The Weakest Shade of Blue

Eliza Gilkyson recently checked into 'Paradise Hotel,' formerly Heartbreak Hotel
Todd Wolfson

Eliza Gilkyson
Paradise Hotel
Red House

It's weird getting old. You go through your day and talk to new people you've met through adult circumstances, make your living, feed your kids, and end up lying in bed at night wondering how old friends are doing, how all these stories, all these old loves and exiles, are getting along without you.

To shake it off, you turn to the orgy of communication that's always at your fingertips and check in with the Heathers and the hipsters; opinions and recipes and insta-spunk; all these unheard voices scrambling for a piece of the action who wind up in a place where, as the writer Emily Carter recently put it in a letter to the editor in City Pages, "there is an inevitable dark reckoning when we wonder if we're not just adding another brick to the tower of babble. This makes the ladies get preachy and the gentlemen start swinging at light bulbs, all of us desperately concocting acronyms that we hope will catch on and become real live expressions."

I don't even think I hope for that much anymore. I know the answer to my own loneliness lies in the words of another Emily (Dickinson), who "found that hunger was a thing of persons outside of windows that entering took away." And, so, I enter. I try to call friends. I read. I listen to Tim O'Reagan. I seek out documentaries on outsider artists like Henry Darger, Andy Goldsworthy, even Rodney Bingenheimer, because I see something of myself in them and their isolation, which ultimately leaves me cold. Speaking of which, winter and God knows what else is on the way, but Eliza Gilkyson's voice keeps me warm, like a lover who lets you put your head in her lap while she reads.

She's been through some shit, this one. You can hear it--someone broke her heart; she might say it was of her own doing, as is often the case. And if you've ever opened up your heart to another and had all that infinite possibility and beauty burst and bleed all over the place, to the point where you feel like you never want to get close to another human being again, you should hear "Coast" (on the new Red House compilation The Times We're Living In), because Gilkyson will describe you and your slouch toward solitude better than you or any late-night soul-mate conversation ever could.

"Used to be I was the rock of Gibraltar/Now I stumble all over my feet/And I falter when I try to speak," she sings at the outset of Paradise Hotel, a record that peeks out from the foxhole of love and war and middle age and bares all. Hell, some of us never get to know ourselves this well, much less tell complete strangers about how it feels: She's a sucker for the thrill of the chase, she prays to the Virgin Mary for all of us, she seeks inner peace, world peace, and she's angry about what has become of her country and the shrapnel of her soul.

I'm drawn to that voice as if to the smell of soup simmering in an old kitchen. It's too much to say it rises above the din, because the din doesn't make room for anything this beautiful or raw. Still, it instantly sounds weightier than all the shrills combined; the kind of voice that pins you to the mat with so much vulnerability it makes you want to light candles and go fetal and get up and check your e-mail for other signs of life, or your music library for morsels and breadcrumbs and steroids like "Easy does it, darlin', let the good times roll/Many miles to go before you close your eyes and rest your weary soul."

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