Avant-popper Andrew Muse recently released a split single, the second half of which focuses on a little-known act of political protest.
Early in the morning on April 14, 2018, a man named David Buckel set himself on fire in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Buckel was an influential LGBTQ+ rights lawyer–he had represented the estate of Brandon Teena in 2000–and later became an environmental activist who promoted the practice of composting. Over the years, Buckel had grown despondent over the state of the US’s environmental policy, and the Trump era only exacerbated his despair. Before his death, he emailed a note to media outlets that read, “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result–my early death by fossil fuels reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”
Andrew Muse pays tribute to Buckel with “The Monk of Prospect Park,” the B side to a single also featuring the moody instrumental “You Don’t Take Me Seriously.” “Monk”s title draws a connection between Buckel and Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese monk who self-immolated in 1963 as a protest against the South Vietnamese government’s persecution of Buddhists. The track, whose fingerpicked acoustic guitar and harmonica accents recall mid-century folk music, sees Muse flesh out the setting of Buckel’s act (“Take a walk down to Norwood Station/Then from Broadway just a quarter mile[…]Past the elm trees/And the big black stone/’Bout a half mile from the shelter dome”) before describing the act itself in stark terms (“You’ll see a man in a cheap black suit/With a match in his hand/And our fossil fuel[…]You see the flame/And the monk turns black/And that is that”). Muse’s voice, treated with a slightly psychedelic finish, is hushed and meditative throughout, belying the intensity of the subject matter. Shimmering coils of guitar and quavering organ add layers of texture to the instrumental’s spare base. Muse ends by singing, “Then you take a walk/And you see a rainbow/And you thank the monk of Prospect Park,” a benediction of sorts for a man who placed his beliefs above his own life.