Sunday, October 30, 2011

Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Christopher Owens could have walked out of a Gus Van Zant movie, except he's real and his life seems more remarkable than any character Van Zant could have invented. Owens is a slight, wisp of a man, with stringy blond hair. He's a self-confessed opiate addict and bi-sexual. Born into a family belonging to the Children of God cult, he traveled from country to country as a child without ever leaving the bubble of the cult. He was cut off from the outside world, never went to school, and didn't discover pop music until his teens (he cites Michael Jackson's Dangerous as opening his ears to non-Christian music). Owen eventually ran away from his mother and the Children of God when he was 16. He ended up Texas, working menial jobs and hanging out with punk rockers who seemed as alienated from family and world as he and started a drug habit. His life turned around when a Texas millionaire named Stanley March 3 took him under his wing. (The same Stanley Marsh 3 who created the Cadillac Ranch artwork.) By all accounts this seemed like an idyllic period in Owens' life, spending his time painting and making music and having long conversations with Marsh about art and life. Owens eventually found his way to San Francisco and started the band Girls.

Girls' latest album Father, Son, Holy Ghost conveys the excitement of someone who just discovered rock-and-roll. It's about as traditional of a rock album as any I've heard recently. There are obvious nods to the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, the Everly Brothers, Pink Floyd, and classic R&B. The centerpiece of the album is the song "Vomit" which encapsulates the two main themes that run throughout the entire album, a sense of loneliness and sadness and the hopeful, redemptive power of love. Owens didn't find love in the Children of God. It may be in the music, as he sings in the song that follows "Vomit": "Love, it's just a song." But you sense he's searching for something more. In one interview I read, Owens says he someday hopes to get married and have a daughter that he can take to the ice cream shop. It's that kind of earnestness that pervades the album. For a listener who's had the privilege of a normal life, such sentiment might seem banal and even slightly embarrassing. Given where Owens came from, you feel a need to reassess seemingly ordinary pleasures.

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