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Joseph Shabason's 'Westmeath' Confronts The Hardest Decision

The Canadian saxophonist Joseph Shabason, who plays with Destroyer, and his wife watched his father-in-law, a professor whose "mind was everything," slowly degenerate from Parkinson's. Eventually, his mother was also diagnosed with the incurable disease. "Seeing somebody descend, losing everything in terms of their abilities, their body, all of that," Joseph Shabason tells NPR, on the phone from Toronto, "it kind really hammered home the point that we're just kind of, you know, animals."

These maddening realities spurred him to reflect deeply on the mechanisms of death, its inevitability, and the choices we have around it. He considered what he'd do if it was him in their place. His conclusion was the ultimate in pragmatism. These concepts and scenes are latticed into Shabason's bittersweet, but steadfastly hopeful, Aytche — which Shabason treated both as an experiment in expanding expectations for his instrument and a seeming thought experiment — and a new video for his song "Westmeath," directed by Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, is centralized on the subject of choosing death over a whittled life.

The pivotal scene shows a man, in the face of inexorable degeneration, telling a friend of his decision to end his life, before his illness can take everything from him besides his heartbeat. The reaction is anger; the friend shoves the man, spilling beer on the floor of the bar before storming away. In its final scene, the friend is by his side as he drinks down the final potion.

Birth and death are irrational concepts, ruled by the emotions and morals of those in-between. The choice for hope and peace in the face of the other side of life is a chance to strike against our fears and reconcile with our own goodbye, whenever it may be. "When I have children," Shabason wonders, "how far do I want them to have to go to take care of me? When do I want to just kind of call it quits, so that their lives can be as easy as possible, and that I can be remembered in a way that's true to myself?"

Aytche is out now viaWestern Vinyl.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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