Tramp the Dirt Down

Yesterday Shinyribs participated in a taping of a podcast for the Texas Tribune.  I had taken Mucinex DM in the morning for a horrible cold, so the names haven’t so much been changed to protect the innocent, as to protect me from looking like a dumbass.  I was in outer space, picking up more of the overall vibe than the specifics.  But it was a truly amazing experience that I hope to repeat again at some point.

Being a transplant in Texas, even though I’ve been here almost 8 years, I have always found it hard to crack the political Da Vinci Code that is this state.  I think that is partly, if not wholly, by design due to the firm grip of the GOP on state power.  It was really interesting and stimulating to hear some local and state political discussion.  The Texas Tribune podcast is now using Shinyribs’ Texas Talking as its theme song.

I can’t imagine being in a better place than yesterday.  Hearing interesting political talk while playing songs that make people clap and dance and get free.  It’s really the best of all worlds.

In the weeks leading up to this Kevin has been trying to tell me that I need to start reading the Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer, as they are really the best places to understand what is going on at a state level.  Let’s just say that I am a political junkie and finding a good Texas news source is like looking for a needle in a haystack.  My experience yesterday has confirmed to me that Kevin is right.

Before the show yesterday Kevin and I were trading some friendly jabs about the whole North\South thing.  I am from Pennsylvania and he is from the Louisiana\Texas Border.  Kevin is a much more proficient verbal arguer than I, and my girlfriend will attest that pretty much anyone is.  I think half the reason I write songs is to make up for this deficiency.  I need time to think and ponder and because of this I represent my beliefs best in writing.  I’m too introverted and inward looking.  Every once in a while the clouds will part and I can dance with the best of them, but often I realize the things I could have said to win the argument about ten minutes after it happened.  I did mention to Kevin that he should have been wearing a grey shirt instead of a blue one, and he got a good laugh out of that.

Last night after watching some bubble gum action movies, I returned to Ken Burns The Civil War.  I found one thing particularly interesting.  Jefferson Davis knew that if the South were to win the Civil War that he had to have the same kind of sweeping powers that Lincoln had.  He had to have broad federal like powers to get the South moving in a unified direction to defeat the North.  Because of the Confederate states were so set on States Rights this never happened.  It was their anti-federalism that helped to spell their doom amongst other things.  I can’t help but thing that the current GOP could learn something from this.  By being so anti-government, in ways in which even moderate conservatives realize are insane, they are dooming themselves more and more to the fringes of American politics.  There are still enough old white voters, and they still have things redistricted enough in their favor in certain places, but eventually the damn is going to break.  If they don’t modernize they are going into the wilderness for a long time to come.  They will have no one to blame but themselves.  People like Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and Sarah Palin are singing a death song for a way of life that is slowly fading.  In closing I would like to quote the Elvis Costello song Tramp the Dirt Down.  It was originally written about Margaret Thatcher, but I think it works now as well:

Well I hope I don’t die too soon
I pray the lord my soul to save
Oh I’ll be a good boy, I’m trying so hard to behave
Because there’s one thing I know, I’d like to live
Long enough to savor
That’s when they finally put you in the ground
I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down


Cross the Green Mountain

I cross the green mountain
I sit by the stream
Heaven blazing in my head
I, I dreamt a monstrous dream

Something came up
Out of the sea
Swept through the land of
The rich and the free

I look into the eyes
Of my merciful friend
And then I ask myself
Is this the end?

Memories linger
Sad yet sweet
And I think of the souls
In heaven who will be

Alters are burning
The flames far and wide
The fool has crossed over
From the other side

They tip their caps
From the top of the hill
You can feel them come
All brave blood do spill

Along the dim
Atlantic line
The rapper’s land
Lasts for miles behind

The lights coming forward
And the streets are broad
All must yield
To the avenging God

The world is old
The world is great
Lessons of life
Can’t be learned in a day

I watch and I wait
And I listen while I stand
To the music that comes
From a far better land

Close the eyes of our captain
Peace may he know
His long night is done
The great leader is laid low

He was ready to fall
He was quick to defend
Killed outright he was
By his own men

It’s the last day’s last hour
Of the last happy year
I feel that the unknown
The world is so dear

Pride will vanish
And glory will rot
But virtue lives
And cannot be forgot

The bells
Of evening have rung
There’s blasphemy
On the end of the tongue

Let them say that I walked
In fair nature’s light
And that I was loyal
To truth and to right

Serve God and meet your full
Look upward beyond
Beyond the darkness that masks
The surprises of dawn

In the deep green grasses
And the blood stained woods
They never dreamed of surrendering
They fell where they stood

Stars fell over Alabama
I saw each star
You’re walking in dreams
Whoever you are

Chilled are the skies
Keen is the frost
The ground’s froze hard
And the morning is lost

A letter to mother
Came today
Gunshot wound to the breast
Is what it did say

But he’ll be better soon
He’s in a hospital bed
But he’ll never be better
He’s already dead

I’m ten miles outside the city
And I’m lifted away
In an ancient light
That is not of day

They were calm, they were gloomed
We knew them all too well
We loved each other more than
We ever dared to tell

Cross the Green Mountain by Bob Dylan.  I am watching the Ken Burns documentary about the Civil War tonight.  I’ve seen parts of it before, but not for quite some time.  It’s fantastic.  In tribute of it I thought i would post these Bob Dylan lyrics.  This is a song about the Civil War and it is one of Dylan’s best songs, and least well known.  

