American Realness

300 Words on Realness: 13 Love Songs: dot dot dot

300 Words on Realness: 13 Love Songs: dot dot dot

by Lydia Mokdessi
Published on: January 19, 2014

13 Love Songs: dot dot dot opens with a smudging and the distribution of chocolates by cheerful undies-clad ushers, cementing the good vibes of Abron’s Underground Theater (“the bunker,” as Houston-Jones has called it). Strewn onstage are yellow roses, a pile of prescription bottles, a ukulele, stuffed animals, and a collection of prayer candles.

30 seconds into song 1 (The Magnetic Fields) Wexler’s singing turns to shrieking while Houston-Jones spews gin out of his mouth. Songs 3 (Cat Power) and 4 (Gin Blossoms) are accompanied by quirky synchronised gestures and a headbanging, lip-synching, teenage bedroom rock out sesh. Wexler shares excerpts of adolescent journal entries documenting an almost decade-long crush, which are sweet / hostile (“it’s the way his soul looks in the moonlight…” “Dear Dave, why are you still alive?!”). Houston-Jones is abandoned with a bandana-covered face; he lunges / collapses with crossed fists and butterfly hands.

She offers a deadpan Ja Rule recitation (“baby say yeah,” he parrots), giving way to a plodding middle-school-talent-show-style duet. They rub their faces with onion halves, sobbing / laughing / wailing. It feels weirdly real, like the reverse of the force-a-smile-and-you’ll-feel-better phenomenon. To melancholic Kate Rusby (song 11) she reappears in a gauzy pink dress for a flingy, lyrical solo, her waist-length hair like 100 extra limbs. The prettiness is precarious — the scene deteriorates. She repeatedly punches herself in the face.

They share poetry by flashlight like sleepaway campers: “Some Reasons Why Your Anus is not like Everest” (his) and “For The Love of Dave Dick” (hers), and he prepares a small shrine of photos (of people they have each loved?) while she guides a meditation on falling in love with oneself and one’s neighbor. We hesitate, but she assures us that it’s a “nice thing,” and she’s right — it’s poignant and genuine.

The emotional arc of 13 Love Songs is complex (likely made more complex with backstory: Houston-Jones sustained a heart attack in early 2013, Wexler became his caretaker, and they agree that their collaboration became more sincere from this point) and it is at turns heartfelt, cynical, joke-y, and dark. We feel for them from the start — even when they’re making fun, the ecstasy / heartbreak that acted as source material peek through.

image: Ian Douglas