LYRICS


After You (1998)

After You (1998)

STEPHEN CRANE

(Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage without ever having seen battle himself, and he did it so well that soldiers who had actually been in the Civil War claimed to have fought alongside him. He later visited actual battlefronts overseas, but his descriptions of them were never as vivid as those he had imagined. In the song, the singer is reminded of Crane’s life by his own. The cello solo at the beginning is the hymn that has come down to me as “Be Thou My Vision”; it was originally an old Irish folk song.

That’s the late Freyda Epstein singing the beautiful descant part she made up on the spot in the studio; she also sings here on “Tide by Tide” and “Stick.”)

Thread your way back home through the rows of uniforms
Salesmen dressed in suits darkened by the storm

I am weaker than I ever was
And stronger than I ever was
A black leaf in a gray sky
Tumbling up the wind
Don’t go yet–can you write another line
This one time?

Now you give your ring to a whorehouse madam
Now you set your feet on a torn macadam

You’ve seen it in your mind’s eye
But now it’s at your door
And you’re afraid if you can touch it
You won’t want to anymore
Don’t go yet–can you write another line
This one time?

Each false step you take will make good reading
No one sees the times you kept from cheating

I am older than I ever was
And calmer than I ever was
Gray against a yellow sky
Shined up in the wind
Don’t go yet–can you write another line?
I think I’ve seen your face before
Didn’t you and I both miss that war?
Well since then I’ve missed several more . . . .


KING OF MY LIVING ROOM

(A bunch of Charlottesville singer-songwriters–Nickeltown, Danny Schmidt, Jan Smith, The Naked Puritans’ Lance Brenner, Stratton Salidis, Paul Curreri–& I use the title of this song as a name for the group performance-parties we hold from time to time. A live CD of some of the best of these is available here.)

Have a seat on the sofa
get yourself something to drink
shake that pack you might find a cigarette
if this had been a hit song I’d have paid off this guitar
but I’d lose my excuse to sing off-key
and I’m not that brave quite yet

No big ol’ lights on a Saturday night
have made me a bit of who I am
I don’t mind three-dollar wine and I guess I won’t too soon
won’t be a kept monkey on TV country
I’ll be the king of my living room

Once I was a DJ
but the list didn’t leave much room
never could tell the ads from the top ten
I’d smuggle in a good song
but only now and then
’cause the boss who checked on my work
had another boss checking on him

No big ol’ lights on a Saturday night
have made me a bit of who I am
I don’t mind three-dollar wine and I guess I won’t too soon
I’d rather sing from a futon
than be a old Wayne Newton
I’ll stay the king of my living room

And I don’t think that just because you sell you’ve sold out
but I can’t count this thing I need
it’s more the way the smell of clean water leads to the sea

Can’t chase the cold off reaching in a bag of tricks
or putting up Markee Mark on a marquee
can’t trust a blackout that candlelight can’t fix
say it’s got something for everyone
then I know it’s got nothing for me

No big ol’ lights on a Saturday night
have made me a bit of who I am
I don’t mind ten-dollar wine and I guess I won’t too soon
won’t be Gene Autrey
and have a talk show flaunt me
I’ll be the king of my living room
I’ll be the king of my living room


GARGOYLE

(A gargoyle perched on a cathedral wall has fallen in love with a girl he sees passing below, but she’s having none of it. Terrible how astonishing it is when our desire for someone turns out not to be reciprocated.)

If I were a thunderstorm
I’d let you tie a string to me
and if I were a radio
I’d stop to let you sing to me

If I were a waterfall
I’d let you see your face in me
and if I were an alibi
I’d let you leave no trace in me

High on the ledge
all night I sing the rain right down
I smile against my will upon your darkened town
how well I know
that I can never win your heart of stone

If I were a liar I’d say
“I will keep my word” for you
and if I were a boxing man
I’d fall down in the third for you

If I were a bag of tea
I’d let you make your cup from me
and if I were a nightmare I would
even wake you up from me

High on the ledge
all night I watch the snow come down
my frozen eyes look coldly on your careful town
how well I know
that I can never win your heart of stone

If I were a killer whale
I’d charge up on the sand for you
and if I were a mosquito
I’d fly right through the fan for you

I’ve prayed all my life to change
to anything I can for you
but if you loved me I would even
be this thing I am for you

High on the ledge
all night I watch the world come round
my pagan eyes look down upon your Catholic town
how well I know
that I could never change your heart of stone


JOCK O’HAZELDEAN

(I learned this song listening to a Dick Gaughan cassette while I was driving around in Ireland. It’s credited to Sir Walter Scott but sounds like the kind of thing that grows out of a country over many years. When we started recording, I accidentally tuned my guitar a half-step high, which we didn’t discover until Jen came in; she bravely tuned her cello up to match. When Eric heard the tape for the first time before adding his finger cymbals, the first thing he said was, “What’s a folk song doing in C#?” That’s perfect pitch for you.)

