Monday, September 25, 2017

Sexuality is complicated, but homophobia is very simple

(content warning: homophobic violence, suicide)

I try not to talk too seriously on this blog -- except on the life-and-death matters of country music or Tom Waits, because some things are just profound spiritual matters about which no joking can be allowed.

But I’ll admit I’ve been taken aback by the sheer ferocity of the homophobic attacks reported as part of the "non-binding postal survey" we are having in Australia on whether to allow marriage equality. Much as been heard of Tony Abbott not being hurt by a headbut unrelated to marriage equality, far less is reported about a trans teen being bashed in the same area of Hobart

I probably shouldn’t be so shocked. It is clearly there, but as a heterosexual man, I guess I have the privilege not to see it. (I sometimes find privilege a strange concept, there is little privilege for most people in this society, just a series of different fucked up shit people are subjected to that gets worse the more intersecting oppressions you are hit with, but if not fearing violence because of who you are is a privilege, I definitely have it).

It has made me think about something I don’t really make a point of talking about -- which I think is in itself a privilege. I simply don't have to and so, as it is very personal and I don't generally talk about personal things, I simply don't.

I don't doubt my sexuality, I know I am straight. I know this clearly not despite, but because, my first ever romantic and (some forgettable fumbling notwithstanding) sexual relationship was with another man.

The first person I ever feel in love with, at about 18 or so, was another young man. And it was an intense relationship, romantically and physically. And I was very physically attracted to him.

And so you can imagine that for an 18 or 19 year old to go through this, it poses some big questions about sexuality that had never really been posed to me until then. I was pretty sure I was attracted to women. And yet I was also in love with a guy.

This young man then proceeded, the fucking prick, to break my heart by breaking up with me after an intense six month or so period. He was right to do so, of course. He was about 17 at that point and really didn't need to be weighed down by the sort of ultra-intense relationship I was determined to offer.

We remained best friends, and our physical relationship continued on and off for years — essentially, as long as neither of us were in serious relationships, it was "on" whenever we saw each other, which became less frequent once we started living in different cities.

This experience obviously caused me to ask serious questions about my sexuality. If I was attracted to this guy, then obviously, why not others?

But it didn’t take too many further experiences to figure out it didn’t translate in general. Other experiences with men just didn’t really leave me feeling anything at all. I just didn’t particularly enjoy them.

The conclusion for me was clear: I am heterosexual with the capacity for exceptions. My subsequent relationships have all been hetersexual. While there is no rule to say this will always be the case, I imagine it is pretty likely to remain so and I say this as result of experiences that make me confident on the question of my own personal “preferences”.

The young man I feel in love with and had such a romantic and physical attraction too, however, was gay.

Like me in reverse, he also had some sexual and even romantic experiences with the opposite sex, but at the end of the day, he wasn’t any more bisexual than I am. He was a gay man who had some experiences with the opposite sex that didn’t really stick.

That young man is also dead. He committed suicide in 2005.

It would be reductionist and wrong to suggest his suicide could be directly connected to his sexuality. It is very hard to prove what role any of the various aspects of his life ultimately led him to his grave at just 24.

What is known is the far higher suicide rate among LGBTI people. LGBTI people, especially youth, are killing themselves at unacceptable levels because of the sort of homophobia this campaign has encouraged to express itself publicly and often violently.

He was my best friend and, whatever role his sexuality directly played in his death, it is true that he was subjected to pressures I have been able to avoid by the pure chance of me being heterosexual and him not. 

So it is hard to take the homophobia rampant right now and not be reminded of him and his fate.

I honestly feel that most people with violently homophobic feelings are either hiding something (from themselves as much as anyone) in regard to their feelings towards the opposite sex or to gender in general, even the simple fact of being capable of finding romantic or physical pleasure in the same sex. I am not even saying they are necessarily gay or bisexual. Just that sexuality is not straightforward and sexual preference means just that -- preference. Not a 100% iron clad rule.

And the sooner our society comes to view sexuality as nothing more than a personal preference, with none more valid than any other -- and therefore all relationships being entirely equal -- the sooner we can end the violence and its consequences on the human psyche.

