Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's only rock n' roll

... This ...
The old guys have children now. And they don't ask as much out of life as they used to. The imagined future doesn't stretch itself out before them anymore like a red carpet lined with adoring members of the opposite sex. The old guys no longer consider themselves the center of the universe.

No streets have been named after them. They live on streets with names of blighted trees (Elm and Chestnut) or as generic as Albuterol (Main and Center). They don't own jets. Rolling Stone never calls. They know the price of a gallon of milk. They save their receipts.

Versus ... this. 
Nope, the old guys — me and three friends — no longer dream of being rock stars, of living off the fat of the land with a guitar lick and drum kick. We've forgotten about that dream, actually — until now, anyway, as we climb down into the basement hauling amps and guitar cases.

None of us have jammed with each other before. Dan knows Luke who knows John who knows me. None of us have jammed — period — in more than 10 years. But our formative experiences were nearly identical. Much of our teen years were spent in musty basements like this, making music, dreaming the dream, preparing to impress the girls, certain that biographers would someday have us recall those days in minute detail.

"Yes," we'd tell our biographers. "We sometimes couldn't tell the difference in sound between the fuzz guitar and the sump pump. But we did what we had to do. We knew we had to get out of that stinking town and make something of ourselves."

Climbing down into the basement last Monday evening was like climbing into a time machine. We old guys plug guitars into amplifiers and kick at the bass drum before stuffing it with a pillow. All of us take turns apologizing for how unskilled we're about to prove ourselves.

If our 16-year-old selves could get a load of our 40-something-year-old selves, they would surely be horrified. Their depression would be steep, deep, maybe bottomless. Four old bozos in a basement about to stagger through a bunch of tired old cover songs? 

No, no, no, no, no. You've got it all wrong. That wasn't the plan. The plan was fame, of dazzling the world with our awesome selves.

I'm not sure of Dan and Luke's band history beyond the typical teen-basement-band experience. John had a good run with some great Boston bands that got radio play. In my case, a drummer, I scratched a living from music on and off during my 20s. But the bands did what bands are genetically predisposed to do: break up in ugly fashion.

The last band for me broke up through my own doing. I had just turned 30, and I was in the midst of a bread-and-butter tour with an American band in Europe. On the west coast of Ireland, I quickly got knocked off my high horse when I listened to the impromptu, late evening jam sessions in the pubs.

Almost without fail, no matter what backwater pub we found ourselves in, local farmers and teachers and fisherman — people who worked for a living — would be sipping pints and playing songs on guitars and fiddles and bodhrans. Almost without fail, they were masters of their instruments — way better than us. And unlike us, they didn’t expect to be paid. Unlike we imprudent American musicians who demanded so much attention, they sought nothing more but to play with others whether people listened or not. They exemplified what it means to "play" music.

Not only did I not want to be a rock star anymore, but when I got back the States, I quit the band, sold my drums, felt deeply relieved, got married, and had a child who has taught me how to “play” again, like people should play: with joy.

Back down in the basement last Monday evening, John has a borrowed bass. I have a borrowed drum kit. The four of us just sort of just look at each other for a bit. We're going to just play. You know, for fun, right? Yes, of course.

There's some timid tuning. A little getting acquainted with the cymbals and snare.

"Well, what should we play? ... "

We settle on a song.

A four count. Then the familiar power chords — A, D, then E. What a sound: shocking, really. It reverberates in the bone marrow. 

The four old guys kick into that greatest, most fitting of old rock songs. 

It's about 

fighting in the streets/
With our children at our feet.

Yeah, that's right!

Pick up my guitar and play/
Just like yesterday/
Then I'll get on my knees and pray...

We won't get fooled again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Boys Grow Up Quickly Around Here

By Felix Carroll

Hi all.

Here — a recorded version of my mini-musical, "Boys Grow Up Quickly Around Here." Takes place in early 1900s, and is a dialogue between a boy and a circus boss.

Click here to hear:

Boys Grow Up Quickly Around Here

Cara sings the La-la's.

Here are the lyrics ...


I come from St. Paul, Virginia
Where the Clinch River is flowing
I left there 'cause there was
no one there worth knowing

That includes Katie Midge
(I was the first boy to kiss her)
And even my mother
And I don’t even miss her.

Is it true what they say
Is it true what I hear
That you can make a boy
Like me disappear?