Late Night Prayers III, The Sunday Edition

Dear Lord, I pray that I am never in a fatal car accident, but if I am I hope that it meets this criteria:  I hope that my car is going at a speed that can only be described as “unguided missile”.  I hope that it connects at terrible velocity with a truck that is pulling livestock, preferably horses.  May the carnage be so horrific that they can’t tell man from horse when they are cleaning up the crash site.  I hope that they then bury me as half horse and half man.  That would be fun.  I would like that.  You gotta have fun in life.  

Out on The Wire

Although I love music that features uncomfortable dissonance, like PIL’s Albatross, my first inclination is towards pop music.  I love well written melodies that stick in your head.  If they feature intelligent lyrics and a groove that can make you dance like a child on electricity, all the better.  I have heard the first new pop song that I love in quite a while.  It is a song called The Wire by the band HAIM. 

Before I get to why I love this song allow me a moment of criticism.  This song is a pop song in the truest sense.  The lyrics seem written as if for no other reason than supporting the melody and creating endless hooks.  I could not tell you what they are, and don’t think that they would bring much enlightenment to my life if I could.  The song is also not any kind of grand step forward in music.  It’s a pop song, a glorious one, but nothing more.  It sounds like it could have been written in the 80’s although there are some slight modern production touches. 

HAIM is a group of three sisters in their early 20’s.  They excel at writing and singing the kind of pop songs that used to be staples on the radio.  Songs that when you are ten beers in, make you feel like you are way sweeter than you are. 

If it seems like I am downplaying something by saying it is a simple pop song, I am not.  I love pop music.  Music is an emotional medium first and foremost, as I have stated before.  A song that instantly makes you feel something is really all that one can ask for.  If a song can make you think on top of that, then all the better.  I prefer intelligence in my pop songs, but I don’t require it. 

There has been a trend in recent years for detachment in pop vocals.  A lot of indie bands that lean towards pop music either can’t sing, or bury the vocals in the mix.  The voice becomes just another instrument.  Meanwhile in mainstream pop the vocals are often auto tuned and treated in such a way that they lack the humanness that connects on an emotional level.  There is nothing more emotional than the sound of a human voice singing with passion.  No amount of production can overcome this. 

At the other end of the spectrum has been the trend that has come out of the R&B world.  This is where singers feel that they have to show off their vocal power in every line.  They make a meal out of every note and it is unbecoming of the singer.  The vocals become more about showing off the singer.  This is ego driven music of the worst kind.  A well written song can potentially express many emotions depending on how it is delivered.  When the singer gets in the way of that song and melody, they get in the way of the emotion that is inherent in that given piece. 

When I heard this song, I got excited.  Maybe this band will take off and they will bring others with them.  It would be nice to turn on the radio again and hear pop songs with people singing with their natural voice again.  Again, this is a pop song.  It is nothing more and nothing less.  Such a simple and beautiful thing should not be taken for granted.  

Upcoming Shinyribs and No Show Ponies Shows

Shinyribs – tonight, Sept. 27th – Strange Brew – Austin, Texas – 10pm
Shinyribs – Sept. 28th – Sam’s Burger Joint – San Antonio, Texas – 5pm
Shinyribs – Sept. 29th – KUT Texas Talking Radio Program – On air 1:15pm
Shinyribs – Oct. 2nd – Mainstreet Crossing – Tomball, Texas
Shinyribs – Oct. 4th – Threadgills – Austin, Texas – 9pm
Shinyribs – Oct. 6th – ACL Festival – Austin, Texas – 5:30pm
No Show Ponies – Oct. 12th – Lee Harvey’s – Dallas, Texas – 9pm


The Artist

ONE evening there came into his soul the desire to fashion an image

the world to look for bronze. For he could think only in bronze.

But all the bronze of the whole world had disappeared, nor anywhere
in the whole world was there any bronze to be found, save only the
bronze of the image of THE SORROW THAT ENDURETH FOR EVER.

Now this image he had himself, and with his own hands, fashioned,
and had set it on the tomb of the one thing he had loved in life.
On the tomb of the dead thing he had most loved had he set this
image of his own fashioning, that it might serve as a sign of the
love of man that dieth not, and a symbol of the sorrow of man that
endureth for ever. And in the whole world there was no other
bronze save the bronze of this image.

And he took the image he had fashioned, and set it in a great
furnace, and gave it to the fire.

