Murdering Oscar When I first moved to Athens, there weren’t any venues for a solo artist to play. I wasn’t ever into the whole singer / songwriter thing nor was I a solo artist by choice. I have always been a band kinda guy, but I was new in town and didn’t know any of the hundreds of musicians in town yet. One of the only paces that would have me play was a venue in Decatur, GA most famous for hosting music that tended toward confessional politically correct folk singers. My confessions and songs about killing girlfriends and grudge fucking didn’t go over worth a shit, but nonetheless a couple of the folks there really liked me and encouraged me, probably hoping I would outgrow my rebelliousness and conform. I wrote this song at an open-mic night there while awaiting my turn to play.
A few years earlier, Woody Allen had made one of my favorite movies, “Crimes and Misdemeanors” about the notion of self-forgiveness and escaping judgment. I was still guilt-ridden and miserable from getting divorced recently and was drawn to the notion of absolving myself of my sins. This song takes the notion to a dangerous extreme (when Woody Allen’s being your role model, there’s probably need for concern) but I always thought this song perfectly encapsulated that point of view, however fool-hardy it might be.
This is the oldest song on the album. It was written in Memphis in April of 1991 and was actually the last new song ever worked up by Adam’s House Cat, shortly before we broke up. At the time, I thought it was the best song I had ever written and it’s still one of my favorites all these years later. I’m thrilled that it is finally seeing the light of day.
The song itself was actually the result of a moment of clarity, an epiphany of the world of shit I had built for myself and would soon be exploding in a glorious act of self-preservation and defiance. That actual day, I realized that both my marriage and beloved band were technically over. Both lasted a few more months, but there was no turning back. Each line in the song actually has it’s own inner meaning and although it sounds like a direct narrative, it’s actually almost all symbolic. This wasn’t my first time of writing in this way (or last) but it was certainly my most successful attempt at the time and as I said it still holds up for me nearly two decades later.
On another side note, Quaaludes were taken off the market before I ever got to take one and a friend of mine and I used to refer to tripping on acid as taking vacations. She always said she liked to bring back souvenirs each time. Good advice.
Pride of the Yankees
This was the last song written or recorded for the album. I wrote an earlier draft utilizing the same piano progression a few weeks after Ava was born, then re-wrote it successfully while on tour opening for The Black Crowes a year later. I’m a very beginner at piano, but I was drawn to this melody and this song as if it was calling to me. Bringing a baby into this crazy post-911 world is a terrifying thing and this song is my attempt at making some sense out of it. My friends Will Johnson and Scott Danbom from Centro-matic make golden contributions to this track.
I Understand Now
This is absolutely one of the most unabashed positive songs I have ever written and major credit goes to my beautiful wife Rebecca for the state of mind that inspired it. I had just moved into her old historic house and was home for a brief break from The Southern Rock Opera Tour in early 2002. I think I had the flu and walking pneumonia and she was at work. I was alone in the old house marveling at the old antiques, hundreds of donkeys (don’t ask), photographs everywhere of her beautiful family members (many long-dead by then) and reflecting about the sudden change of fortunes my life was going through.
When I decided to make this album, I wanted my Dad to play on this song, figuring it would be a perfect song for us to finally collaborate on. I pictured him playing this “very Muscle Shoals kind of bass line, but instead he played it like a Motown song (Motown being the polar opposite of Muscle Shoals in the soul music vernacular) taking it to a place I never would have imagined. I love his bass part nonetheless and I’m also thrilled with Frank MacDonnell’s incredible guitar part. Frank is one of the finest musicians in Georgia, having played in tons of great bands including David Barbe and the Quick Hooksand The Glands who made my all-time favorite Athens, GA album.
This song is the perfect counter-balance to the previous one. I wrote it in Atlanta a couple of weeks before moving to Georgia at a time when domestic tranquility was my worst fucking nightmare. John Neff’s performance on this track convinced me that he absolutely had to start playing in DBT full-time again. We’ve been playing together off and on now for nearly fifteen years and he still can surprise and amaze me.
I wrote this song shortly before Ava was born and it was my first love song to her. I was forty when she was born, which is basically the same age my grandparents were when I was born. I spent a lot of time with them and my Great Uncle as a child and always felt that I was blessed to have the input of that generation into my upbringing. I hope I can make her feel as blessed about that aspect of her raising when she is grown up.
