LYRICS


Manalapan

MANALAPAN (2003)

MANALAPAN

(The name of a small town just north of Boynton Beach, FL, where I’ve spent a lot of time snorkeling. A loggerhead is a kind of turtle that comes ashore there to lay its eggs. The phrase “my closet friend” was a lucky writing accident. I meant to write “my closest friend” on a napkin, but the bar was dark . . .)

Far enough today
I can’t see back to where I started
tell me I can stay
& bring the days I squandered back to me
cut me free Manalapan

Let’s walk down the pier
& kick our heels against the pilings
I’ve got time to hear
the story of your fortythousand&
onenight stand Manalapan

Did you hear that voice out from the Gulfstream
again now? it’s just wind in the pines
Did you see that loggerhead this evening
again now? right here the tracks turn round
to make their way back down to the sea

Friday night I’ll buy
it can’t be long till my luck changes
every time I try
to bring myself in line as best I can
I win again Manalapan

When I had to steal
you helped me make it look like mine
& when my closet friend
had told me I’d worn my red carpet thin
you took me in Manalapan

Drive on in to town
we’ll talk too loud to hear the warnings
let the bridge come down
I feel the days rush by & lift my hand
they’re ours again


I JUST WANT MORE

(Somebody called this “a dangerous song.” (I think of Vic Chesnutt singing, “I can dodge the thunderbolts.”) It’s at least about a dangerous mood. When I played it for my friend Mike Perrow he got the idea of playing it with horns, as in Steve Reich’s “Music for a Large Ensemble.” Listening to Kris Curran splash down each color of the arrangement made for one of our most exciting days in the studio. The bass part I scored probably owes something to Danny Thompson’s great work with John Martyn. Carter did an amazing job riffing on it.)

Let sorrow wander on the wing
let the cynics shit on everything
let the whole be sundered
the finger from the ring
I surfed the riptide & I got back to the shore
a fin brushed against me
I just want more

Let heaven quit me in my sin
let mercy fall to reckoning
let fire & brimstone conspire against the spring
the dark angel passed me with no mark on my door
& let me off with a warning
I still want more

Though when you took me I was young
though you professed that you were strong
though what you told me
I hope might turn out wrong
I’ll take my chances I did all right before
I don’t want everything
I just want . . . .


ARLINGTON

(In West Medford, MA, a short walk from Arlington, there’s a plaque commemorating Paul Revere’s famous ride down (what’s now, anyway) High Street. The first line came to me on a walk. Jan Smith & Danny Schmidt helped me realize how dark a character lurked in the melody. Eric’s playing the flasher-light glockenspiel.)

On the road to Arlington
trying to keep my sugar down
it’s after fifteen after
the Cambridge rush will meet this sidewalk soon
Since I left two years ago
the town pushed through this fourlane road
& lined somebody’s pockets
but I swear now I won’t talk what talk can’t change

All through Arlington
anyone had his head on straight he’d run
signs well up like sparks in the snow
like seeds upon stone

The plot that hotel’s rising on
it’s there I raised my wife & son
but nothing’s up to code now
she cut me out & auctioned off the wound
So I read my Bible last night
by the hazard flasher light
but every page I turned to
that book just showed me one more way I’d lose

All through Arlington
where’d they hide that turn I used to know?
thrown out by the rotary onto Sagamore . . . .

High Street I’m too late to hear
the midnight ride of Paul Revere
still I brought my sidearm
who knows some redcoat just might come by here
On the road to Arlington
I read that signal all too strong
it’s after twenty after
she’ll pass by on the way to his house soon

All through Arlington
anyone had my head on straight he’d run
signs well up like sparks in the snow
like seeds upon stone


GET RIGHT BACK

(“ketchup seed” is my feeble attempt at a play on “faith as a mustard seed” (Matthew 17:20). “Catamount” is another name for “mountain lion.” A “Hobson’s choice” means no real choice at all–named after an English livery stable keeper who made his customers either take the horse nearest the door or go without.)

