Wordsmith Wednesday: John Prine “Angel From Montgomery”

Standard

Our words this week are from John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” off his self-titled 1971 album.

The lyrics are:

“There’s flies in the kitchen. I can hear ’em, they’re buzzing
And I ain’t done nothing since I woke up today
How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening and have nothing to say?”

There’s a lot of simple truth in these lines. It’s the lazy drag of the empty day. It’s the hollowness of empty work. It’s the cold care of stale love. These lines remind me of the scene in David Foster Wallace’s short story “The Soul is Not a Smithy” where the narrator describes the dead dull in his father’s eyes on his return home from work. It’s work to not get weighed down by weary routine and sometimes it takes somebody sticking you with a question you’d never ask yourself to snap you out of it.

– NR

johnprine

Advertisements

Wordsmith Wednesday: Japandroids “Younger Us”

Standard

The words this week appear in the Japandroids song “Younger Us” from their 2012 album Celebration Rock released on Polyvinyl Records.

The lines are:

“Remember that time you were already in bed/
Said ‘fuck it’ got up to drink with me instead”

I remember getting the seven inch this song originally appeared while on summer break back at my parents’ house in the south burbs of Chicago and immediately heading down to the basement record player to spin it. Since then this track has woven itself into my mental fabric, providing the sonic backdrop to Champaign-Urbana nights and the fits of nostalgia that bring back a yearning each Fall for the wide-angle-Future feelings I associate with that time in my life. In these two lines, Brian King provides the perfect emotional snapshot of the transition from adolescence to adulthood, stuck between the bored prudence of maturity and spontaneous stupidity of youth, reaching blindly for one while clutching the strings of the other. These words will always remind me of roaming the streets of Urbana in search of a bus stop or the smothered beat of a house party, semi-cognizant of impending conclusion to this pseud0-reality but choosing the comfort of carelessness instead. This one goes out to my friends struggling keep a passion for life under the tightening stranglehold of social expectation. We’ll always have younger us to remind us to stay crazy forever.

– NR

japandroids

Wordsmith Wednesday: Sufjan Stevens’ “Casimir Pulaski Day”

Standard

This weeks Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Sufjan Steven’s song “Casimir Pulaski Day” off of his album Illinois.

It reads:

“On the floor at the great divide
with my shirt tucked in and my shoes untied
I am crying in the bathroom

In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window

In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March, on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing”

Sufjan speaks to the disheveled, hurtful remembrance of coping with the passing of a loved one. It is never easy. It comes on slowly and then all at once until you’re left “crying in the bathroom,” questioning the reason behind all of it (“and he takes and he takes and he takes”). As a holiday whose meaning is often forgotten, seen as nothing other than a day off, Sufjan titles this track as such to bring it back to the forefront, to not allow important moments as such to be forgotten. The entire song is composed of little pockets of memories the narrator holds dear, ones he wishes to never forget, even if they are painful. He reminds us that we must also not forget, not allow these moments to fall into the abyss but to keep them as a reminder of all that they meant to us.

– KK

sufjan

Wordsmith Wednesday: The Beatles’ “She Said She Said”

Standard

We are excited to have our words provided by Issue 5 guest editor Grant Garland!

This Wordsmith Wednesday highlights the lyrics of “She Said She Said,” my favorite track from the iconic 1966 album Revolver by The Beatles. Anybody familiar with the Beatles discography can notice the psychedelic tendencies that begin to flourish on Revolver’s fourteen tracks, the well-documented result of the introduction of LSD to the band. The song is a McCartney-Lennon collaboration, John Lennon penning the lyrics after the band famously took acid with actor Peter Fonda in LA, during their tour of America in 1965.

The words themselves are:

She said, “I know what it’s like to be dead.
I know what it is to be sad.”
And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born

I said, “Who put all those things in your head?
Things that make me feel that I’m mad.
And you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

She said, “You don’t understand what I said.”
I said, “No, no, no, you’re wrong.
When I was a boy everything was right,
Everything was right.”

I said, “Even though you know what you know,
I know that I’m ready to leave
‘Cause you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

As I mentioned, the specific origin of these lyrics is well documented, down to the moment Peter Fonda spoke the opening line to George Harrison, referencing an accidental gunshot wound Fonda suffered as a child. LSD trips aside, the words are about life changing revelations, and perhaps the human tendency to resist such revelations. Lennon changes the “He” to “She” disguising the song as a love song, maybe because love is often the source of many of his revelations. The first stanza sounds to me like a lover, or somebody trusted (those are almost interchangeable in my mind), revealing knowledge of the afterlife to the speaker. “And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born” says that the speaker feels like they don’t exist, or that knowing the afterlife might make this existence seem meaningless. The second stanza, with its forceful question “Who put all those things in your head?” is the resistance to the revelations being presented. “Things that make me feel that I’m mad,” however, invites an admission of an already present tear in the fabric of the mind. The third stanza is an interaction between the two, a back and forth that reveals the speaker to be nostalgic for childhood, when “everything was right.”

