It may seem overkill for the so-called slowcore band Low to be the subject of another documentary feature film only a mere four years after Low in Europe, but it must be because they’re just so interesting. Filmmaker David Kleijwegt’s You May Need a Murderer could just as well be titled Low in America, as he speaks with founding members Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker at home in Duluth, Minnesota, and on tour across America in support of the Drums & Guns album. The key characteristics of that record are what most inform the film: Sparhawk’s mood post-nervous breakdown, and Low’s most overtly expressed social and political commentary yet. Low had also just adopted a new bass player, Matt Livingston, after Zak Sally’s long tenure, but he does not participate (he’s only barely glimpsed, even in live onstage footage).
You May Need a Murderer is a much more satisfying film overall than Low in Europe. Whether by their own desire to open up or by Kleijwegt’s persuasive interview skills, Sparhawk and Parker are notably more candid and direct, especially on the topic of their faith. Which is exactly what one would single out as the most interesting thing about Low: Sparhawk and Parker are a married Mormon couple that that tithe a tenth of all their income to the church. I suppose Low might belong in that rare category of bands whose music is often characterized by religious beliefs, like the often overtly Christian U2, but would never be filed under “Inspirational” in record stores. Unlike U2’s joyous hymns and optimistic calls to activism, Low’s inspirations are considerably more dark and apocalyptic.
When Low gets political they do so with a vengeance. Sparhawk is in despair over America’s economy and politics, and has long believed that the world may reach a crisis point in his lifetime (he stops short of predicting it will actually “end”). Sparhawk’s genuine beliefs gives him the real authority to criticize George W. Bush’s claim to faith. The title song “You May Need a Murderer” is sung from the point of view of one who goes before his god and asks to be used as a warrior. It becomes clear that the speaker is in effect staring into a mirror, bringing his own baggage to an imaginary conversation, and justifying his own dark impulses. Sparhawk is, needless to say, talking about self-proclaimed men of faith like Bush and Tony Blair. The song is utterly terrifying, and raises the hairs on the back of my neck every time. It may be the ultimate statement on the topic, and does not compare favorably to the similarly-themed song by Bright Eyes, “When the President Talks to God.”
The most surprising personal topic to come up is Sparhawk’s apparent nervous breakdown in 2005. We see Sparhawk appearing very nervous backstage before a show, but otherwise functional. But he describes himself as having been “clinically delusional” at the point of his breakdown, and while having nominally recovered, he also cops to being a drug addict. To him, the biggest conflict these two aspects of his life have is with his religion.
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