Friday, June 11, 2010

SONG #123: The Man Who Would Speak True

Blitzen Trapper, Destroyer Of The Void, 2010

Blitzen Trapper, from Portland, has not just a hilarious name, but already one very good record, Furr, under its belt.  This new record is definitely worth a listen as well.  I thought about writing up the title track, which is a wild, six minute affair that sounds like an appalachian King Crimson or Queen-- very cool.  This song, however, keeps sticking with me.

This is the kind of track that I love to make fun of-- it's an acoustic ballad harkening back to a musical style of maybe 70 years ago, recorded by folks in their late 20s.  The vocal is deliberately fantastical and folksy, telling the kind of lost Americana story that went out with interstates and fast food restaurants.  It's the worst kind of Coen brothers wannabe ripoff of the weird, nebulous American frontier.  Done poorly, it's one of the worst kinds of musical exercise.

All the more impressive, then, that this song works so well.  As much as I want to dislike it on principal, this song knocks me out.  I get lost in the story every time, and I love everything about the sound and performance.  The recording is terrific, with closely miked acoustic guitar and faraway harmonica, and the vocal is a perfect, world-weary fit for the lyrics.

And how is it that these lyrics don't annoy me?  They feature a woman named "Grace" (warning: double meaning), a "brokedown palace" (hello, Dead fans) and a judge sending the character away for the evil things he's done.  After two verses, the tune borders on parody.

It's the third verse that sells me on the song every time, and why I've found myself humming it for days:

They busted my mouth to get at my tongue
To see just how this had all begun
So I opened my mouth like a dragon's breath
I only spoke truth but it only brought death
And I laid those boys to rest
For the truth in truth is a terrible jest

As much as this song is looking back at old structures (musical, narrative, symbolic) that's a verse with a young man's 2010 understanding of the truth.  Who speaks it anymore?  And when does it do any good?  

In the end, though, the song connects with classic American 19th century transcendentalism in a way that feels authentic to me; the troubled character in the song finds meaning only in being Whitman's grass that grows under our bootsoles.

And they planted me by the sea
Now the birds of the air make nests on me

So there you go-- a song I love in spite of all my inclinations.  It must be pretty great.    Or I'm a sap.  Or both.



  1. I love Blitzen Trapper. Furr was so great but I havent really gotten into the new one other than the title track and Heaven & Earth for some reason. Their sound is so versatile.

  2. I like this record ok, agree with you and Kevin that Furr was better. I'm pretty sure they played this song at Bonnaroo. I was weirdly put off by them live. Big band, not super excited or energetic, no single notable player.

    They also come off as a one man project with the singer/acoustic guitar player being the main guy and everybody else sort of playing a bummed out supporting role. Sometimes you get a feeling from a band that the other guys hate the lead dog and that was the feeling I got from them. Also, the lead singer was 4'2" and so while I was bored in one of their songs I ran a whole fantasy sequence of him screaming at the normal sized drummer and the drummer saying "I'm sorry couldn't hear you way up here" or "Yeah, I couldn't see you over Tom Toms, maybe if you jumped up to instruct me it would work better" and the singer freaking out and having a hissy fit. One too many 7 minute song to keep my full attention I guess.