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Life with Low:
David Kleijwegt's Portrait of the Band Low


Though Kleijwegt spends most of the time behind his hand-held camera following Sparhawk around, Parker is very much an integral part of the story. Throughout the film, she is the devoted mother and wife, the support pillar, the grounded voice of reason, the antagonist and, of course, the harmonizing voice that transforms Sparhawk’s confessional poetry into a serene Low song. “I kind of like being in the background. I’m comfortable with that position,” she explains to Kleijwegt. When he asks her if she would be in a band if Sparhawk had not been a part of life, she explains without hesitation: “I don’t think so. He is the cheerleader of the band. He kind of pushed me into it. ... I’m one of those people that need to be pushed. I tend to be happy with little else going on; I can be at home and not go anywhere for many days and be fine and happy. So, I’ve needed him to push me. It’s been good, I’m glad we did it.”

Music and confession seems to go hand-in-hand for Sparhawk. As he recounts his “delusional” episode a few years back (which though it is never implicitly explained, sounds a lot like a mental breakdown), he instinctively strums his guitar. The obviously uncomfortable confession becomes a song in itself — a Low B-side that really should only be available to close friends of the family. It’s one example in many of his sort of tunnel vision from the normalcy of life. Later, while intensely commenting on the religious bias of the current American government, his three-year-old son repeatedly pokes his chin with shoelaces and seatbelts, giggling and gurgling the entire time. Sparhawk, while his devotion to his kids is undeniable, keeps his eyes and mind affixed on the thought at hand, undeterred by his immediate surroundings. His brain seems to work solely on the macro level — the bigger picture is always what’s at hand — which just might be why his songwriting resounds so strongly with such a broad fan base.

Kleijwegt captures the story with an almost voyeuristic attention to Sparhawk and Parker’s everyday life. There is little excitement and the settings are rarely exotic — traveling to gigs, going to church, playing with the kids — with the narrative appearing out of aside comments made by the onscreen characters throughout. The camera technique, equipment, editing and Kleijwegt’s few heard questions are as modest as Sparhawk and Parker’s current lives and the Minnesotan backdrop. It makes for an endearing documentary giving Low’s discography a whole new level of intimacy. And it especially reveals a man who is desperately trying to resolve his religious and secular lives through art. “Jesus went to the temple, but he also spent a lot of time at the edge of town,” he explains while trying to warrant some of his actions as a young man. “You don’t…. You can talk… You can talk forever,” which is once again followed by a rare chuckle. There was a large, resounding point he was about to make, but then he probably realized it was already made. His attention then turns to the sun’s reflection on an adjacent lake. Its beauty is aesthetically simple, but vastly complicated in its being, much like the music of Low.

 

 

 

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