Unpacking this bag one phrase at a time was very eye opening for me. It showed me why it has taken me so long to listen—and I mean really listen—to the Beatles. Everyone in my generation was likely made familiar with the Beatles at a young age (my parents were not fans, I don’t hold a grudge), but it wasn’t until their entire discography was finally made available on Spotify that I found the time to return to it as a young adult. I found that songs like “She Said She Said” suddenly seemed oddly profound to me. Words that used to feel too simple and not provocative enough suddenly struck me somewhere deep down. When I retrace my life—it doesn’t take long, I am young, after all—I can still place the moment that literary writing clicked for me. It was when I finally learned to realize that simple events can often be monumental. I’ve spent the last several years examining the quiet moments that have had profound effect on me. I have resisted many of those moments while they were occurring, attempting to trudge on the same path, to remain the same as I used to be “when I was a boy.”

It probably is no coincidence that as a twenty-seven year old I suddenly relate to words John Lennon wrote at twenty-five. Our experiences were obviously not similar, him likely having these types of conversations and revelations while hiding out from swarms of admirers at a Los Angeles mansion, and me usually having them in the drive-thru at Taco Bell on a Thursday night. But when the song comes on, and I sing the words, I am aware of myself and my longing for some sort that feeling—the feeling I used to get as a child—of everything being right.

– GG

beatles

Wordsmith Wednesday: Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”

Standard

Our Wordsmith Wednesday this week comes from Otis Redding’s classic track “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” the posthumously released The Dock of the Bay.

The lines are:

“Left my home in Georgia/
Headed for the ‘frisco Bay/
‘Cause I’ve had nothing to live for/
It look like nothing’s gonna come my way

So I’m just gon’ sit on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time”

With these words, Redding encapsulates the hollow loneliness of moving to a new place in hopes of shifting out of a stagnant situation only to find the same empty horizon. When I moved to Nashville at the end of the summer in 2014, I semi-consciously sought to escape personal darkness and disappointment that seemed to surround my in the strip malls and cornfields of the Chicago suburbs. Living alone in faux-wood floored apartment on the north side, I spent most Saturday mornings that first year driving around on Gallatin and looking out the back door at the trash littered brush. The wistful acceptance in Redding’s words and delivery fills me with the feeling of those weekend mornings sitting at stoplights or staring at scraps of cellophane blow from bush to bush, waiting for something to change.

– NR

otis

Wordsmith Wednesday: Nas’ “One Love”

Standard

Our words this week come from Nas’ track “One Love” off of his 1994 classic, Illmatic.

The lines are:

“But, yo, guess who got shot in the dome piece?
Jerome’s niece on her way home from Jones Beach
It’s bugged, plus Little Rob is selling drugs on the dime
Hanging out with young thugs that all carry 9s
And night time is more trife than ever
What up with Cormega? Did you see him? Are y’all together?”

The textual cadence of these words is only a shadow of the spoken delivery, but the internal rhymes and crisp colloquiality of Nas’ lyrics are undeniable. Illmatic is full of dense, image intensive verses but the stylized envisioning of letters to jailed friends found on “One Love” has always stood out to me. The conversational relation of urban tragedy/reality is presented with such familiarity and frankness that I instantly relate to the unnamed recipient of Nas’ news. I feel the sadness of a little girl from the neighborhood being shot dead while walking home. I feel the anger of knowing another young kid from the block is getting involved in the same nonsense that killed that innocent child. I feel the guarded closeness between separated male friends, the commrodary of shared struggle. The clear-eyed bitterness and empathetic realism in Nas’ lyrics on Illmatic is part of the reason the record is a masterpiece, but the unique creative vision and flawless execution on “One Love” make it a touchstone for urban storytelling in my eyes/ears/mind.

– NR

Nas

Wordsmith Wednesday: Beat Happening “The This Many Boyfriends Club”

Standard

This week’s words come from the Beat Happening track “The This Many Boyfriends Club” off their 1988 album Jamboree on K Records/Rough Trade Records.

The lines are:

“It makes me mad
When I see them make you sad
Sometimes I wanna be real bad
And shove those words back down their throat”

Calvin Johnson’s raw and thoroughly Calvin Johnson-ish delivery of lyrics so simple over dissonant guitar seems to distill emotions down to their pure/childish/truthful cores. Anyone who’s ever loved someone, be it a friend/family member/romantic interest, has likely felt this immature but nonetheless very real impulse to cause harm, physical or otherwise, to people causing pain to the one they love. These words are devoid of decorum or self-consciousness or pretense. They are aggressive in their vulnerability, complex in their plainness. This is someone clenching their fists in the bar’s gravel parking lot. This is a parent wiping tears from a bullied child’s face. This is “I LOVE YOU” written in kiddish scrawl on a folded sheet of classroom loose leaf. And we love you a lot, Lori.

– NR

beat happening