REVIEW: Intimatitudes (Guest Post)

What follows is a guest post, authored by Michael Minkoff Jr. Michael is an author, musician, and the president of the Nehemiah Foundation for Cultural Renewal. Additionally, Michael is pursuing his Masters in Divinity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA. He can be found on Facebook and Twitter.


Bomethius, Intimatitudes: An Inferior Review

A Prophet in His Own Country

It’s no secret that geniuses continually irritate their friends and family, especially when they don’t mean to. They yawn their way through school. They successfully disregard the rubrics, rules, and tools everyone else heeds slavishly, yet we rarely accomplish a quarter of what they would glibly discard as abortive first attempts. And worst of all, they don’t care about any of this anywhere near as much as we do.

Let a genius arise “out yonder,” vetted by strangers and proved by hard times in a far place where few lucky ones win the fifteen-minute lottery, and we will laud him warmly and recompense his gifts properly—at the distance required to transform his misanthropy into wit. But if a genius arises in our own time and in our own circle, we will struggle not to despise him. This is true of most of us no matter how much we’d like to think otherwise.

I am supposed to be writing a review of a record at the request of a friend, who happens to be a young genius. I know I would not have heard of this record were he not my friend, which means my friend is, and might remain, an obscure genius. An obscure genius is the saddest of all geniuses, for he cannot be loved. He has been banished to the contemptuous familiarity of the people who knew him in diapers, and his obscurity exiles him from the only people far enough away to receive his burning as warmth rather than menace.

So if you can love an obscure genius, you should. If you can’t, I’m writing this to encourage you to try.

Bomethius

My friend’s name is Jonathan Hodges, a Dallas-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who records under the name Bomethius.¹

Bomethius’s compositional and instrumental skills alone suffice to make anything he produces worth exploring. Like Brian Wilson or Freddie Mercury, he marries folk, blues, and pop progressions to operatic melodies with classical flourishes, much of which delights even as it challenges. A concert-level violinist with considerable skill on the piano and guitar, he composes his music knowing he’s also its conductor, accompaniment, soloist, and recording engineer.

Further, Bomethius’s so-far indefatigable prolificacy ensures he will continue to provide us with increasingly appreciable work going forward, provided our skills of appreciation have, like Milo, grown with the bull. The investments you make in his current work will pay dividends later if Bomethius continues to stomp on his laurels.

Intimatitudes

I’ll tell you up front that I don’t technically enjoy Intimatitudes, Bomethius’s latest offering, very much, and if you give it the attention it deserves, I doubt you will either. Indeed, though it has its moments—especially in the musical compositions—Intimatitudes isn’t great fodder for enjoyment or entertainment. I recommend it mostly for edification, which yields its own kind of pleasure, mostly deferred.

Intimatitudes is a loosely conceptual coming-of-age record written with savage honesty by someone who himself was coming of age during its composition. It’s like Catcher in the Rye but if Holden Caulfield had written it. This is a strength and weakness of Intimatitudes. Its lack of distance from the emotions that inspired it imbues the work with a rawness akin to masterpieces like Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell. The album has moments where this sincere passion joins cleverness and clarity to produce astute insights, like when Hodges asks: “Do you look in the mirror to see yourself / Or to make sure you’re properly hidden?”

Unlike Sufjan, however, Hodges doesn’t have decades of settled songwriting to draw on for endurance in discipline. This is a coming-of-age record by a coming-of-age artist. Sometimes the tools Hodges has forged to communicate his ideas are quite inadequate to the task he has set for them, and his ambition and vulnerability provide these crude tools little cover of modesty.

For example, on “Heartbreak of Reality,” Hodges writes, “Dawn sets upon the heartbreak of reality. / And the sun lights the darkest of our shadows.” He turns a cliché inside out (i.e., “dawn sets” rather than the expected “rises”) and tries to disguise an abstraction with an unexpected turn of phrase (i.e., “lights … our shadows”), but his vandalized platitudes and metaphysical spoonerisms don’t make what he wrote any less pedestrian.

A quick rifle through the lyric sheets uncovers numerous other examples of inverted, disfigured clichés or rarified abstractions: lines like “nothin’ much hasn’t changed,” “the light of your darkness,” “joylessness committed suicide,” “sink above the laughter,” and titles like “Crapé Diem” all share the same figurative pedigree. And most of them, like bad puns or dad jokes, don’t serve the listener, whatever pleasure they might have brought to their creator. They have an air without the substance of profundity, and their manifest self-indulgence both undermines the listener’s confidence in the author’s intentionality and wastes opportunities for sincere, straight-forward expression.