One more time I heard the same old line
I’d’ve broken down
all I needed was a chance to leave
& it came around
when your kite’s been treed
draw a slingshot bead
with a ketchup seed
& get right back on again

Once I dreamed that you were all you seemed
at your coming out
then last night I saw the seamy side
I’d been told about
yeah you trashed my pride
it was a catamount ride
but at least I tried
to get right back on again

If I’d found a way to hold my ground
I’d’ve made a play
I was not glad to see the little I had of it fade away
yeah I’m broke again
but in a while I’ll mend
’cause when I fall I tend
to get right back on again

Some old timers say the scene’s
all climbers & sycophants
but I’d go mad to think of all I mighta had
if I took a chance
I got here today
& it’s not bad as they say
& I’m gonna find a way to get right back
it’s a Hobson’s choice
it’s a still small voice
but I’m gonna keep my poise
& get right back on again


PLAIN WHITE T-SHIRT

(I wrote this one summer while I was painting a house for my brother. “The Grove” is Coconut Grove in Miami–once an artists’ neighborhood, now one big pricey boutique/mall (it even has a Hooter’s). The bark at the end of the fade-out is Jeff’s dog Jimmy.)

I wait a little bit longer
before I cross the street
thinking of you
I want to make it safe back home
I only feel it stronger
the more I drag my feet
when I leave you
I always leave too soon

I’ll stake it all today
let the lightning chase the sharks away
stay sweet morning stay
watching the rain come down
you’re a plain white t-shirt in a tourist town

& If you never give me
a penthouse in the Grove
does it matter?
there’s nothing there I need
I know my heart is in me
breaking like a wave underwater
& I’ll go where it leads

I meant to take my time
but the hook was set & you held the line
now to my shock I find
what looking never would’ve found . . . .


HONEY DON’T THINK YOUR MAMA DON’T KNOW

(I woke up one morning–after listening to a lot of Richard Buckner–with this refrain going through my head. My friend Rod Waterman suggested the slowing down of the last verse. The electric 12-string I’m playing–the only one we could find–is the upper neck of a borrowed Jimmy-Page-type conjoined Epiphone.) (Roger McGuinn auditioned, but he couldn’t quite nail the part.)

It’s been a good autumn of kinda settling down
& that’ll make a long vacation
of waking up without you around
it’s hard enough to see you getting on that plane
but thinking of you home all Christmas
trying not to say my name . . . .

Honey don’t think your mama don’t know
she’s the one that pulled you up
from a gleam in her eye to a big-eared pup
you can bring it up or not
just don’t think she don’t know

I can’t imagine either of us having a kid
but if a son of mine gave his heart away
I’d want to know about it if I did
I never met your mom enough to say she’s wise
& she’s not quite family
but she’s got two good eyes

Honey don’t think your mama don’t know
it wasn’t just a slacker fad
to keep a Playgirl underneath the mattress pad
maybe you can fool your dad
but don’t think she don’t know

It isn’t just the wishing that you’d say my name
& I’m not the kind to tell you
we have to go about it the same
but since she always wanted you to tell her the truth
take her at her word on this one
she could even make a convert of you

Honey don’t think your mama don’t know
din’t she name you Troy
to remind you what to buy when you find a boy?
go ahead & play it coy
just don’t think she don’t know


HOT RED CAR

(Not long ago I realized with a shock how many of my songs are about hero worship. Hmm. This one is my ode to summer too. The flower in the last verse is a night-blooming cereus. I saw one open as a kid & it made a big impression on me. They actually bloom a lot more often than once a decade, but they close again so quickly that most people never get to see one. This song was definitely the toughest piece on the new CD to record–it just kept needing one more thing (18 separate tracks in all). The tock-tocks in the last verse are a combination of re-pitched temple blocks Eric played & two branches we found in Jeff’s back yard. I had a blast teaching myself electric guitar on his strat knockoff. The click you hear right after the bass comes in is the sound of it being plugged in.)

Clouds on the water
dragging the rain like ficus vines
every now & then there a lampshadeflashing
longboats shackled
a nine turns over the streetlights click
cheating off of the moon
leaking down on the dark waves crashing

Five miles inland
a halfsunk gator with headlight eyes
blinks again at the bird in the weeds on the surface
a green pool table
suddenly ripping a wing stalls out
& then everything stops
& a man says man where was I

These summer nights have just been poured
bright dark blue as a man o’ war
I seen the sky & I heard the shore
& I’m in kinda between
the cheap walls shake & the blinds swell in
it’s you & the jukebox trading a grin
& aren’t you the guy with the hot red car
pulled that sun down again

“He took a breath & dived that night from the inlet
& got halfway up Manalapan . . . .”