I hereby promise, and this is a promise you can absolutely trust, I will never, ever refer to my sex life on this blog ever again.

To ensure I keep this promise... for fuck's sake, vote yes and fight to end homophobia.

'So you say it's not ok to be gay, well I think you're just evil...'

Thursday, September 21, 2017

'This world's been shaved by a drunken barber's hand' -- a playlist for my stand up show 'Inspired?'

Slaid Cleaves.
Now, I've been pretty quiet about it, I know, but I actually do have a solo stand up show at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival next week, in fact on Wednesday and Friday at 7pm and Sunday at 6pm. Just in case if you are interested at all.

I don't care. I don't care if you attend any of the shows at are at the Container room at The Factory theatre, to which you can book tickets here for the cheap, affordable price of $15/$10, which frankly is a fucking bargin. 

It is also a fundraiser for Green Left Weekly, so I guess it depends, like, if you want the planet to survive or not. I mean I'm not saying it literally hinges on this show, I'm just saying you'd have to be some sort of Donald Trump-loving prick to consciously not come. That's all. The choice is yours. Fascism or humanity. Choose wisely. I mean, I don't care myself...

The point is, faced with a show next week, some performers might try to focus on last minute building, or even working on refining the material by going to various comedy rooms to test things or just agonising in front of their laptop over exact wording, pacing and structure.

That is because they are hacks. The key question is to spend your time developing a musical playlist to accompany the show.

And by "accompany", I don't mean literally. I don't mean the songs have any role in the show. Don't worry, you can turn up to the show without country music ruining your night.

They are just songs that I like and happen to relate loosely to the theme. The type of songs I think about when I think about the shit I talk about in my show.

They describe the sort of topics that get discussed, but as is self-evident, they don't as a rule contain jokes and let me tell you... that's one thing my show has! Jokes! Oh yeah! It is sort of the point!

(Of course, the Hayes Carll and John Prine tracks have a couple of witty lines, as they are witty chaps, but still not the same as trying to come up with a 50-minute stand-up show.)

So, my show is called "Inspired?" and it is about the hilarious topic, which is the fact it is fucking hard to be inspired about the world and the prospects for positive change when everything is SO FUCKING SHIT and seemingly getting worse.

This is dealt with by these songs in various ways. It runs through the shit we deal with, the fact life is hard, the fact our politicians are pricks, the fact climate change is terrifying, the fact this is hard to deal with, and then runs through to the crucial question of hope in the face of darkness.

To be honest, with that in mind, the two key songs are the first, Texas folk/country/Americana singer songwriter Slaid Cleaves' "Drunken Barber's Hand", and the last, South Carolina folk/country/Americana husband-and-wife duo Shovels and Rope's glorious rendition of Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding".

I feel those two tracks form a great start and end point, and the rest fills the gaps, from Celtic punk band Flogging Molly's self-explanatory "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" to Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's "Hope The High Road" about combatting despair with hope.

The list includes incredible acts like Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, John Prine, Jason Isbell ... and more! Some aren't even country/folk/Americana!

Well you can hear it below and my show will be like this, only with jokes. So like if you like these songs... come along! And if you hate them... then fear not, they play no role in my show at all, and forget this post ever existed!

Just... come along if you are in Sydney. You will not regret it. Here's the fucking playlist:


I don't need to read the papers
Or the tea leaves to understand
This world's been shaved
By a drunken barber's hand

Well, I know, I miss more than hit
With a face that was launched to sink
And I seldom feel, the bright relief
It's been the worst day since yesterday

Everybody knows it's a hard time
Livin' on the minimum wage
Ah, some people just gonna sneak on through
Others gotta rattle that cage
One of these days, I'm gonna find my way
Or else just disappear
I'm out here in the filth and squalor
And all I wanna do is stomp and holler

Well over the sea, and far away,
Our kids die in deserts, they been sent that way...

Well Hell doesn't want you
And Heaven is full...

