March 28, 2007

Music Review: James Welsch at the Starry Plough, plus two songs lyrics

Last night I sang a solo set as "Featured Act" at the Starry Plough Open Mic. This is a classy establishment on Shattuck just three blocks from my apartment in Berkeley. It was a mellow evening, which was perfect because sometimes I've felt like I was shouting over boisterous carousing. I have a few supporters & one erstwhile promoter. My friends from the Stanford Sierra Conference Center, Ashley Elliott & Seth Peterson, both played after me. Also, The Girl George, who is the heart mother of Tuesday Evenings, who sings the same four songs before the feature every time, to the rocking-out of the elusive Guy Michelle on guitar or autoharp. I have been singing some sloshed back-up for her some times recently. One of her verses to "The Time They Are A-Changin'" is this:

That motherfucker Bush he dragged us to war,
This whole administration is rotten to the core,
He stole the election & for an encore,
Flushed the 'conomy down the toilet.
Something Something Something Something
For the times, they are a changin'.

The music always dramatically stops when she sings the line about the "'conomy". Also, again later when she shouts the line "Come on! you hippies! Whatcha goin' to do!?" The point of the song (if you didn't get it) is an old hippie yelling at the young generation of Berkeley, look at the situation we're in this decade, what are you doing about it, & she's angry. I repeat, she has sung this song (& two others, plus a couple others that rotate) every week since I started going there nine months ago. Surely a statement about the nature of time(s) if there ever was one.

For historians to scrutinize, here's my set list from last night:

The Waters of Babylon (trad.)
I'm goin' to see my Lord
Gospel Train
Straightway from the Holy Land
The Violin (D. Yazbek)
Father Drank Himself to Death
The Staff in the Hand
Father Drank Himself to Death (Snake Handler Version)

Hopefully this won't be the peak highpoint of these my "singer-songwriter" years. This morning my inbox was peopled with apologies for missing my set. Who knows? Soon I may return to the type of music I was schooled in, so you player-haters better come to some of my shows before they dissipate into nostalgia for the golden years. Ah, didn't T.S. Eliot write something about knowing that the distant panorama is "all being rolled away"?

I don't think I've ever written down the lyrics to "Father Drank Himself to Death" or "The Staff in the Hand", so I'll end this posting with those.

Father Drank Himself to Death (2004-5)

Father drank himself to death.
Shattered bottle broke his breath.
Once we visited the aquarium,
But we lived beside the sea.
Father drank himself to death,
Why did he love that dirty whore?

I wrote a song about the errors of a parent,
What all the neighbors will suppose is in a family.
For food & drink will I inherit as heir apparent.
For alcoholism runs in a family just like noses run in a family.

Eighteen feet are in to fathom,
Father never was that deep,
But the ce-ments for the weight, dear--,
(If you know what I mean)--,
When you live beside the sea.
Father drank himself to death,
Why did he love that dirty whore?

Sing me a song about, &c.

Father drank himself to death.
Shattered bottle broke his breath.
Father drank himself to death,
Why did he love that dirty whore?

The word "cement" is meant to be pronounced like Louis Armstrong does in "Mack the Knife." It turns out "two fathom" is only twelve feet, but I've always sung "Eighteen feet are in to fathom" - perhaps the bad math will one day be interpreted symbolically (like maybe he was sinking deeper than he calculated.)



The "Snake Handler Version", faster with different chords & a different melody, has essentially the same lyrics, but the third verse goes:

Once we visited the aquarium,
But we lived beside the sea.
Father claimed he was a Univeralist Unitarian,
But he seemed like a fucking Snake Handler to me.



UPDATE! New recordings of "Father Drank Himself to Death" - here.
The Staff in the Hand (2005)
(Most of the lyrics are from Isaiah Ch. 10)


I will abuse you, wall'd in leaden gyves, some of these days.
The staff in the hand of the Assyrian army is the rod of mine indignation.
You want me to choose you, but you've trampled my vineyards night & day.
The staff in the hand of the Assyrian army is the rod of mine indignation.

Shall I not,
As I have done unto Samaria & her idols,
So do to
Je-ru-sa-lem, & her idols.
Therefore it shall come to pass
That when the Lord hath performed
His whole work
Upon Mount Zion
And on Jerusalem,
I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the King of Assyria,
And the glory of his high looks.

Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith,
As if the bombs descending thru clouds unfolding lift themselves against them that's dropping.
Or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it?
Or if the plagues recoiling back to the fatherland left this bard to reconsider.

Shall I not,
As I have done unto Samaria & her idols,
So do to
Je-ru-sa-lem, & her idols.
Therefore it shall come to pass
That when the Lord hath performed
His whole work
Upon Mount Zion
And on Jerusalem,
I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the King of Assyria,
And the glory of his high looks.

1 comment:

Isaiah said...

Expect to hear from my lawyers.