There was a story in one of the big monthlies recently - the kind of periodical that makes deities out of actors and actresses, the kind that treats celebrity as the exact opposite of a pathogen, as something that needs to be inhaled and let into our bodies, perhaps even injected if there are no other ways - extolling the new Leonardo DiCaprio film "J Edgar," but more even once again pointing out that the actor seems to only play the tough roles. DiCaprio, much to his chagrin is still most recognized for his role as Jack Dawson in "Titanic," everywhere he goes, no matter what else he does. Almost every role he's taken since that blockbuster has been a character study to the extremes. He's purposefully tackled the roles of men who are all balls of nerves, mystery and often disastrous eccentricities. None of them are right. All of them have been severely flawed individuals and these are the people that the actor can't tear himself away from playing. He maintains that there's no reason to become a person if they're already completely figured out and understood. He doesn't want to play the sympathetic characters that - while nobody's idea of an angel - are still rooted for, despite all of their many ugly traits. Frank Turner, the singer, songwriter and longshoreman-at-heart from Winchester, England, feels the same way about the people he likes to become. It all appears to be less of an act than it is with the aforementioned big-shot actor.
Turner is - in most of these cases - large parts of these characters, allowing their wandering and tortured souls and psyches to imbed themselves right into his wiring. At some point, the separation or the extraction of the characters from his original parts and his interior plumbing becomes something that would require science fiction to bring about. He's written for himself this immeasurably rich biography that's no more his than it is a thousand men's, but it's one that takes a little from here and a little from there before there's no way to sift any of it out. It must have been how a man like Mark Twain felt toward the end of his life. It might have been how Billy The Kid or Buffalo Bill Cody felt as well. We could add Andy Kaufman and Muhammad Ali to the list as well - one deceased and the other still around. They got points where the legends and the myths about them were so much greater than they could have ever dreamed up themselves that they believed them as much as anyone else.
Turner is a bit of a different case, but he's equal parts stranger, seaman, lover, rogue, bandit, philosopher, magician, entertainer and native son and with every ensuing album, he adds new, heartfelt strokes to the painting. He lives in these songs as if there is a fight that is being waged - a battle between what it means to live alive and what it means to just live. He lives - or is trying to live - with as much intensity and passion as he can. He feels stung or lit up by this idea of not wasting his time around these parts, for the days and the roads and everyone on or in them rush by quickly, paying little to no mind. He sings, "I remain/I'll be remembered," and that's certainly the aspiration. He sings of a sailor here - imagining that he were born 200 years prior and wearing a different pair of boots - thinking about how wonderful or maybe preferable it might be to live "landless and loveless," to know the waters and to have the waters know him. It's wondered if that would reduce the wasted emotion and ailing love. It's unlikely, but it's worth a shot. The worst thing that could happen is that the days and the people continue to go rushing by, somewhat carelessly and of little mind.
*Essay originally published November, 2011