His name was Johnny Virgil… : Kevin Gilbert’s “The Shaming of the True.” A Review, and Response: Part 1
Kevin Gilbert’s The Shaming of the True was the last album recorded by Gilbert, before his untimely death, due to auto-erotic asphyxiation. I wanted to go ahead and get that out of the way, the auto-erotic part, that is, so we could go ahead and shove aside the idea that the composer of this album was a degenerate of some sort. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. It doesn’t really matter, in the end. To me, sad though it is that he either purposefully, or accidentally, took his own life while pleasuring himself, matters not one iota the level of what I consider genuine musical talent found on this album. All of us are troubled in some way, all of us have some weirdness about us that we’d rather the outside world never know. Each of us has our own private life between our ears, and behind our eyes, that nobody else will ever know about or understand. Kevin was no different.
Now, on to something more important. This album is undoubtedly an opera. It follows a story line, and is a tragedy, like so many opera’s before it, both classical and rock genera operas. What makes this one different? What makes this one special to me? The story of this opera is the story of the struggle of artists in this world we’ve set up around us. This society that venerates popularity, so much so that it seems the more outlandish you are, the more bombastic, the louder and more offensive, the more likely you will be able to top the polls and have a good chance at becoming both a national embarrassment, and the leader of that same nation…but I digress.
Over the past twenty years since this albums was conceived, and recorded, the music industry itself has changed. The internet has opened up opportunities for little known, yet talented musicians to be seen and heard, while at the same time
making traditionally minted, signed, and marketed people of dubious talent, see their sales slip, even if just a fraction. Perhaps it’s a leveling off of opportunity, or maybe it’s just that the record industry is lagging behind, just a little, until it finds it’s foothold in the new normal and can become the primary image makers they want to be, like they always have been.
This album’s story captures the traditional struggles, not the new normal of downloads and freebies and self-promotion. It captures the contract signing, the pushy producers, the obsessive tour managers, the whirlwind of marketing and popularity creating. The music is aggressively melancholic, positively cynical, and dripping with allegory, illusion, allusion, and disturbing descriptions of the unsettling lifestyles of the musicians who have sold their souls to the record company in the name of profit.
I can understand and sympathize with selling one’s soul in this way, however, and I hold no grudges against musicians who are forced down this path to make a living. It’s the way our world is arranged, it’s how enough of us have agreed to approach the people who should be our consciousness, our sages, our poets, our storytellers…we look at them and wonder, “that’s nice, but can it make money?” The lure is real, and strong, it’s not right or wrong. It just is.
I’ll stop here for now, and present this in a series of posts, lest one post become too lengthy and boring for anyone to complete.
End of Part 1. More to come….until then, listen to the first track below.