In advice she intended for fiction writers, Flannery O’Connor warns young artists of any creative medium to avoid clichés and abstractions, especially grand ones:

One of the most common and saddest spectacles is that of a person of really fine sensibility and acute psychological perception trying to write fiction by using these qualities alone. This type of writer will put down one intensely emotional or keenly perceptive sentence after the other, and the result will be complete dullness. The fact is that the materials of the fiction writer are the humblest. Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.²

Conclusion

Yet for every part of Intimatitudes that feels grandiose, there are equal and opposite parts that puncture that vanity. After several listens, I began to think: “Can a coming-of-age record really be done properly without exposing limits—without flying too close to the sun?” I don’t think it can. But does the author need to be Icharus in order to represent Icharus? Yes, in one scenario: in young memoir. As I began to think of Intimatitudes as a coming-of-age musical diary, I began to appreciate it far more.

Consider the title. Intimatitudes—possibly a portmanteau of “intimate” (as an adjective) and “beatitudes”—might translate as “similitudes (i.e., ‘parallelisms’ or ‘axioms’) of intimacy.” These involve declarations of intimacy rather than blessedness, for this record is concerned with the “increasing knowledge [which] results in increasing pain” (Eccles. 1:18) rather than the truth that brings “no greater joy” (3 Jn. 4).

But what if the title refers to “intimate” (as a verb) rather than “intimacy”? The meaning of “similitudes of intimation” is nearly opposite to “parallelisms of intimacy.” Connections between people can only be intimated or implied because direct, self-conscious connection to others is too painful. Or perhaps real intimacy doesn’t even exist. Maybe we’re all in this alone. This tension between hope or despair concerning the possibility of true, mutual self-disclosure runs throughout the record.

Either way, Intimatitudes is Hodges’ courageous attempt at full self-disclosure. It is not Wordsworthian poetry—“the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings … recollected in tranquility.”³ It’s gonzo journalism. The album doesn’t recount Hodges’ journey from immaturity to maturity—it is the journey, sometimes irritatingly so. Hodges didn’t edit his diary before he showed it to you and, thanks to Bomethius, he wrote it as if you’d never see it.

By the end, Hodges has learned a few things with Bomethius, and so have we. In the bittersweet penultimate track, “Merried,” the prophecy reads like history—as good prophecy most often does. It’s unclear whether Hodges is looking back from the future or looking forward from the past—whether the lesson is being transmitted or received. History becomes prophecy when it has not been edited to remove the ugly truth, and then prophecy becomes history again because no one heeds its warning.

It is indeed an ugly truth in Bomethius’s prophetic history: “Each of us must die alone.” Ironically, one of the few timeless connections we have to others is the shared experience of loneliness and the inevitable loss of connection we all experience sooner or later. That which most destroys our relationships is also that which holds the most promise to cement them—the shared pain from which we could learn the most and empathize the most if we allowed ourselves an interruption from our well-earned doubts and fears.

Intimatitudes is such an interruption, revealing all the unpleasantness of Jonathan Hodges’s enlightenment, which could also become ours—namely, that we are vain, fearful, confused, regretful, angry, bitter, helpless, and alone.

Hodges as Bomethius has removed the distance separating himself, his speaker, and his listener—even though distance is usually necessary to make genius tolerable. He has made an attempt to expose and scorn the darkness in himself, but the majority of us, though we know his assessment is accurate, leave insulted rather than enlightened. We tell him, “Speak for yourself,” as if he weren’t already.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. Hodges picked the perfect theme to showcase the outlines, and shortcomings, of his growing prowess—to humble himself before the listener. The mistakes of the album become part of its success when we realize Hodges knows he is hiding in plain sight. Perhaps Salinger took the safe and cowardly way out by hiding himself and protecting the distance between himself and Holden Caulfield—and his reader. But there’s little question in Intimatitudes: Hodges is Bomethius the speaker, and his grand abstractions are a fig leaf he winks at cartoonishly. He hopes you get the joke. It’s not funny.


¹ Jonathan explains the origin of the name: “My parents just began calling me Bomethius [when I was four]— seemingly with no real intention. We were, at the time, reading the more accessible Greek Myths, and thusly Prometheus must have entered the radar, but I cannot verify the exact moment at which ‘Bomethius’ was strictly decided upon or why … I like to say that it is somewhere between [Boethius’] the Consolation of Philosophy and [Promethius’] stealing fire from the Gods, but that enters into the realm of fiction for the sake of building a character out of it.”

² Flannery O’Connor, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, eds. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (New York; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [1957] 2000), 68.

³ William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads in Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads: 1798 and 1802 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 111.

© Michael Minkoff, Jr. Published by permission. All rights reserved.

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