'round the dial
Wednesday 10 December @ 11:16:10
by Tom Hallett
There are three big questions city folks usually have when speakin’ of the country: (1) Does moss grow on the north side of a tree? (2) If a tree falls when there’s nobody around, does it make a sound? And, of course, (3)—the old standard—does a bear shit in the woods? Well, I’m here to give away those time-tested secrets once an’ fer all, kids. The answers are as follows:
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I think that songs primarily are for courting, for finding your mate. For deep things. For summoning love, for healing broken nights, and for the central accompaniment to life’s tasks. Which is no mean or small thing.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Them Changes”
(1) Yes, moss does grow on the north side of a tree. It also grows on the south, east, and west sides of a tree. As a matter of fact, some trees are completely covered in moss all the way around! (2) Yes, a tree does make a sound when it falls, even if nobody’s around to hear it. Just stick a noise-activated tape deck out in that stand of pines before you hit the sack tonight, you’ll see. (3) And yes, yes, a thousand times yes, a bear does shit in the woods. Lots of bears shit in the woods, and so do lots of people. The difference is that they belong there and we (most of us, anyhow) don’t anymore.
I recently took a long, relaxing road trip, ending up so far out in the sticks that I almost forgot what phones, trucks, planes, buses, and the general cacaphony of the city sounded like. I said almost. To keep myself grounded, I made sure to bring along plenty of great local music—Ol’ Yeller’s freshest material, the latest from Jake Wisti & The Centurions, a couple new tunes from Lifestyle Of Wigs (all as yet unreleased), and an album that’s coming out next week that I couldn’t wait to get back to my computer and write to ya’ll about.
When I first heard the songs of Captain Yonder, I must admit I was a bit at a loss for words—I mean, how do you describe the music of a dead man being played by young people with ancient souls? How do the lyrics of a near-mythical figure, a sure-fire recluse who’s no longer around to give insight to his musical musings, connect to the fast-paced, smog-choked, hurly-burly world rushing past us a hundred miles a minute? Well, I’m happy to report that after a brief stay in some of the most beautiful, unspoiled land our nation has to offer, I’ve come to terms with both the terrifying, awe-inspiring hum of the city and the sad, mad, gorgeous, quietly raging material of Captain Yonder.
But let me backpedal just a bit here. I’m sure you’re all wondering just who in the hell this Captain Yonder character is, aren’t you? Mm-hm. I knew it. OK, I’ll enlighten ya—Captain Yonder, the man (first name Jack), was an enigma of sorts, a wanderer, a road-soul, a traveler of the karmic wheel who kept an enormous library of both original and traditional music tucked right up between his ears. Towards the end of his days here on the big blue rock, the Cap met up with a young feller by the name o’ Ryan Pfieffer, and a strange, wonderful collaboration began. The old-timer taught Pfieffer his songs (never allowing himself to be taped), rasping out drop-dead gorgeous lyrics and clumsily strumming other-worldly melodies as the impressionable young lawyer/musician soaked up his every utterance.
After an all-too-brief golden period of song sharing, the Cap cashed his chips in, leaving all of his written lyrics and remembered melodies to young Pfieffer, who has lovingly arranged and compiled them on Mad Country Love Songs, which hits stores on December 15th. The band Captain Yonder is a living tribute (and a veritable stew of existiential ruminations, stump-jumpin’ exhortations, and understated aural interplay) to the man and his work.
Pfieffer’s own, more modern musical psychopharmacology adds perfect dollops of post-everything grit to the melange’, and ol’ Captain Jack himself couldn’ta asked fer a more worthy buncha musicians to flesh out the world-wise, dreamy mother lode he left behind.
Guitarist James Edlund (10w40), a former college roommate of Pfieffer’s, brings his sturdy axe as well as the sweeping flourishes of his trusty Wurlitzer to the mix, bolstering not only the sound as a whole but Pfieffer’s own, sometimes fragile hold on this wily old beast. Cellist Esme Schwall provides the lush layers of Cale-esque strings which act as a proper bed for the narcoticized, hypnotic flow emanating from her male counterparts. Original drummer Patrick X (he’s been replaced with a different Patrick, who’ll appear at the band’s live gigs) is as comfortable dropping soft snare brushes as he is a loping horse-trot beat or a gut-churning march.
As each of the album’s 10 tracks wash over you like a lazy mountain stream—Pfieffer’s moaning, weary voice intoning Palace Brothers-style incantations—it’s easy to see how the young barrister was so taken by Captain Jack’s overwhelming aura. And you sometimes wonder if he’s not just surrendering, letting Cap take him completely from the other side, now that he can. And that’s not such a bad thing. As a matter of fact, in this instance, it’s a great thing. Both Pfieffer and the Cap were/are kindred spirits, in music, philosophy, and practice. And once they join musical talents, they’re a near unstoppable force—unforgettable, undeniable, and unrelenting. A soft cry with BIG MEANING. A soundtrack to LIFE—and DEATH—and BEYOND. That’s Captain Yonder.
