Who are the great lyricists of the day? Not the ones whose themes rattle within your bones for some personal or circumstantial reasons, but those with a passion for and a grasp of language. The poetic and the literary. Masters of construction. Twisters of the phrase and owners of confusion. Those whose songs could be collected and published, and whose value stands apparent, even after the melody's been stripped. The ones who might last.
Take a minute. Think about it. Now, if he's not already there, add Dan Bejar (AKA Destroyer) to the list. Need proof? These excerpts, from Bejar's latest, Trouble in Dreams, are just the tip of the iceberg. From "Leopard of Honor": "The leopard of honor speaks/to a crowd of the dead, shouting out for more/suspiciously fond of the fast ones/you must always leave them wanting, he said."
Or these lyrics from "Dark Leaves Form a Thread": "Suzanne/the truth is/sipping cherry branded by moonlight/is just a game people are playing tonight/seriously terror advances."
Bejar, a Canadian who has penned eight albums under the Destroyer moniker, delivers the stinging lines in a style crossing Dylan's twisting talk with Bowie's dandy fop. A sturdy, pounding, ragged, and atmospheric rock band propels away from the meandering coffee shop singer/songwriter drudgery and into the clubs. There's movement here. It's not all cerebral. But for all the confidence in the delivery, Bejar is known—at least in print—as a notorious hermit. Some say he hates performing.
"I don't know that that's necessarily true," Bejar told me from his home in Vancouver, BC. "Maybe when I said I don't like touring, it just seeps out like I don't like playing live." Still, he is hypercritical. "I don't crave to be on a stage under lights with people looking at me. All that considered, once we actually do start playing music I get into it and I do enjoy it... I don't dread it, and I can come off stage feeling really good."
I found Bejar to be less enigmatic and more agreeable than is sometimes mythologized. Perhaps he has mellowed with age—he spoke often of a change in the process. "It's weird for me to think of having eight albums," he says. "I don't have that tight of a relationship with the stuff from the '90s. It seems to be coming from a different place." Bejar says he has trouble finding the "point of entry" into some of his older work, which keeps him from performing them live. That can be a bit of a problem, as Destroyer maintains a somewhat fervent, cultish following.
A vast fan website attempts to annotate Bejar's lyrics, along with loads of critical analysis. And while he's glad people are interested, sometimes interpretations go too far. "It's not like there's a hidden story that I'm trying to unveil," he says. "I don't really know what would be the point?
"I just try to use language that I like. And I just try to evoke things powerfully and as poetically as possible, 'cause that's how, when I hear something that I find really staggering, it kind of kicks my ass. And I want to do the same thing."