The weather's been funny thirty years or so
the winters got warm, not as much snow
hear the big cats comin 'cause there's nowhere left to go
You gotta look out for bear when you?re fishing on lee?s creek
they?ll come round the bend and they?ll make your knees weak
there?s grizzlies where there was no grizzly bears before

Some humans ain't human
Though they walk like we do
They live and they breathe
Just to turn the old screw
They screw you when you're sleeping
They try to screw you blind
Some humans ain't human
Some people ain't kind

From the cradle to the grave
You will always be a slave
To the quiet darkness of your memories
And that's the truth, my friend
The ugly truth, my friend
I've got proof, my friend
And that's the truth

There can't be more of them than us
There can't be more

I know you're tired
And you ain't sleeping well
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity.
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside,
There's one thing I want to know:
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

'Go on back to Greenville': Lucinda Williams and the art of a 'fuck you' song

Songs telling people who deserved to be told to get fucked to "get fucked" has a long and proud tradition in popular music, from Dylan's "Positively Fourth Street" (dripping in venom, with its sneered opening line "You gotta lot of nerve to say you are my friend", before really laying into the unnamed backbiter), Carly Simon's "You're So Vain", as devastating a sustained put down as it is an insanely catchy song, to English pop singer Lily Allen's entire 2006 debut album Alright, Still.

One with more than a few songs on arseholes is US bluesy country singer Lucinda Williams, and like with Simon and Allen's savaging of fuckboys who had it coming, she clearly speaks from experience of having known her share.

One of her finest examples is "Greenville", off her 1998 classic Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which contains more great songs than any album has a natural right to include.

The song lacks the bombast of many other examples of the genre. It feels understated  — but the impression is superficial. It is quiet, stripped back and builds slowly, but in its poetic simplicity, it finds its mark just as surely. Each verse further strips away the layers of the man in question's pretensions, revealing an intolerable arrogance that spreads pain in its wake. 

By the end, without any sneering just a strong sense of how sadly pathetic he is, Williams offers up the observation "Looking for someone to save you. Looking for someone to rave about you. To rave about you oh to rave about you..."

The man, and there is no doubt it is a man any more than it is a real man Williams had the misfortune to become entangled with, is told repeatedly to go back to Greenville. This is the name of towns in several US states, and it could be any of them, but it is one of them. 

Bellow is the album version, with Emmy Lou Harris providing backing vocals, followed by Williams singing the song on the BBC TV music show Later... With Jools back in 1999.

Don't want to see you again or hold your hand
Cause you don't really love me you're not my man
You're not my man oh you're not my man
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville

You scream and shout and you make a scene
When you open your mouth you never say what you mean
Say what you mean oh say what you mean
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
You drink hard liquor you come on strong

You lose your temper someone looks at you wrong
Looks at you wrong oh looks at you wrong
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
Out all night playin in a band

Looking for a fight with a guitar in your hand
A guitar in your hand oh a guitar in your hand
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
Empty bottles and broken glass

Busted down doors and borrowed cash
Borrowed cash oh the borrowed cash
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
Looking for someone to save you
Looking for someone to rave about you
To rave about you oh to rave about you
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville

Now, I know what you are thinking. After everything in this post so far and with no obvious segue, can I still force in a plug for my solo show at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival, "Inspired?" on at the Factory in Marrickville on September 27 & 29 and October 1?

The answer is no. Obviously I cannot actually elbow in a reference to my show, which attempts to grapple with how to stay inspired in a world so horrific while also telling amusing jokes and is a fundraiser for Green Left Weekly and at which you can book tickets here

It would ridiculous! Worse, to even try might be seen as an example of the sort of arrogant men that Lucinda and others slay in their songs!

Sorry, but I just won't do it. However, if you are desperate for details, I guess you could click on the ad on the right hand side of this blog. If you want to. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Waiting for the last train after midnight on an isolated Monday night....

I caught the last train at Redfern on a quiet Monday night after midnight and the atmosphere was spooky. I stood near the far end of the platform waiting for my train and a young woman's voice: "Let's just HUNT FOR EVER!", followed by the laugh of another young person.

I drew the obvious conclusion: "Fuck. It's vampires."

