“Cast a cold eye On life, on death. Horseman, pass by!”
W. B Yeats’ chilling epitaph for his own grave has always haunted me, since I first read it. I suspect it might also haunt singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault.
Because it is the final statement of modern poetry’s greatest bard, I see more in it than simple nihilistic abdication.
Casting a cold eye is a striving to understand life and death as clearly as possible, once sentiment is set aside. It is not an abdication of genuine sentiment, or even love, rather it’s a desire to know truth as purely as possible. It is not “objectivity” either, because it is a very human, rather than an objectified, image. The horseman signifies the human ritual of honoring a deceased person of note. You think of the horse-drawn carriage of the assassinated John F. Kennedy.
Understanding his prominence as a poetic and political figure, Yeats nevertheless wanted no such fussing over his death. He wanted us to see his life’s work with the cold eye of penetrating insight.
I don’t want to get too heavy with these associations, but it’s hard to get around this when I hear Jeffrey Foucault’s folk-rock band Cold Satellite.
One of our most truly poetic songwriters, Foucault’s lyrics invariably hold up on the page as their own kind of poetry.
At the same time, Foucault’s singing is almost nakedly human in that he invariably reaches for the most open honesty of his feeling, on a given thought or notion or evocative image. He does this without over singing, which so many people perceive as great singing due to the melodramatic, melismatic model of American Idol, and its ilk. His style is almost an under-singing, almost a swallowing of the lyric. And yet it expresses so much. The inherent warmth of his throaty style tempers the occasional strangeness of his poetic lyric, and invites you into its possibilities.
To be honest, I haven’t heard the new Cold Satellite album Cavalcade yet (to be released May 21 on Signature Sounds) but I can say this much about the band’s eponymous debut album, written in collaboration with the poet Lisa Olstein. Foucault crafted a series of lyrics that fit hand-in-glove with the spectral, driving guitar of David Goodrich and a powerhouse rhythm section of bassist Jeremy Moses and Billy Conway. It’s not hard rock, but it sounds like something that could accompany W.B. Yeats, surely strong enough to dig up the auld sod for his grave.
I’ve heard Yeats’ poetry set to music by a wonderful folk group called In the Deep Heart’s Score. But imagining Cold Satellite playing Yeats does justice to the power of a poet with such a purposeful and strangely soulful epitaph.
I recommend you support the band’s kick start tour-funding effort.
Cold Satellite is scheduled to play May 16 at Shank Hall in Milwaukee.