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Rowland S. Howard

December 31, 2009

I don’t often feel it’s necessary for me to add words on the internet about recently deceased artists, but news of Rowland S. Howard’s death from liver damage, at the age of fifty, has prodded me.

There’s a conflict here that I’m trying to understand. Rowland S. Howard made loud, aggressive rock music, right? And I hate loud, aggressive rock music, don’t I? Let me explain how I don’t understand…

I grew up listening to The Birthday Party. The sound I heard first and foremost must have been Nick Cave’s untamed masculine ejacualtions (debates about which I’ve been following recently). But the sound that I remember now is that of Rowland S. Howard and his guitar – something hurt and haunting, but (to my ears) neither macho nor rockist. Howard’s guitar-playing had a particularly lasting influence on me – I more or less gave up on the guitar altogether. To put it another way: Rowland S. Howard is the guitar-player of choice for listeners who value a lack of balance, a lack of power, which is why for me he exists outside of rock music and its conventional vocabulary of force and strength.

I always felt good about records where Rowland S. Howard turned up – as on Fad Gadget’s final album, for instance. When I was younger I developed a confused connection in my imagination between Rowland S. Howard and Robert Browning’s poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. Both were slightly sinister, spiky things that I didn’t quite understand. I hope there will be more musicians who I can’t quite understand.

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