Why weep ye by the tide lady
why weep ye by the tide
I’ll wed ye to my youngest son
and ye shall be his bride
and ye shall be his bride lady
so comely to be seen
but ay, she let the tears doon fall
for Jock O’Hazeldean

Now let this willful grief be done
and dry your cheeks so pale
young Frankie’s Chief of Errington
and Lord of Langleydale
his step is first in peaceful hall
his sword in battle keen
but ay, she let the tears doon fall
for Jock O’Hazeldean

A coat of gold ye shall nae lack
nor combs to bind your hair
nor mettled hound nor managed hawk
nor palfrey fresh and fair
and you the foremost of them all
will ride–our forest queen
but ay, she let the tears doon fall
for Jock O’Hazeldean

The kirk was decked at morningtide
the tapers glimmered fair
the priest and bridegroom await the bride
and dame and knight were there
they searched for her in bower and hall
the lady was nae seen
she’s crossed the border and awa’
with Jock O’Hazeldean
–Sir Walter Scott


TIDE BY TIDE

(The character in this song is a composite of people I’ve known & been growing up in south Florida. One was an old hitchhiker I gave a ride to once who invited me in for a beer. He had moved down from North Carolina but thought Florida was an awful place because there was no real winter “to kill the flies.”)

The fleas never die in Delray
and the patio peppers with mold
salt spray fogs on the windshield
and the tap water never gets cold
palm trees clatter in the east wind
sprinklers stagger in the rain
taking that water from the sawgrass
and they give it to the city drain

I worked one summer out at King’s Point
where the cranes set the houses down
like miles of igloo coolers
and we stapled on the roofs with a gun
I said I can’t wait till the storm comes
and that might not have been fair
but if they were all gone by sunrise
the landscape might not care

Bear me out waterspout
I watch you tide by tide
everybody gets what I say they’ve got coming.

The place I never have been yet
is the place I’ll never see
and all my friends are famous
now as they’re ever gonna be
we bite the hand that buys us
and that might not be kind
nobody can stop progress
from leaving us all behind

Still I catch my throat on a fishing boat
I watch it tide by tide
everybody gets what I say they’ve got coming.

You ask me when to go fishing
to catch your money’s worth
but the only good time to go fishing
is when you were all back up north
I been here long as I remember
–since I turned 63–
just go on back to where you came from
everybody except me

It’s past its prime but now it’s mine
and now that I’m here I’ll make my peace with it
I’ll knock for good
on the rotten wood
that drifts in tide by tide


AFTER YOU

(Alfonse and Gaston were a vaudeville duo (echoed by Chip & Dale in the cartoons) who mocked excessive politeness–a quality that can be deadly to a relationship, or a sign that something crucial was absent from the beginning.)

Things you used to tell me early on
they’ve come to mean so much now
you said you’d wake up one day and I’d be gone
and I told you to hush now
now and then I find the trail you left
but it’s too steep to let me catch my breath
and I can’t tell if I’ve been running from or running to
after you, after you, after you

Things I had not even thought I knew
now I’ve come to doubt them
how could this same fire that burns me not burn you?
and will it soon go out then?
I don’t know how you still turn my head
I don’t know why the gold turned back to lead
and I don’t know if I want those things I’ll finally get to do
after you, after you, after you

Sometimes I pass by the place we met
and drank away the evening
we’ve spun round and round so long now I forget
which one of us is leading
maybe all that dance was nothing more
than some Alphonse-Gaston act at the door
both of us refused to be the first one to get through
after you, after you, after you


STICK

(“Life is a comedy to those who think, and a tragedy to those who feel”–I thought Oscar Wilde said this, but it turns out to be Wilkie Collins in his 1870 play Man & Wife. At the end of the song, that’s Jeff Romano singing “You got the high ones again” and Browning Porter (the other half of the group Nickeltown) scowling back “Yeah, & you got the brass ones again.”)

