The Albums That Defined 2014 explores how this year's most influential records have shaped and reflected the wider music landscape. Today, the most unlikely star artist of 2014: the lost Canadian singer known as Lewis.
Two of the most universally acclaimed albums of 2014 were released in 1983 and 1985 by a private press record label called R.A.W. The artist who recorded them has been absent from the public eye for almost as long. That might not sound like the recipe for an album that defined 2014, but this was the year of Lewis.
Lewis was a pseudonym of an enigmatic drifter from Calgary who improbably struck it rich speculating in the stock market in the early '80s, and went almost unheard for 25 years before the 1983 LP, L’Amour, was discovered in flea market by a collector called Jon Murphy in 2008. What followed was a phenomenon unique to the post-Sugar Man internet age.
Lewis’s story has been told to death at this point (including on this very site), but in the space of a few short years an incredibly idiosyncratic small release record heard by next to no one for three decades captured the imagination of the music media and a good segment of the listening public, earning accolades and breathless coverage from outlets like The Guardian and Pitchfork. The excitement galvanized an online community of obsessives and amateur sleuths (including, again, us) who set about digging deeper into the story behind the spectral music on L’Amour.
Then, suddenly, a deluge. In May, reissue enthusiasts Light In The Attic gave the album a wider release, turning it into a minor phenomenon. Then, out of nowhere, one copy of a second Lewis album was unearthed. It sold for $1,825. That album, 1985’s Romantic Times, which has also been reissued by Light In The Attic, set off a second explosion of interest. Light In The Attic did some digging of their own and discovered that Lewis wasn't dead or fictional. He was in a coffee shop in an unnamed Canadian city. And then, hey why not, a third Lewis album.
That this story should come full circle, and do so in the span of less than four months from the date of L’Amour’s reissue, feels like the least believable possible ending to a story that has been unbelievable from the very first. Since the story of Lewis began circulating there have been a steady stream of people convinced it was too good to be true and that Lewis was some kind of hoax. Looking back on the whole experience it’s easy to understand their perspective. Lewis simply could not have happened in any reasonable world. But Lewis did happen. Which leads us to only one logical explanation: the world isn’t reasonable and the internet is magic.