My blood ran ice cold as I gathered up the courage to risk a glance in their direction... And I see two young women hugging each other tightly, and I realised -- one of them had actually said: "Let's just HUG FOREVER!" And sure enough they they looked like they might try, so enrapt in each other were they... But the train came and the two young lovers reluctantly separated and as I also got on the last train home I thought... I still hope she's not a vampire or I am fucked coz we just got in the same isolated late night carriage.

Suffice to say, I made it home alive and without being transformed into one of the Undead, doomed to roam the world at night feeding off the blood of mortals.... Or did I?

Yes I did. And as such you can still see my solo show at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival, "Inspired?" on at the Factory in Marrickville on September 27 & 29 and October 1. You should book now

In the show, I employ segues as brilliant as that one just then to grapple with questions of how to be inspired and positive in a world so horrific, and I absolutely will not drink the blood of audience members, having been turned into a vampire on a dark and lonely Monday night just after midnight at Redfern train station... 

Or will I? No, I won't. It would violate the festival's OH&S policies.

Having got my plug out of the way, you can enjoy a song from Jason Isbell that combines the crucial topics of lovers and vampires and how lovers might wish to be vampires so they could indeed hug forever. 

Isbell is a disturbingly talented singer-songwriter from  Alabama whose latest album, The Nashville Sound, hit number one on the US Country, Folk, Rock and Indie Billboard charts coz he is better than a human has any right to be, and the song is about his wife Amanda Shires, a fellow singer-songwriter who is also in his band and sings backing vocals on this track.

If we were vampires and death was a joke
We'd go out on the sidewalk and smoke
Laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand
Maybe time running out is a gift
I'll work hard 'til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn't me who's left behind

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Guy Clark Tuesday: 'I'd cried for every lesser thing — whiskey, pain and beauty...'

Far be it for me to ramble on about the genius poetry of Guy Clark, coz I already did that last year when the Texas country/folk legend had the sheer gall to die in the Great Artist Cull of 2016.

I don't know why the prick thought he had some sort of right to just fuck off, but the occasion brought forth some very wise words from the smarter of us still left alive. In particular, the observation: "It is like Clark's songs were carved from granite and he delivered them with the dirt still on."

I think I grasp what these lines are getting at, and only partly coz I wrote them. There is no better example of the point than "Randall Knife", released on Clark's 1983 Better Days album. Clark wrote it about his father's death.

Something else strikes me about this -- so much of popular music is aimed at the young. It is of, by and for young people, which is fine in and of itself. But as people age, rather than move on to new music, with new stories, emotions, experiences to express... people look back, preferring nostalgia over their own youth — and noting, invariably, how much better music was "in our day" compared to the muck that today's idiot kids think passes for music.

It is such a cliche and has only ever been true if we compare today's muck to the music of the mid-90s, when I was young.

But life does not stop at 25. It goes on, and all of life's experiences are there for all artistic forms to capture, including song. Life doesn't stop and nor should our music.

This song was written when Clark was 40 and it details an experience many go through at about that age — losing a parent. Clark captures the loss, grief and nostalgia with typical simplicity. The imagery is vivid, but not a word is wasted — a mark of the best country songs.

There is a remarkable stoicism in this song that is never cold or aloof. It is simply a backdrop that never falters. This approach enables the quite serious emotions of the song to come through without ever overwhelming the song, of making it soppy, or even damp, with sentimentality.

I am nearly 40, and both my parents are alive, fit and healthy. But nothing lasts forever. I expect I will grow to love this song even more when experience enable me to understand it better — hopefully not for a long time.

My father had a Randall knife
My mother gave it to him
When he went off to WWII
To save us all from ruin

If you've ever held a Randall knife
Then you know my father well
If a better blade was ever made
It was probably forged in hell

My father was a good man
A lawyer by his trade
And only once did I ever see
Him misuse the blade
It almost cut his thumb off
When he took it for a tool
The knife was made for darker things
And you could not bend the rules

He let me take it camping once
On a Boy Scout jamboree
And I broke a half an inch off
Trying to stick it in a tree
I hid it from him for a while
But the knife and he were one
He put it in his bottom drawer
Without a hard word won

There it slept and there it stayed
For twenty some odd years
Sort of like Excalibur
Except waiting for a tear