Someone put my name up on the blackboard
someone put this pool stick in my hand
long as I’ve got Schlitz and you’ve got Chambord
I’m yours to have and hold now
in sickness and insane
oh I’ll thank you not to wake me
if I believe you’ll take me on again

Roll that stick on the table
put another quarter in the slot
let’s not dwell on
the time we haven’t got
I don’t know if I’m in love with you
but I don’t know if I’m not
break ’em up now
let’s see what you got
break ’em up now

It’s true that life’s a comedy for thinkers
tragic though it seems to those who feel
I don’t know what that says about you drinkers
a sweet dream or a nightmare
drinking makes it real
oh the glass might be halfempty
but it’s full enough to tempt this man of steel

Roll that stick on the table
put another quarter in the slot
let’s not dwell on
the time we haven’t got
I don’t know if I’m in love with you
but I don’t know if I’m not
break ’em up now
give it all you got
break ’em up now

You stay behind the bar when I’ve come all this way to see you
like you got more important things to do
if you can spare a minute between mixing drinks and signals
have you got five singles for a two?

Tomorrow I’ll take back my job at Mayflower
packing up pilgrims to Pompano
I’ll windowshop the pickup trucks at rush hour
for a scraggly wire antenna
and plates from Ohio
oh you’ll be drumming on the dashboard
though they stole your Kenwood long ago

Roll that stick on the table
put another quarter in the slot
let’s not dwell on
the time we haven’t got
now I’m looking in your eyes, dear
and you’re looking at your watch
break ’em up now
carve yourself a notch
leave me sweet now


DON’T TURN

I used to ride my bike down to the beach to watch the sun come up, & I knew a guy who lived in the trailer park between the International House of Pancakes & Pantry Pride just off 8th St. in Delray, though only the IHOP is still there.

I live in a trailer park between Pantry Pride
and the IHOP at nine o’clock every night
the train passes so close I feel
like I’m a bearing in a wheel
sometimes I get up about five a.m.
stop by the curb where they leave the bread
go down to the ocean and hide
in the seagrapes until dawn

And the sun comes up inside the clouds
and the waves yawn out and the waves charge in
and I feel so good I want to say to the world
don’t turn don’t turn don’t turn

I get along all right with my friends at school
but they treat me like somebody said to be nice
and the way they call each other “tourist”
well who the hell are they
there’s a place at the marina I got a job
bussing tables for a tenth of the waiters’ tips
but I’ll lose it if I can’t stop looking
at the drift boats coming in

And the drawbridge bellows when the cars pass over
and an old man’s casting from behind the gate
little seagull flying by the silver bait
don’t turn don’t turn don’t turn

I saw a dolphin chasing something at high tide
I want to know where he’s gonna be when the
sun goes down tonight . . . .

I can’t wait for fall when the storms come down
me and my uncle go camping out west of town
he wants to take me up north with him
I can’t remember when I saw snow
when I get off I’m gonna go drink beer all night
I gotta say I think a lot of you I hope it’s all right
if we can get hold of my brother’s car
I think I know where I can get served

And I know you watch me from behind your hair
and I seen the way you touched my guitar
and I’ve heard what they say about you
and I don’t care don’t turn
I’m a right hand strumming up and down these strings
steady as the piston that measures the load
little brown deer running at the side of the road
don’t turn don’t turn don’t turn


SOMETHING ABOUT HIM

(This song is about more people than it should be; suicide rates are high among gay teenagers. The night we recorded the vocals the song made me cry, which made it, ironically, kind of tough to get a listenable take.)

We were never best friends
but if the time was right we might’ve been
he’d have the teachers scratching their heads
I’d know what he was saying
he was on the wrestling team
but in some ways I was stronger than him
broad of shoulder but thin of skin
he was hiding a lot of strain

There was something about him
something about him
running against himself
and afraid that he might win

Working on the float last year
talking through the chicken wire
we stayed awake till morning came
went snorkeling in the rain
it was calm but so stirred up
you really couldn’t see too much
an eagle ray swept over us
so close we felt its current

There was something about him
something about him
could’ve been full of sharks
I’d still have gone right in

We were near the Seahorse Inn
it closes when the season ends
in a closet full of soap and brooms
I found the key to the changing room
I can’t explain what happened next
to hold it back I did my best
it crumpled up inside my chest

Something about him
something about him
we sorted our clothes apart
and we put them on again

We were never best friends
maybe never would have been
we both had fourthperiod gym
but our eyes never met
he was on the wrestling team
but in some ways I was stronger than him
I try to change the things I can
the rest of them I forget

Bless me Father for I have sinned
I let myself have that nightmare again
the same blue hallway that not a single person was in
but it had to do with him
how many angels can dance
on the head of a firing pin
he might have made a good man
but he took it on the chin


LOA LOA

(I first heard this song on a miserable January night in San Sebastian, in the Basque Country. A beautiful woman in a bar was singing it accompanied by a sharp-eyed, scraggly old guy with an accordion. Later my friend Salba found a recording of it for me & I came up with my own arrangement. I figure the idea behind the twisted lyrics is to entertain the babysitter while the melody is putting the baby to sleep.)