In the breath of a coal train
In the pull of an iron chain
I’ll be a working man

Come February 5th, sir
I’ll have 13 years
Boys must grow up quickly around here.

Watch the stake bites, men
pull the sidewalls down
Get yourselves some supper, quick
‘cause we’re leaving this town

The gilly girls are watching
So say your goodbyes
We’ve got a dukey run through Breaks Gorge
Might as well shut your eyes

Yes it’s true what they say
It’s true what you hear
We can make a boy
Like you disappear

In the seconds of my pocket watch
You’ll be buried in a belly box
You’ll be gone

Go on home, son
Your mama’s in tears
Boys grow up quickly 'round here.

I’ve got hands like my father
He chiseled scrips from coal
He was all might and muscle
That’s what I’ve been told

“Chester Sides” is my name, sir
I'm the High Knob King
I’d never put a man to the ground
Unless that man had it coming to him

I was baptized in Cold Creek
in the deep ruts of spring
upon the splintered boards of summertime
I bled from the bee sting

In the hardpan of autumn
A man can't dig a grave
He's traced the train tracks
Through a field of dead daisies

Toward the places a man goes to
When a man goes away
When the scales leave no doubt
About the options they weigh

Upon the thimble of winter
Hangs a thin band of gold
I’ve got hands like my father
That’s what I’ve been told

So it’s true what they say
It’s true what I hear
You can make a boy
Like me disappear.

From the dark dreams of a coal seam
Where a boy can’t see anything at all
Look in my eyes, sir
You won't find no fear
Boys must grow up quickly around here

I’ve seen you before, son
You all look the same
You come down with a fever
At the first drop of rain

You’ve got famine in your face, son
You’ll turn on your heel
Once a towner comes along
And offers you a hot meal.

All you John Robinsons
All you fresh First of Mays
Disappear in a disaster march
You mistake as horseplay

Till the wheels keep on rolling
Till you're so far from home
Till they just keep on rolling
Till they roll on their own

Till we look in your eyes
And see how they're haunted
Haunted by the things
You forgot you once wanted

Was it a pretty girl in blue dress

Who one day you'd marry?
Ot a dream of a red streak
Through the high golden prairies?

Will you give down the country
Throw down your fine ways
Subtract your tin soldiers
When you recount your days?

Did you blow out your candles?
Did you made a little wish?
Look up, little buttercup
And listen to this:

Boys eat the icing
Men eat the cake
Boys heads fill with dreams
Men’s hearts fill with ache

Yes it’s true what they say
It’s true what you hear
Boys grow up quickly
And boys disappear …

When some four-horse driver
Leans on the hoof
Just passing through
To tear down your roof

Or when the full-buck wind
blows the curtains inside
against the fires that give light
When you must do or die

When they feed from the trough
When they walk in these shoes
When they plead to Sweet Jesus
For a little of His Good News

When the crow alights at midnight
With a cry as sharp as sin
When you don't bother knocking
‘cause they won’t let you in

Go on home, son
With your eyes wide with fear
Boys grow up quickly around here.

My mother died last week, sir
That’s the truth of all
We buried her in Bickley
Outside of St. Paul

As the sun sank like a stone
over Wise County Ridge
And the truth, sir, is
I never even kissed Katie Midge

But I know about that flood
That took the whole world down
Well I would have had the sense, sir
To head for higher ground

To the places a man goes to
when you can’t see him anymore
Somewhere past New Camp
and past Roaring Fork

Past the cottontails of Linden
and the table mountain pine
if the wheels would keep rolling
well that'd be just fine

Past Jonesville and Johnstown
Where the brakeman can’t hold 
Where the boys are in bed now
Because they do what they’re told

Well I’ve traced the train tracks, sir
And they brought me to this place
I’m but a stone’s throw away
From the man whom I chase

On the land where our forefathers
Once planted seeds
I'll pound upon iron
Till the earth bleeds

It's true what they say
It's true what you hear
We can make a boy like you disappear

In the breath of a coal train
With the pull of an iron chain
You'll be a workingman.

I come from St. Paul, Virginia
Where the Clinch River is flowing
I left there 'cause there was no one   
there worth knowing

Words and music: Felix Carroll
Performed by Felix Carroll
Copyright: Felix Carroll, 2012Boys Grow Up Quickly Around Here