James Leyland Kirby never had the intention of scaring anyone with his work. Fear is merely a common reaction when perceiving the weight of reality’s tragic events. Going under the pseudonym “The Caretaker,” Kirby embarked on a long-term musical project with the purpose of exploring the concept of memory: both its sentimental aspects and the desolation brought on by its destruction. With his final undertaking as The Caretaker, the aim was to showcase the irreversible effects of dementia, a disease that appears harmless at its onset until introducing an inevitable entrance into complete nothingness.
Overall, “Everywhere at the End of Time” took three years to complete. Between 2016 and 2019, six subsequent LPs were released, all of which were eventually compiled into the album. In total, there are 50 songs, together worth up to six and a half hours of listening. Their cryptic titles get noticeably bleaker as they’re read down the list, from the first (“It’s just a burning memory”) all the way to the last (“Place in the World fades away”), as each release represents an advancing stage of dementia.
The full album can be found to purchase on Bandcamp and can be accessed on YouTube as well. Both websites offer timestamps of each song and descriptions of each stage, the latter written by The Caretaker himself. In fact, being Kirby’s final task under this project, “Everywhere at the End of Time” is meant to act as the death of The Caretaker — not his physical death, but the death of his memory, his mind and his own person. It’s ironic: The one who’s devoted all his time to the topic of remembrance finds his end by losing the ability to remember.
So what comes before that? Clearly, the process of dementia doesn’t start out as desolate as its culmination. The beginning of the album is actually rather beautiful. Stages 1-3 are essentially made up of 1920s and ‘30s ballroom music, a small ode to the haunted ballroom scene of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” from where The Caretaker got his name. The music is surrounded by noticeable static, adding to the notion of “the glory of old age and recollection,” according to the description of Stage One — “The last of the great days.”
Stages Two and Three carry the same genre of music throughout, with slight off-putting changes made. The mood is more negative, reverb is added and distortions in notes can be heard, as if it’s hard to remember what the song is supposed to sound like. Stage Two can be described as a stage of denial: “The self realisation and awareness that something is wrong with a refusal to accept that.” Afterward, Stage Three is the last moment of awareness, when confusion makes even the state of being aware a difficult sensation. Here, good memories continue to become increasingly distorted.
Stage Four gives way to the true horrors of memory loss. The ballroom music is still there, but is mostly masked by the daunting sounds of a badly warped record. From this stage onward, the disturbed memory is expressed through unpleasant sounds strung together. By Stage Five, everything is incoherent. Different songs are connected in disagreeable ways, with short intermissions of “the great days.” The simultaneously familiar nature of these unfamiliarities demonstrates the pure confusion experienced by dementia patients. From an observational standpoint, it’s both fascinating and utterly terrifying.
“Post-Awareness Stage 6 is without description.” By now, The Caretaker has entered his final moments, leaving the interpretation up to audiences. Perhaps most would describe it as the sounds of the void: entirely empty, nothing but a gentle hum to be heard within the tunneled walls of one’s vacant mind.
At the end of its journey, “Everywhere at the End of Time” received immense critical acclaim. Not for making it to the Billboard Hot 100 (if that happened, I would truly be scared), but for its poetic approach to a human side effect of real life. Some can admit to knowing a relative or a companion who went through diseases like Alzheimer’s, only to later not know them during each consecutive encounter. The Caretaker’s work makes chronic memory loss a spoken about topic, spreading its awareness through the evocative portrayal of its outcome. And with this relatability, comes the value of memory.
It’s easy to look past the importance of remembrance, considering it’s something we utilize at every waking moment. The concluding message I got after navigating through all six stages is to not take it for granted. Memory completes our perceptions of what we know, the people we love and ultimately who we are — once all of that is lost, there’s quite literally nothing to fall back on. While the dark and dismal disposition of that statement makes it susceptible to avoidance, rather than forgetting it, it’s best to remember remembering.