My father died when I was forty
And I couldn't find a way to cry
Not because I didn't love him
Not because he didn't try
I'd cried for every lesser thing
Whiskey, pain and beauty
But he deserved a better tear
And I was not quite ready

So we took his ashes out to sea
And poured `em off the stern
And threw the roses in the wake
Of everything we'd learned
When we got back to the house
They asked me what I wanted
Not the lawbooks not the watch
I need the things he's haunted

My hand burned for the Randall knife
There in the bottom drawer
And I found a tear for my father's life
And all that it stood for

Friday, July 07, 2017

Steve Earle's beautiful ode to Guy Clark (is almost enough to forgive his ugly attack on Hayes Carll)

Without much doubt, the highlight of Steve Earle's latest record, the enthusiastically, unashamedly country So You Wanna Be An Outlaw, is "Goodbye Michelangelo" -- his moving ode to his friend and mentor, the late Texan singer-songwriter Guy Clark who died in the Great Artist Cull of 2016.

Clark was the godfather of the "country folk/singer songwriter" tradition that developed in Texas in the 70s, out of which the younger Earle emerged. The Texas scene in the mid 70s was captured well in the Heartworn Highways doco, at which a young Steve Earle can be seen among the acolytes gathered at Clark's house.

Townes Van Zandt was that movement's guiding spirit, but Clark was its craftsman and the mentor to generations of future songwriters. Clark was more than a country singer, he was a poet and an artist, as I went on about after his death. Earle fucking means it when he sings:

Is this goodbye 'till it comes my time?
I won't have to travel blind
Cause you taught me everything I know
Goodbye Michelangelo

The track makes an interesting counter-point, as the album is dedicated to a different Texan country singer, Waylon Jennings. It is that "outlaw" hard-edged country with rock'n'roll rhythms tradition the album largely draws from.

It is true that, in the 70s, both Waylon Jennings and Guy Clark were associated with "Outlaw country", a rawer, less polished genre off the beaten track from the commercialised, polished Nashville mainstream. But they existed at opposite ends of the "Outlaw" spectrum.

Waylon was a bona fide star, with or without the endorsement of the suits in Nashville. He played big, loud, electrified songs with his up-tempo rock influenced sound.

Clark, by contrast, was the poet, playing carefully crafted tracks with a folk singer's sensibilities, all stripped down to essentials on an acoustic guitar. Not that there was no cross over -- Jennings joined Clark to sing harmony on Clark's 1976 song "Last Gun Fighter's Ballad". The Highwaymen, the country supergroup with Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, also made Clark's signature tune, "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train", their own.

In general, So You Wanna Be An Outlaw is entertaining and enjoyable, and even touching in places as it pays homage to the style of rough-hewed country developed by the likes of Jennings and Merle Haggard, but... I am sorry to say... it is just isn't as good as Hayes Carll's critically acclaimed and award-winning album last year, Lovers and Leavers.

That comparison may not seem superficially obvious. They are very different albums -- Lovers and Leavers found Carll in a quieter, introspective mood, with deeply personal tracks compared to Earle's homage to often-loud Outlaw country.

But Earle brought this comparison on himself.

In the lead up to its release, he shot his mouth off in classic Steve Earle fashion. He slagged off Oasis and Noel Gallagher as a shit songwriter (he was in Camp Blur). He slammed much of what passes for modern country music as "hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people" (if you think that is an exaggeration, try, if you can, listening to "bro-country" darlings Florida Georgia Line) .

That is all well and good, but especially eye-catching was his comment in a high-profile Guardian interview that his last wife, fellow country singer Allison Moorer, with whom he separated in 2014, had left him for a "younger, skinnier, less talented singer-songwriter".

Now, Earle did not mention Hayes Carll by name, but he did not need to. It is no secret that, both emerging from failed marriages, Carll and Moorer have embarked on a relation both personal and professional (often at the same time, as the many clips of them performing heartbeakingly beautiful ballads together testifies).

Really, all any of us can hope for in this life is to find someone who'll look at us the way Allison Moorer looks at Hayes Carll while they sing a duet.

