ Did you think we’d keep our mouths shut/ Did you really think you could have it all / Did you really think all our dreams were small / Did you really think we’d bow our heads”), a song she describes as serving as a metaphor for a celebrity-driven culture where success depends on others feeling unworthy.
When it seems like it’s bottomed out, the title and lyric further advancing release has become a metaphor for prison addiction, it sinks even deeper The Dragon (“you thought you could ride the dragon… The dragon always wins… He’ll tear down everything you’ve built… He’ll profit from your sorrow/He’ll grow on your sorrow/He’ll steal all your tomorrows/The dragon is a thief/And he knows you’re in pain/When he smiles behind your back/When it devours the light of all your dreams”).
The turning point of the story comes with Cicelinean oracle who speaks the truth but, borrowing from Emily Dickinson’s poem, ‘Tell the whole truth but tell it obliquely‘, bringing a moment of epiphany (“I hide in the light/And I catch you when you least expect it”) that uncovers “all your lies/Cause what we tell each other/It’s not not what we need to hear”. The man then encounters another seer in The Velvets-like slow-walking The Smiling Prophet, a homeless wanderer (“I found him around the corner/A plastic bag at his feet/A red coat wrapped around his shoulder/Offering his blessings freely”) who, in a friendly chorus (“Give me your pain/Give me your pain/Give me your broken heart pieces/I’ll fix them again/It’s never too much/It’s never too late/You can always start over”), offers another but different message about hope and healing, and a second chance even if for some reason he calls her ‘girl’.
Self-forgiveness finally comes with the shimmering fingerpicking and strings of the Janis Ian (with a nod to Susanna) shades of the dreamy and the charming Light-eyed Lolathe good spirit that sets you free and allows you to see the light again (“She moves through the night sky / And finds you when you’re ready to go / She’ll wrap around you / Pick you up and bring you / To her boat in the harbor“) leading to The outcome at this moment, seeking an answer from a god on the top of a mountain, he must make a choice about which road he wants to choose (“Are you looking for a fortune/Or do you want to be free”), dive in or find a way out, this wisdom has a price (“did you bring that bag of gold/Or are you here empty handed/Are you planning to pay me with your soul/Should I keep it with your good intentions”) and that it is not a question of answering but of asking the right questions (“I can have you almost anything / But everything is not everything”).
It ends with the woman, drawing on traditional folk ballad form for the intimately sung, string-swept Cohen-style seven minutes, My baby rides a black horse in which, in eight verses, she recounts a three-day trip to a cave with the man, who had apparently become her lover, where “he/Asked me to undress/And with my shirt he wiped/An old chest wooden/Spreading in the darkness/The stones gave off a light”, the song ending as they descended the mountain, reached the border and, echoing the previous frame, found a leaning tree, ambiguously closing by “My baby rides a black horse / He lets her roam free“It could either be about love not being about control or about giving in to your self-destructive impulses. A major work which, like the ancient epics on which it is based, clearly serves as a a careful mirror to society, it’s a stunning creation and one that, at some point, surely demands a dramatic multimedia staging.
Order via Bandcamp: https://vanwyck.bandcamp.com/
Light-Eyed Lola (Live at Blokhuis – NPO Radio 2):