Archive for September 1st, 2010

One of the things you might not know about ER Salo Deguierre is that he’s not just interested in ripping off Sonic Youth and the Velvet Underground all the time. No, ol’ Salo has a soft side, too. In fact, he quite loves folk music.

It was 1992 when I first saw a brilliant movie I highly recommend called Dogfight (starring the late, great River Phoenix in one of his best performances, working alongside the equally phenomenal Lili Taylor). As the credits rolled at the end for this devastating tale of lost innocence in the 1960s, I heard for the first time the dulcet tones of a maestro guitarist named John Fahey and my life has never been the same. I spent the next 17 years not only trying (and failing) to play the way he does but also to reconcile how an instrumental guitarist with nobody backing him could sound like a symphony. I wondered for a long time, after listening closely, if his symphonic sound had any relation to the type dreamed up by Sonic Youth troubadours Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. I was pleasantly surprised later to find that my intuition of a musical connection was not superficial; Sonic Youth acknowledged at some point that they had indeed used a lot of John Fahey’s alternative tuning approaches to create their own totally original sound. Their debt to him turned out to be so great that they even played shows with him in his waning years (one of which I got to see on my 27th birthday, the best present ever).

John Fahey never sang (he didn’t need to), but until I come up with a guitar sound as fulfilling as his, I have to unfortunately do some croaking on my own material, thinking that if I combine some halfway decent picking skills with a halfway decent vocal, I’ll have something better than both. My results in this pursuit have mostly been a mishmash in the past, but in the last few months I’ve come up with something I don’t mind sharing.

I wrote this song about 10 or 11 years ago but left it unrecorded until this year. It’s about pain, poverty, class resentment. American history, basically. Just click to play.

Kansas 1921
By Eric Rasmussen
Copyright 1999

Go inside the house and get our best wooden chair
Before he comes up our porch
And takes off his bowler hat
And sits down and tells us tales of distant Washington
We’ll feed him corn and watch his face

Seems so long
Since dad’s been dead
But how happy he’d be
To have known a president
On a whistle-stop campaign
In this brave new year of 1921
Just to see our land and give us blessing

Oh ho, high wind, high wall
Won’t you take my hand and pull me down
There’ll be warm spring wind comin’ round

Punch another hole inside your old leather belt
You’re as thin as a bean
And your pants are fallin’ down
And you might run into rich folk in town
Don’t you ever stop to think of who you are?

Try to think that you was raised better than
You was raised
Tie that dog up in the wood
Kick him if he ain’t been good
Lick your fingers, push your hair behind your ears
Don’t smile when they look you in the eye

Oh ho, high wind, high wall
Won’t you take my hand and pull me down
There’ll be warm spring wind
Comin’ round

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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What can I say? It’s been no fun at all. And yet all horrible things must come to an end.

It was a messy relationship; maybe we shouldn’t have gotten involved at all. You were violent and volatile, ruled by a tyrannical father. We were idealistic and naive and had been hurt before. But still, we were impulsive; we took the plunge quickly. We were addicted to drama. And you had no choice. You just fell for us.

But oh how quickly things change. You became much too hot to handle. You spurned us almost as soon as you welcomed us. First you threw roses at us, and we thought it meant you loved us. But maybe you just meant, “Please don’t kill me.” As soon as our honeymoon ended, you turned schizophrenic. You acted like you didn’t know from one minute to the next what you wanted or who you were or which mosque you should attend. Sometimes you wanted your mean father back; sometimes you just wanted to blow us up. You turned to outsiders who poured poison in your ear and said lots of nasty untrue things about us and offered to help you get rid of us in horrible ways. You craved our stability and guiding hand and mentoring one moment but hated us for it at the same time. A typical Pygmalion relationship. We should have known, you can’t carve the perfect lovers out of stone. You have to let them just be who they are. Even if that means letting them hate you. Or letting them go.

The Flag of Iraq

We acted like the boss, but we weren’t. We couldn’t even get you to take out the garbage. You were so passive aggressive you put roadside IEDs in it.

You were insecure. And by that I mean your internal security forces were politicized and mercenary and graft-ridden. You were unstable. And by that I mean you had a nasty case of pyromania. It’s never as sexy as Def Leppard makes it out to be. You were proud and had to fight for every inch of property. You wouldn’t get organized. When somebody tried to help you get organized, boom! They were dead to you.

You crumbled into many mental and physical states. We binged (on oil) and you purged (each other of heretics). We were very curious to see your dad’s guns. Turned out he didn’t have any. Later, you did away with your dad entirely, and it wasn’t the victory either one of us thought it was going to be. In fact, it just made our relationship that much more sour.

Sometime in the second year, we knew, both of us that, that our relationship was a mistake. Yet we were too proud and embarrassed to end it. We insisted foolishly that we could make it work. Sometimes we went at each other without having enough protection. Isn’t that America all over–giddy and never properly sheathed.

But it’s silly to ask now what might have happened if we hadn’t gotten involved. That was a long time ago, and the choices can’t be unmade. We’re different people now, and can’t live in the past. Our mistakes are ours, and they make us who we are. Hopefully they help us become better. And hopefully we can end this bad blood on good terms, with no mutual recrimination, without debts and without too much rotting infrastructure. You seem to have gotten your shit together a bit. We went into debt trying to make you happy, of course, but we’ll be OK, because we work hard and have good government jobs to tide us over.

But we’re finally pulling the plug. This is it, Iraq. We’re leaving you. We’ve fallen in love with somebody else and her name is Snooki. She’s a mess, too, but we think we can help her. In the meantime, don’t cry. We hold no grudges toward you. After all, we have to thank you for not lasting anywhere near as long as our horrible engagement with Vietnam. That was probably the worst relationship ever. So wipe the tears from your eyes, Iraq. In the words of Luther Vandross:

We’re so in love but wrong for each other
Each hurt that heals brings on another
Both of us abusing
Both of us using
It’s time to stop pretending
There’s just no way to rewrite our ending
We’re caught in this game
And we both know we’re losing, but

How many times can we say good-bye?

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