Of course, Steve Earle's credit as a songwriter goes well beyond his latest album. It is not even that he has written such classics as "Guitar Town" or "Copperhead Road" (as good a song in its genre as anyone can ever hope to write). It is also that his career, while uneven, has been constantly bold and boundary pushing.

For instance, "John Walker Blues" is the most radically humanist song I've ever heard. Released in 2002, just after 9/11, it is a song written from the perspective of a young American man, John Walker Lindh, who was fighting with the Taliban.

Earle, a left-wing socialist, has no personal sympathy for the religious fundamentalist vision that inspired Walker to fight with the Taliban, but, as hysteria took over the US, he released this song empathising with Walker, who was captured and tortured by US forces.

The song's fucking chorus is "A shadu la ilaha illa Allah. There is no God but God." Released just after 9/11. That is courage. That is using your songwriting skills to fucking do something of note. No surprise that the shit hit the fan.

I take nothing away from Earle. He has earned his stripes over a career with 16 full-length releases from the mid-80s on. His legacy is beyond dispute.

But a straight up comparison with Hayes Carll is obviously unfair simply because Earle has been around for much longer. To judge Hayes Carll, you have to look at the impact he has had within the shorter frame of his career, and it is hard to knock.

Carll is very widely respected as one of the best of the younger generation of songwriters and performers, with five quality albums under his belt and many fans built up by constant touring. Plus he has written with, and earned the respect of, many of the greats (including Guy Clark, with whom Carll wrote "Rivertown").

I'm not sure I've ever heard a bad song from Hayes Carll. His reputation is justly huge. Of all the people to pick on... well it is blindly obvious that Earle chose Hayes for very personal, and very bitter, reasons.

But when you look at the comments closer, you see something even uglier. It is not actually Hayes Carll who is the main target of Earle's attack. It is actually Allison Moorer, who he proceeds to basically slander. Hayes is just roadkill.

Earle pretty much suggests she cynically "traded him in" for a younger, skinnier, but "less talented" model. Even worse is his implication that Moorer resents being in New York, despite the fact, Earle says, it is best for their severely autistic son.

This seems a low blow to go with in a public interview. Judging someone from social media and media comments is hard, admittedly, but any brief perusal of Moorer's comments on either strongly suggest someone who deeply loves their son.

And as to their break-up, obviously no one knows exactly what happens in other people's relationships, but it ultimately doesn't matter -- life and relationships are complicated and messy and trying to slag an ex in public is a dog act, no matter your legacy in the biz.

In fact, a man with a powerful legacy in the biz slagging off a woman in the biz coz they broke up with them is really pretty screwed up.

To be honest, it casts a bit of a pall over the second track on Earle's new record, "Looking for a Woman", where Earle is "looking for a woman won't do me like you". Sure, I think the track is not meant to be taken too literally or seriously, it is just a solid mid-tempo "dealing with heartbreak" song, but country music has a less-than-glorious tradition of men blaming women for relationship shit (which Kitty Wells famously responded to in her "answer song" to Hank Thompson way back in the early 50s). I find it hard not to think of Earle's unfair public comments towards Moorer when I hear him sing that song.

Moorer, for her part, dealt with the collapse of her relationship with Earle on her 2015 album Down To Believing. The title track is a heartfelt, deeply moving take on the end of intense relationships -- as beautiful, thoughtful, and sorrowful a song on how relationships end as I have ever heard. You can hear it here -- but a spoiler, it doesn't say "Steve was alright, but then I met this younger, thinner singer-songwriter and sure he's not as talented but he is hotter". Not exactly.

Some might even say Moorer's track is all class... in stark contrast to Earle's comments.

Neither Moorer or Carll have publicly commented on Earle's comments... at least not explicitly.

However, in recent days, social media and the music press has been alight with reports that at Willie Nelson's annual July 4 festival, at which both Hayes Carll and Steve Earle performed (on different stages at different times), Carll used his performance to debut a new song, which apparently included the key line: "I think she left you because you wouldn't shut your mouth."

Not very hard to interpret, that one.

I am grateful for Earle's moving ode to Guy Clark. Steve Earle is the man to write such a song and I am glad he has.

But I also see no reason to forgive his slagging off of Hayes Carll, not only because I am a Hayes Carll obsessive but because it is cover for him slagging of Allison Moorer for the simple reason they are no longer together.