Some dark garden
touched by the shade of the grapefruit trees
here & there & the fire of a royal poinciana
just by the gutter
a vine hangs over the crackedtile roof
& maybe every ten years
sends a bowl full of white spikes blooming

These summer nights have just been poured
how’d I never get a taste before
if I stretch just a little more
my feet might reach the floor
you walk in & the barstools spin
the dumb stop talking & the beermugs ring
you might be the guy with the hot red car
but how can I know for sure?

These summer nights have just been poured
a little bit of chaos been restored
& if I had to say an angry word
I don’t know where I’d begin
you walk out & the stars all spin
big dream looming at the back of the wind
you wanted a ride in a hot red car
well open the door & get in


CAR REPAIR

(When I was a kid I used to hear folk songs about herding cattle, jumping trains, & “balling that jack” (whatever that is), but growing up in the suburbs of south Florida made that kind of thing seem pretty exotic to me. So this is my suburban folk song, recorded at a King of My Living Room show in Charlottesville. I’m a little self-conscious about the loud audience sounds (“That’s not a laugh track, dammit!”), but there was no way to turn them down & I really like the mood of the performance.)

What should I wear
what should I wear to get my car repaired?
if I had my jeans
I picked up bruised in ’82
with the roots that grow out blue along the seams
would he think more of me?

How should I know
how should I know how much my oil should weigh?
if I should guess
& say fortyweight this once instead of yes
would he charge me less?

I’ve been to the end of War & Peace & the secret
beach at Nice I’ve had a singapore sling in
Singapore & shots of ouzo in Crete but never in all
my life have I been past the NO CUSTOMERS
PAST THIS POINT point gonna get there one of
these days though & write the travel section of the
washingtonpost scoop woodward&bernstein

What should I hum
what should I hum until the work gets done?
am I so wrong
to think the man with the chevron shirt & the sears fatigues standing next to the machine that says don’t go ’round hungry might be inclined towards country?
& what is country?


OCTOBER

(One of the first songs I ever wrote; it first tumbled out onto the 4-track in a few hours, mid-October 1989, during a sad break-up in upstate New York.)

The lightning lit up mountains & the thunder crashed
& while the news was crackling food & drinks were passed
I knew what questions I was not supposed to ask
I found a box of candles
you filled up a jug with water
really everything went smoothly
just that once I slipped & dropped a glass

I set my table on the porch outside
& tried to read a novel by the inside light
then I remembered & turned up the World Series
in case the wind that howled until the trees ached
wasn’t loud enough to drown out the telephone call
I didn’t want to hear you make

I know that this will all pass soon
I know whatever happens I’ll pull through
I try to keep myself distracted
I’ve got my own life to lead
leaves to rake & books to read
but it’s everywhere I look

Sometimes I talk as if I’m by myself
I hear myself go on as if I’m someone else
I was unraveling when you finally stopped me
& I know what your eyes said
& I wanted it so bad
I wish that I had a moment with you

This wind blew half the leaves down last night
the day rouses & turns on its side
outside the bedroom window
last night’s rain is still falling
from the gutter to the garden
like notes on a playerpiano reel
I can’t seem to get started today

I know you didn’t want this too
I know I can’t put life on hold for you
still every time a car slows down
you’re halfway to New York by now
you only left an hour ago
but I wish that next Thursday were here


THINK AGAIN HEART

(Another song from 1989. While we were recording I heard Joe Lawlor backing up Devon at a 9/11 benefit in Charlottesville & knew he would do a good job adding vapor trails on guitar.)

Pretending I was sleeping
pretending you were true
you were wishing I was someone else
& I was wishing you were you
but an hour to myself & I lose track
the story ended badly & now I want it back

Think again heart
remind yourself what happened last time
stay awake now
don’t let’s close your eyes
we’ll make it one beat after another

Outside it was raining
as far as it could rain
you made me watch you smile at him
& I made you watch my pain
if something inside me starts to spin
like a song I can’t stop singing
if I let myself begin . . . .