And out of the bronze of the image of THE SORROW THAT ENDURETH FOR
EVER he fashioned an image of THE PLEASURE THAT ABIDETH FOR A

The Artist by Oscar Wilde.  Poem in prose.

Pop Songs and Propaganda

Sometimes a good friend can make you aware of something that is clear as day, but you somehow miss.  On the same day that I posted the lyrics to a song called I’m Not Listening to the Radio Tonight, I played on a radio show.  My fellow band mate in Shinyribs, Mr. Winfield Cheek, pointed out the irony of this to me.  We played on KUTX which is the music part of the public radio station here in Austin.  I love public radio, and I can’t stand just about any other kind.  My posting of the song was not in any way associated with this radio performance.

The song itself is about a radio listener as spurned lover.  It was written when I lived back in Pennsylvania.  I remember as a kid staying up late at night to hear my favorite bands.  Now other than public radio, I can’t think of a station that I could listen to without being tempted to put an ice pick in my ear.  Public radio seems to be the last bastion of free thinking on the radio dial.  I’m sure as with most things there are exceptions to the rule, but one must drive far and wide.  I’m not counting satellite radio either.  That to me is like comparing Netflix and ABC.

Anyway, I digress.  In a pop song you can’t get all the small details of an argument.  You have a couple minutes and very few words to get a point across.  Even if you are writing lyrics that are Dylanesque in length, you still don’t have the same room to work with that you do in an article, let alone a book.  I view pop songs as propaganda.  If you are trying to use a song to make a point you need to get in, stir up a bunch of trouble, and get out.  Let things fall where they may.  If someone is intelligent enough they can go deeper.  You are trying in a song to get to a poetic truth and not the truth of a journalist.  It’s okay to stretch the truth, fantasize, and sometimes just flat out make stuff up.  Your duty is again a poetic and emotional truth.

We have another song on the new NSP album that is coming out called Make Businessmen Cry.  The song comes from the perspective of someone that is frustrated by what is going on in this country right now.  The gap between the rich and poor is growing.  It also was written by me after working a series of meaningless soul crushing jobs.  I mean every word of it and apologize for none of it.  That being said I realize it’s propaganda.  The truth is always more complex.

I realize that being in a band I am in a business whether I like it or not.  I hope to someday make enough money that I can survive comfortably doing it.  If I could make enough money to someday employ people to do some of the things that I don’t like in the music business that would be great.  If I said anything else I’d be lying.

I also realize that people that are in business are just like everyone else.  There are good and bad people.  I’m not a communist.  I think that capitalism is the best system that we have to generate wealth and prosperity.  I just think that we need a safety net for those that are less fortunate.  I also think that the pie needs to be shared more fairly than it is right now.  You need a balance of systems and ideas to bring about maximum innovation and happiness.

However, none of that would make a very good pop song.  Music is an emotional venture, no matter how intellectual it gets.  When you get dicked down by your boss, boom, that is a feeling you can capture.  That’s not to say that you can’t have songs that are emotionally and thematically complex.  Read the lyrics to The Smith’s The Queen is Dead.  Morrissey jumps between self deprecating humor and vehement social commentary with ease.  But again he is getting to the core of emotional truths.  It’s poetry and not prose.

I love political songs, but I like ones that make me feel.  It doesn’t interest me to read lyrics that read like a newspaper column.  They are going to lack the word space to get into the nitty gritty of the details concerning whatever issue it is anyway.  And what they will also be lacking is that emotional heft that calls you to action.

My favorite overtly political album is Neil Young’s Living With War.  Neil does use things ripped from the headlines.  He even goes as far as playing recordings of George Bush contradicting himself.  However, Neil is smart enough over the course of the record to take some left turns that add emotion and depth to his work.  He sings a song about drifting down the hippy highway in the 60’s and by doing so paints a picture of lost dreams.  He also has a song named After the Garden.  Here is the first verse:

Won’t need no shadow man
Running the government
won’t need no stinkin’ WAR
Won’t need no haircut
Won’t need no shoe shine

After the garden is gone

The lines about the haircut and shoe shine may appear kind of forced and nonsensical at first.  However, I deem those lines to be just as important as the lines that come before them.  He is shifting from the political to the personal in those lines.  It’s not just the big things that will go away, but the everyday things we take for granted as well.  He is also expanding the imagery of the song.  By throwing in that left turn in the verse he is expanding the canvas.  I mean how many people get shoe shines these days anyway?  However, it makes the song slightly stranger and more interesting.  It becomes playful.  Art should dance with you a little bit.  It should shift and move.  It’s interpretive.

Music can go anywhere.  It can touch upon anything the human imagination can dream up.  But it is an emotional form.  Emotion should be its guiding compass.  Sometimes that emotion can just be: “Dear Lord in heaven, the shitty meaningless corporate auto tuned music they are playing on this radio station is destroying my soul.”