Even the best road trips can’t last forever, and as mine wound down, I found myself just as sorry that I wouldn’t be listening to Mad Country Love Songs on such an intimate basis—at least for awhile—as I was to end such a relaxing, soul-soothing cruise. Nearing my destination, I began playing my fave track from the album over and over—finally nailing every lyric, every break, every lick on air-finger-guitar. What a creation “Mad Country Love Song 2 (Feeling Softly)” is! Backed by those spine-tingling cello draws, Pfieffer convincingly conjures Cap’s ghost for lines like: “In fecund wood I drifted upon a robin/With precision I shot it from the tree/Took seasoned spade and burrowed in the garden/And buried it there feeling softly...”
Visions of mountain madness, love gone awry, country death, whiskey and God, family and pride and the loss of glory—all come into clear view as Ryan/Cap chokes out his next confession: “In brambles I threw my body down/Barefoot I walked on nettles fiery/Crushed thistles in the palm of my hand/Lay naked on the grass feeling softly...” Now, jes’ stew on that ‘un fer a minnit, chillun—FEELING SOFTLY. It describes the Captain, Pfieffer, the band, and this music to a “T.” And feeling softly doesn’t mean you’re feeling any less, or with any loss of conviction, or even that those feelings aren’t POUNDING you to the ground, where you’re not sure you’ll ever be able to rise from again. No, feeling softly just means that you’ve thrown away that useless armor you’ve erected over the years and opened yourself up to ABSORB the blows, to feel them, yes, but to feel them softly, gently, carefully. It’s the only way that works.
“With torch I descended to the skiff,” continues the spectral lines, “By moon’s ray I struck into the sea/Where overboard I cast myself deftly/And surfaced, climbed aboard, feeling softly...” You and I are here, looking over the Captain’s shoulder as he quietly, SOFTLY, breaks down—his once-ordered life almost noiselessly collapsing (like a tree in the forest?) around him/us, and a terrible, magnificent sight it is, too. “In common bed I turned my back to Rose/And told her I’d love for her to grieve/How very much I had come to hate her/Then I slept, feeling softly...”
We close in on the end of Cap’s civilized years now, the pre-dusk blitz of pain and fear that struck him like a jagged blast of white lightning before he struck out on his own for a life of wandering and learning and writing and singing and praying and cursing and laughing that mad, howling laugh... “Dear Rose, perhaps you’ve learned my name/Goodbye Rose, may the future bear you brightly/I have for you merely one request/When you bury me please don’t do it softly...” And then, with an almost imperceptible “whoosh” (that’s at the same time as tired and miniscule as a last gasp for breath and yet as powerful and furious as the north wind), it’s over. The Cap is gone. But he’s not, really. Once you’ve heard him/Pfieffer/the band, they’re in you forever, same as happened to young Ryan all those years ago. And you’re all the better for it.
I’m back now, too. Back at my computer, back with you, and I’ll be damned if I don’t have that Captain Yonder disc spinnin’ in my player once again. I just can’t keep my paws offa the thing, and I know that by the time this column hits the streets, I’ll have discovered twenty or fifty more things I should’ve told you about it, but them’s the breaks. The good news is, a little bit o’ nature can go a long way to helpin’ ya through this ol’ concrete jungle, a little time away can make everything bad seem a little less frightening, and a little dose of Captain Yonder can help settle the whole mess in your soul like a dose of ma’s secret elixer used to do.
Speakin’ of which, ah think I’ll go an’ git me a splash o’ that right now ... and in the meantime, ya’ll make yerselves a mental note that Mad Country Love Songs will hit the streets on December 15th, and ya should be able to find it in most of your hippest local record shops. An’ when the whole shit an’ kaboodle feels like it’s gonna crumble right down upon yer little head, point yer nose to the sticks, plug that album in, and go find out the answer to those three questions I mentioned fer yerself. Ya won’t be sorry.
That’s it for me this week, folks. Make sure you catch the following shows around town in the next few days, as well: On Thursday, 12/11, Kat Bjelland and Katastrophy Wife play the 7th Street Entry on a bill that’s either sent from heaven or straight from the bowels of hell, as the band is joined by wicked-ass rockers The Bloodshot, the inimitable Trailer Park Queen, and Kat’s esteemed ex-hubby, Glen Mattson and his band Kingdom Of Ghosts. Fucking awesome! $6, 8 p.m., 21+. If that’s just a little too much evil for your lil’ heart to handle, head down to the Entry on Sat., 12/13, and catch Root Of All Evil recording artists/Country-gospel kingpins Gee As In Jesus, who’ll share a bill with Drag The River, Old Canes, and Anchorhead. Oh yeah, that oh-so-prolific songwriter/fashionista Ryan Adams plays The Main Room that night, as well. I’m outta here. Until next time—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d just like to share your own fave “bear shits in the woods” album, send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com.