And while I get the bitterness, for a proudly progressive man to use his public media profile to do this, frankly it fucking sucks.

Your favourite bucket hat-wearing blogger with Hayes Carll when he played Sydney last year.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

'Nobody knows when she started her skid' -- country songs as small lives writ large

One thing they don't tell you about the blues
When you got them
You keep on falling cause there ain't no bottom
And there ain't no end, least not for Lillian
Nobody knows when she started her skid
She was only 27 and she had five kids
Could-a been the whiskey, could-a been the pills
Could-a been the dream she was trying to kill
But there won't be a mention in the news of the world
About the life and the death of a red dirt girl
Named Lillian
Who never got any farther
Across the line than Meridian

(full lyrics)

Fuck country music. I don't know how to listen to song a like this, by veteran country singer Emmylou Harris, feeling moved to tears. It must be a special skill some people have, like their own personal super power.

Of course, you say "country music" and people turn off, thinking walking cliches in stupid hats singing cliched songs... or worse... these days they think it means rich white frat boys in the horrific "bro-country" subgenre, with its "party on dudes... but on a truck" shtick and its intense objectification of women.

(Steve Earle recently called bro-country "hip hop for people who are afraid of black people" and if you think that was exaggerating, try listening to this fine example of the genre from Florida George Line featuring Luke Bryan.

To be honest, bro-country does not even deserve to be called a musical genre, any more than I should be considered a marine biologist because I can identify a goat. It's connection to country music is up there with the connection between Mexican fighting fish and the wombat. In fact, goats, the study of marine biology, Mexican fighting fish and wombats all have more in common with, say, Hank Williams Sr than "bro-country" does.)

But country music of the sort associated with what is sometimes called the "singer-songwriter" tradition, or possibly "folk" (tho that is an abused term too...) is as deeply moving and poetic a form of popular music as I have come across. Or at least as deeply moving and poetic as any other. It is an art form. And "Red Dirt Girl", from Emmylou Harris's 2000 album of the same name, is a great example of the genre. It is small lives writ large. Ordinary people's live turned into poetry. Fuck yeah.

Red Dirt Girl

Me and my best friend Lillian
And her blue tick hound dog Gideon,
Sittin on the front porch cooling in the shade
Singin every song the radio played
Waitin for the Alabama sun to go down
Two red dirt girls in a red dirt town
Me and Lillian
Just across the line and a little southeast of Meridian.

She loved her brother I remember back when
He was fixin up a '49 Indian
He told her 'Little sister, gonna ride the wind
Up around the moon and back again"
He never got farther than Vietnam,
I was standin there with her when the telegram come
For Lillian.
Now he's lyin somewhere about a million miles from Meridian.

She said there's not much hope for a red dirt girl
Somewhere out there is a great big world
That's where I'm bound
And the stars might fall on Alabama
But one of these days I'm gonna swing
My hammer down
Away from this red dirt town
I'm gonna make a joyful sound

She grew up tall and she grew up thin
Buried that old dog Gideon
By a crepe myrtle bush in the back of the yard,
Her daddy turned mean and her mama leaned hard
Got in trouble with a boy from town
Figured that she might as well settle down
So she dug right in
Across a red dirt line just a little south east from Meridian

She tried hard to love him but it never did take
It was just another way for the heart to break
So she dug right in.
But one thing they don't tell you about the blues
When you got em
You keep on falling cause there ain't no bottom
There ain't know end.
At least not for Lillian

Nobody knows when she started her skid,
She was only twenty seven and she had five kids.
Coulda been the whiskey,
Coulda been the pills,
Coulda been the dream she was trying to kill.
But there won't be a mention in the news of the world
About the life and the death of a red dirt girl
Named Lillian
Who never got any farther across the line than Meridian.

Now the stars still fall on Alabama
Tonight she finally laid
That hammer down
Without a sound
In the red dirt ground

BONUS!!! Swedish country sister-duo First Aid Kit play the song "Emmylou" dedicated to Emmylou Harris and other country singers at an awards night with Emmylou in the crowd and she cries!!!