Hard to get our hopes up
when the times we get the most love
are the times we look away

All my things are packed now
I’m halfway to the car
I stop & hear the phone inside ringing in the dark
if I find the ties between us looking strong
if I start to think I’m wise enough
to prove the clich├ęs wrong . . . .


ADAGIO

Instrumental


WHITMAN IN 1863

(While Walt Whitman was working as a nurse in makeshift Civil War hospitals, he fell in love with several soldiers, one of them named (curiously enough) Tom Sawyer. I spent a lot of time with Whitman on my mind as I was writing my doctoral dissertation on his work; this song is a very loose adaptation of some of his letters. A few sad excerpts:

Dear brother,
I sit down to rattle off in haste a few lines to you . . . My thoughts are with you often enough, & I make reckoning when we shall one day be together again–yet how useless it is to make calculations for the future. Still a fellow will.

Tom, I wrote you one letter April 21st, & then another April 26th. The first one must have gone all right, but I have not heard whether you got my second letter. I enclosed in it an envelope with my address on, in hopes you would write to me . . .

My dearest comrade,
I cannot, though I attempt it, put in a letter the feelings of my heart–I suppose my letters sound strange & unusual to you as it is, but as I am only expressing the truth in them, I do not trouble myself on that account. As I intimated before, I do not expect you to return for me the same degree of love I have for you.)

Tom I write from Hapgood’s office
when I get a chance to write at all
the air’s not that much sweeter
here than on the ward
still I want to hear them if they call

A crowd came in last week from Fredericksburg
I met a soldier close to you
he brought the sniper’s ball
that missed your charming head
the day the bridge you built went through

I think of you by some campfire sleeping
or lying in your tent awake
thinking out how you might write me
what you couldn’t say

Tobacco brandy milk & peaches
white sleeves cut short & sewn
the halfbuilt monument out rising with the moon
like a tree that’s half cut down

& While the shoulderstraps at Willard’s
argue vintages & dine
another soldier turns to marble
another surgeon draws his line

But out while this marsh I love lay sleeping
once I could have sworn I heard music play
& one soldier’s eyes stretched out to me
a little light

& I know that if we make it through this year alive
after it all somewhere
out of it somewhere . . . .

Tom I know too much to kid myself
I used to watch the men you teased
& things they did that brought you
tumbling into them
made you back away from me

Tom I never may recapture
the fire I had in ’55
but I’d gladly let that sweet line go
to bring that dream we had to life

Or just to be sure I might hold onto you
& see your marching home parade
reach out to touch your collar
& set it right


GOOD NIGHT, FRIDAY NIGHT

(I had the chorus running through my head for about 2 years before the rest of the song finally took shape. We asked Carter to play the bass solo as if he were drunk, & he came up with that beautiful childish line. Recorded the piano in Bruce Johnson’s living room one night while he, Ann, & Erin maintained their sweet inconvenient silence.)

They hoovered up the backbeat
& took the muzzles off the houselights
& the pickup lines lie bleeding on the floor
the bouncer’s in his glory
he knows we’re all saluting him
when we raise our hands to shade our eyes
as he herds us out the door

Goodnight Friday Night
it’s been a pleasure
but the time it is is time that I got home
it’s a shame to drink & run
all the same I could never
of did all I got done here on my own

I used to be a former drunk
I turned a new leaf over twice
now it’s back to where it used to be
If I bum a buck for a bite to eat
don’t say you know I’m lying
what you’ve got for hungry now
just tastes like thirst to me

Goodnight Friday Night
I’d like to tarry
but the big hand on the cop is pointing home
I did the best I could
all the same I could never
pretend I got down this far on my own

Friday you keep leaving me
for days without a phone call
(you say it’s six I know it’s nine or ten)
well you just go on thinking
that no one else will have me
’cause I got word that Saturday
is gonna make me an honest man

Goodnight Friday Night
I think I’ll walk home
just leave my car with Sunday afternoon
if I take off right now
I can still beat the paper
& not have to read how bad I’ve been so soon
Goodnight Friday Night
it’s been a pleasure