When I was a kid, George A. (my Great Uncle) would hide candy in this old Nash that he had parked out at his farm. My cousins and I would explore that old car looking for candy and always find some. This was one of my fondest memories and I’m thrilled to have a place to put that imagery in this song.
She’s A Little Randy
I had finished the album when I was approached by filmmaker Ray McKinnon (“The Accountant”, “Crystal”) to write a song for a new project he was working on called “Randy and the Mob.” He’s an amazing director, writer and actor and I jumped at the chance to work with him. I wrote this song from the female lead’s point of view, as judging from her husband’s character, I figured she couldn’t be too satisfied. I had this vision of writing songs from different character’s POV (like Superfly) providing a counter-balance to the script. I’m not sure that Ray shared my enthusiasm for this idea, but the song did make it into the film (barely) and I ended up with a song I really liked. Somehow it seemed to fit this project (better than it did the movie I think) so here it is. I couldn’t resist the play on Randy’s name.
The Range War
After Southern Rock Opera, many people just assumed that all I do is sit around and listen to Molly Hatchet. I don’t. I never did. In fact, Todd Rundgren’s 1972 classic Something / Anything? is actually my all-time favorite album and before I made this album I often referred to it as my Todd Rundgren project, in that I wanted to make a pop album song cycle paying homage to the influence that album had on me. This album morphed from there and doesn’t really sound anything like it. (How could it?)
This song is from the second Runt album (The Ballad of Todd Rundgren) and ironically sounds like Todd writing what would now be referred to as an Alt-country (whatever that is) song. I love this song and I’m thrilled with the take.
Note: The banjo that comes in at the end (played perfectly by Don Chambers, whose music I highly recommend) is a subtle nod to a little production flourish in my Dad’s only solo production credit. In 1972 he produced an album on a band called Smith Perkins Smith for Island Records and my favorite song on it (“In The Aftermath”) has a lone banjo part that comes in right at the fade. I always loved that and grew up looking forward to a day when I could ape that on a record of my own.
Foolish Young Bastard
I wrote this song late in the process about a former manager who was always using salt when sugar would work better and pushing when a little pulling would suffice. Hopefully he’s learned by now.
Heavy and Hanging
Kurt Cobain’s body was found the day I signed my lease to my place in Athens and I wrote “Heavy and Hanging” about it. My life has been touched numerous times by friends and acquaintances that chose to take themselves out. My life has also seen its own bouts with depression that easily could have taken a much worse turn. My wife and I are both deeply involved in working to assist an operation called Nuci’s Space, a musician’s resource center in Athens, GA that does amazing work in suicide prevention (among many other things). I highly encourage everyone to check out their websitewww.nuci.org and see what they do and how they do it.
Walking Around Sense
This one is kind of the companion piece to “Heavy and Hanging”. I wrote the first draft to it around the same time, but re-wrote in ’04 shortly before recording it. Without naming names, it could be argued that the song is sung to the daughter of a famous Rock and Roll widow who is often more famous for being notorious than motherly. For the life of me, I don’t know what draws me to write about some of this shit, but somehow it seemed to move me and somehow it seems to be relevant to the on-going themes on this album.
Back of a Bible
In August of ’04, I returned to my pregnant wife after doing a solo tour of Texas. I had a show that night in Atlanta and we were resting at The Highland Inn in midtown before going to the show when a song hit me. There’s never any rhyme or reason to what brings forth inspiration for a song and this particular time I had the extra inconvenience of there not being anything to write it on. Lucky for me Gideon provides us with those ubiquitous books in every room and before you start yelling blasphemy, please note that the back few pages are indeed blank. (No scripture was harmed in writing this particular piece of pop confection). OK, actually this isn’t the song I wrote, I wrote another song and it sucked. However, upon finishing said suckass song, another piece of inspiration hit me and I flipped the page over and wrote this one.
Anyone who has ever spent time on the road, staying in cheap shitty motels, can tell you there’s a certain way that they smell. The Highland Inn is a better hotel than that, by a stretch, but in Texas I stayed in some real doozies, and yes they had that smell. Homesickness and olfactory distortion added up to the closing song on the album and I took advantage of its R&B influence to host my father for another song. I premiered the song that night in Atlanta and it has been a staple of solo shows ever since. Enjoy!