WVAU’s #2 Song of 2014: Sun Kil Moon – "I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same"

Mike Creedon

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Courtesy of Stereogum.

Benji‰’s success story seems to be inscribed in the songs themselves. Mark Kozelek is far from an emerging artist and he‰’s definitely not returning from any type of break. To even claim that Benji was a reinvention for Kozelek would be disingenuous; his nylon-stringed songwriting has been present since 2010‰’s Admiral Fell Promises and blunt lyricism since2012‰’s Among the Leaves. Keep in mind that Kozelek has released eight studio albums, nine live records, and a full length tour documentary since 2010. If anything, Benji seems like business as usual for Kozelek.

This steady sense of movement both encapsulates and haunts Benji, and it makes itself most apparent on the album‰’s 11 minute epic “I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same.‰” Kozelek‰’s steadily paced guitar and the occasional Rhodes piano flourish are all it takes to set the scene of the song‰’s autobiographical and understated American existentialism. As the guitar continues its pattern we‰’re met with Kozelek‰’s recounting of multiple losses in his life; a friend while riding his moped, a classmate in another vehicle-related accident, and waiting for the call regarding his grandmother‰’s prolonged, but expected, death.

Death helps us understand life, in that, it demarcates. Not only does it establish an end for one‰’s life, but it also serves as a placement in others’. It is when we are no longer to communicate, interact with, or inhabit the same world as another. Through this, we realize that when a life ends we still continue on. This is at the center of Kozelek‰’s ruminations on death within Benji, and on “I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same‰” it leads us to what burdens Kozelek most; the open-endedness of life.

This open-endedness is what looms over Kozelek the most, where he is able to come to terms with other‰’s deaths, he cannot silence that pain he feels over a single childhood incident in which he was a bully. Unlike death there is no understanding in this open-endedness. There is no solace that what has happened has passed, yet in both situations life still continues on. In this moment, Kozelek lets out an apologetic cry, hoping that somewhere out there that kid will accept it. Where we understand how some succumb to death, but others just drift away in time.

Even after Kozelek decides to visit the man who signed him, in a hope to stand against time‰’s drifting qualities, the song continues its steady pace. It’s neither lurching, haunting, or dreadful, but consistent. A fitting end that seems to say that as time carries on, the song remains the same.