Loa loa txunturrun berde
loa loa masusta
aita guria Gasteizen da
ama mandoan hartu ta

Loa loa txunturrun berde
loa loa masusta
aita guria abiatu da
Vitoriako ferira

Loa loa txunturrun berde
loa loa masusta
aita guriak diru asko du
ama bidean saldu ta

Sleep Sleep

Sleep sleep little green twig
sleep sleep sugarplum
father’s in Gasteiz
mother’s on a big donkey

Sleep sleep little green twig
sleep sleep sugarplum
father has arrived
at the Vitoria Fair

Sleep sleep little green twig
sleep sleep sugarplum
father has a lot of money
he sold mother on the way
–Traditional Basque lullaby


TIME WAS

(The first song of mine that Nickeltown (then The Tree Frogs) covered–or anyone, for that matter. It started out as just a finger-picking pattern I was trying to get right, but there was a lot I needed to say while I was practicing it.)

I don’t see your face now
when darkness falls
but time was I would
I hardly ever hear you
when no one calls
but time was I could

And I remember in that foreign town
the sound of your name all around me
and when I called you came and you found me
and took me as I was

I hardly hesitate now
when I open my door
but time was I would
I can’t draw your profile
from memory anymore
but time was I could

And I remember in that rust-belt town
the feel of your arms strong around me
the dream that ran so deeply it still bound me
after I awoke

I won’t get up and follow
just ’cause someone leads
but time was I would
I can’t pretend to borrow
everything I need
but time was I could
I thought I could time was


GARDEN

(My favorite of my own songs.)

In spring I think of mornings
out walking with the dog
the little leaves that hung there
in the branches like fog
seedlings in the cold frame
on the eyebrow window shelf
they would’ve grown like wildfire
if good intentions helped

You’d tell me all your dreams then
and I’d lie back down in bed
and I’d try to reassure you
and cradle your head
perhaps I would have run then
if I’d known what I know now
ah but I’d have looked behind me
and broken any vow

And alive and right
and a little light later down to night

The pains we took with bone meal
and watering can and spade
where dandelions flourish
without us in the way
our life was like a garden
at times I’d think it was
but at best it was the garden
that reminded me of us

The leaves came down like snow
and then the snow fell
but underneath I’d feel
these seeds take shape
and these seeds will keep awhile
these seeds they will

I would’ve died to keep you
I would’ve changed to someone else
though it was a sin to say so
a sin that didn’t help
please don’t stay to console me now
for what you and God have done
go ahead and cut your roses
but don’t leave them in the sun

And alive at night
and a bit of night later down to light
And alive at night
and a bit of night later down to light


ALBANY

(I was listening to a lot of Andy Irvine & Paul Brady just before I moved from Albany to Charlottesville, which probably had something to do with the guitar part here. Albany isn’t strictly a college town, but it sure is a lot easier to find a parking place in the summer.)

I think I’m out the door this time
I’ve torn up the tickets I told you I’d pay
and the peaks I always said I’d climb
I’ve put them aside for a sunnier day

The only way I’d have you was three foot deep in snow
and the only times you’d ask me you knew I couldn’t go

Faces that I daydreamed of
they don’t have the hold on me they had before
did I call what I felt for them love?
that was just make-up my loneliness wore

The only way I’d see you was three foot deep in snow
and the only times you asked me you knew I couldn’t go

Interstate for a waterfront
and a chip on your shoulder of granite and steel
forgive me if I don’t hang on
improvements like that take a long time to heal

The only way I’d take you was three foot deep in snow
and the only times you asked me you knew I couldn’t go

It’d take some Adam to make you Eden
give me the apple and we’ll call it even
you thought you’d won me but I was only beaten
I’ll darken your doorstep no more, Albany

Posters up on telephone poles
dates of things happening after I’m gone
string quartets and tractor pulls
except for the students I love college towns

Christmas Eve it’s raining, first of June it snows
and the only time I want you is when it’s time to go

It’ll take some distance to make you Eden
keep the apple, we’ll call it even
you thought you’d won me but I was only beaten
I’ll straddle your potholes no more
I can’t keep an eye on the forest at Albany