I can remember where I purchased every Chris Whitley album.
Living with the law. That's easy. Marbeck's, Queen Street. Even though it was the most commercially successful of his albums, it was half price, in a sale bin. I'm not afraid of sale bins. You have to search, but I've found some of my most prized music in sale bins. A CD being in the Marbeck's sale bin can mean it was good enough for the staff to rate it, but not normal enough to sell to the public. Perfect for me.
Din of Ecstasy. Marbeck's again, full price this time. A lot of people who did like Living with the law were put off by this one. Like Neil Young, Chris Whitley wasn't afraid to do quiet and loud.
Terra Incognita I picked up in a secondhand CD store in Bruges. I can remember thinking how strange it was to see a Chris Whitley CD in Belgium -I didn't know then how much time he spent in Europe. I liked the other two CDs, really liked them. But Terra Incognita was something else. There had been hints of something in the earlier albums; a glimpse into another world. I mean that literally - there's a landscape the album presents, lonely, epic and warm. I can see it now as I'm writing this. Back in London, I can remember walking past Tower Records and seeing the entire window taken up with promotion for this album. This was a hidden world, where one of my favorite musicians was being given the respect I thought he deserved. The window had changed next time I walked past, but every time I did I thought about when Chris was in the window.
In L.A. I picked up Rocket House, and that one stuck. I must have listened to it every day for at least a couple of years. There's a couple of tracks on it with Bruce Hornsby on piano, in that spare style of his. Chris Whitley and Bruce Hornsby on the same CD, underappreciated masters of their respective instruments.
We have moved back to New Zealand by the time Hotel Vast Horizon appeared, so I went back to Marbecks. That CD, along with Warren Zevon's The Wind, were the soundtrack for the next six months. War Crime Blues - Marbecks again. But with War Crime Blues things had changed. The secret world that Chris had been describing through hanging chords and wide open spaces, had become darker, spikier. Of course, this was after things changed in this world, after George Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declared a newly started war finished, after George Orwell was moved from fiction to non-. Chris sang that the war will never end. So far he's been proved right.
Soft Dangerous Shores arrived only a few weeks ago, shipped from Amazon UK, in a box of complete joy, accompanied by the latest Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin books. And I haven't listened to it enough yet to say I own it. Some albums, and Chris' are always like this, take a long time and a lot of listening, before all their secrets are revealed.
Chris Whitley died this on Sunday. He'd been diagnosed with lung cancer only five weeks ago. He will be missed, by his family and friends, and by those of us whom he showed another world. He's there now, out in the big sky country. And we'll still hear him, somewhere, on dust radio.
Downloads of Chris Whitley live in concert are available from his official site