Hard times come for everyone. It's one of the few certainties in life. Most folks can shake it and keep moving forward, knowing that a better day is on the horizon. Some folks get so caught up in the desperation that they forget to keep moving, or they choose to quit living.
Desperation is no sin.
This is a song written for a friend going through a really dark time.
If you know someone feeling desperate, feeling broken, feeling like they've got no reason to keep moving, be sure to reach out to them, love them, help them, let them know that the sun's gonna keep coming up every day and that one of these days, if they'll just hang in, it'll look bright and promising again.
My Grandfather had a tattoo of my Grandmother's name. He'd scratch at it when they'd fight and say "Katie! I wish I'd never got this damn tattoo!" Their relationship was never easy; he'd drink and she'd complain and they'd fight and he'd scratch that tattoo.
He grew up in coal mining towns, never working the mines himself. He did suffer from the oppressive inhale and exhale of coal dust that lined everything he saw as a child. That dust doesn't just get stuck in the lungs, it gets stuck in the mind and in a person's heart and soul. Until finally it covers every part of their being in some sort of darkness; impossible to clean.
He carried that darkness through every day he lived and left it on all he touched. He carried it into his marriage and passed it onto his children, and grandchildren.
He died when I was two but he never went away. He was the empty chair at the table, he was the anger in the air, the fight in the words spoken and unspoken. He was the dust kicked up in the summer storms, black and uneasy.
My Grandmother loved my Grandfather and I'm certain he loved her. They just lived in a way that never got them anywhere. I'm sure they had hopes and dreams once upon a time; they just seemed to get stuck and lost somewhere under all that dust.
I wrote a song inspired by my Grandfather and Grandmother's story, called West Virginia Lung. It's on my Prophet On The Barstool album, and this is a solo version I recorded, and the album version is below that.
Recently I went record shopping at what is likely my favorite neighborhood record store. Often, I go without a plan; happy to peruse the vinyl, smell the air and capture a bit of my younger years flipping through album covers until some intangible thing inside of me makes a connection. This trip was different. I went specifically to pick up a vinyl copy of Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks.”
I became a Dylan fan in High School, and since then, have spent countless hours of my life listening to his music. Like most Dylan fans, I’ve poured over his lyrics trying to decipher hidden meanings, study context, listen for whispers of subtext in the phrasing of both his voice and the accompanying instrumentation.
Through the years, I’ve had many ‘favorite’ Dylan records. “Blood on the Tracks” was not one of those. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but the subject matter was fairly obvious, and just didn’t have the resonance in my life that it has had in the lives of others.
Until recently. As I’m writing this, I’m in the process of divorcing my soon-to-be, ex-wife.
Now isn’t the time to detail our relationship or itemize any of the good, the bad, or the truly terrible things we did - or, often worse, didn’t do - to one another. In the months leading up to my decision to move out of our house, and initiate the separation and subsequent divorce, “Blood on the Tracks” became increasingly important to me.
The lyrics on the record became the air surrounding us: thick, and unrelenting. The atmosphere of each room we occupied felt affected by the emotional frustration, anger, and sadness that runs under each track of the album.
I played it over, and over.
I grew increasingly fond of, almost dependent on, “Idiot Wind” as a way to try to speak to my then wife without initiating another fruitless conversation. I tried to use the song as a way to be heard - actually heard - without speaking. The communication between the two of us had failed entirely; it was never our particular strength anyway.
One morning, not long before moving out, I was playing “Idiot Wind” in the house when my then wife exclaimed: “God! Do we have to listen to this again? I’m so sick of this song!” I didn’t respond, but in my mind I knew: I knew that soon enough, she wouldn’t have to hear it ever again, or be bothered with me or my feelings.
And so, the dividing line that ran through our home and between her heart and mine finally broke. The fault line fell to the final quake, and our relationship was left, without form, and void, and a darkness settled over the deep.
“You’ll never know the hurt I suffered or the pain I rise above. I’ll never know the same about you; your holiness, or your kind of love, and it makes me feel so sorry.”
And so, I left and took Bob with me.
As we approached the final stages of our divorce, and opened the window on all we’d be leaving behind, I knew that I would need a physical representation of what we had endured. I needed something tangible that could be imbued with the spirit of all we had conquered and of all that conquered us. Something transubstantiated by the remnants of whatever spirit haunted our failed marriage.
So, to the record shop I went.
And now, as I write this, the 180-gram vinyl spins; a sacrament in stereo, a high fi hallelujah, a voice crying in the wilderness, forever captured and forever there, should I need it.