Settling Scores Vol. II
There are eight songs on this record. And one is almost thirteen minutes long. Below are some reference and attribution notes about each of the songs.
1) “Pitchforks and Torches” is a line I ripped from the muddled diatribe of a boot-licking slave from the state of Wisconsin. That is Jaimee Harris singing with me. Even if you don't get this record...don't forget that name.
2) “Goodbye” is a Steve Earle song I'm pretty sure I would have written…if he hadn’t. And that's Jaimee Harris again singing the duet with me.
3) Robbinson Jeffers, my most influential poet, wrote an epic poem called “Dear Judas.” It could have been called “Love, Betrayal and Forgiveness.” As could my song of the same title.
4) Page 243 of the novel My Best Friend’s Exorcist provided the dots (though from an altogether different painting) that I tried to connect in “It Could Be a Long Night.’ Thanks to Danny Goddard for some help on this song.
5) I first recorded “Liliana” on my debut album, It's Later Than You Think (2008), which is now out of print. I wrote it in the 1980’s. With the recording of “The New Brownsville Girl,” the song started bubbling up again. It is the oldest of my songs that I still play. And that's all I really got to say about it here.
6) “The Black Dress” was informed by an imminent event I watched a trio of sisters preparing for.
7) Gurf Morlix is singing the “High Fructose” pre-song here. He and I made a full recording of “High Fructose Corn Syrup” on my 2011 record, Okra and Ecclesiastes. “More for Us, Less for Them” evolved from an idea for a spoken-word piece. And wound up being the only song I ever wrote using a drum machine.
8) In 1986 I ran to the record store---like I always did---to buy Bob Dylan’s newest release, Knocked Out Loaded. The album seemed to me then, as it does now, to have been his absolute poorest effort. But there was one very notable exception. Which was a seventeen verse, twelve-minute-long song called “Brownsville Girl.” https://vimeo.com/183524348
It was a magnificent, impenetrable epic that I played over and over in an effort to decode it. Adding to the mystery of the song was something I discovered in the liner notes: Dylan had co-written it with playwright Sam Shepard. Which made such obvious sense---his western cinematic fingerprints were all over the spectrum of the narrative.
Years later I would learn that “Brownsville Girl” was a revision and re-recording of the Dylan/Shepard song, “New Danville Girl,” which was supposed to go on Dylan’s previous (and much better) album, Empire Burlesque. The structure, the chord progression, the story-line, and over ninety-six percent of the words in “Brownsville Girl” were unchanged, though the previous track lacked the passion, the power, and the building tension of its gleaming successor. It’s true, the recording on Knocked Out Loaded is over-produced, dated, and rife with sonic clichés. But in a good way. Not to mention it was one of the most stunning vocal performances Dylan ever recorded.
As with many Dylan songs, this one was a bit ‘informed’ by earlier material, namely by Woody Guthrie, who had recorded (and copyrighted) the song “Danville Girl.” And Woody’s song seems to be very much ‘informed’ by an even older bluegrass standard of the same name. There’s nothing particularly unusual about any of this. Considering who we are talking about.
But furthermore (some folks just can’t help themselves when it comes to worming to the bottom of things like this), the Dylan-Shepard song was a less-than-veiled reply to a Lou Reed song, “Doin’ the Things that We Want To Do.” Ironically, that song, Lou Reed’s song, is largely built upon Reed having gone to see the Sam Shepard play, Fool for Love. Indeed, the first line of that Reed song is: ‘The other night we went to see Sam’s play.’ With all this in account, it could not be called coincidence that the first line in Dylan and Shepard’s “Brownsville Girl” is: ‘Well, there’s this movie I seen one time….’ Kinda crazy, huh?
All this vague homage does seem circuitously incestuous. But be that as it may, and irrespective of Dylan scholarship, I have gone to some length here examining the song’s layered past. This is partly a search for an explanation. But primarily a hope of exoneration, an exoneration of my having taken the song “Brownsville Girl,” and boiled-out of it (and injected into it) my own story: “The New Brownsville Girl," using less than five percent of the lyrics from the Dylan/Shepard song.
I will leave it to the rare, genuine listener, with his surviving interest and focus, to comparatively sort-out what seems to have gone down in the thirty years between a pair of twelve-minute songs. As Dylan said in yet another masterpiece: “There’s been a lotta water under the bridge. And a lotta other stuff, too.” Meanwhile, I would just like to thank Bob and Sam and Woody and Lou, for their founding (and derivative) parts in all this. Guys, I could not have done it without you. But this…this is my song now.
How this record happened. More or Less.
He had thought it unlikely there would be another record. He’d already made more than he could really account for, and it seemed that recording another would be like scooting just one more ragged flag up that same’ol leaning flag pole.
It wasn’t ‘burn-out.’ Which is just a term abused by those who have never themselves really ‘burned.’ It was more-like a sense of defeat by the , cookie-cutter amalgamation of the American landscape, its inauthentic intellectualism, spiritualism and the one in which he had been working as an artist. He imagined himself…irrelevant, which is a dramatically more pathological condition than burn-out.
Not that he had ever had cause to believe that anything he was building would ever really float. But from the very start---that first time he breathed into a stage microphone---he had been secretly holding-out for a collective response of revelation from beyond. And it had never coalesced. He wasn’t disillusioned, but rather disavowed, untethered from the fleet of precepts that had once been his channel markers. Sure, he had a ‘body of work’ which he could hold up or point to, but when he looked at it he felt oddly sociopathic toward it, non-emotive. This, he knew, was the most dangerous place that one (living under the auspices of artistic freedom) could find himself. Moreover, this wasn’t really something that had happened to him. This was his own damned doing. And he knew it.
For another record to get made, he would have to recover some of what he had lost---what he had blithely scattered across the Fifty States---or find some other currency for the stock and trade of the music business. The songs just weren’t doing it for him. He had seen too many of them roll off into the gutter (both his own songs, and those of others) to think this was about that. Though it was no longer the 1970’s, the essence of the music business was still all about who had the best drugs. As an artist, you could light up the artifices of social media, and fill in the canyons between the lines in your songs with crisp curations of your digitized, crafted image. If you were any good at that kinda thing, you could keep a buzz going. 24/7
The fact was it was just a waste of time to kick out any footlights these days. Not unless you had a smoking graphic to go with it. In a sort of sissified death grip, the music culture had its toneless arms around sound and image, and its bitter tongue in the ear of fame. It had thrown out the baby and was drinking the bath water. There was no palpable interest in what a song or a record meant any more. And therein lay the substance of his feelings of irrelevance. In short, he wondered: what was the use?
But then love---of all things---walked by his door. And his mood began to change. And his imagination cleared. He could see he still had irons in the fires he had started long ago. It was like unfinished business. Volume II. Settling Scores.
Risks and challenges
There is really only one challenge: that is getting the songs into the wheelhouses of the narrow band of people who can really influence how a record breaks.
Regretfully...cash helps.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)